What does a 400 year old shipwreck have in common with high fashion? Not the obvious I can assure you. Wanli is a Portuguese Karrack shipwreck circa 1625, that was recovered at a depth of 40 metres, approximately 6 nautical miles outside Tanjung Jara off the coast of the State of Terengganu. This was a popular shipping route between China and Malacca via the South China Sea at the time. The downing of this ship is thought to be the work of the Dutch who were at war with the Portuguese. The seas here were infamous back in the day with legendary tales of high sea dramas we often read about. The Dutch eventually won and took over Malacca. Interestingly enough, amongst its precious cargo were Ming Dynasty blue-and-white porcelain from Jingdezhen.
Jingdezhen (or the Town of Jingde) is a city in northeastern Jiangxi province, China. It is known as the “Porcelain Capital” because it has been producing pottery for 1,700 years. The city has a well-documented history that stretches back over 2,000 years.
While a sizeable portion of this recovered treasure is on display in museums, some of the broken pieces and shards lie in the hands of private collectors. So what do you do with baskets full of broken china?
Enter Ming Blue & White Sdn Bhd who have cleverly fashioned these shards into “one of a kind” individually handcrafted jewellery pieces set in Sterling Silver which you are unlikely to find in any department store or boutique. Known as the “Tradewind Treasures from the South China Sea” collection, each piece is indeed unique and I believe no 2 pieces are ever going to be exactly alike.
The brainchild of Managing Director, Jennifer Rodrigo, these unusual jewellery pieces and collections are currently on display at the Peninsula Residence All Suite Hotel lobby in Jalan Semantan, Damansara Heights until March 7th 2016. With prices starting from as little as RM10 for your very own piece of history, there’s something here for everyone.
So you’re asking yourself right about now how I got entangled in all of this. What was originally intended to be a low key photo shoot for their jewellery collection turned out to be a mega event of sorts. My sister, Honney Dograa who is involved with this project with Ming Blue & White asked me if I would be able to take a few shots for their A&P campaign. When you have more than one Dogra on the job, it’s bound to be nothing short of pandemonium.
Shooting earrings and pendants hanging from a hook in a light box is not my idea of adrenalin pumping excitement. On the other hand, the prospect of getting people to model for us wearing these jewellery pieces was a whole lot more interesting and relevant. With a zero budget and no models in sight, we enlisted the help of family and friends and within a week put together an awesome team who came together and knocked it out of the park.
Portraiture is one genre I love and being able to get back in the saddle to do some fine art portraits after a long hiatus was not only a welcome respite from shooting weddings but allowed me to further experiment with off camera lighting techniques.
You could say I was the swashbuckling captain of the ship for a day wielding a camera instead of a pirate’s cutlass, but it is what it is and I could not have asked for more.
If you were not born with a silver spoon, well here’s your chance. One of very few intact Ming spoons found in the shipwreck, Alyssa wears a silver tipped Ming spoon pendant with Tradewind Treasures clutch bangles and belt buckle all of which feature another popular Ming motif, the Lingzhi mushroom. This represents longevity, good luck and power. Alyssa also wears a silver Ming shard ring and earrings.
Black Jacket outfit: Abigail wears a rare Blue Tiger’s Eye crystal necklace by Luminos Elements Jewelry. The necklace features a 400 year old Ming shard pendant, and the past meets the present in the modern porcelain blue and white beads used to highlight the ensemble. Matched with Ming shard earrings, this set is unique as serendipitously, all three shards feature the same motif – the Buddhist Swastika which symbolizes abundance, prosperity and good luck. She also wears Tradewind Treaures silver Ming shard clutch bangles and ring. The clutch bangle on her left hand and the ring are a set, showing a similar garden motif featuring a bird.
White Dress: Yin Yang Ming, that’s what we call this Luminos Elements Jewelry set. A Ming shard pendant featuring the Peony motif is brought to life with black onyx and white Howlite. The earrings follow suit with one featuring a tiny white howlite and the other a black onyx. Abby is wearing an original Ridz Ming inspired dress matched with Tradewind Treasures silver Ming shard clutch bangles and ring.
Pink Outfit: Charlene is in a Ridz Ming inspired outfit and shows off Luminos Elements Crystal Ming necklace of dark blue Lapis Lazuli. The necklace features a perfect peach motif Ming shard which symbolizes marital and relationship bliss. Matched with grape motif Ming shard earrings and Tradewind Treasures silver Ming clutch bangles and ring.
