What’s in my Bag

I submitted a bag post to the great Jpncamerahunter a while ago. you can see the entry on his site here. 

My bag is an army surplus bag I got from eBay for $20 (I think I got cheated for it) but it’s good enough for my usual walkabout kit. It’s quite small but since it doesn’t have a shape, you can actually stuff quite a bit in it. I usually carry my cameras (you can fit both in it, but it’s a tight fit) in separate soft neoprene pouches (the black rectangle in the top right) that I got from this $2 shop from Japan called Daiso.

Left half of the picture: from left to right, top to bottom.
-A plastic bag for me to bundle everything up in case it rains
-My notebook and pen for me to jot down my field notes and eureka moments for my thesis
-Lens tissues and keys in 1 front pouch
-Lip balm and tester capsule of some perfume (Singapore’s really humid so you need something to keep you smelling fresh)

Top Right half:
-Gatsby facial wipes and blotter paper because my face gets really oily as the day goes by
-My Olympus mju ii camera. I just got it for a great bargain a few days ago. My first test roll is in it.
-Generic iPhone earbuds
-Another great Daiso buy – my $2 wallet
-All these sit on the neoprene pouch I was talking about

Bottom right:
-My iPhone 4. That’s a picture of me and my lovely girlfriend as the wallpaper.
-My trusty Minolta X-500 with the 50mm f1.4 mounted on it. It’s usually that or the 50mm f1.7 or 35mm f2.8.
-I made that wrist strap out of my girlfriend’s head band. Couldn’t justify paying money for a wrist strap so I stole her head band and made my own.

Thaipusam 2011

Thaipusam is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month called Thai, which falls during mid-January each year.

Devotees cleanse themselves through fasting and prayers for 48 hours prior to the festival. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi, ranging from pots of milk to elaborate chariots and canopies. Some also pierce their flesh or tongues with hooks and spears as they believe that the greater the pain,  the greater the God-given merit. Some devotees enter a trance during the piercing and procession.

Markets in Singapore

Markets like the night bazaars and wet markets have been a timeless part of the Singapore landscape. Night bazaars tend to spring up every few months in the housing estates or during special occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali.

Haggling and elastic pricing are part and parcel of shopping at these places.

They’re filled with all sorts of colorful characters hawking wares from carpets, savory snacks and traditional costumes.

Loud hailers and playing dress up are de-rigueur for many stallholders during the bazaar to attract patrons to their stalls.

In recent years in cookie cutter Singapore, wet markets are being phased out in favor of supermarkets. These chain supermarkets offer a larger variety of goods, and sometimes at cheaper prices too. But why lose the allure of the wet market?

Many of us surely remember waking up on Sunday mornings, going for family breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop and trudging to the adjoining wet markets. Our parents would arm us with a few 10 cent coins so that we could ride on these ‘kiddy ride’ machines to distract us while they shop for groceries.

Smelly, wet and noisy, these are the things that make the wet market what it is. We have been buying our groceries from the same people for years. It has evolved from a simple weekend business and financial transaction into a personal relationship. It is this personal touch that makes the wet market truly special in most of our hearts.

Without needing us to say anything, the fishmonger will know to cut the fish into 4 slices (for our family of 4) just the way my mum likes it. He remembers which fish my mum prefers and will actually dissuade my mum from buying fish that he thinks my mum won’t enjoy.

The butcher usually greets us with “daging 2 kilo as usual eh kak?” (the usual 2 kilos of meat?). On special occasions, he takes pre-orders from us without the need to pay a deposit. He goes out of his way to order special cuts or marinated meat for us if we inform him a week in advance.

Night bazaars and wet markets hold a special place in many of our hearts because they’re so quaint, with the cacophony of dialects and bantering being tossed around and the personal touch of many of the stallholders. The thrill of haggling for lower prices, the smell of cooked food while mingling with the throngs of other shoppers makes shopping at night markets such an experience. It’s such a departure from the clinical and orderly side of Singapore that stepping into a market feels like taking a step back into the past.

SC3224 Mid Term

Disclaimer: I don’t have a Leica camera. And I wrote this a year ago before I met anybody who actually owned one. My observations were purely gleaned from the Leica subsection of a local photography forum. I deduced my conclusions from their posts, which seemed to center mostly (about 80%) on gear talk and limited editions and what not. Hence it may seem like a misguided and highly inaccurate post describing Leica users. For that I apologize to my friends who actually have a Leica and actually use them for photography instead of to admire and stroke and show off with it. I guess my post is actually talking about gear nuts and collectors.

Plus this piece was actually written for a mid term essay for a class I did. I got an A for this. 🙂

edit 2: I hope you get a sense of sarcasm in this whole post. I do not subscribe nor approve of this mentality at all. Leicawanker I hope you don’t misunderstand. 🙂

Introduction to Leica

The Leica camera is seen as the pinnacle of photographic standards. Their cameras and lenses are hand-assembled in their factory in Germany.

One doesn’t simply own a Leica; he is seen as embracing a way of life, a culture, owning a piece of history. Its history is instrumental in attaching a romanticized view of the camera. The Leica community is a very exclusive tight knit community. The official Leica camera website explains this in the section History and Culture of Leica.

The company publishes its own lifestyle magazine Leica Fotografie International and has worldwide societies like The Leica Society in the UK and Leica Historical Society.

