Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Holbav – a trip into the past

November 23, 2009

holbavI finally got a chance to shoot what I wanted, the way I wanted in a small Transylvanian village called Holbav. That’s where the photo of me in the oxen cart was taken (last post).

Though Holbav is only about 20km away from Brasov (the region’s largest city) it is a world away in terms of everything else.  Not much would have changed here over the last 100 years or so. Incredibly, there is still no electricity, no running water and none of the other comforts taken for granted in the “modern” Europe. In other words in many ways the village is representative of what a lot of Romania must have been like a long while ago. This is exactly what I wanted to photograph.

My time in Holbav, though very short, was intense. There are times when I want to limit what I know about a place. I think not knowing helps me to be open to only the positive aspects and to concentrate purely on my photography. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case here.

It’s a long story not worth getting into on the blog, but the bottom line is, I found out too much. That the place is not perfect, that life there is hard and the hardships sometimes have a negative impact on people, naturally. Though my experience was 99% great, being aware of the brute, savage and cruel qualities that occasionally come out of the local population was not something I wanted.

In any case, here are some images from this fascinating village.

hay-collectingDominicu collecting hay, which had been drying for a couple of weeks prior.

tony-workin Tony packing hay for winter storage.

oxen Ioan and his oxen. Apparently they are pretty old. Ioan used voice commands and beat the crap out of them to get the desired results. It was often a pitiful scene, which is better communicated through video, which I also made, but cannot share until I reach a fast internet connection.

old-man I don’t remember this old gentleman’s name, though I met him twice. He was a lovely fellow, but sure looked like he was drinking a lot, the second time I saw him.

kerosene-lampNo electricity means that kerosene lamps. replace light-bulbs. Here Ioan hangs the lamp on one of the few hooks that exist around his house.

Next stop – Maramures – supposedly it’s a photographer’s paradise in many ways. We’ll see. 🙂

The elders of Braslavschina

November 2, 2009

Father-Timothy-Port

I am getting ready to drive from Belarus to Romania via Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, but here’s a post before I go.

I’ve said goodbye to Braslavschina, the region which I fell in love with over my time there. Well, it’s goodbye for at least a month and a half, not forever. 🙂

There are a few things which I absolutely love about Braslavschina, but it should come as no surprise that for a photographer of people the best part of any journey is the interaction with the locals. The locals I enjoyed interacting with in particular are the elders of Braslavschina, the fascinating men and women who despite living such tough lives, often even in their old age, remain so generally positive and even naive in the sense that they are pure of the cynicism that fills the world in which they live.

I often heard different variations of the same phrase from the older generation in Braslavschina. “Our lives used to be so difficult before, now everything is so much easier. It’s possible to really live now, pity there’s not much living left.” They would say this with a somewhat sad smile, but a smile nevertheless.

In any case, here are some of the elders of Braslavschina which I had the pleasure to meet and chat with.

Goat

We met these two ladies along the road. I simply couldn’t resist the scene, stopped my car and approached this “trio”. I asked where they were heading and got a pretty hilarious reply – “We’re taking the goat to his girlfriend.” Said the woman in the dark coat. “Yes, we’re taking the goat so he can have sex”. Said the woman in red and giggled. It turned out that they were sisters and Yulia, the one in the dark coat, with the bicycle was a pretty fascinating character. We hung out with her a bit, talked and took some more photos.

babulya-horse

Yulia is 76 years old, she used to work at the stables when she was young and says that she knows everything there is to know about horses. I was a little shocked when she lifted her leg like this to put the reigns on one of her own horses.

edward

Speaking of horses, Edward was looking for two horses that his grandson had tied up somewhere in the area not far from his home. When I approached, he had actually mistaken me for one of those horses. At 86 he lost most of his sight and almost all of his hearing too. Not a good combination. I told him that his horses where nowhere in sight and then after driving ahead realized that they were about 200 meters behind a patch a location which Edward had no chance of arriving at by himself. We drove Edward to the horses, expecting that he wanted to take them home for the night. All the wanted to do however, was feed one of them apples and check that everything was fine.

