Thursday, 24 December 2015

Personal Portraits 2015

It's been a little over a year that I reverted back to digital photography, abandoning, for now at least, the lo-fi analog cameras which I had been using for many years before. This is a good time then to look back at the photos taken over that year, and particularly the portrait photographs. While much of the photography I undertook this year was either street or architectural, I selected the portraits for a 'best of' review which I posted here: Up Close and Personal 2015.

The photos included in that set feature portraits of friends, acquaintances and random strangers who agreed to pose for me.

I have been playing around with three cameras, the nicely compact and versatile Fujifilm X-30, the Leica X2 which takes great pics but is in dire need of a view finder, and the Fujifilm XT-10, which has become my favourite camera. All three cameras, plus the iPhone, are represented in this set. 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

India By Night / Faces of India 2015

In November of this year I returned to India, my 11th visit so far. This time I did not travel around much but for personal reasons I decided to stay in Kolkata for the better part of the trip, with a few days also spent in Mumbai.  This time was the first time that I did not take any analog camera with me to India; indeed I decided to travel light and take only a single camera, the Fujifilm X-T10, with two lenses, the 35mm and the 16-50mm. 

Each camera which I took with me over the years was different and unique, be it the Diana+, the Polaroid cameras or the panoramic Holga camera I had with me last year. With the versatile X-T10 I was looking for something which would coax out something unique out of it, and I soon found it. The brilliant 35mm f1.4 lens is of course perfect for night photography, and I was more than spoilt with opportunities to shoot at night.

My stay in Kolkata was timed to coincide with two back to back festivals, Diwali and Kali Pujas, a festival dedicated to Kolkata's patron goddess Kali. During the nights leading up to and over these two festivals, people were out at night, celebrating and having fun. Obviously this was a perfect chance to capture lively night scenes, and I had great fun doing so. Add to that also a couple of evenings spent in Mumbai's Juhu Beach and Marine Drive areas where people gather after nightfall to hang out, relax and have fun. India is a country of colours, hence I decided to shoot mostly in colour, I broke out the black and white filters only rarely.

All these night time activities have resulted in a set which I have now uploaded: India By Night

All this doesn't mean that I wasn't out in the day time taking photos, so I added a second set, Faces of India 2015, with portrait and street photography from Kolkata.

As in the previous years, I came back from India with the fondest memories, leaving me very much looking forward to the next trip back there.

Enjoy the photos. 

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Paris by Night

I recently spent a short week-end in Paris. It's a city I've visited and photographed before, so I decided to do something I haven't done before, in Paris or anywhere else: I took the camera with me on a night outing. The camera being my camera of choice at the moment, the Fujifilm X-T10, this was the first time I gave it a serious try-out with low light photography, and it performed marvellously. I shot at high ISO, 6400, which adds a bit of graininess but that works just fine. Sure, some shots came out blurry, but most photos come out technically great. 

All the shots are people photographs, taken around the areas of Marais and Saint Germain, both in the street and inside cafés and bars. Some people I shot with their permission, most without. I now put up a selection of those photos here: Night Out in Paris. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Neighbourhood Watch (Folks of Many Shades)

I live in Neukölln, a part of Berlin that until a few years ago was mostly a working class district, with a high percentage of 'guest worker' immigrants (that is, mainly first and second generation Turks and Lebanese, and a sprinkling of East Europeans), and an unemployment rate bordering on 30%. When I moved here some 15 years ago, nobody wanted to live here. Anyone who could afford it moved out, even more so if they had kids who reached schooling age. Rents were low and the district was going down the drain. Shops closed one after the other, only to be replaced by game parlours and betting places. There was one single decent restaurant around (a sushi place of all things), and you could count the amount of decent pubs on the fingers of one hand. The area was known for drug trafficking, for youth gangs, for schools who could not find teachers to teach, for heaps of dog shit on the sidewalk, and for people walking their beer bottles every hour of the day. Its fifteen minutes of fame came and went when national media  outlets started branding parts of Neukölln as 'no-go areas'. Oh, and David Bowie named an instrumental track after it, only he managed to spell it's name wrong ('Neuköln', on the album Heroes).

