Posts Tagged ‘Belarus’

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! 🙂

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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.

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.

Into the Light: Amateur Photographer Magazine

September 17, 2009

APmag

This month there is a 6 page feature on my work in the “Amateur Photographer” – possibly the longest running photographic publication in the world. The article is called “Into the light” (as you can see above), fitting, considering the recent release of my eBook.

apmag1

I’m excited about this one. The interviewer was great and really tried to get to the essence of what I do from a practical perspective. As a result the feature is a “to-the-point” look at my photography and at how I shoot. I hope they send me a copy, it’s still kinda exciting to see my work in print. The magazine (weekly publication) is available in the UK and Australia, and perhaps in other  English speaking countries.

My website was finally included and there’s even a very quick plug for my eBooks. If you’re a reader of my blog you’ll know that I’ve had a few frustrating experiences with people forgetting to include my website into the magazines, so I’m real glad about everything working out just as I had hoped.

Speaking of the eBooks, I want to thank everyone who bought them over the past couple of weeks and a special thanks to everyone who spread the word about them. The response was even better than the first time. The income will give me the freedom to move around and shoot the subjects that interest me, and that’s all a photographer can ask for.

Right now my wife and I are at her sister’s apartment in Northern Belarus. We’ve stopped here on the way to Braslav – an area which is supposed to have some fascinating traditional (relatively) villages. I’m really glad to get away from Minsk! It takes only a couple of weeks of being in the city to remember why it felt depressing, even when I was a 10-year-old. The overwhelming, oppressing communist architecture and city planning might be fascinating over a short visit, but not if you have to live amongst all that crap. It feels like everything was planned to make the individual feel insignificant. You walk for hundreds of meters from one shop to the next, the streets are wide enough to fit a football field, but at the same time, the apartments in which people live are tiny and stacked on top of each other over 9 stories and more. In short I have no love for Minsk.

On the way to Novopolotsk (where Tanya’s sister lives) I saw the romantic, beautiful side of Belarus – green meadows, stacks of hay, forests and villages. This is what I came here for and this is what I finally have a chance to shoot.

Well, that’s all for now. Tomorrow I’m off to Braslav, I pray to the “photography Gods” to give me what I seek.

Back in Belarus

August 30, 2009

tusovkiI’ve been in Belarus for almost a couple of weeks now. Most of the time has been spent catching up with family and friends, not doing much photography, but I am making some “grand plans”, so to say.

It’s fascinating to be back here. So much changes over the years; especially if I think back to the time when my family left Belarus, shortly after the break-up of the USSR. These days the center of Minsk, the capital of Belarus is not so different from centers of cities in the “Western” world. There are restaurants with foreign foods, expensive cars on the roads and all sorts of “super” and “hyper” markets, where unlike in the past the check-out-ladies say “Thank you for your purchase”. There’s even a futuristic looking railway station, albeit futuristic only on the outside.

But, in many ways Minsk is a time-capsule. Step away from the center into what’s called the “micro-suburbs” – neighborhoods with blocks of high-rise apartment buildings, where most of the population lives, and you’ll see the Minsk of 20 years ago.

In the the streets of the “micro-suburbs”, children still play the same games that they played when I was a kid, old grannies still seat on benches and gossip about their neighbors, groups of youth still hang out the front of the “pod’yezd” (entrances to the high-rise apartment buildings) and there are occasional drunks stumbling around the streets and pissing in elevators. Oh, the memories.

In all honesty though, there is a great vibe here during summer time and I’m glad to catch at least the end of it. I’m writing this entry from my grandmother’s house, about 30km outside of Minsk. She’s a fascinating and wacky character and I’m making a little film about her with the new 5D MKII.

Oh, almost forgot to mention. I’m now connected to a mobile internet, courtesy of my new, awesome cousin-in-law. So, I will try not to disappear for too long, as long as there’s coverage, I should be able to get online.

The light eBook is also coming very soon, but meanwhile check out the wonderful David duChemin’s eBook on 10 ways to improve your craft.

Above is an image of modern youth, hanging out by the leftover relics of communism.