So what makes the camera so unique that it fetches an exorbitant price that is not reflective of its function? This blog post will attempt to trace the romanticized notions attached to the Leica camera, using mainly Baudrillard’s (1983) object value system, Veblen’s (1994) conspicuous consumption and Bourdieu’s (1984) emulation and distinction argument.

Value of the Leica

Following Baudrillard’s object value system theory, there are four aspects that influences the value of an object.

1.       Functional value, similar to Marx’s use value. In this case, the Leica camera take’s pictures.

2.       Exchange value which is the economic value, similar to Marx. The most advanced Leica film camera, the M7, is worth at least SGD$7000 brand new, without lens.

3.       Symbolic value, value assigned to the object in relation to another subject. The camera might symbolize a gift for a birthday.

4.       Sign value, its value within a system of objects. Amongst other cameras, the Leica has a position of quality with superior craftsmanship.

For Baudrillard, an object’s final value is influenced by its symbolic and sign value more than it’s functional and exchange value. What the Leica camera does is to take pictures. Any other camera is able to take pictures. In essence, a camera is basically a light tight metal box that holds a lens.

The reason for the Leica camera’s exorbitant price tag lies in its sign value. The Leica, while purchased for its functional value of taking pictures, is also purchased for its sign value – to signify superior quality and precision.

The phrase “the Leica is handmade” is frequently bandied about to justify the high exchange value. It is a nod to the skilled craftsmen of past – a romantic view of skilled labor. Although Leica’s latest digital cameras, the M9 and M8 were plagued with problems, many loyalists still swear by the reliability and precision of Leica cameras. The sign value of the object is ingrained into the hyper-realities (a term coined by Baudrillard) of the Leica loyalist. Their constructed realities overshadow the actual realities of the camera. They embody the object with the idea of superb craftsmanship even though there are many documented cases of Leica digital cameras failing.

Leica as Identity

Using Baudrillard’s analysis of value, we have established how Leica cameras attain their exorbitant exchange value in light of their high sign value. This brings us to our next question, why then do people still purchase these Leica’s despite their price tag? Veblen (pg 28) is handy in providing an answer to this question. Possession of goods, according to Veblen, is the “conventional basis of repute and esteem”. So how did the Leica attain its reputation?

One reason could be its rich history. The Leica brand is marketed not just as a camera, but as a lifestyle and culture. It is seen as a key to the entry of an exquisite world of precision engineering. Its capabilities are “legendary” and the quality a “class of its own”. It helps “transform vision into personal creative fulfillment, in many cases nurturing a fervent passion for expression that spans the decades.” These statements, although grandiose, can be found on the Leica website under the heading “culture”. The very fact that its history and identity is packaged under culture shows how Leica sees itself as not just a brand, but a way of life.

The Leica camera has captured many iconic documentary images and many award winning images were taken with Leica’s. Almost all the photographers in the renowned Magnum Photos agency use a Leica. Thus we can also see how many users of the Leica wish to emulate the photographic elite by using the same tools, in the hopes to also capture award winning images.

Baudrillard (pg 123-4) informs us that consuming a commodity means that we use its “sign value” as a way of differentiation. It also aids in forming social relations with members interested in the same signs. For the Leica cameras, in addition to having a sign value of superior craftsmanship as discussed earlier, it also represents prestige. It connotes Veblen’s (pg 73-74) “gentleman of leisure”, who consumes goods which are the best in its class as “an evidence of wealth”. In a sense, his identity becomes defined and expressed by what he now owns – a Leica camera. His status as someone with the taste (of photography and the arts) and the means (to afford a Leica) is cemented with the possession of the camera.

Owning a Leica allows one to differentiate oneself from those who cannot afford one becoming a distinguishing factor in marking in-group access. This fits Bourdieu’s argument on distinction as a way for social groups to mark themselves off from each other. With almost everyone being able to afford a camera to take pictures, owning an exclusive Leica is one way which photographers, pilots, dentists, creative consultants, doctors and executives in the case of the Singapore charter, can distinguish themselves from another.

An extension of Bourdieu’s framework can also be applied in this case. Many Leica owners not only distinguish themselves from non Leica owners, but further distinguish themselves from each other through the purchasing of limited edition cameras.

Leica as Lifestyle

Leica is renowned for releasing limited edition version of their cameras. They usually collaborate with renowned prestigious fashion brands like Hermes and Neiman Marcus and other luxury brands like Audi. For example, Leica recently teamed up with a designer for Audi to create 500 pieces of the Limited Edition Titanium Leica M9 which costs a whopping $29 000 seen below.

In 2009, Leica and Hermes collaborated to release 200 pieces of the Hermes Leica M7 with calf skin, costing $14 000.

Limited Edition Hermes M7

Limited Edition Neiman Marcus

Neiman Marcus partnered with Leica to release the Limited Edition 50 pieces M9 costing $17 500. For a Leica user, these collaborations are a further proof that his camera of choice is a marker of a luxurious lifestyle.

I hope that I have successfully demonstrated using Baudrillard’s object value system how a product of very normal use value (taking pictures) has acquired an elevated exchange value through its sign value. The Leica camera is steeped in historical traditions and marketed as a piece of engineering precision, which helps to increase its exchange value. Furthermore, the Leica camera is a status and prestige marker to distinguish the owner from others. Lastly, the partnership Leica has with other luxury brands further intensifies the link between the brand and the prestige attached to the consumption of the product.