Much of that changed several years ago, when neighbouring hip Kreuzberg became crowded and expensive, and students and young new immigrants (sorry, 'expats', as the Americans, Brits, French, Israelis and Spaniards like to be known) realised that Neukölln's low rents beat its bad reputation. What started slowly is now in full swing: gentrification. That's both good and bad. Now we have decent pubs and clubs, plenty of no-fuzz restaurants (old and new) serving good food, and a mix of languages, ethnicities, fashion statements and gender fluidity to rival that of London and New York. And people clean up after their dogs. But, inevitably, this also means rising rents and unscrupulous landlords trying to force their old tenants out. There are even plans to build posh walled estates in the middle of those supposed 'no-go-areas'. 

Yet, the district is still far from being upmarket. Walk the streets and you still find discarded furniture and appliances just tossed on the sidewalk. The game parlours are still there, as are the smoke filled corner pubs with the all-day drunks. There are still plenty of people trying to make ends meet, running the gamut from homeless to jobless to those working their arse off in low paying part-time jobs. 

Nowhere is the 'clash of cultures' more evident than on Hermannplatz, a busy square between Neukölln and Kreuzberg. It's ugly and not very inviting, but for about a year now, a market is being held there on four days of the week, with stalls selling traditional Berlin food such as 'Currywurst' (sausages with curry powder ketchup) and doener kebab (which is now as traditional to Berlin as the bagel is to New York) besides stalls selling vegan, Korean or Spanish food as well as hip(ster) coffee brews. And it's here that a very colourful mix of Neuköllners both new and old hangs out: the hipsters, the homeless, the drunks, the yuppies, the refugees, the artists, the retired, the students, the housewives, the jobless and the working, from all corners of the globe.

I pass this square every day on my way to work, yet for some reason I had never stopped to take photos. This changed a few weeks ago when I was sick for a week while being on vacation. Not feeling up to criss-crossing the city, I took my camera to Hermannplatz, sat down and had coffee and observed the people. And I started taking photos. First I took candid shots, the way I usually do in Berlin, but then I decided that I might get better results if I asked permission of people. Surprisingly, I found a number of folks who were not only willing but happy to pose - much like the gentleman pictured on top, who quite happily chats with me now every time I run into him. The same goes for the lady posted here on the right. 

A number the people I photographed, with or without permission, live on the fringe. You can tell that they struggle to make ends meet, yet the ones I talked to seemed content, if not happy; or at least wanted to appear so. Moreover, you can tell that what they want to display, behind all their idiosyncrasies, is dignity and pride. And this is how I hopefully manage to portray them. 

(Yes, there is also a fair amount of homeless people, hard-core alcoholics and a few lone junkies hanging out here, and to paint a true picture of the neighbourhood, I would have needed to include their portraits. But I'm not a reporter, and I do draw the line at photographing people's mysery just for the sake of it.)

I've been taking photos in the square and the neighbouring streets almost every day now for the past two months, usually on my way home from work, which explains why many of the photos reflect a soft, late-summer evening light. Because I wanted to use an unobtrusive camera, I mostly used the compact Leica X2, and to take advantage of that special light, I shot all photos in colour. 

I've now uploaded a selection of the photos, and you can see the full set here:

Saturday, 19 September 2015

As Summertime Ends

With summer drawing to a close in these parts of the world, it's time to wrap up those summer photo shoots. I've still been out and about in Berlin over the last sunny weeks and captured more street photographs, a selection of which I added to the sets I uploaded a couple of months ago: The Singer On the Couch and Scenes of Summer, the former being in black and white, the latter in colour. As before, the bulk of the new colour photos were shot with the Leica X2, and all the black and white ones with a Fuji, this time the X-T10. These are the final additions to these sets, and I must say I'm happy how they turned out.

Apart from the images which I added to these sets, I also shot a bunch of street photos around my neighbourhood, most of them with the Leica X2, which I will be adding later as a separate set - these photos really stand on their own and don't really fit in with the happy-go-free images of the other two sets.

So, here's to a good summer almost past. Enjoy.

The Singer on the Couch (black and white set)
Scenes of Summer (colour set)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Eyes Wide Open - 100 Years of Leica Photography

C/O Berlin is currently hosting a photo exhibition: Eyes Wide Open – 100 years of Leica photography. This extensive, and impressive, show which features hundreds of photographs, traces the trajectory of the small, handy camera through the various aspects encompassed by modern photography. Used first as a tool by people to document life around then, the Leica camera was quickly adopted by photojournalist, and served to pretty much document the better part of the 20th century in the Western world, including most of the 20th century conflicts from the Spanish civil war onwards. From journalism, the application of the Leica branched out, onto street, fashion and fine art.

