Monday, February 26, 2007

My Gifted Dad

I watched the Oscars last night with my father, 86. It's an emotional time as he packs up his apartment to go into assisted living near my brother. After eating Vietnamese take-out we settled into two unpacked office chairs amidst piles of boxes to watch TV.

In 1963, during a brief respite from an illustrious career as a still photographer, my father was Director of Photography for the film, "Lord of the Flies". The renowned British stage director, Peter Brook, asked my father to shoot this award-winning film and gave my father ten days to learn to use a movie camera before film production began on the island of Vieques. My father had never touched a movie camera before.

The rest is history. My father, a genius of sorts, developed a whole new system for tracking and zooming. He created a gate that swung and panned along the actors as they moved. In fact Tyson Kubota, a film student at Dartmouth, recently posted this critique of my father's shooting technique. I don't think he knew about Dad's swinging gate.

First, some technical lessons:
Zooming may not be so bad after all! The cinematographer Tom Hollyman (trained as a still photographer, Lord of the Flies is his one and only credited feature film) claims that this was the first feature ever shot [entirely?] using a zoom lens. He explains an efficient technique used for camera movement: walk at a right angle to the subject and pivot the camera/zoom in slowly to create a faux-dolly effect: this allows one to continually vary the background to obscure the fact that you’re zooming (so you’re not zooming in on the same spot, which is the core reason why static zoom-ins often look ‘cheap’).

Zooming Back to Puerto Rico

Brook and my father worked in the second floor of our apartment in Puerto Rico to develop Dad's tracking technique. If you look to the left of this photo you can see me watching. If I look solemn it's because maybe I felt the production of this movie was a family affair in which everybody but me played a role. Perhaps I took the constant commands for " All Quiet On Set!" too personally.

My brother Burnes, an extra, shown here, behind his father's camera, played Douglas, while my Mother took stills and helped with casting. I flirted with the Surtees twins and did get to play a stand-in for Piggy while my father learned to use a movie camera by making tests. Click here to see a slideshow of some low res pix of my father at work with Peter Brook.

Last Night

During a commercial break in the Oscars last night I asked my father why he didn't get further into film-making after " Lord of the Flies."

He said that after shooting Lord of the Flies he realized how much there was to learn in the craft of cinematography and that he felt he was too old at that time to begin at the bottom, learning the craft.

Kubota on Dad

Kubota continues in his critique:

On improvisation:
Famed director theater director Peter Brook got these non-actor children to convincingly live the experience of their characters—he reportedly shot over 60 hours of footage. Onscreen I could sense the free, wide-open editing process this approach must have allowed him. Each shot, no matter how briefly held, has a unique richness, an eloquence and brevity that comes from a confluence of unpredictable factors: the child performers, the environment, weather and lighting conditions, not to mention everyone behind the camera and offscreen.

The precisely exposed, carefully modulated tonalities contrast with the sense of contingency and spontaneity in the framings and actor movement. The way Hollyman/Brook shoot faces is particularly inspiring: the frequent close-ups on faces with starkly lit sky backgrounds or negative space decontextualize each boy’s position in the narrative, imbuing each image with a mythic weight (I could sense the cinematographer Tom Hollyman’s background in still photography most strongly in these moments).

The film is also a masterclass in the efficient and effective use of location shooting. The film’s power comes from the aesthetic tensions it contains: between the boys’ completely ‘real’ physical ‘performances’ (their physical presence in the actual conditions of the narrative) and the almost-entirely-postdubbed dialogue that they ‘speak’; between the gritty, pocked texture of the hunters’ volcanic rock fortress and the smooth grey tones of the open sky; between the use of unexpectedly disjunctive shot compositions and editing rhythms and the supple gliding camera movements; and between the occasional music (almost always used ironically or as thematic counterpoint, never in a conventional melodramatic sense) and the ambient beauty of the rest of the naturalistic sound design. The overall attention to detail and affect is staggering; I am convinced that Brook’s daring formal approach was the perfect choice to balance the broad-strokes allegory of Golding’s storyline.

Strut Your Stuff Dad @ The Heritage

Hey Dad...Someone's blogging about work done some 36 years ago--if all of us could be so lucky. Kubota says the film is a "masterclass in the efficient and effective use of location shooting."

So Dude, listen here. You may be difficult. But you're also gifted.

You're a true Technoratti presence. Cool enough. The ladies at the Heritage will surely swoon when you show them Kuboda's blog post.

Way to go.

I be proud.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Deadly Fake Anti-Malarial Drugs

Photograph Copyright Stephenie Hollyman

Click Here to View Slideshow on the anti-malarial wonder drug, made from artemisinin. This herb, also known as wormwood is now being grown in Tanzania by Awaarusha farmers. Photos Copyright Stephenie Hollyman 2007.

