“Now, we are Fez!” Mohammed, our driver, announced in his broken English.
I sat up, bolt upright, shut my laptop and looked out the window. Something about the air in Fez gave off a sense of rawness that was so characteristic of Morocco herself. But if the streets of Marrakesh, where we’d just come from, were dipped in the deep terracotta hues of sunset, the labyrinthine streets of Fez’s centuries-old medina were kissed with the dusty sand-coloured tones of the Sahara.
Mohammed’s sharp voice cut through the air as he called the hotel to get directions, turning the steering wheel with his free hand. We weren’t even in the medina yet, but we were already lost. I didn’t mind, though. To me, one of the most eye-opening experiences of traveling anywhere is getting lost.
As we circled around attempting to make head or tail of our location, we’d ended up passing through a street that curved around the edge of a hill overlooking the rest of the city below several times, giving us a spectacular bird’s eye view of the entire city more than once.
Twenty minutes later, we stopped outside one of the entrances into the medina, luggage in tow, waiting for the riad staff to fetch us and sticking out like sore thumbs.
Bakeries, grocery stores, dimly lit teahouses and spice shops lined the road, and bearded old men sat in silence outside small restaurants, sipping mint tea and frowning as they scrutinized their surroundings. Young men pushing carts laden with everything from bread to clothes to old machinery shouted their way through the crowd, and pairs of women dressed in bright-coloured Moroccan djellabas shuffled in and out of the medina.
Children scurried about, weaving through the crowd and shrieking gleefully as they played together. Just inside the gateway, fruit sellers hawked their wares on wooden tables, and the aroma of freshly roasted corn wafted through the air. Just being inside the medina was a feast for the senses.
But some things stay the same no matter which part of the world you’re in: crowds of men of every age huddled together inside teahouses, rapturously watching soccer games on the TV, their conversation interjected with bouts of cheering and jeering.
The entrance to the riad we’d be staying at for the next two nights was an inconspicuous glass double door almost completely hidden behind two grocery stores, which left us feeling more than a little hesitant. But the humble entrance belied the exquisite interior of the riad. We were led down a tastefully lit hallway decorated with bright Moroccan zellije tiles of blue, red, yellow, white, and green, which opened up to a wide open-air courtyard whose emerald green tiles glinted in the sunlight cascading down from above. Plump white pouffes and ottomans neatly circled small hand-carved wooden coffee tables, and the faint scent of sandalwood drifted through the entire riad.
This, I learnt, was a hallmark of Moroccan and Islamic architecture. Traditional Moroccan riads were often purposely designed to have unimpressive exteriors that suddenly open up to elegant inner courtyards enshrouded in privacy, symbolizing the primacy of inner beauty over outer appearances.
In fact, Fez’s entire medina was infused with this elusive sense of hidden beauty. Every narrow alleyway and shophouse-lined avenue within the medina seemed to radiate so organically with a rugged sense of practicality that still somehow managed to be delicate in its beauty. Wandering through the maze of streets in the medina, I found so much attention to detail in the otherwise mundane.
Public water fountains dotted the streets, each of them breathtakingly decorated and painted in vivid colours that came together in an explosion of luminosity. Huge wooden double doors that stood at the entrance to almost every riad, restaurant, Sufi zawiya (spiritual centre), or mosque were embossed with calligraphy and arabesque carvings. Some of the streets in the medina were covered with wooden lattice structures that served to provide shade from the desert sun and filter just enough sunlight to brighten up the narrow walkways without making it too warm. And despite the abundance of butcheries and fish stalls all over the medina, no matter how many times we walked past, there was never any stench or any kind of unpleasant smell that is so often associated with wet markets, because the produce in Fez is always fresh.
The myriad alleyways winding through the medina appeared to be deceptively stuffy, yet the minute I stepped out of the blazing warmth of the streets outside the medina and into any of the alleyways leading into the medina, I was enveloped in a cool embrace that seeped into my skin and instantly refreshed me.
It turns out that the materials used to build the houses within the medina were specifically chosen because of the cooling effect it had both inside and outside the house.
Even though a unifying colour scheme of creams, browns, and greys runs through most of the medina, occasionally, the desert-like hues of the medina were interrupted by vibrant splashes of colour that popped out of nowhere.