The photos on display include a great many of the last century’s iconic, classic images – from Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle, to the Vietnamese girl running from Napalm by Nick Út, the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, and the classic James Dean portrait captured by Dean Stock. Different national tendencies are also analyzed, as the show dedicates different sections to respectively German, French, US, Spanish and Japanese post-WW2 photography.

The bulk of the images on display are in black and white, and personally I found that the chosen colour images resound even stronger for that. The fact that the 21st century plays only a minor role in the collected body of work obviously documents Leica’s diminishing role in this day and age, whatever the reasons may be.

The exhibition is rounded off with information about the Leica and the people and facilities behind the discovery and the production of the camera. The accompanying hard-cover catalogue is massive and clocks in at nearly 600 pages (and almost 100€).

Thus, all in all, a very worthwhile exhibition to visit. It is on until 1 November 2015. Various lectures on different aspects of Leica photography as well as guided tours with the curator are also offered.

For more information, see here: 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Learning From the Masters: Eric Kim

Photo by Eric Kim 

It's been a while since I posted an article on something not related to my own work, so it's about time I do that again. Recently I attended a lecture by Eric Kim at Eyeem's Berlin HQ, which is just around the corner from where I live. I didn't know Eric before reading  the announcement of the lecture, although plenty of others do, since he is a young man who is making a living out of delivering lectures and workshops on street photography. On his web site he gives all of his ebooks and lectures away for free, and it's definitely worth a visit.

Earlier, I posted a lengthy article on how returning to digital photography has left me a bit at a loss regarding the direction I want to take. Street photography, which I had been doing on and off since the 1990s, was high on my list, but I knew that with digital cameras, I had to approach it differently from the way I used the Holga cameras. Hence my decision to attend Eric's lecture, which was entitled '7 Lessons from the Masters of Street Photography' and which can be viewed/downloaded here. It was thankfully light on technical stuff, but what little technical advice he gave was excellent and I started applying it the next day: basically, set the camera in P mode, put a high ISO (up to 6400) so that the camera uses fast shutter speeds, and there you go (or as an alternative, use a slow aperture setting to again force fast shutter speeds). Excellent advice as you needn't worry about camera settings when you're out shooting, and a voice of reason in a field where the general advice seems to be 'real photographers do it all manual.'

Eric also weighed in whether it was preferable to shoot candidly or with the subject's permission - he does both and has made some very good experiences in getting his subjects' cooperation for the shooting. I had earlier written about how frustrating it is in Germany to photograph people as they are very reluctant to have their picture taken. But on my recent visit to Marseille, France, I decided to try and approach people to let me take their photo. So I chatted with people and then asked if I could take their picture. It didn't always work out but in half the cases it did. Since being back in Berlin, I've tried the same. More people turn me away here, but certain folks are happy to have their picture taken - but that's the stuff for another article...

Back to Eric then. One of the things he also preaches is to keep things simple. That includes your camera gear. He advocates using one camera and one lens.  Again, very good advice as I was considering taking three cameras with me to Marseille (a Fuji, a Leica and a Holga), and based on Eric's advice, I only took the Fuji. The decision saved me from backaches (lugging that gear around in a backpack) and from headaches (pondering which camera to use for which situation).

As I said, Eric is full of very good advice, different from what you get from other photographers, and all his output is available for free, so there is no reason not to go and  read up on his stuff.

Eric's links:

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tango In the Night: Street Photography from Marseille

I recently came back from a six day visit to Marseille, in the South of France. Before going there, I did not really know what to expect. Films and books tend to paint a negative image of the city, and whenever the praises of the French Mediterranean are sung, Marseille is seldom mentioned. I basically only knew that it was old (the Greeks and the Romans had been there) and the second largest city in France. And that it was considered to lie "just outside of Africa."

I found the city charming, with plenty to see and do, and with nice places to hang out. It's a very cosmopolitan city, owing much of its charm and character to the many inhabitants that stem from North Africa. 