Father-Timothy-Chat

Father Timothy, (also pictured at the top of the post) worked as an engineer in the government collective farming system most of his life. By chance he had learned some old Russian language as a child and remembered some prayers from the “Old Russian Orthodox Faith”. When the church father passed away, Timothy was approached by the local devotees to take on the responsibility of leading the prayers. After a year of studying (at the age of 65) and leading prayers he was blessed by the “Old Russian Orthodox” Church and sworn in as a Father himself. We had a good chat with Father Timothy, what impressed me most about him was his openness and lack of religious fanaticism. He said: “What happens in the afterlife? I doubt that anyone of us will know the answer while we’re here. I always say that the most important thing is to lead a decent life, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Babulya-and-Dog

Though we spent almost an hour chatting to this kind old lady, we never got her name. The wheel in the corner is still used for weaving and at the time of our visit she had actually begun to weave socks for her grandson who visited her every now and then. The dog on the bed is named “Bobik” that name is about the equivalent of Fido in the English-speaking world. She said that Bobik was lucky to be let in indoors. He quickly jumped on the bed and made himself comfortable. Good for me, I feel he adds to the shot.

That’s all for now folks. The next time you’ll hear from me, I’ll be…don’t even know where.

The fishermen brigade of Braslav (and some miscellanea)

October 22, 2009

fishermen2

A couple of days ago I finally managed to hang out with the fishermen brigade of Braslav. What a bunch of characters! My initial impression was that they were rude, mindless brutes. I’ve met people jut like them in India and Indonesia, but never felt the same, perhaps the fact that I could understand everything these guys said formed my opinion.  Every second word was a curse word, every joke was explicit and I think at least a couple of them may have had a good drink during the  work day.

It would be easy for me to look down on them or to get frustrated with their attempts to poke fun at me at every opportunity, this happened even more after they found out I was from Australia. “You have ostriches there right? Instead of fishing do you go crocodile hunting, right?” When I tripped, while moving around in my boots (which are a few sizes too big), one fisherman who found it particularly delightful to laugh at my expense said – “F-ck, watch your step, this isn’t f-cking Australia where the ground is all even and nice!” I found his comment funny and almost beautifully ignorant. I smiled and laughed. I guess that’s something I’ve learned to do regardless of circumstances, over time. As a photographer you almost can’t afford to have an ego, to get angry or to lose your temper, at least not while you are working and especially not while you are photographing people. You have to get a feel for those you are “working” with and while that’s happening, it’s better to shut up, smile and keep shooting.

When I got that feel for the fellows in the boats I realized that despite their brute nature, they were quite decent folks – simple people who work hard and get paid very little. They make the most of the situation and poke fun at each other almost as much as they poked fun at me. Me being with them was a somewhat fun departure from their regular schedule and so they couldn’t resist directing all their “enthusiasm” in my direction.

I guess I passed some sort of test by not negatively reacting to their jokes and just smiling and laughing all the way. They did do some funnily stupid things, one of the older men almost turned over a boat and nearly filled his boots with icy cold water in a desperate attempt to get to shore for a smoke. About half way through the whole fish catching process they stopped poking fun, I got more comfortable and started jumping from one boat to another and lying down on the wet nets, to get a better angle. The jokes turned to amusement and then, dare I say to something close to respect, they realized that I was working pretty hard, just as they were.

The images I got were not as “pretty” as I’d like them to be, the light became flat half way through and stayed that way for almost the entire shoot. They do however give you a bit of an idea of what the process was like. In any case, I’m hoping to get another stab at shooting this thing before I leave Braslav and head towards Romania.

By the way, if any of the blog readers live in or around Warsaw or Krakow, Poland, somewhere on the way to Romania in Hungary or in Slovakia,  then I’d love to meet you for tea/coffee and chat. Just email me from my website or post a comment.

