Archive for December, 2009

Summing up my trip and some ideas for the new year

December 28, 2009

Hutor

My Eastern Europe trip’s over. For the first time in a long while I am actually happy that a trip has ended. Perhaps it’s because I am still not completely home, but in Belarus, and in some way the journey is still continuing.

My incredible bad luck continued on the Poland to Belarus road. I had my first ever car crash of a sort when I went over a pile of snow, slightly lost control of the car and then totally lost control when I pushed the brakes (not the best idea to push the brakes). Luckily there was one of those barriers along the highway that separates lanes from each other, that’s what the car hit, first with the front bumper then after sliding and doing a 180° turn, with the back.

We weren’t going too fast and there was almost no traffic, so we ended up unscathed and didn’t collide with anyone else. The car looked…interesting, I regret not taking photos of it now, but Tanya and I were too busy gaffer-taping the front bumper on, in – 13 C weather.

We somehow made it over the border the next day. After seeing the gaffer-taped bumper, the Belarusian border patrol jokingly asked “Is that a bumper from a BMW or yours?”. The customs people felt so sorry for us they didn’t even bother going through the trunk (which doesn’t open anymore anyway).

The important thing is that we made it back in one piece. I guess there is the argument that we were really unlucky, because of all the things that happened along the way, but on the other hand no one even thought it was possible to go to Romania and back in our little 25-year-old Volkswagen Golf. Go figure.

After spending a few days in Minsk, one of my least favorite cities in the world, we decided to go visit some friends in another city. That’s when the car died again on us. I didn’t bother fixing it this time, simply got a hire-car and drove off to Braslav, the region I passionately spoke about numerous times on my blog.

Driving in winter, especially when there are sudden weather changes is a nightmare. From the icy roads to giant puddles, it’s tough and dangerous. I’d be happy to lie low for a few days and that’s exactly what I’m doing in a friend’s countryside house (that’s a picture of it at the top of the post and those are his “pets” below). Just me Tanya, nature and my computer. 🙂 In reality I have a lot of work to catch up on and I hope that’s what I can do, while getting some peace and quiet that was missing during the constant movement around Eastern Europe.

Ivanycha-Kozel

New year is approaching and I already have plenty of exciting plans. Coming back to Braslav in the summer is one idea. It is an amazing region and perhaps my journey around the rest of Eastern Europe made me realize just how special it is.  In many ways it’s still virgin, unspoilt, a little wild even. To wander around the villages here is absolutely fascinating and often heartwarming and the natural beauty is unlike anywhere else.

I’m thinking that it may be worth doing a workshop in Braslav or perhaps even trying something new with the good friend I’ve made here (the one whose house I’m staying in) – a guided photo tour of a sort. It’ll be for those who are more comfortable with their photographic abilities and simply want to have an amazing photographic experience, rather than learn a standard workshop. If anyone thinks it’s a good idea, drop me a line or leave a comment on the blog.

Two personal trips which are close to happening:

Another trip to Indonesia and yet another trip to India. I want to buy underwater housing for my Canon 5D MKII and shoot stuff on fishermen in Indonesia. The last time there were just too many times when I was kicking myself for not having some sort of casing.

The India thing is well, India calls and when it calls you go. It seems to be calling me at least once a year, but hey, I still have only just scratched the surface of what can be done there. I’ve got a few particularly exciting things planned, but I won’t reveal too much just yet.

I like to make plans for the future, actually, it’s more like dreaming up things and then working to make them happen. It’s an amazing feeling when you realize that you are living a dream, but it all starts with nothing more than a thought, an idea. I think it’s important to have those plans/dreams, not only for photographers, but for anyone. Make those dreams achievable and then really work to realize them. It’s sort of what I’ve been doing, without having any particular idea of how to make things happen, I simply make them up, dream and somehow everything falls into place, the important thing is to set those goals for yourself. I guess the clichéd yet encouraging and true thing to say is that – if I made it happen, so can you. 🙂

So I guess before I end this blog post I’d like to ask; what are your photographic plans/dreams for the next year?

Happy new year folks! 🙂

Too many impressions – too little time

December 16, 2009

Budapest-Baths-next-move

In a day or two Tanya and I go back to Belarus. Though I’ve had more bad luck and troubles on this trip than ever before, it has been a fulfilling nevertheless.

My main goal at the beginning was to visit Romania, get a taste of it and then just see and absorb as much as possible in a limited amount of time in the other countries I visit. That’s pretty much what happened. Along the way I shot some images for the stock agencies I work with, also something I wanted to do.

In a bit over two weeks I’ve been to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and Italy. That’s a lot of places in such a short period of time, too many for my liking usually, but this situation was the result of Tanya’s visa limitation and my curiosity outweighing the desire to concentrate on any long-term photographic work.

