This article was written for Fujilove Magazine, and originally published in January 2018. I had a regular column for the magazine for a year between 2018 and 2019, and am reproducing these articles here for posterity. All Fujilove archive posts
When Tomash asked me if I wanted to contribute to FujiLove, I said “yes” without giving it much thought; it was too brilliant an opportunity for any other answer. Sitting down to write this inaugural article though, those thoughts – much overdue – hit me thunderously over the head. I have no idea what I could say that would be of interest to the Fujilove community, as every conceivable angle is well covered: gear reviews, how tos, and a bevy of impressive instructors lined up going forward.
So I’m going to start at the beginning, because this post coincides with a milestone I’ve just crossed.
Hello, I’m Charlene.
Ages ago, I wrote an article for this magazine about shooting on public transport. I’m an X-Photographer from Singapore (although I’m attached to Fujifilm’s Nordic division), and a nomad. Yes, I’m one of those digital nomad types, but no, I don’t hang out glamourously by a pool, or work in exotic locations like a jungle in Bali or beach side paradise in Belize. In fact, this comes to you from my mother’s flat in Singapore, in the bedroom that my teenage self inhabited (centuries ago, it seems) before it moved to Perth, Australia in 1999. Mum’s in the living room, chatting on the phone in Cantonese, while a Korean soap opera queen alternates between sobs and shrieks on TV, and the neighbour next door scolds her errant pet in strident Hainanese.
The sky glows electric as a million bulbs warm the storm gathering across the city. It will rain at some point, with clashes of thunder that sound like the gods bowling just above our heads. All around me, thousands go about their night in the apartment buildings that efficiently house 80% of the nation’s population. I guess this is a variety of “exotic,” although probably not the type most people travel for.
It’s in these familiar surroundings that I mark a significant milestone: my fifth anniversary as a nomad.
This nomad stint wasn’t supposed to last more than a year. In 2013, after fourteen years of living in Perth, I decided I needed to get out and see a bit of the world. Up to that point, save an organized tour to India, I’d never traveled. I’m not sure how “I want to travel” turned into “I’m going nomad,” but I guess my desire to wander around was greater than I gave it credit for! I clearly hadn’t thought that one through either, because three months after the decision was made, there I was at the airport departure gates, trying not to throw up from the realization that there was no way back: I had no job, no place to live, and nothing left in Australia by that point. And so it began.
Well great, you might be saying, but what does this have to do with Fuji?
My Fuji journey draws many parallels with that of my life. I got the X-Pro1 and XF 35mm F1.4 about six months before that fateful departure, unaware of the significance that the brand would have for me in the future. I had/have a troublesome back and was looking for something lighter than the Nikon kit I was using at the time. The X-Pro1 offered a great proposition: Small and unassuming, so light compared to the hulking cameras I was accustomed to, and with excellent low light handling and generally great image quality. Irresistible.
I hated using it at first though, because it was so slow compared to the Nikon machine. Auto-focus crawled, the EVF was always a few frames late, and the lag between shutter and release was more of an intermission. Nonetheless, there was something about that little black rangefinder… After I got used to doing for myself what the camera could not, there was a special pleasure in the pursuit of the image I’d never experienced before. This probably had more to do with the fact that I was photographing in places I’d never expected to set foot in – like Mexico City, Copenhagen, Santa Fe etc – than the camera itself, but the X-Pro1 was a big part of the experience, so for me it is indelibly linked to shooting the streets of the world.
I’ve used a succession of X Series cameras since: after the X-Pro1, came the X-E2, X-T1, X-T10, X-Pro2, and lately, the tiny X-E3. I have the good fortune of being an X-Photographer, so I can often borrow equipment from Fujifilm itself if I have specific short term work needs, but my general walk around kit remains small. In 2013, all I had leaving Australia, was the X-Pro1 and XF35mm F1.4. It came along to the USA, Mexico, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Morocco, Spain and Singapore. You may have seen the after effects of it being dropped and dragged around the world:
What I liked about the X Series cameras at the start, I still like now. They do their job with a minimum of fuss, and the rangefinder bodies don’t look like “serious” cameras, so they don’t attract overly negative notice. When I was walking around with a DSLR, I got yelled at and occasionally threatened. These days, if I do get approached while shooting, it’s mostly curiosity. Back home in Singapore, the very helpful locals also go a step further by giving this hapless tourist tips on where to go to get the best pictures (true story!).
The five year mark finds me surprised to still be a nomad. This running-off-to-see-the-world stint wasn’t supposed to last more than a year, tops. I had anticipated the reluctance to return to my previous life, but I didn’t think it would work out financially. Being a freelancer seemed a scary way to make a living (having been one for four years to date, that impression wasn’t far off). But that first year of traveling did demonstrate that if nothing else, life throws the strangest curve balls.
Five years down the line, there’s still an X-Pro in my bag – the Pro2 – and the same old XF 35mm F1.4, with the newer XF 23mm F2, and occasionally, also the XF 56mm F1.2 and little XF 27mm F2.8. I no longer have to expose or focus manually with the newer camera, and I’ve also added video to the bunch of things I do as a photographer, but a Fuji rangefinder (or two) is still what I do it all with.