Another thing, one of my images should be on display at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo (Nat Geo Traveler World in Focus Contest) in New York October 22-24. Apparently I won something, but I have not been informed exactly what, maybe it’s just the chance to be exhibited. In any case, it’s quite exciting. 🙂 If anyone from NY will go to this thing, perhaps you can tell me if I actually won a prize and whether my image looks decent in print.


fishermen3Sasha (middle) is the leader of the brigade, he does a lot of moving around and probably more cursing than anyone else, I guess that’s part of the job.

fishermen6 Sasha collecting fish from the nets. The young folks in green coats are picking out the fish which is smaller than 27cm (approx) putting them in the wooden box and tossing them back out into the lake. Such is the law.

fish7 This one’s pretty self-explanatory.

fishermen5 When all is said and done, the fish are placed into wooden boxes, loaded into cars and sent off to the fish factory.

That’s all for now folks. More to come soon.

The lonely Yosef Dorozhko

October 16, 2009

In-the-darkAbout a week ago we met a wonderful man by the name of Yosef. I spotted him from my car while he was pushing his bicycle up a hill. Immediately I wanted to photograph him. I turned the car around, caught up to Yosef and asked him if I could take a few photos. He smiled and said to go ahead.

We spoke a bit, after learning that Yosef was 81 I was a little shocked. His bike journey wasn’t an easy one, even for a young person (there was lots of pedaling up hills to be done) and here he was carrying on very casually. I sorta invited myself over to his house and asked if I could take a few more photos there. He didn’t mind.

And so began our friendship with Yosef. It turned out that his life had taken a very unfortunate turn of late. He lost his wife and both of his sons fairly recently. He also lost his apartment in the neighboring Latvia, because the cost of all the bills exceeded his meager pension. Yosef had to go back to Belarus, to live in the house where he was born 81 years ago. To make his story more sad, the house where he now lives is fairly isolated and ever since his parents built it, there has never been any electricity. Yosef makes light with Kerosene lamps and instead of watching TV, he reads, prays and talks to his cats.

The crazy thing is, he never really complains about anything. He doesn’t drink uncontrollably, like many younger and much more fortunate people in the neighboring villages. He just goes on about his life the best he can, still managing to crack an occasional smile along the way. Yosef inspired me by his resilience and it seems like our visits to his home have given him a reason to crack that smile more frequently. Tanya and I have gone to talk to the authorities and hopefully he will have electricity some time in the not too distant future.

Dedulya-working-2 Yosef has a horse. It was time for him to work on the land during one of our visits and of course that presented a great photo opportunity.RainbowI got pretty lucky during my little photo-shoot. It had been raining most of the day, but soon after I arrived at Yosef’s house there was an opening in the sky. I got some good light and even a rainbow.

By-the-ovenYosef adjusts fire-wood in the oven which he himself made. He was heating up a kettle to make tea for us.

Braslav_MG_2484

Tea time. Yosef sets up the tea glasses and the food for his guests.

Meeting people like Yosef again reminds me of how lucky I am to be doing what I do. These countless chances to meet inspirational people are something I enjoy immensely and when there is an opportunity to have a positive impact on the life of someone like Yosef, that’s sort of like the essence of being human.

More images to come.

Braslavschina – The most amazing place you’ve never heard of

September 28, 2009

Lake

I have just returned from Braslavschina – the region around the town of Braslav and as I mentioned in my last post, all of my expectations have been surpassed. There are plenty of old, traditional villages, wonderful, photogenic people and there are over 400 lakes – almost all of them ridiculously picturesque.

Perhaps it’s some sub-conscious thing about this region being a part of my “motherland”, but Braslavschina has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world. All I need to be happy is – something to photograph, some place to swim and some nice people to chat to. 🙂 I can find all of that here, plus the kind of nature, which I only thought existed in fairy tales.

Ok, so I’ve fallen in love with this place, I really mean it. I’ve even enquired about prices of land and simple houses here and I have  found out that they are ridiculously cheap, at least by Western standards. If I find something suitable, I’ll soon have my own tiny piece of paradise, perhaps even one right on a lake.