As I made my way from site to site within the ancient medina, I came across a rainbow alley packed with displays of oil paintings, bracelets, carpets, bags, and prayer mats. A group of street artists had taken it upon themselves to literally brighten up a dark alleyway within the medina.
As I continued wandering around, I caught a whiff of an overpowering fragrance which beckoned me further and further into the medina until I found its origin: a small shop selling pink rose water that was being made and bottled on the spot. A bespectacled young man in a lime green t-shirt, camo pants and a red taqiyah (Muslim skullcap) stood amidst huge woven baskets of pink rose petals and neatly packaged glass bottles of rose water, diligently simmering the rose petals in water.
Because of the brown monochromatic colours with which she’s predominantly painted, Fez herself may initially come across as rough around the edges and even drab compared to other Moroccan cities.
Yet the maze-like streets of its pristine, ancient medina immediately sweep residents and travelers alike into a cradle of veiled beauty whose authenticity is at once rejuvenating and calming in a world that, in so many ways, has lost its heritage to the throes of modernity. I know I’ll be back here again, one day.
Santriani is a freelance writer based in Singapore.
You can see more of her work at the links below:
How my mobile phone helped me to discover photography and what I learned along the way
Not too long ago the number was 36. That was how many pictures you could take with one roll of film. I went through about three of them per year. Two for the holidays and another one for the remaining family get-togethers. The constant lack of remaining shots on the film, the hassle of taking that little black box to be developed – it’s safe to say, I wasn’t a fan. To me photography felt complicated and out of reach.
Digital photography came along and things changed. People around me still took photos of their holidays and families. But now it wasn’t 36; now it was more like 360. I would sit through endless photo presentations, but picking up a camera myself wasn’t an option. Things seemed to get even worse when mobile phones turned into cameras. I remember buying my first smart phone. “I want to make phone calls and send text messages, why does this thing have a camera?” Oh, sweet ignorance…
They get us all in the end
Eventually, while everyone else was already busy taking selfies and stuffing Facebook with pictures of their daily lives, my inner photo geek awoke. First, it would only stick out its nose into this wondrous world of social media and mobile photography, quickly retreating whenever someone accused it of finally being interested.
What really caught my attention were blogs and, of course, Instagram. There I found people using their phones beyond the odd snapshot. For years I’d visited Instagram pages in my browser. Just for their photos. The social part of the app was too far out there for that little photo geek. Consumption okay, but sharing? No way! It takes confidence to put yourself out there. Most Instagramers, like me, are not professional photographers. However, this isn’t National Geographic, it’s a phone app and we all learn a thing or two as we go along.
The best camera is the one you have with you
Yes, I know. Phrase-mongering! But it’s still true and I learned the hard way. It was my second visit to Australia. The first time I went, the camera I brought gave up on me after two weeks. So one year later I returned home with only two photos, and a travel diary, but that’s another story.
Armed with a new DSLR and lots of determination, this time I was going to get it right. However, DSLRs are heavy and did I mention complicated? So it stayed in my bag for most of the trip. Not so my phone. It saved the day more than once and slowly but surely taught me to approach photography from a different point of view. That of a storyteller.
Getting to this place meant a long hike through a dry river bed and the burning heat of the Australian outback. We started before sunrise. Guided by the light patches of white sand, we made our way through the bush and gum trees rattling in the morning breeze. Without sunlight the rocks appear black. They radiate the heat from the day before and there is a distinctive scent in the air that can put me back to Australia in an instant.
As we reached the bottom of the river bed, the sun began creeping over the edge of the gorge and turned black into glowing red. It was beautiful but also meant we were up against the clock. Walking back with the sun up was not an option. So when we finally got to the end of the gorge there was just time for a few pictures with my mobile phone. The big camera stayed in my bag the entire hike.
This guy was about as big as the tip of my thumb. There were thousands at this beach in Tasmania. We had a blast trying to capture them in a photo without having them retreat into the sand or running away. This was a beautiful place and sunset, but I would not remember it as vividly had we all not spent an hour or two chasing crabs with our phones.
There is a difference between capturing the essence of a memory and a snapshot of a moment
At some point during my trip I began capturing things simply for their uniqueness or beauty. These photos have no story, but they form one if I put them all together.