Just a couple of months ago, the names of the countries and cities I visited were nothing more than that – names. I guess now I have at least some associations with these names and though I don’t pretend to have gained any understanding of the places I’ve been to, I have had a glimpse into a different world, which for me only existed in pictures and guidebooks before.

I feel like I have grown a little photographically too. I understand myself a little better, I understand more what drives and inspires me and what doesn’t so much. For any creative person that’s an important thing. Essentially if we understand that, we know how to push our own buttons, to get those creative juices flowing, rather than wait for some higher power to enlighten us.

And so here’s a quick look at a few of the photos from the last few days.

Budapest-Baths-top-viewThe famous Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest. The image at the top of the post is from there too, it’s kinda weird that there are people playing chess in a pool, but hey, it makes for a good photo subject. These baths are a place I wouldn’t have normally thought to bring my camera to, I wanted to enjoy them myself, but after seeing some of Ami Vitale’s images (she’s one of my fav photogs), I couldn’t resist. So I had my fun in the water and in the spas first and then went out to shoot a few frames.

baths-massage People enjoying a massage from the strong stream of very warm water. Periodically the whole pool area is enveloped under the steam. I love shooting in these situations, I just wish I had a waterproof camera case to do some stuff from different perspectives.

Zakopane-viewFrom warm thermal baths to the cold snowy mountains of Zakopane, Poland. I’ve wanted to be at the top of snow-peak mountains for some time, but never got the chance, until now. I did it the easy way too, by cable car. 🙂

ski-chairsSki chairs against a mountainous backdrop. I find ski chairs to be pretty photogenic for some reason.

trees-from-aboveThe view from above was almost surreal. Part of the forest was illuminated by the sun while the other was in the shadow. It’s times like these that make me feel like there is more to photography than shooting people.

That’s all for today. My next post will probably be from Belarus. I hope it snows there and I hope my car makes it. 🙂

Postcard from Slovenia and the trials and tribulations of life on the road.

December 8, 2009

Bled

I’ve been on the road in Eastern Europe for about a month and a half now and I’m kinda tired. Perhaps it’s the road, perhaps it’s the fact that there has been relatively little photography or maybe it’s the bad weather, which has contributed to the lack of photography.

Perhaps it’s the stupid decisions I’ve made before leaving – like taking a 25 year old car on a 5000 + km journey. In Asia transport trouble often led me to make new friends and gave me a glimpse into their worlds. Believe it or not, leaving yourself vulnerable in a difficult situation can really show you what a certain culture/people is like and that can make any transport trouble pretty bearable. In the places I’ve traveled in Asia there’s always a positive aspect that emerged, sometimes something as profound as the affirmation of the great potential of human kindness. When a stern looking desert man who speaks no word of English sees you’re in trouble, goes 10 km one way and back to bring some tools to fix your motorbike and then, after all that invites you for tea and chapattis with his family, insisting that you come back for lunch, well that makes any human being with emotions almost teary eyed.

My experiences in Eastern Europe (not including Belarus) have been pretty far from anything like that. They’ve mostly been all about paying, and paying lots. The mechanic doesn’t invite you for lunch either, and doesn’t introduce you to his  family, which is obviously totally understandable, but it sure puts things into perspective. Why do people in India and Indonesia do that? Are they so much more hospitable and open to human interaction than Europeans? I guess in general, the answer is “yes” and I guess that’s why I love being there so much.

The sole exception of a sort happened in Maramures, Romania. My car’s exhaust pipe fell apart after I hit a pot-hole, there was no equipped garage nearby and the only mechanic was one with a very simple set-up. We couldn’t drive too far with the exhaust dragging on the ground and so we had to act on the spot. The mechanic had enough sympathy to understand that and came up with a solution. It was decided that everyone who was there – me, two guys I traveled with, the mechanic and his friend were gonna push the car on its’ side, so the exhaust pipe could be welded together. The four of us were slightly short of muscle power and a passing-by neighbor was asked to help. Without any hesitation he did.

me-and-car

We managed to sort everything out and I was back on the road, thanks to the resourcefulness of these villagers from Maramures. That was about as close as I’ve come to an Indian experience in Europe.

Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t really, if I don’t think about it, but as mentioned, I feel these situations help me put things into perspective, to appreciate the countless amazing moments that have filled my life while I’ve been traveling. They help me gain some sort of an understanding of this crazy world we live in and that in turn can’t be all that bad for my photography.

I don’t advise anyone to do what I’ve been doing – driving in a 25 year old car, I mean. But when I think about it, I got myself the best thing I could can afford at the time, the other option would be not to go at all. I’ve been my own guinea-pig, seeing how far I can go and what adventures and experiences will come my way. I did all the main things I wanted and I can’t complain about that.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the kindness of the amazing strangers who have come my way in the past. Typing this in an overpriced hotel room and paying for a crappy internet connection somewhere on the Slovenian border in Italy, I’m thinking that perhaps it’s time to get back to “reality”.