I took a fairly large number of photos, most of them of people. I found most
folks easygoing - I was seldom rebuked for taking pictures of people, in fact, often enough people would volunteer to have their photo taken. One lady, on noticing that I was going to photograph her, laughed and said "Ain't I beautiful?", before posing for the camera. A young man (depicted here on the right) first thought I was a policeman, but then we chatted for a while and he let me take this photo.

One of my favourite hang-outs was around the old Fort Jean, at the mouth of the Old Port, and the adjacent (stunning) MUCEM museum complex. Here, locals like to hang out, to swim, sunbathe, fish or snorkel; while the youngsters made a sport of jumping off the fortress' ramparts into the sea. So it's not by accident that I shot many photos around that place.

I took other photos of Marseille as well, not just people photographs, but at this point I don't yet know if I will put them up. Meanwhile, though, here is the set entitled "Tango In the Night and Other Tales of Marseille". Enjoy.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Singer On the Couch....

I recently uploaded the second part of the street photography project I have been pursuing this summer (read the blog entry here). After the initial set of colour images, I now put uploaded a collection of photos in black and white which I entitled 'The Singer On the Couch and Other Berlin Tales'.

On any given day, I decide before heading out whether I will shoot in colour or
in black & white. I seldom mix and match during an outing, the reason being that I find it takes a certain mindset for either option (the same for choosing between shooting in analog or digital). While in winter I generally use black and white, in summer I like to vary. I love shooting in colour, but shooting in black and white in sunny weather has its own rewards as you get to play with light and shadows and stark contrasts. Some of the images in the set hark back to last winter, but the majority was shot this summer. They reflect the joys of summer, the feeling of being alive that people exude during this all too brief season in our part of the world. Sometimes the scenes are serene, sometimes playful, sometimes even silly; but always joyful - something which I find black and white photos are able to bring better to the forefront than colour photographs do, possibly because colours tend to distract or infuse emotions of their own.

Again, I tried to select photos that go beyond being more snapshots, taking into account factors like framing, grouping, use of light and darkness, but also context, which for me is as important as the subject being photographed. 

I used three cameras for this project, the inobtrusive and reliable Fujifilm X30, thr more flexible Fujifilm X-T10 with a zoom lens as well as 27mm and 35mm lens, the latter having become my favourite lens. I also used the Leica X2 for a few shots, but mainly I keep that camera for the colour sessions. 

The Singer on the Couch and Other Tales of Berlin (Black and White Street Photography)

Friday, 31 July 2015

Summer Scenes: Berlin Street Photography

recently blogged about the fact that for the time being I'm concentrating on digital photography rather than analog as I used to. Earlier this year I posted architectural photographs from Berlin and London shot mostly with the Fujifilm X30, which was the first project I undertook with the new digital camera. 

I have now also uploaded a of new set of images which I took as part of a second project that I embarked on with digital cameras, namely street photography. This is the first set for this project, and it features colour photographs which were taken this summer, mostly using the Leica X2 camera, but also a Fujifilm X30 and more recently a Fujifilm X-T10. I'm quite enamoured with the Leica's colour output, I must say, which is why it seemed to me the best choice when heading out on sunny days (although I do wish the camera came with a view finder!). Although Fujifilm cameras do a great job too with colours, I find I use them mostly for black and white.

The project is ongoing, as is summer, so the set may yet change. I'm also putting together a second set with black and white photos which will be up later this summer.

I hadn't really attempted street photography in Europe recently. When travelling in India and China, I enjoyed photographing people, be it candid shots or casual portraits. Asians in general, and Indians in particular, are very relaxed about being photographed. It's usually a matter of 'you shoot me, I shoot you' attitude, which is all about sharing. Not so in Europe, and particularly in Germany. Germans have this thing what they call 'the right to your own image.' They like to cite that to you like a mantra whenever you mention that you photograph strangers. I blame Karl May for that. Karl May is that 19th century German author who wrote novels about the American West (and other exotic locales) without ever having set foot there. He claimed in his novels that Native Americans did not want to be photographed as they believed that it robbed them of their soul (May had a lot of BS theories about Native Americans). Germans, who basically grow up on Karl May, seem to have internalised this philosophy: if you (a stranger) take their image, you rob them of a part of them. At least that's my theory as to why so many people tell me off, give me the finger, hide their faces or give me the evil eye when I aim the camera in their general direction (ok, I may be a bit harsh here on the Germans, maybe all Westerners have internalized this Karl May philosophy). 