They aren’t about what happened but what it felt like to be there. The color of the water, the texture of the sand and maybe even the sound of the birds in the morning and the scent of the gum trees at dusk. The details of everyday life.
Suddenly everyday things become special
Power plant along a freeway.
We all know them. The things we pass by on our way to work. They are familiar and yet we rarely pay attention to them. Especially when they represent the negative things of what we do to our environment. This, however, caught my eye. Since my phone camera and I have become better acquainted, I catch myself looking for interesting shapes and colors. I had stopped at the side of the road for the canola field, but ended up posting this on Instagram.
Sometimes a picture can make my day. Like the cool T-shirt you got for a bargain or the train you almost missed.
The perfect ending to a not so perfect day at the office.
For the non-professionals among us, our phone can be our best friend
I admit, I like my DSLR and I use it often. There are things that my phone just can’t do and I enjoy the challenge of learning about exposure, aperture and all those other things. But there are times when it’s not my camera but my ability to use it that reaches its limits. And more than once my phone has gotten me the photo I wanted.
This is not fog. It’s the heaviest rain I have ever been in. A sight to behold, but my camera wasn’t happy. Holding the camera in one hand and the umbrella in the other I just couldn’t get anything in focus. Freezing, drenched and quite annoyed I finally took a few shots with my phone. Not perfect, but sooo much better.
My phone makes me a hunter for opportunities
I am a writer and sometimes I desperately look for a picture to illustrate a thought. That’s when I go on secret photo missions. Wherever I go, I try to create an image that will translate that picture in my mind into something others might recognize.
Instagram caption: What if you could jump and dive into that other world?
And sometimes it is a song.
“There is nothing more difficult than talking about music.” – Camille Saint-Saëns
🎶 Camille Saint-Saëns – The Aquarium, Carnival of the Animals 🎶
Gadgets – every photo geek’s dream
Be warned! There comes a day when even the humblest mobile photographer opens their bag and it’s full of equipment. Halfway along my journey, I discovered gadgets. My favorite is this tiny lens that produces the most amazing macros.
The Alien – A beautiful poppy, so creepy up close.
My next lesson is how to do street photography. It helps to only have my phone. It doesn’t feel as intrusive when I sneak up on people.
Lovers on the love lock bridge in Cologne
There is still a long way to go before I master those intense portraits taken on a train or in a café. Let’s have a talk about your friendship with your phone or how to tackle those little photo geek insecurities. Find me on Instagram @tonivisual and say hello!
Thank you, Alexandra, for editing! @whisper_feather
What you are about to read are disparate and fictional short stories I have written to coincide with images that are part of a series of photographs of mine entitled “Empty Seats”. The series embraces the enigma of everyday objects that are specifically created by and for human beings, yet they are filled with emptiness, loneliness and a longing for human presence…
Alone and abandoned, the once proud turquoise chair finds itself frozen by the side of the road. Mere hours earlier the chair had enjoyed a life of abandoned inclusion in the warm garage of a lakeside vacation home owned by a caring family. Strategically placed next to the riding mower and directly across from the red 10-drawer tool chest, this once elegant and much sought after chaise was complacently secure in its retirement inside the cozy dry garage.
On a frigid January day with no forewarning, the teenage children from the family burst into the garage with orders to clean it out. One by one, the familiar items in the garage were carted out by the teens and left indignantly at the end of the driveway in a heap of despair. When the eldest daughter picked up the turquoise chair, it knew the end was near and its destiny would be on top of the heap on the driveway to await a final resting place in the local landfill. But all of a sudden the girl walked across the driveway to the side of the icy road in front of the property and plunked the chair into the snow bank.
Alone and facing the elements for the first time in its storied life, the chair sunk into the wet, damp snow and sighed a deep, remorseful sigh, knowing that for now it had been saved from imminent death, but, that from this moment forward, life as it had known it would succumb to a daily ritual of growing rot, mold and mildew. The horror. The horror.
William sat alone mourning his dead wife for nearly an hour. Looking up, he realized that every person who had come to witness the burial had vanished. Suddenly he felt the weight of knowing that he was truly alone now for the first time in 36 years. He rose sobbing and walked away, leaving behind a hard damp bench, a haunting headstone and the cold lifeless body of his beloved Jacqueline, now six feet under ground.
