Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Operation Smile Singapore: Six Day Challenge in Myanmar

It wasn't so much a challenge. More a visually-confronting assault on the senses. I'd put my hand up to be a volunteer with Operation Smile, a US-based medical charity concerned [mostly] with repairing facial disfigurements in kids caused by cleft lip and cleft palates.

Plastic surgeons work on a tiny patient in Mandalay's general hospital. Operations can last from 45mins to hours depending on the severity of the facial deformity.
I'd initially volunteered as the social photographer. Basically to record everything about the mission: from the transit and arrival of 30+ volunteers, unpacking, setting up the patient screening centre, an operating theatre, then covering the arrival of potential patients, photographing their progress through the theatre to the post-op room, and so on. Easy right?
Tools of the surgeon's trade.
This child is remarkably perky the morning after her cleft lip surgery. Mother is clearly happy enough to be the 'notice board' for the stickies handed out by the post-op support staff.
Proud father with his young son waiting patiently for surgery assessment on Day One.

On paper it looked OK but then the mission was set to fly to Yangon, then charter a plane into Mandalay. Its general hospital, though not entirely bereft of facilities, would probably make the hair on most Australian heads curl in panic.(Example: as the local TV people were interviewing one of the staff in the courtyard, a road accident patient was wheeled down the ramp into camera shot and left to lie in the sun while the porter went off to do something else. He was not left for long but in front of a TV crew? You get the drift).

Still a little dazed the morning after, this young child was responsive enough to my clumsy attempts to get his attention.
Pads are attached to little hands to prevent IV drips from accidentally being pulled out immediately after surgery. It's a poignant sight that I'll never forget.

In fact Mandalay General Hospital was definitely stuck in a 50s time warp. Another reason, I guess,  for why Operation Smile freights in all its equipment, drugs and accessories needed to operate on 100+ patients over the tight space of a eight days.

Day one lasted 12 hours. Day two was shorter, only ten hours. The workload for all involved was quite intense. Didn't matter whether it was medical records area, surgery or anaesthesiology. Add to this the fact that, as photographer, you can't do anything but document the progress of the staff amid the chaos of everyone squeezed into a workspace that was designed for a fraction of the staff. By the end of the week everyone was looking somewhat less healthy than when they arrived but I was most impressed that such a diverse group, flown in from ten different countries could work so seamlessly under such trying conditions.
Photographically the mission was a huge challenge. I even got the job of photographing the patients immediately before their operations, then straight after, before they woke up from the anaesthetic!

Despite the hard work, shortage of first world facilities (Arrgh! No decent Internet) I left Myanmar feeling a great sense of achievement. If asked, I'd do it again at the drop of a hat.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Going Bush

Some of my former students – members of the f8.0 group featured in this blog previously (and part of the first African tour I led to Kenya/Tanzania in 2010), recently spent a few days in north-east Victoria based near Wangaratta.

Armed with tripods, cameras, hats and sunscreen they enjoyed (endured?) temperatures in the mid-30s and fine clear weather, with some haze in the middle of the day.
Particular attractions for photographers include the historic towns of Chiltern and Beechworth, Amulet Vineyard (which affords long views down the valley), panoramic views from Murmungee Lookout, an old mining dredge at El Dorado, and disused tobacco drying sheds. Bailey’s Winery has its own museum of old equipment.
There's plenty of scope for HDR and panoramic photography here. While Fraser and Lucie attempted jigsaw panoramas with more than 20 photos in them, Fay and Ralph were trying out their new cameras’ (Sony A77 and Fuji X100 respectively) in-camera panorama features.
Part-time locals, Alan - Lumix enthusiast (FZ150) - and Kerry, hosted the group and provided valuable guiding skills.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Saving Money with Ink Refills

It's been a few years since inkjet printers were first introduced. Going from expensive to ridiculously cheap in a matter of a few years, these gizmos are perfect for printing photo-realistic pictures at home, or in the office. They are also OK as a generic office printer, although, if you look at costs-per-page, a laser printer is more economical.
Despite its widespread uptake and use, there's a price to pay for this convenience. The consumables.  From the outset inks were expensive, even when the printers weren't.
I think we are all thoroughly fed up with paying the over-inflated prices charged for 'brand name' inks. This is partly because of the stupid cost and but partly because it has been proved that third-party inks are (now) just as good.
Rip-off costs for inks?
Let's look at it another way. A 6-series Canon ink refill costs $28:50. I can fly from LONDON to MILAN (Ryan Air) but I can't buy a paperback in the airport for less than $30. Go figure.

It was Epson that started adding sensors into its tanks to prevent anyone using a non-Epson ink set. However, in court Epson was found to be operating illegally. The courts declared it acceptable for the device owner to use whatever ink sets they wanted to use. It was deemed illegal to force the consumer to buy the same brand as the printer. Since then the scare campaigns ("don't use cheap ink, it will ruin your inkjets!") have mostly died off.
A couple of years ago I did some research on the subject and found that, surprise, surprise, genuine ink refills are about 50% cheaper in North America and about 60% cheaper in Japan. But although, technically, the machine might the same, the model numbers differ slightly making it that much harder to match inks bought on the cheap overseas. Sneaky stuff. The price war continues.
Not surprisingly there's been an explosion of online ink cartridge resellers. You can now buy genuine discounted products as well as cheaper generic inkjet refills. I use an Epson Photo Stylus R2400 and recently had to find ink refills.
I tried Officeworks, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, and Dick Smith, all to no avail. The R2400 takes several light-tinted inks which are hard to find over-the-counter. Retailers either deny their existence completely, or just shake their heads, saying that "...they could be ordered in..." (In Australia this means 10 days at a minimum).
I got the name of an inkjet refill business in Brisbane, then placed a $100 order (same as a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Darwin!) at 11am. The package arrived 18 hours later. The packaging consisted on a handfull  of lollies! An amazingly-quick, efficient delivery service. I was most impressed.
The ink appears to be great quality (made in the USA). They create identical hues and tones to the genuine product. But at less than half the price. Once you get past Epson's warning signs, which say you are a naughty boy because you are not using genuine (extremely expensive) Epson ink, the results look great. There's a surprise. 
Like many consumers in Oz, I'm resolutely fed up with high prices and poor service which made finding this online deal so much more satisfying.
Check them out:  Wholesale Toners Australia -

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Week One Portrait Class at CCE

Noirin by Annino O'Reilly

Serena by Annino O'Reilly

Kusum Singh by James Peppiatt

Tommy, pic by James Peppiatt

Tommy, by Kim Psalia

Niall, pic by Kim Psalia

Noirin by Kusum Singh

Hiromi by Phil Young

Noirin by Phil Young

Noirin by Niall Chang

Noirin by Niall Chang

Hiromi by Mary Flynn

Tommy by Mary Flynn

Dave by Leone Burridge

Hiromi by Leone Burridge

Hiromi by Stephanie Flack
Noirin by Stephanie Flack

Serena by Stephanie Flack