So, to cut a long story short, street photography in Berlin is mostly about stealth. Sometimes some folk consent to begin photographed if you ask nicely, but in general it is best to remain inconspicuous when shooting in the street. This is one of the strengths of the Leica X2 of course, it is small and silent. Using the Leica however presents the challenge of using a fixed 27mm lens,  meaning you have to get close to your subject. That's one skill I'm still working on, one deep breath at a time....

This set, then, is a representation of a typical urban summer: locals enjoying the elusive sun or coping with the heat, tired tourists trying to put a brave face on things, street people trying to cope with life etc. When selecting the photos for the set, I looked out for two things: that the picture is interesting in itself (or because of its subject), and that somehow it goes beyond being a mere snapshot. I hope I succeeded. 

Enjoy... and have a good summer :) 


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Analog and Digital, or an Identity Crisis of Sorts

I was an early embracer of digital photography. I bought my first digital photo camera in the mid-90s, and a digital Sony video camera not long after. Around that time, the camera which I had been using for over a decade, a Canon AE-1, broke. I never replaced it with an equivalent. For years all I carried around with me was the video camera which I used both for video and for photographs (and it did take very good photos, even if the resolution is laughable by today's standards). Then in 2004 I became aware of a cheap plastic medium format camera, a Holga, and the pictures I saw online and in print which had taken with that camera just blew me away. This was at a time when digital photography had really taken off, and the craze to put one's each and every snapshot online, no matter what the quality, was already beginning. In the midst of exchangeable digital photographs, the square, imperfect Holga pics with their tell-tale vignettes and fuzzy edges stood out like a sore thumb (this was long before Instagram and the like began aping the 'toy camera' look with their filters). I got myself a Holga, and after a bit of a learning curve, learnt to produce the images I wanted and liked. I branched out, of sorts, by using other types of lo-tech cameras, such as the Diana+, an old Soviet-made Lubitel, as well as pinhole and panorama Holgas. For eight years I never looked back. Medium format film and manual automatic cameras had become 'my thing', my style. I participated in several exhibitions (with large format reproductions), had my work published in print and online, and of course kept feeding my web site. Although I favoured a type of cameras often called 'toy cameras', I decided to take them seriously, and in my (biased) view, managed to produce exceptional looking results that held their own in the company of photos taken with pro-level cameras - much as many other users of  lo-tech cameras also did.

In 2012 I took up Polaroid photography. Impossible Project were finally producing film stock that was usable - decent colours, great black and white. The Holgas took a back seat as I delved into instant photography, using a couple of second-hand Polaroid cameras and  the not quite cheap Impossible Project films. Again I had found a medium which suited my taste, producing images that were often imperfect but produced individual, and for me, great, results. Instant photography also offered the added advantage of producing physical images, and as such were a great medium for sharing with other people. And I found that approaching people to take their photograph with a Polaroid was a lot easier than with a regular camera, especially if you offered people to give them a copy as well - a trick I put to good use when travelling in India for example. I've been using Polaroid cameras now for three years, and again managed to produce a fair number of images I'm proud of.

However, there were shortcomings as well. Instant film is not cheap - 20 euros for 8 exposures is a lot of money. If I add up the money I spent on film during those three years, I come up with a sum that would have purchased me a pro camera. I also found other problems with the film, especially colour film. It doesn't perform well when it's too hot or too cold. It's not a film to take on flights as the security x-ray machines at airports cause discolouration. And I also found that too often, the film was faulty and produced less than ideal results. It also seemed that the colour films got worse as new versions were released, while black and white film decidedly improved. 

Another shortcoming of the lo-tech cameras I was using, both the Holgas and Polaroids, is that they have a limited range in terms of the light conditions they are suited for. Berlin winters tend to be long and above all, grey, and I found myself unable to use either type of cameras for long stretches of those winter months. So in November of last year, for the first time in 20 years, I went out and bought a digital camera. When I started looking for a model that would suit my style and taste, I was aiming for an unobtrusive camera which is easy to use in manual, or semi-manual mode, and that produces great results out of the box, i.e. without any major tweaking required in a photo editor. I liked what I saw online of the Fujifilm cameras (both the look and feel of the cameras as well as the output, which had a decided analog mood to it), and for a while played with the idea of getting a X100 model, but then decided against a fixed lens model and bought a X30 instead. 