Dark Grey outfit: This English rose wears a beautiful Luminos Elements Jewelry three pendant necklace and earring set. The Motif on all three drop shape pendants is Lingzhi, symbol of longevity, good luck and power. The pendants are combined with creamy shell-pearl beads and three modern blue and white porcelain beads. Charlene also wears two Tradewind treasures silver Ming shard clutch bangles and ring.
Black & White Dress: Blue Artistry resin bead earrings and necklace featuring a silver plated pendant from Tibet, courtesy of Luminos Elements Jewelry is combined with Tradewind Treasures Ming shard silver clutch bangle on Naomi’s left hand and a belt buckle strapped on her right.
Office Suit: Naomi wears Luminos Elements pearl embellished Ming shard earrings, Tradewind treasures silver Ming clutch bangle, ring and a large Ming shard pendant on a silver choker.
Red Outfit: Roopa is wearing Tradewind Treasures Silver Ming shard jewelry. The pendant features the Shou motif – long life and immortality; the belt buckle is a plate medallion featuring a garden scene and the two clutch bangles another two motifs as are the two rings. The one on her right hand actually says “The Ming Emperor“!
Blue Outfit: Ming pottery was characterized by a penchant for pastoral scenes depicting an era of peace and prosperity. The Tradewind Treasures Ming shard jewelry capitalizes on this. Each earring, ring, clutch bangle and the five shards pearl necklace Roopa is wearing bear testimony to those ancient artist’s great ability. Still radiant after 400 years underwater!
Black & White Dress: Yin Yang Ming, that’s what we call this Luminos Elements Jewelry set. A Ming shard pendent featuring the Peony motif is brought to life with black onyx and white Howlite. The earrings follow suit with one featuring a tiny white howlite and the other a black onyx. Roopa matches this set with Tradewind Treasures silver Ming shard clutch bangle and ring. Regal all round.
It’s got to be said, all the models brought their “A” game and transformed themselves beautifully on camera even though they were mostly amateurs with little or no professional modelling experience. Special mention to our makeup and hair virtuosos, Tishal and Nisha, who rocked each girl with a magical and individual look that’s evident in the final images.
We setup in a corner of the lobby area which is a wide open space and boys being boys, we had a lot of curious passersby who stopped to ogle and eye ball the girls.
I had a black backdrop theme but also wanted to have some variety in the shots we were going after. It’s a good thing there were coloured walls and walls with textured wallpaper that served to break the monotony of just black. The Hotel graciously allowed us use of one of their premium suites for some of the shots too.
I’m shooting a Nikon D750 with a 50mm vintage non-VR lens. Strobes are set manually (no TTL here) and controlled wirelessly via CLS. White balance is custom using a grey-card preset.
One 60x90cm soft box with grid is the key light with an SB700 speed light and one 60×60 soft box with an SB600 is my rim light. Both are placed diagonally approx 45° angles across each other to light the models.
I’ve never shot so many models back-to-back before and it was challenging trying to find different locations as well as directing the models in my limited capacity with fashion type shoots on how to pose and stand. Every change of wardrobe required a rethink of the shots we were going to take to avoid having all the photos turn up looking alike. When the last frame was shot, I knew we had a winning set of images. It was difficult trying to pick the best of the best images as almost all were fantastic and painful to relegate to the unused bin. The ladies looked out of this world and strutted their stuff on every shot, hence, each image that made the final cut is special to me.
I left the shoot happy exhausted….
A big big thank you is in order to the following people for making this happen. None of this would have been possible without your contribution.
- Ming Blue & White Sdn Bhd: Jennifer Rodrigo & Honney Dograa.
- Luminos Five Elements Jewelry.
- Peninsula Residence All Suite Hotel: Mr. Jesse James.
- The H&M clothing boutique at the lobby: En. Zul Hafiz.
- The Lovely Models: Alyssa Su-Yen Asohan, Abigail Bernardino, Charlene Dacre, Naomi Chandrasegar, Roop Priya Kaur.
- Makeup & Hair: Tishal Rai & Nisha Badesha.
- Lighting Assistant & busy bee on set: Indu Dogra.
- Moral Support & Wardrobe Fine Tuning: Neeta Dogra.
- The guy who kept us hydrated and fed: Ashley John.
For more information on Tradewind Treasures from the South China Sea collections kindly visit their website.
The Roving Photographer
Feb 22, 2016