Tomorrow I will see if my car is fixable. It was a little unnerving to see smoke come out from under the bonnet, you don’t need to be a mechanic to know that’s not the best sign.

My little adventure is almost over, I originally planned to return to Belarus around the middle of December, I still hope that I can drive back and not have to fly there. 🙂

The top image is from Bled, Slovenia – an unbelievably beautiful place. I was lucky enough to have a sunny day when I arrived, it was all rain and fog later. The next image is me with my car flipped on the side, while the exhaust pipe was getting welded.

Romanian adventure comes to an end.

December 1, 2009

Farmer And so, my very short adventure in Romania has come to an end. It was not anywhere near long enough to even scratch the surface here photographically, but I did get a glimpse into a couple of regions in this fascinating country.

The last stop was Maramures, a region which I heard hadn’t changed much over the past couple of centuries.  Perhaps it was silly to believe this, but for some reason I did or perhaps just hoped that it would be true.

In reality Maramures was both – as amazing as I thought it might be and at the same time more visually abhorring than I could have imagined. It seems that in Eastern Europe things change even faster than in Asia and just as is the case with Asia, progress here is not a thing of beauty.

For whatever reason those who have been denied prosperity for so long seem to have a very crass way of showing that prosperity once they obtain it, with disregard for anything that existed before them. Traditional villages of wooden houses which seem to have been built in harmony with the landscape with consideration for the surroundings are very  few and far between in most of Maramures these days. They are being knocked down, replaced with huge (and I mean huge) brick and cement structures, which have about as much character as you might expect a concrete slab to have.

This “modernization” thing is a story I’ve seen throughout my travels around different countries. I don’t know how it ends, but I do feel that it’s very worthwhile for a photographer to capture what hasn’t been swallowed up by the so called progress. Luckily in Maramures a little bit of magic still remains. While many of the people are living in the soulless structures, they themselves haven’t lost their souls, nor what makes them visually unique to other Europeans. Perhaps most pleasantly, a lot of them are just as kind and as hospitable as their parents must have taught them to be.

I was reminded a little of India, when the locals almost forced their hospitality upon us, only in India the hospitality takes on the form of tea and food, while in Maramures you have to drink their toxic home-made “Tsuika”, a 50 + degree alcoholic beverage, strong enough to burn a whole in your stomach. After drinking five or six shots of it in the first day I decided that in reply to future offers it would be better for  me to drink a tiny bit of it, make a face and say that it is too strong for people from my country, which is not far from the truth.

I would have liked my trip to Maramures to have felt like a trip into a different world, into the past. It wasn’t quite like that, but as I drove my car through the mountains to the Hungarian border, passing old cattle herders in traditional hats, women collecting hay in their unique attires, all while being surrounded by some of the more dramatic scenery one is likely to encounter, I realized – Maramures is still special. It’s not what I wanted it to be, but that doesn’t make it any less special in relation to the rest of the world.

Here are some images of what still remains of the magical Maramures.

sheep-in-the-morning Sheep on their way to be herded up in the hills.

terga-lapus-regionThat’s the view the shepherd has when he herds the village’s sheep.

funnymanWe met this man during a foggy afternoon in a small house, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I asked if we could take a few photos of him outside. He agreed. As I fired off a few frames, he kept asking – “Am I really that f—ing cool? Is that why you’re photographing me? I mean there are so many other people, but you chose me! I must be something special!

fog-dogThe man had quite a few “tsuikas” and just before he left he decided to chase the dog around. The dog was surprised.

Rural-boy At the same place we found this great, young character. I loved his attire – a child’s sweater with an image of a sheep and a grown man’s suit and trousers.

pigfeedingA village woman after feeding her piglets. The villagers of Maramures are very proud of their animals and gladly show them to anyone half-interested.

oldmanVlad, one of my traveling companions and I met this elder at the front of his traditional house. We asked if we could come inside and see what it’s like. He let us in and posed for a few photographs. He’s 88 years old and all alone, so I think he was happy to chat to us for a while.

magical-morningMagical morning in the hills. It’s foggy almost every day during this time of year. When it’s not cloudy, the scenery can be rather special.

cattlemarket Morning at the cattle market.

pumpkinsVillage woman chopping up pumpkins.

I feel a world away from Romania as I type this entry from my room in Krakow, Poland. It’s been a frustrating couple of days since I left Romania, as I had a lot of my things stolen from my car during my overnight stay in Bratislava, Slovakia. Luckily most of the photography related stuff was with me in the hostel room, but I did have to search all of Krakow for a new battery charger for my Canon 5D MKII.

Tomorrow I hit the road again. After being re-united with my dear wife we have decided to drive to Slovenia. If my car makes it, that’s where I’ll be for the next few days.

That’s all for now.