Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

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. 🙂

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.

Incredible Romania!

November 17, 2009

me-in-cart

First: The eBook sale is over. Thanks to everyone who purchased them, the response was a very pleasant surprise. To those who missed out – I may have another special some time down the line, so check the blog for details.

I’ve been in Romania for about a week. A lot of strong first impressions, but the recurring themes are awe and frustration.

I can’t think of many other places with such photogenic faces and landscapes, that’s the good part.  The frustrating part is that I really haven’t done any meaningful photography since I’ve been here. Language and shitty weather have been my biggest obstacles. While I was in Sibiu, one of Romania’s prettiest towns, the cloudy skies and flat light sucked out almost all of the town’s beauty. The clouds also hid the snow peaks of the mountains, I didn’t even know they existed, until the skies cleared a little on my way to Brasov, another picturesque Romanian town.

Finally my inability to speak Romanian has made it next to impossible to communicate in villages, the places where my ideal subjects live, where I want to do most of my shooting.

So far the trip has been much more about getting a feel for the country than anything else. I’m trying to see whether this is a place I’d like to return to, to dig deep and attempt to capture imagery, which I am sure one cannot find in too many other places on the planet. So far I haven’t seen enough, but I have been teased by getting a glimpse of potentially amazing scenarios and looking at the work of a couple of Romanian photographers.

One is Vlad Dumitrescu, a talented young photographer friend I met on OneX and later in person.  I’m actually typing this entry from his apartment. You can see his images HERE. The other is someone Vlad introduced me to – Sorin Onisor. I think he has become one of my new favorite photographers and his images have brought me to the verge of madness, thinking about the amazing photo opportunities that exist here. You can see Sorin’s work HERE. Doesn’t seem like the English version works, but the pictures are what matters, so do yourselves a favor and look at Romania through the eyes of someone who really understands this country.

I had some car trouble recently, but after forking out one fourth of the car’s cost to replace the clutch I am set to go spend some time in a small countryside village, one of very few non-commercialized villages here in Transylvania. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, hopefully  I can come up with something interesting and put up something more than the image you see of me at the top of the cart (taken by Vlad).

Ok folks, back soon.

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.

On David duChemin and his eBooks

October 26, 2009

Drawingtheeye

I feel that David duChemin is one of the best photography writers out there today. Perhaps some may think we’re conspiring by praising each other on our blogs every now and then, but what can I say – I respect the man as a photographer and I absolutely love the way he writes. Is that so wrong? 🙂

One of the things I love most about David’s writing is that while he talks about the philosophy and theory behind photography, he always keeps things very practical. After reading David’s stuff you can go out and apply the knowledge to actual, real life situations.

When I first saw the title of David’s latest eBook “DRAWING THE EYE – Creating Stronger Images Through Visual Mass” I thought, “Geez that sounds a bit heavy and abstract” but I was pleasantly surprised. Well, perhaps not surprised, because I have come to expect at least a certain amount of brilliance from the man and the last eBook is certainly no exception.

drawingtheeye-preview

I won’t go into a detailed explanation of what the eBook is all about, I’ll simply direct you to David’s BLOG, where you can read David’s own description as well as what other people are saying. I will mention this though; if you’re ready to step it up a notch and to really begin creating images with impact and some thought behind them, rather than simple snap-shots of exotic places and faces then “DRAWING THE EYE” is a must. As David says: “It’ll change the way you look at your craft”. Agreed. Even if like me you already look at your craft much the same way David does I always find that David’s eloquent and humorous writing really hammers home whatever thoughts I had in the back of my mind. He’s able to express his ideas so well and so clearly, the final message, along with the images just inspires you to push yourself a little further each time you lift the camera to your eye. For that I gotta thank the man. 🙂

ddebooks

Before I go, I absolutely have to mention David’s earlier eBooks “Ten” and “Ten More” . Again, read about them by clicking on the hyperlink titles. These two eBooks are particularly useful for those in the early stages of their journey into photography, but as is the case with all of what David writes about, anyone can get a surprising bit of inspiration and food for thought from his words. The best part about it all, these eBooks are knowledge that is accessible to almost anyone around the world. At $5 a pop, the price is something that you simply can’t complain about.

You can get all of David’s eBooks RIGHT HERE.

Now a brief word about me. I’m back in Minsk, getting over an annoying cold and finishing some of Tanya’s paperwork to go to Europe. I’ll make one more trip to the region of Braslav for a week or so, finish off some logistics in Belarus and if all goes right, in early November I’ll drive towards Romania, a country, which I have been curious about for too long not to visit it.

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.