It was not always an “art piece”.
It first held court upon the front deck of a beautiful cottage situated high above a lake. Sturdy and strong with a brilliant coating of white paint, it beckoned family members and newcomers alike to sit in comfort on its reclining seat with big wide arm rests and gaze upon the magnificent view.
But time and the elements are not kind to a Muskoka chair. Today it sits on the slope that faces the lake below the cottage deck. It is in the perfect spot to be seen by those passing by in a boat or lazing carefree on the dock.
This chair comes from a strong breed. In its retirement it may be willing to sit alone in the cool shade of a Hemlock tree all summer or hibernate throughout the winter under a blanket of snow, but it is far from the end of its life. It can no longer support the full weight of today’s generation of cottage-goers, but it can support the weight of their fond memories.
After all, art is all about memories.
Derek forgot his raincoat and gloves – again!
This is a frequent occurrence – too frequent. In fact, Derek has been forgetting a lot of things lately. His doctor has hinted at early-onset dementia. But at 53 years old, Derek doesn’t want to hear about such things. After all, as he said to his doctor, “I have a wife and two daughters to take care of for Christ’s sake!”
Derek has worked at the scrap iron yard since he was 18 years old. He never saw the point in going to university. He wanted to start making money at an honest job right out of high school.
Eating his lunch at the company picnic table every day for 35 years is one of the small pleasures in Derek’s life. He loves to sit out there rain or shine. It makes him feel alive. If he happened to have left his raincoat on the bench again, so be it. He’ll grab it tomorrow, if he remembers.
Nathalie came upon this oddly placed chair on a brisk winter’s day. It was just sitting there upon the rocks inviting her to take a break from walking her dog. “How wonderful,” Nathalie thought. “I could use a short rest.”
Nathalie sat down on the cold steel bars of the chair. At first it was a welcome respite. “Life is good,” she said out loud for no one to hear. The view was spectacular. Large ice dunes had formed along the beach and provided a scenic panorama. The sky was painterly in its glorious blue-gray striations. The air was fresh and clear. No sound could be heard except the lapping of the waves under the ice and the breathing of her tired old dog.
Then the cold hard reality hit her. A pair of thin blue jeans was the only thing that separated Nathalie’s butt from the cold hard steel. Immediately her respite was interrupted as she realized her moment of Zen was going to leave a mark!
Hoping no one was watching, she rubbed her hands across the ridges of the grid-like imprint on her frozen behind. She called her dog and briskly walked toward her car, murmuring under her breath, “Damn winter!”
Drenched and near death, men, women and children from a land far away washed up on the shore one by one, clinging to their precious life rings. Stumbling upon the beach they realized they had survived their flight from genocide in their homeland and that they were now miraculously safe.
Many of their friends and family members were not so lucky. They were not able to find a life ring to cling to as their small boat capsized in the stormy and frigid water. They were now lost forever.
The survivors who made it to this desolate beach took a moment to stack their “life” rings next to the empty benches on the frozen sand. They created a makeshift memorial to honour those who died trying to reach freedom. For this exhausted and frightened group of refugees it was of paramount importance in their dire moment of survival to somehow pay tribute to their lost loved ones.
They turned and walked away into the warm and open arms of those who would help them begin a new life in a new land.
The greatest Luchador in all of Mexico has hung up his mask. He was always a bit of a swinger.
The train came to a stop at Broadview Station. When the man sitting across from me got up to leave the train he crumpled up the newspaper he was reading and dropped it on the floor. As the man exited the train, I noticed the word “hate” in the headline on the page facing me.
“You know what I hate?” I thought. “I hate litter!”
No, wait, I hate the act of people littering. Yes, “hate” is a strong word. In my opinion those who litter deserve to have a strong word thrown at them.
Subway litter. Roadside litter. Sidewalk litter. Litter in the countryside. Litter on the beach. Litter in our lakes, rivers and oceans.
Today litter is everywhere on this Earth and it’s repugnant to me. It’s the ultimate sign of utter laziness in a human being. And it’s ignorant as well. The person who litters is blatantly saying, “I don’t give a crap about this Earth.”
Well I do give a crap about our Earth. I care deeply about stewardship and preserving the only land and water we have to live upon. We are choking it and I don’t believe it can come up for air any longer without some emergency measures. We need to release the Earth from the chokeholds of litter and pollution.