Anyway, enough dreaming. Here’s a brief look at what I’ve seen so far. I’m in Minsk for a few days to sort out some paperwork on my newly bought ‘84 Volskwagen Golf II. It ain’t pretty, but it’s cheap, it’ll take me where I want and it’s mine. I’ll be coming back to Braslavschina as soon as I can. I’ve only scratched the surface, as far as photography goes.

Cow-herders-fieldTolik and Vatsik – two cow herders taking a break. It seems like I’ve got this strange attraction to cattle herders and fishermen, wherever I go. More on fishermen in the near future.

HerderTolik herding cows with a whip.

Grandma-at-tableAbove and below are images of kind elderly ladies from two different villages with the same story. In the really traditional villages there isn’t much youth these days and the old are the living, walking, breathing embodiment of the incredible history of this area.Babulya- -Cat

Church A prayer inside a church of the “Old Russian Orthodox” faith. It’s very similar to the “standard” Russian Orthodox religion, but all the prayer’s are written in ancient Russian and read accordingly. Only two people in this village can read them – this “Father” is one of them. The “Old Russian Orthodox” faith is almost extinct in Belarus. The three ladies in the background are basically the only attendees.

Batyushka-Port Father Akim (a very unusual name for Belarus) on his way out of the church.

milkmanEvery morning this man waits by the side of the road to sell is milk to large government-run co-operatives. Here he is returning home after selling the milk.

DedulyaGrandpa Alexei was very shy about being photographed. When it comes to photos initial shyness is a common reaction amongst most of the older people. They’ll usually say something along these lines – “Why would you want to photograph me? I’m not shaven” or “I haven’t even got my teeth”. To me however these faces are amazing, they say so much without the need for words. After a short chat and me explaining what I do everyone usually agrees to have their picture taken.

chainsaw-cutterThe modern way of preparing firewood – with a chainsaw.  The man – Vasily is one the few younger men choosing to live his life in the countryside. He does however work outside of his village, on construction sites in cities as large and as far as Moscow.

PastuxiBack to the cow herders – Tolik and Vatsik having their dinner by the fire. I won’t mention what they were drinking.

VovaVova is another rare find, he is the only young man in his village. The rest have moved out and now live and work in Belarus’ larger cities.  Photographically speaking this is the sort of portrait I am enjoying shooting more and more these days – a shot where the person is surrounded by objects that tell you something about his her life/culture.

Ok, that’s all for now. Needless to say, I can’t wait to go back and shoot some more stuff. I have also filmed some interviews and some scenes that are best communicated through “moving pictures”, but unfortunately my ancient laptop isn’t powerful enough to edit HD video. Well, I guess that’ll all have to wait.

“Seeing the Light”: Making the most of available light and minimal equipment – the eBook

September 4, 2009

cover

At long last here it is, my new eBook on working with light! I think the title is pretty self-explanatory. You can see some sample screen grabs below and HERE you can download the sample PDF (845kb).

You can buy it HERE or click on the title image. The price is again US$12. After payment you’ll be automatically taken to the download link.

I wanted this eBook to be useful for photographers of different levels, from those who have just begun to understand how critical light is to photography, to the more experienced individuals ready to dive into the world of artificial lighting and try new things.

The information inside should be relevant to anyone who’s passionate about light, but wants to stay compact – that includes travel and documentary photographers, wedding photographers, portrait photographers and even low-budget commercial shooters.

In short here’s what the readers will learn after going through the eBook:

  • How to create “believable” looking artificial light with a single off camera flash in a softbox or with a reflector
  • How to get the most out of available light – with and without the help of artificial light
  • Gain a deeper understanding of natural light and how it can be used creatively, even in challenging situations
  • How to “sculpt” with artificial and natural light
  • How to light scenes with a flash without killing the existing atmospheric light

All you need to purchase the eBook is HERE.

page1List and explanations of my equipment

page02Breaking down images with descriptions and diagrams

page03 Comparison – Images taken with a flash and without

page04 Diagrams for working with the reflector

page05 Sample images taken under natural light with complete Exif data

If you like the e-book or know photographers who may find it useful – please spread the word. As with the previous eBook all the income from this will be used for good 🙂 – i.e. photography and more travel, which will also result in more photography and more viewing pleasure for the readers of this blog. 🙂

Use the bar below to spread the word.