Indeed my heart sank yesterday while reading In the World of Life Saving Drugs, a Growing Epidemic of Deadly Fakes, in The New York Times Science Times , which says that in Southeast Asia " 53 percent of the antimalarials bought were fakes."

Estimates of the deaths caused by fakes run from tens of thousands a year to 200,000 or more. The World Health Organization has estimated that a fifth of the one million annual deaths from malaria would be prevented if all medicines for it were genuine and taken properly.

“The impact on people’s lives behind these figures is devastating,” said Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the organization’s chief of health technology and pharmaceuticals.

Internationally, a prime target of counterfeiters now is artemisinin, the newest miracle cure for malaria, said Dr. Paul N. Newton of Oxford University’s Center for Tropical Medicine in Vientiane, Laos.


If you click above you can view a slideshow of photos I took in Tanzania of a village where the live-saving herbal plant artemisin annua is being grown in Tanzania.These photos are part of my ongoing multimedia project on malaria called " Fever Zone". Also include ( the white folks) are photos of agri-biz growing artemesin in Tanzania.


In May of 2005 while traveling to document malaria I was thrilled to see how well artmemisinin worked against chloriquine-resistant strains of malaria. In fact I had a chance to try out this wonder drug first hand-- thank god not conterfeit-- in Tanzania after my blood smear proved positive for malaria falciprium on a Friday afternoon. While photographing a woman with malaria who had dropped into a coma in a neighborhood clinic ouside of Dar es Salaam, I suddenly found myself dizzy, sweating heavily, and about to wretch. At first I thought it was a sympathetic reaction. But as I photographed the symptoms worsened. And I recalled that I had been weak all day.

I asked the nurse at the clinic to test my blood for malaria and continued working.

One half hour later the clinic's doctor approached me laughing, saying that I must take my subject matter--malaria-- quite seriously, because I had caught it. " Welcome to Tanzania" he boomed out as he wrote me a prescription for artesunate pills.

My WHO driver took me to a reputable pharmacy where I bought this life-saving medicine before retreating to my hotel to recover. After sleeping around the clock between taking pills during what became my malarial " Lost Weekend" I awoke on Monday. Weak but recovered.

By Tuesday I was back at work. I was lucky. If I had taken counterfeit artesunate I might have died. With excellent reporting Donald G. McNeil Jr. details the peril in which these counterfeit drugs place their users.
Many of the fake artesunate pills found by Dr. Newton’s team were startlingly accurate in appearance — and much more devious in effect than investigators had suspected.

Not only did the pills look correct, as did the cardboard boxes, the blister packing and the foil backing, but investigators found 12 versions of the tiny hologram added to prevent forgery.

In one case, even a secret “X-52” logo visible only under ultraviolet light was present, though in the wrong spot.

Another hologram was forged by hand, Dr. Newton said, by someone who obviously spent hours with a pin and a magnifying glass making tiny dots on a circle of foil to imitate the shimmer.

But the most frightening aspect appeared when the pills were tested. Some contained harmless chalk, starch or flour. But the latest, he said, contained drugs apparently chosen to fool patients into thinking the pills were working.

Some had acetaminophen, which can temporarily lower malarial fevers but does not kill parasites. Some had chloroquine, an old and now nearly useless antimalarial.

One had a sulfa drug that in allergic people could cause a fatal rash.

And some had a little real artemisinin — not enough to cure, but enough to produce a false positive on the common Fast Red dye test for the genuine article.

Those would not merely fool a laboratory, Dr. Newton noted. They could also foster drug-resistant parasites, so if patients were lucky enough to get genuine artemisinin treatment later, they might have already developed an incurable strain and could die anyway.

Such resistant strains could spread from person to person by mosquito and ultimately render the drug ineffective, as already happened with chloroquine and Fansidar, two earlier malaria cures.

“We make no apology for the use of the term ‘manslaughter’ to describe this criminal lethal trade,” Dr. Newton and his co-authors said last year in an article in The Public Library of Science Medicine. “Indeed, some might call it murder.”

Friday, February 09, 2007

Multimedia Dogizens

I just read an interesting post called The Pedigree of Goodness . It's a must read for those involved in working in teams on multimedia projects. It really brings home people's need for validation and the need for team-mates to acknowledge colleagues' contributions.

She writes..

Perhaps you have seen the latest Pedigree dog food commercial? In it, the camera pans on a series of ordinary looking dogs in a dog pound, and the voice-over gives them language. The dogs say things sequentially like "I don't know where I am..." "And I don't know how I got here..." "but I know that I am a good dog..." "And I just want to go home."

She then deconstructs the notion of goodness...

And, like the dog in the pound, at the core place in our hearts all any of us really want is to find whatever reads out as h-o-m-e for us, and to be able to be there.

The dogs in the commercial want to be seen, to be noticed and ask to be acknowledged for what it is they have to give. They are the quintessential Everyperson.