We need to “hate” litter and the actions of those who create it.
I was walking through my neighbourhood park that contains one lone blue bench. I saw a photographer hurrying to set up his camera and tripod across from the bench, as the sky grew ever darker with ominous storm clouds overhead.
Two teenage boys came walking across the park toward the bench, unseen by the photographer who was looking through his viewfinder.
The two boys looked to be up to no good, so I hung close by in case there was trouble brewing. They approached the photographer and one of them said, “Hey dude, you gonna be long ‘cause we wanna sit on the bench?”
The photographer looked up and said, “Just give me ten minutes please. I drove for an hour to get here to get this shot.”
“Are you kidding me?” the boy said. “You drove an hour to take a picture of that!”
“Ya, I did.” said the photographer.
“What a waste of time.” the boy replied.
I laughed out loud and walked away as the photographer hurried to get his shots. The boys wandered off to sit on a large boulder in the park and as I walked past them they lit up a joint. I turned to look back when I heard the photographer shout to the boys, “It’s all yours now guys.”
The boys never moved off the rock.
He had been officially “homeless” for nearly a year. This outdoor encampment perched next to an abandoned railway track was his “home” now. It contains a tarp to sleep under, a cane chair, an end table and a tiny garden with kitschy decorations.
His kingdom is deliberately designed and immaculately ingenious. The squatter got up out of the chair, grabbed one of the many pairs of work gloves he had collected and walked away.
Off he went to who-knows-where. But one thing is certain. He has a place to come home to, be it ever so humble.
Where do lifeguards go in winter?
Do they fly south? Maybe they go work at a tanning salon. Or perhaps they just find an indoor pool to guard.
These brave souls whose job it is to protect us frolicking sunbathers, suddenly vanish in September not to be seen again for another nine months.
Where DO lifeguards go in winter? It’s surely one of life’s guarded mysteries.
My photographs and words can be found at:
March of fears and memories. At the end of every downward road the sea appears frozen. Huge slices of ice are floating on the water like melancholic islands. Blue eerie light all day long. The wind is whipping the faces as a reminder that winter never really ends here. It’s a frozen waft that comes from somewhere far away, probably from the history of Helsinki, that cast off the despots but not the architects.
“It’s getting dark, too dark to see”
The trams, sleepy but obedient, are carrying the thickest winter coats. The seams have unraveled due to the double layer of pullovers beneath them and the eyes read the co-passengers like a book with a beginning, but without a middle or an end. Most of these thick coats are disembarking in front of Central Station, its entrance always covered by a shadow that seems amphitheatric. Doors open and close and the beggars are walking around, fishing only the bad-tempered passengers: it’s a glance of solidarity that they’re searching for, not the money in the wallet. One should spend a quarter of an hour in front of Central Station, because on that spot all the neighborhoods of Helsinki are condensing; on that spot the wrinkles on the foreheads seem like frozen railroad tracks.
“Hand in hand”
One can never really leave Central Station behind, not even when you see the buildings by Alvar Aalto and think that you’ve landed in another city. On this latitude and longitude, modern architecture resembles slices of concrete ice, which must rise above the everlasting piles of snow. The contemporary buildings are quiet in the interior: the laughter and talks of people seem to be less loud than whispers. Quite often, the voices seem to be getting distilled by the tall windows and they soon convert to light. The high heels of a woman, the keys of a guard, the crying of a baby, all that noise tends to challenge the serenity: it’s the denial to surrender in the dogmatism of walls.
“The orange balloon”
The studious visitor, the one that carries in his luggage grief but not hope, is usually jealous of the people sitting inside the cozy cafés. The windows are steamed by faces exhaling words; human snouts crouching into wide coffee pots. Aside, on tiny plates, sweets not bigger than sugar cubes present proudly themselves: they cost more than the coffee. All those underpopulated tables are becoming a cheap allegory about life up north: people diffused in a territory, trying to muzzle the weather by shutting a heavy door in its face, the same way that one is shutting his eyes in order to forget.
