Orange Monet

Art fly

I know… If you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny.

But at the comedy club inside my brain, Orange Monet is just such a satisfying play on words, I really want to give it a try.

So we all know who Monet was, right? Claude Monet. For God’s sake, please tell me you already know who Monet was; the visually-impaired French painter whose blurry paintings make you think that you too have cataracts and partial color blindness.

Orange is a big French multinational telecommunications corporation that has a respectable footprint in Africa as a provider of mobile telephone services. I will give my fellow Americans a pass if you haven’t heard of Orange.

I bought a backup phone with Orange service for about $10 US, but I didn’t really start using it until recently.

My Orange phone, speaking its native language.
My Orange phone speaking its native language.

Orange Money is the mobile payment service provided by Orange, where you can transfer money and pay for goods and services using your phone, instead of using cash, check, or credit card.

Again, my fellow Americans, chances are you haven’t heard of this kind of thing.

I thought I’d give Orange Money a try. I had a little misunderstanding with the woman accepting my deposit. She thought I was buying a ridiculous amount of Orange airtime. Undoing that misunderstanding—getting that airtime credit turned into Orange Money—took a week of pestering various Orange representatives.

On the seventh day of my customer service experience, I went to the shiny new office building that is the Madagascar headquarters of Orange. After a long wait in the lobby, which included a nap sitting upright in a plastic chair, a nice woman woke me with a gentle tap on the arm. She told me that I could leave and wait for her supervisor to call me in the afternoon.

To me that sounded like, Go away so we can better ignore you.

It pushed my Gandhi button. I decided to wage a one-man sit-in protest. I nicely told the nice woman that, at this point in my dealings with Orange, I had no confidence that anyone would call me. I told her that I would wait in the lobby until the problem was resolved.

Sit in protest with toilet paper on my neck.
A symbol of my persistence was a forgotten piece of toilet paper stuck to a shaving cut on my Adam’s apple. It was also there all day long.

She put me on the phone with her supervisor, Mrs. Beryl (not her real name), who told me I didn’t have to stay. I said, “Yes, I know. But I’ll be right here when you call me.”

And after a few hours in the lobby, practicing French and Malagasy, and catching up on my reading, I received the call from Mrs. Beryl. I was told that I would have to go to another office where she would help me.

Orange is everywhere in Antananarivo; kiosks, boutiques, roadside vendors selling airtime. The other telecommunications companies are as well, but Orange is particularly visible, with bright orange iconography and cheerful cartoon characters.

Monsieur Patate
Like a cute stalker with jaundice.

So when I arrived at this other office building, I was a little confused. There was no indication that Orange was anywhere to be found. It was like Madagascar’s only Orange-free zone.

I called back Mrs. Beryl and told her that I was there—or possibly lost. She said she’d be right down. Indeed she was, and she led me through an unmarked door, and through a series of serious security measures. I felt as though I was about to meet Dick Cheney, or be waterboarded. But I repeat myself.

'Get Smart' opening titles screenshot.
Like this, but with biometric locks, and not the of the best TV theme music ever.

Once inside, we climbed a spiral staircase to a room with about a dozen people working at computers—Mrs. Beryl’s elite staff: the Orange Berets.

I must have looked nervous. One smart ass guy assured me that they weren’t Al Qaeda.

But the whole thing was resolved, more or less, by a young man who took my phone from me, punched in a bunch of numbers, and then handed the phone back.

Rather than having more Orange airtime than I would ever use, I finally had Orange Money to spend at participating merchants.

Mrs. Beryl escorted me out, and then disappeared again behind the nondescript, unmarked door.

WTF? Did all that really just happen?

I got on my bike and headed home just as it was starting to rain.

The very next day, I saw a funny sign on a bathroom door that said, “In Case of Emergency Keep Calm.” I pulled out my Orange phone and took a photo.

Then I took a photo of a bike.

When I previewed the photos on the phone, the quality looked really bad.

Bathroom Door
Bathroom Door

Later, when I pulled photos off the phone to see them at full resolution, these photos were blurry alright, and high contrast. It was as though my Orange phone had cataracts and was slightly color blind—exaggerating colors and contrast so that the camera itself could see them in spite of its impairments.

A bike
The aforementioned bike.

Kind of like…

Orange Monet!

That was totally worth it.

The effect was so impressive that I went into my phone to see if perhaps it had some kind of fancy filter effect turned on.

There are no fancy filters.

Onboard photo effects.
Ooh! Sepia! Watch out Instagram!

Until I am convinced otherwise, I’m going to believe that the photographs from this camera are an accidental artifact of cheap hardware, low-grade firmware, and probably a plastic lens.

And I’m kind of obsessed with it. I’m building an entire online gallery of photos taken with this phone.

Here it is:

The Orange Monet Gallery


I will continue to add photos to this gallery for as long as I continue to be fascinated by this effect. If you want to know when I’ve added new ones, you’ll need to +1 this album in Google Plus.

Just kidding. I know you’re not on Google Plus, but that would work.

Full Disclosure:

I run a GIMP “white balance” adjustment on nearly every photograph I share online, no matter what camera.

Sometimes I run a “color enhance” filter to heighten the effect of these photos, also in GIMP.

And then, after I upload the photos to Picasa/Google+, they get an Auto-Enhance that I don’t ask for, but I rarely undo it.

Raw image and subtle enhancements.
  1. Raw image – straight from the phone
  2. White Balance
  3. Color Enhance
  4. Google+ Auto-Enhance

3 comments

  1. Frank Peters Reply
    January 24, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Keep these stories coming, Ted!
    Pix, too

  2. Tobias Eigen Reply
    January 24, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Awesome stories, and the pictures produced by you with this camera are really artistic. Wow!

    You should go out and buy a few more of those phones since they only cost $10 and see if they do the same thing or if it really is a one-off freak accident.

  3. Chuck Cheesman Reply
    March 21, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Maybe a song to go with the slide show? Or maybe some Orange Monet photos of bolobolo women for a music video?

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