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Reflecting on our photography and looking at the “bigger picture”.

September 3, 2009

Make-up-Expert

As I sit and type this blog entry in the lounge room of my wife’s parents’ apartment and wait for the “higher powers” (not supernatural ones, just ones with connections) to tell me when I can go out and photograph what I want, I realize – I haven’t shot anything meaningful since I left India. That was in March!

I’ve had an unusually long break.  When I travel, which is most of the year – it’s intense photography virtually every day, but for the past six months I’ve barely lifted my camera. While I’d like to photograph non-stop, all year-round, I have come to appreciate my time away from shooting. I try to utilize this time in the best way possible. For me that means marketing my work, sorting through thousands of photos to find ones which I will submit to contests, magazines and to Getty Images. This is also the time to learn more about photography, to read blogs and to look at other people’s work.

By doing things photography related, without actually shooting I’m able to distance myself from my own work a little, and by looking at all the other photography out there, I’m able to see where my images fit in the larger scheme of things, to see what role if any my photos play in the world so saturated with imagery. The time away from shooting allows me develop a self-awareness that helps one grow and evolve as a photographer or artist.

I really like what Alexei Brotdotovich, one of the first photography theorists said in regards to evolving as a photographer. I don’t remember  the quote exactly, but it was something along these lines:

Once you develop a style and become known for a particular kind of work – turn in the other direction, stop being formulaic and re-invent yourself”.

The phrase is very idealistic and conflicts with commercially motivated things like branding and the importance of developing a particular style that sets you apart from others, but there’s wisdom here.  Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to turn in a completely different direction, but I do try to change the way I shoot and the way I approach photography every now and then, sometimes fairly dramatically.

My hope is that people will still find a common thread throughout my work, but I don’t want my photography to be consistently predictable, I don’t want the viewers to be able to  pin down my images to some formula. A sort of semi-self-re-invention may even go down well with clients or editors. While they may not be pleased by a a completely off-the-wall new body of work, an element of surprise within limits might be very welcome.

An interesting “re-invention” quote that comes to mind is from one of my favorite filmmakers – Wong Kar Wai, whose visually distinct work has gained him a huge following over the years and started new industry trends.  In one interview a couple of years back Wong said – “Too many people are making Wong Kar Wai films these days, I’ve got to make different kinds of films now”.

Here’s a real example of an artist who’s reached a great level of success and fame, but is thinking of changing the formula that has made him what he is. That’s inspirational. In this case the artist is not bound by his work, he is a master and not the slave of his own creations, because he isn’t afraid of creating something new and different. Sure there’s a risk and the possibility of failure, but there’s always the chance that something amazing and genius will evolve from the new approach and to me that is much more exciting than repeating the same known formula time and time again.

Hopefully, in about a week, everything will be sorted out, as far as my plans to go out into the countryside and photograph in villages. In the meantime I might just put my own thoughts into action and shoot some stuff I usually wouldn’t, right here in the city. One thing for sure – all this time off is making my head swell with ideas!

Check this blog tomorrow, if everything goes as planned, the new eBook on light will finally be released.

“Color” Magazine Excellence Award Winner

September 1, 2009

awardwinner

Some of my images (8 over six pages) from Rajasthan should appear in this month’s issue of “Color” – a magazine from the same people who publish “B&W ”. I won some sort of excellence award (along with 15 other people) and while I don’t know what  this actually means, I thought I’d share the news nevertheless.

The publication seems like a really good idea, but geez, their website really needs to get with the times! “B&W” can occasionally be pretty darn good, so if this is anything like it, then please buy the issue and tell me what you think. I believe it’s available in the US, don’t know where else.

A featured article with my photos and an interview should also appear in the September 19th issue of “Amateur Photographer” – one of the longest running photographic publications in the world. By the sound of it, they’ll even include my website details! That will be a first in a long time. “Amateur Photographer” is available in the UK and Australia, that I know for sure, perhaps it’s also available in the US.