One is tripping over the threshold of the Ateneum or Kiasma museums in order to learn something that has little to do with art. In Ateneum, among sorrowful paintings hanging from black walls, a newlywed couple is shooting marital photos. A blonde woman is dragging her wedding gown on the stairs and next to her the husband is dressed in a fine suit. The photographer is chasing them on the staircase, is searching for them on the halls and is climbing on the first floor for a panoramic photo of the couple; everything is taking place among paintings that talk more about the ones that passed and less about the people left behind. An older man is staring at a painting by Albert Edelfelt, the one with the coffin of the young child on the boat; the man turns afterwards, his head towards the newlyweds. He doesn’t applaud nor disdain them: he seems to be playing a match of chess in his head, where destinies of happiness and sorrow battle against each other. If, one has to judge by his gaze, the grim version of the destiny is leading.
“Shadows are falling”
Whatever can’t be easily controlled is often getting drowned in a glass of alcohol. In the city’s market-halls, where the wooden kiosks stand next to each other selling fish, cheese and souvenirs, the locals anchor in the tables for a glass of Jaloviina. It’s a strong drink that burns the innards and fires up the talk. At the port’s market-hall, most of the people sit next to the windows and cover themselves with blankets that look like sheepskin. They stare at the little ferry that returns back from Suomenlinna, panting in the frozen sea. The glasses are getting a refill every now and then and the view of the six little islands doesn’t cause any feeling of security: the old fortress has become an outdoor museum.
“One step at a time”
The sea is everywhere. Once in a while, somewhere ashore, somebody is exiting a steaming building and runs towards the sea. He or she is half naked and is holding a towel. A dive for a couple of seconds into the cold sea and then the person runs back inside again. The less courageous prefer to stay away from the sea and they just sit on the chairs outside of the sauna. They return two, three times inside the steaming building and they repeat the ritual as if this is a ceremony of purification. It’s a siesta that has to be done with eyes wide open and the body suffers without tears.
March of fears and memories. Up here, on the frozen north, the spring has been waiting for months around the corner, that overrated season of the year that always arrives triumphant and merciless. A long winter is trying to stay behind; all that silver light of the snow is the deepest version of darkness. One is visiting Helsinki in order to embark, sooner or later, in the northernmost metro of the world. The underground itineraries are never too distant, but they resemble journeys under the skin. The metro stations seem to be built on the stomach of eternal rocks and the itineraries carry on endlessly. But there comes, after all, one day that the passenger is emerging on the surface. The sun has gained some courage and appears finally in the sky while the trees are wearing their leaves again. It’s an almost violent moment, which romanticism falsely taught us to assume as peaceful. Whatever emerges then on the surface is just buried fears and memories marching on together.
The doors of the market-halls remain open and the windows of the cafés are not steamed anymore. People avoid museums. They prefer to stand on the piers of the city, where both small and big boats are getting ready for shorter or longer journeys. A man and a woman are embarking on a vessel. They are still young and they put a basket between them. They are going to Suomenlinna in order to stretch a tablecloth on the ground and clink their wine glasses. A person they loved passed earlier this spring. They are going to the old fortress to talk, to get emotional, to laugh and to stare at the city from afar. Meanwhile, the people left behind on the piers of Helsinki are observing the scene and turn into potential painters. The shorter journeys are for the boats; the longer ones, for the people.
“A distant farewell”
“The future islands”
Building up a sense of connection with Beijing through the iPhone lens – by Paul Yan
It is one thing to live and work in a city of another land other than the motherland you were born in; it is another to get used to and be in peace with it even though you have lived there for ten years. Here’s my story of how I gradually developed a sense of connection with the city of Beijing through the act of photography, which is non other than mobile photography.
I was born and raised in Taiwan, which has been geographically and culturally part of China since antiquity, but not idiologically, since 1949. Although the official languages of both lands are practically the same, the written forms are very different. People of Taiwan write in the traditional Chinese characters, while citizens of China write in the simplified form that was developed and finalized in the 1950s. The difference between the two is so great that it’s common that a person who is accustomed to one form doesn’t recognize the other. The differentiation can be found in many aspects of life including ethics, patterns of behavior, aesthetics and values.