It took me a while to get back into digital photography. Actually, I'm not quite sure I'm there yet. I still very much use the approach I took with the analog cameras. I refuse to take series of hundreds of pics of the same motif in the hope that one image turns out right. I still want every take to be 'the one'. If not on the first take, then at least on the second one... I also use the view finder rather than the display (another reason I chose the Fuji), and many of the photos I took in winter were in black and white.  I enjoy being able to shoot at night, indoors and on dark days. I enjoy not having to scan the images or the negatives (scanning negatives is really time consuming). The wide-angle end of the lens comes in handy for architectural photographs, and the zoom for street photography. I don't have to worry beforehand which kind of film to load, I can switch between colour and b&w as I see fit. So, plenty of good reasons to like digital.

And yet...

There is a saying that it isn't the camera that takes good pictures, but the photographer. That's a statement I very much agree with. However, I also feel that the type of camera you use says as much about your style, and your identity as a photographer, as the motives you choose. My style had long been to incorporate the lo-tech cameras' imperfections into my work. The blurry edges of the Holga cameras, the light leaks, the not-always-spot-on framing, the scratches and patches on the instant film photos, all added to what I was trying to convey. 

Susan Sontag once wrote that photography always attempts, but always fails, to capture reality. What I had liked about the kind of analog equipment which I had been using was that these cameras did not even bother to try capturing reality. They were all about producing a disjointed, unreal, sometimes surreal, reproduction of the world around us. That's what I liked and that's what I embraced. 

And now I'm using these digital cameras (I recently also purchased a used Leica X2 camera with, yes, a fixed lens), that produce technically great images. Yes, I could choose filters on the camera that ape the Holga and the Polaroids - but how daft would that be? In other words, faced with cameras that produce (technically) perfect results (or as perfect as you can get for the amount of money which I could afford to pay for them) and offer possibilities not present in a low-tech, I was thrown back to the question: how do I see myself as a photographer?

My work always had two foci. One was portrait and street photography, the other urban/architectural. As I mentioned above, the new cameras offered new possibilities in both these areas. My first real project with the Fujifilm involved shooting buildings and working out urban geometries. It is a motif I had already pursued with a Polaroid camera, but the Fuji allowed me to use a different approach and produced different results (read the blog entry here), and I'm very happy with that series. So far so good. 

It's a bit of a different matter when it comes to street photography. Both the Holga and the Polaroids produce very iconoclastic images when using them for street photography, or indeed portrait photography, images which are not in the same vein as the iconic photographs we know from the likes of the Cartier-Bresson (Polaroid is not particularly well suited for street photography but is great for casual portraits with willing subjects, but the same applies to these kind of images). What the digital cameras (and smartphone apps) do well is to emulate the style of the classic street photography cameras, notably the Leica. All the cameras offer more or less convincing black and white filters and settings that offer a close approximation of classic analog b&w photography. Sometimes they even do the same with colour photography. Again, so far so good. But, as I mentioned earlier, my style had never been about classic photography. Nor is it about to become about high-tech, sophisticated digital photography - HDR for example is a no-go for me. If, as I mentioned above, my style has always been about imperfections, what am I doing using near perfect cameras...?

So why am I writing all this? Foremost, I guess, to explain where I am, now. When you look at my current output on flickr  this is what you see: photographs which are still very much of the type I like, but not necessarily in a style I consider mine. Some photos  I like a lot, others I find adequate. I find none of them outstanding (and in case you're wondering, yes I think I shot a few outstanding photos, especially with the medium format  cameras).

So, in other words, I'm at a crossroads. I can chuck the digital cameras and go back to analog, or I can dig deeper into digital and find something that makes those photos mine. I can do both, of course, but not at the same time. A particular camera requires a particular frame of mind, and mixing these vastly different types of cameras hasn't worked for me when I tried. 

At this point, I don't know where the road takes me. For a while at least, I'll keep using the digital cameras, taking advantage of the possibilities which digital cameras offer while trying to find something in digital photography that I can own. 

However, I also stocked up on Impossible Project's new generation of instant films.
And I have a pile of Fujifilm 120 films lying around which I stocked up on before they went out of production last year.

