Sunday, 24 June 2012

Christopher Street Day

Yesterday, the annual Christopher Street Day (i.e. Gay Pride) parade took place in Berlin. This year I skipped the main event and went to an alternative CSD which also takes place every year in Berlin's Kreuzberg district - off the main drag, so to speak (pardon the pun).  I wasn't going to take any photos, so I didn't take a camera along, only my iPhone - and ended up taking a whole bunch of pics with the iPhone; all of them in black & white. Here is the result. Enjoy. :)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Peace... Eternal

If there is one thing Berlin has a lot of, it’s old graveyards (granted, any old city does, but still...).  On Sunday I decided to take my polaroid camera to another one of these old places, the “Mehringdamm” cemeteries. Situated in the heart of a residential district, the area comprises in fact several distinct cemeteries, with the older ones situated within the newer ones. The oldest places are therefore located in the heart of sprawling area, cut off from the rest by a cordon of crumbling, ivy covered walls. By the time you get to that inner place, you feel like you have entered a lost world. The nearby residential buildings are barely visible, and you find yourself in a place that seems to be a world removed from the city. All around are overgrown tombs, crumbling walls, crooked, ivy covered crosses and weather worn statues of angels and saints. On a sunny summer day such as this one, the place is awash with bird song and the buzzing of insects. Trees and tall shrubs provide shelter from the sun, and the place is a playground for moving dapples of shadow and light. The whole place feels like a forbidden garden, a refuge from the hectic city life beyond its walls. In short: it is a very peaceful place.

And yet...

It is a cemetery after all. Peaceful it may be, but the tombs, crucifixes, and the statues depicting grieving figures remind you that this is a place of "eternal peace". On a sunny day like this, it might be a very joyful place.... yet the place reminds you of death - yours, everyone’s... .

This place is very old, the oldest graves I found date back to the early 1700s. Some famous people are buried here, the composer Felix Mendelsson-Bartholdy and the author E.T.A. Hoffmann for example. In an old place such as this, death seems a bit more – remote than it would be in a new cemetery, where fresh flowers and newly dug graves remind you that behind each one of those graves, there is grief; there are relatives and friends missing a dear one. Here, you know that the grief has passed, because the grievers have also passed away. So, for me at least, this seems more bearable - death does not quite appear as imminent as it does elsewhere.

I found the Polaroid camera and the Impossible Project film, which delivers somewhat off-colour results, to be the perfect instrument for capturing the slightly unreal mood of the cemetery. The resulting images, with their muted colours, perfectly capture the idea of a sunny, dreamy, peaceful, forgotten place. In these photographs, the cemetery truly looks to be “another time, another place.”

I have put together a set of photos taken at this graveyard as well as at the one which I visited earlier, which reflects this idea of "Peace Eternal". I also included photos taken with the Fuji Instax camera. [Click here to view.

Additionally, I photographed more of the statues to add to the Postures of Grief set. This time around I used Impossible Project's Silver Shade film, so some of the new pics are in black and white-ish, highlighting the more sombre side of the depicted figures. [Click here to view the updated version.]


Sunday, 17 June 2012

A Carnival of Cultures

Every year in early summer, Berlin holds its "Carnival of Cultures", a parade where the many ethnic groups residing in Berlin can showcase their cultural talents. So you have everything from African and South American to Japanese and Indian folk groups and dancers - including not a few German housewives showing off their talents at samba dancing ;) . The results are mixed, not every group is a hot act, even if most of the participating dancers and musicians make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in talent... but overall the carnival is fun to watch... and it is fun to watch the watchers. 

I took one of my Holgas to this year's parade, and shot several films, both of the participants and of the onlookers. I shot both in color and in black & white, and used an inlay to get 16 exposures rather than the normal 12, which is why this time the photos are rectangular rather than square. 

Click here to view and enjoy! 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

New instax photos

I have posted more photos taken recently with the Fuji Instax camera to the [instax page]. This batch was taken around the Kreuzberg area of Berlin. I'm still enjoying capturing the instant photos with this ugly little thing.
Check out both the City and the Summer sections of the instax page.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Postures of Grief; or: Polaroid vs. Instax

I recently took my two instant film cameras, the Fuji Instax 210 and a recently acquired Polaroid SX-70, to a couple of nearby graveyards. My main goal was to give the Polaroid its first serious try-out, but at the same time I wanted to find out how the two cameras compare.
It should be stated first that comparing the two cameras may be a case of apples and oranges. The cameras and the films work differently and use different chemical processes, achieving very different results. They are also targeted at very different groups of people. Fuji seems to market its instax cameras towards the snapshot-happy crowd, trying to place the cameras as a party gimmick for young people (mind you, I very much doubt that the clumsy 210 camera is lugged around much to parties); if you browse the instax flickr groups, people are using the Instax for all sorts of shots - from moody nature pics to fashion shootings. Impossible Project on the other hand caters to the more art-oriented crowd, a fact highlighted by the various exhibitions it organizes around the world. At the price that the new polaroid films sell, they are definitely not meant to be used for snapshots. Additionally, the imperfections inherent in the current film stock mean that its users are willing to embrace those.
Nonetheless, having the two cameras with me for shooting under the same conditions and in the same environment provided me with a good opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of the two cameras for a specific project.
For the SX-70, I consider the results as mixed. I like the otherworldly quality of the polaroids, which imbues the images with a dreamy, even ghostly mood that fits the subject matter extremely well, even giving the depicted statues a sense of timelessness. However, on some of the pics, the discoloration is a bit too intense even for me. I'm still learning to fine-tune the darkness settings on the camera, which may be part of the problem. Having shot some 20 photos, I consider about five to be good, and of those three to be better than good; although I should add that I really like those three.
The photos taken with the Fuji Instax are very different in quality and in mood - more realistic, sure, but still a bit off - softer than digital or normal film would be, and thus, again, less realistic than straight photography. I was also surprised to see how well the camera handled more muted colors in less than sunny settings, having previously shot mostly colorful scenes on sunny days. These muted colors give the resulting photos a very sombre feel, again very appropriate to the setting but totally opposite to the effect achieved by the Polaroid camera. On the down side, I am less than impressed with the shots where I used the flash - the flash is way too bright. Also, it doesn't handle large contrasts very well - the light areas tend to come out all washed out. Overall, however, I got a larger number of satisfying photos from the Fuji, although, at the end, again only 3 or so which I find better than good. 
Beyond the aesthetics, there are other factors to consider when comparing the camera. The price of the film for one, you can get 20 instax pics for the price of eight polaroids. The Instax also delivers results faster, you can at least recognize what you shot 30 seconds after taking the picture - with the Polaroid, it takes 4-5 minutes. 
A couple of factors which weigh more heavily in favor of the Polaroid cameras is for one that Impossible Project offers a choice of films, including black & white, while Fuji just offers one. Then there is also the fact that there is a stronger community than there is for the Instax. The Polaroid flickr groups for example are a lot more active than those dedicated to the Instax, and Impossible Project itself is fueling the community through its web site (which offers plenty of advice as well) and through different exhibitions and contests (see also my earlier review of David Sylvian's Glowing Enigmas exhibition).
Overall I guess it comes down to a matter of taste if you prefer the one to the other, or for what purpose you intend to use it. I for one am happy to have both and will be using both, but for different ends.

Monday, 4 June 2012


I added a batch of summery photos captured with the Fuji Instax instant camera to the [instax page]. Enjoy