So we shall see, shan't we. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Art Objects/Subjects

I recently posted a new series of photographs, the bulk of which I shot in Luxembourg's Modern Art Museum (Mudam) while visiting an exhibition entitled Flux,  a series of sculptures and installations by Canadian artist David Altmejd.  I've also added a few images which I captured at the ℅ Berlin, in the exhibition Genesis which features photographs by Sebastião Salgado.

I called the new set 'Art Objects/Subjects', as the focus of the images is not the exhibitions themselves, but rather the visitors, the spectators of the shows' art work (and those who observe the spectators). The set is, in short, an observation on how we observe and experience art - which of course includes the practice of snapping photos left, right and center (guilty as charged).

All photos were shot with the Fujifilm X30 camera. 

Updated 31 July 2015: I added four photos taken at the Geo Ego exhibition in Berlin's Czech Centre, an exhibition by Czech artists working in geometric abstraction.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Brighton by Instax

Sometime last year, I bought a Fujifilm Instax Mini camera, the Neo 90 Classic. Although the camera in itself comes with a number of seductive features (double exposure, timer...), the small, if not to say tiny, size of the photos made me look upon the camera as not much more than a gimmick. As such, I used it for taking snapshots and souvenirs. I did take it with me to Brighton earlier this year, however, and as I quite like some of the resulting shots, I decided to post them. 
Much like its big brother, the Instax Wide camera, it is very good at rendering colours and for shooting in low-light situations. The images are not quite as sharp though, which in some instances actually works towards their advantage. Anyway, it proves that a camera designed for the Instagram age, i.e. for capturing food, pets, selfies and party guests, has indeed a few surprises up its sleeve...
So, here it is, Brighton by Instax Mini. Enjoy...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Urban Geometry: Perspectives and Planes

Last summer, I put together a series of Polaroid photos which focused on the geometry of Berlin's (post-)modern architecture. Throughout this winter, I undertook a similar project with the Fujifilm X30 camera, again capturing 20th and 21st century architecture in Berlin, the result of which I recently uploaded in a new set entitled Urban Geometry: Perspectives and Planes.

Although they have a common theme, the two sets are still very much different. These differences are defined by the medium (analog instant vs. digital), by the format (square vs. mostly 16:9 ratio) and most importantly, by the respective camera's lens and the approach that it allows. Using the Polaroid SX-70, I worked with the camera's fixed lense to focus on excerpts of buildings. The X30's zoom range, however, allowed me to capture buildings in their entirety, or even sets of buildings as depicted in the photo above. It also allowed me to zoom in on particular details if required. This, coupled with the chosen 16:9 ratio,  led the focus away from  the representation of the geometrical shapes of things. Instead, what came to the foreground were the lines, be they frames, pillars, beams or decorative patterns, horizontal or perpendicular or anything in between. 

Now I've said this elsewhere, but Berlin's architecture is basically an angular,
rectangular one, and you are hard pressed to find other shapes and forms - but they do exist. There are some great Bauhaus buildings around which make much use of curves (such as the Shell House), and even in the past years, some architects have managed to slip unusual designs by the stern gaze of  Berlin's conservative building authorities who so love their rectangular designs and orderly structures. The federal government buildings near the central train station consist of a weird amalgam of geometrical shapes of all sorts. And close by, in the model "Hansaviertel" neighbourhood, whose buildings date back to the 1950s, renowned architects such as Oscar Niemeyer forfitted traditional shapes and arrangements for more daring ones. In other words, the buildings I photographed for this project oftentimes go beyond the rectangular and angular.  

The buildings I concentrated on mostly date from the last 70 years. This includes public and office buildings as well as private housings and a couple of industrial buildings (one of which dates back to the late 19th century). The pictures feature buildings by architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Renzo Piano, Oscar Niemeyer, Walter Gropius, Hans Kollhoff and Hans Scharoun.

All photos are in black and white, and as mentioned above, have been taken with the Fujifilm X30 camera.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Instant Lab Portraits: From Digital to Analog and Back Again

A couple of years ago, Impossible Project, the makers of polaroid-compatible instant film, began producing a device they call the Instant Lab, which allows you to transfer digital images from a smartphone or tablet to instant film prints. Some call the device a printer, but Impossible Project calls it a camera, and I tend to agree with the latter. Now, Impossible Project are not the only ones manufacturing these type of devices, there exist similar ones by Fujifilm and Lomography which produce prints using Fujifilm Instax Mini film. 
The success of these devices (as well as on demand print books etc.), and the increasing demand for instant film cameras overall, obviously points to a demand for a return to tangible, physical images; not as a replacement of but existing alongside the possibilities which the digital age has to offer in terms of capturing and presenting photos. 
As interesting as that may be, I am more intrigued by another facet of this: the continuous blurring of the lines between analog and digital. Analog photos obviously also exist in the digital sphere, they are scanned (from a negative or a positive) then presented and shared online. The physical copy of the image may not even exist beyond the negative. When scanning analog photos, the results are sometimes digitally manipulated, and even if not, the very act of scanning oftentimes alters the image. Additionally, viewing a photo on a backlit screen is a very different experience from viewing a print. 
In other words, photos shot on analog equipment already lead a hermaphrodite type of existence. 
Now the Instant Lab actually keeps blurring the distinction even more. Transferring a digital image to the instant film is not a copy/paste process, the result is never a 1:1 transfer. Depending on the film used, or the exposure time, or a number of other variables, the result is different in one way or another from the original. You can even do double exposures. Like any camera, you need to get the hang of it to produce optimum results. 
And of course, all that happens after you manipulate a photo on the smartphone, sometimes more, sometimes less so.
And finally, of course, you scan the physical picture and the process has come full circle. 

I have been using the Instant Lab since 2013, and presented a good number of results on my site. I have now put together a set that showcases all the portrait and street photography images that I put through the Instant Lab. The set includes straight transfers of iPhone photos to instant film, but it also includes double exposures done with the instant lab as well as copies of manipulations I did with the pics and the iPhone. It even includes an image I created when I accidentally cracked the screen of my iPhone. 
The interesting aspect is that the device allows for a different range of images than is possible with standard Polaroid cameras. Besides the aforementioned image manipulations, this includes photos taken in situations for which the Polaroid cameras are not well suited for, interiors (if you don't like flash) or street photography (Polaroid cameras tend to be a bit too obvious for discrete shots) for example. Some results are due to accidents: my instant lab has recently developed a flaw, damaging the exposure. Strangely enough, the damage often works in favour of the image, somehow accentuating the subject in the photo (Impossible Project has offered to replace the device, I should add).

More instant film photos

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Wide-Angle Urban Poetry, Vol. 2: London & Brighton

For the second year running I spent New Year's in Brighton, and same as last year I followed that vacation up with a stay in London. And same as last year, I brought back a number of photographs.

Last year I had taken the analog Lomo Belair panoramic camera with me. This year I decided to go digital and took the Fujifilm X30. I took it primarily because I was expecting bad weather and low light, which normally hampers the use of lo-fi analog cameras. However, luckily bad weather wasn't the norm, so that I ended up with a number of splendid colour photographs as well as black and white ones.

I'm particularly happy with many of the photos which I brought back from
London, especially the ones which I shot in and around the Barbican. I visited the Barbican Centre to see an exhibition, Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age; a show which I thought quite brilliant, both for the theme and for the large number of exceptional photos on display. At the same time, the Barbican complex is in itself a highly photogenic urban jungle, bordering on the ever growing architectural frenzy (some would say mess) that is London's East End. Certainly it was no coincidence that the Barbican was putting on a show with this kind of theme, and so it was not necessarily a coincidence either that I ended up with a number of shots reflecting the theme of the show. 

The photographs which I took this year with the Fujifilm X30 in many ways compliment the panoramic pictures which I took last year with the Belair camera, so I combined the two in a common set, adding also a number of Polaroids which fit the theme of urban panoramas, as well as a couple of 'Holgaramas' from 2008, and a collage which I did in 2004 of Saint Paul's as seen from the Tate Modern. Altogether they also illustrate how fast London's skyline keeps changing, for better and for worse. Additionally, the photos illustrate another facet of London which I always found fascinating: here, the various epochs of London's long history do not so much co-exist side by side, but seem to pile up on top of each other. The picture above is a good example as it shows tiers of buildings from various centuries, combining the medieval church of St Giles-without-Cripplegate with buildings from the 19th, 20th and 21st century high rises into a very crowded skyline.