I had been working in the music production industry of Taiwan since 1990 and was fortunate enough to have worked briefly in Beijing in the mid-1990s, participating in producing a few musical projects that are now lauded by the Chinese media as classics of the Chinese rock and pop music. However, I didn’t feel the need to move to China to continue my music production career as I had enough work to do in Taiwan. It was in 2005, after being encouraged and invited by my friends, that I moved to Beijing to continue my music production career. Everything had been going very well with work, I’d made many new friends and I had been supported by old and new customers. However, it was pretty hard for me to really establish a comfortable rapport with the city.
Everything changed after I started to take photographs, mainly in the street of Beijing, with my mobile phone in 2015. On my days off from long hours of studio work, I frequently went out and roamed the streets of the city for over 6 hours at a time to shoot to my heart’s delight. That became my only mode of exercise to keep me fit. I found myself opening up and chatting a lot with strangers in the street while taking photographs with them in the frames as the human elements. Sometimes environmental portraits are made after brief conversations with my human subjects. Being mindful of the happenings in the streets and parks, feeling the heartbeat of the city, I began to build up a real sense of connection and belonging through the act of mobile photography.
It’s a splendid myth that the act of mobile photography has brought me closer to the soul of the city of Beijing after living in it for ten years.
[Smoke on the Cluster]
You can find roadside Barbecue stalls everywhere in Beijing, and all over the country, when the climate is warm enough. Roadside BBQ is a major pastime for the people in the evening; you can smell the smoke and scent from afar. Upon seeing this stall, I asked the chef if I could photograph him working – he was totally cool in front of the lens. My right hand almost got burned while taking this one as I was holding my phone very close to the grill while he was sprinkling spice over the clusters of mutton.
[The Day After]
After kissing my mother goodbye at Beijing airport, I decided to stick around outside the airport building to take advantage of the overpass under which people would walk by. I pre-focused on the floor a few meters in front of me, held my phone right on the floor to get the composition and then waited, squatting… A couple of minutes later, this lady walked by and I released the shutter with the phone’s ear-buds cable as she just got into the frame walking in full stride. Thanks to her curiosity about what I was doing, she glanced my way over her shoulder while the photo was shot.
[A Stroll with Siddhāttha]
Early winter morning stroll in the woods, I felt peace and imagined walking behind Mr. Siddhāttha Gōtama, aka the Buddha (the Awakened One) – listening to him teaching me how I could practice to be free from all attachments to ego and everything. This was shot with the Slow Shutter Cam app in Motion Blur mode, focus-locked on the nearest tree, scanning the phone vertically to achieve that blur.
[Progressive, in Raving Lights]
A photographic tribute to all the classic progressive rock bands like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Rush and Marillion, etc.. This was shot on an overpass with the Procamera app set to 1/2 second at ISO 32. I focused on the floor and wiggled my phone vigorously when these people walked into the frame to take the image. The light streaks were headlights and tail lights of passing cars.
[Tread the Path]
I was experimenting here, taking low-angle shots with the Manfrotto Wide-Angle add-on lens. After locking the focus on the ground in front of me. I set the shutter speed and ISO in the ProCamera app in my iPhone 6 Plus, then squatted on the edge of the pavement by the boulevard leading to Tian-An-Men Square in Beijing and waited for my prey. I had the top edge of my phone right on the pavement and tilted the lens up towards the low afternoon sun with the intention of including only someone’s legs in the frame. I saw a man coming by while another was in the distance. The shutter was fired when the one near me was about to walk out of the frame and the one in the distance was right in the triangle formed by the former’s stride.
[Kalyāna-Mitra – Lesson from a Tree]
This tree, among others, has always been erect on the bank across the small river close to where I live, and can be see from my balcony every day. It changes from being leafy to bare and the cycle goes on through all the seasons. It has become one of my friends in nature and has been a living reminder to me of the lesson of impermanence and equanimity in all conditions. It’s my “Bodhi Tree” if you like. One day, I decided to shoot a photo of us two together…
[Into the Unknown]
I was strolling in the eastern downtown area of Beijing one afternoon when I came upon this entrance/exit of a subway station. An escalator connected the station to the ground level where a translucent blue canopy had been installed. Refracted blue light fell on the walls and the ceiling inside the tunnel, rendering the people on the escalator as silhouettes against a blue background, when one looked up from below. The words “twilight zone” came to mind when the scene met the eyes.
[Crossfire in the Jungle]
This image was taken at a crossroads in Beijing, where cars honk their horns relentlessly at everything in front of them, right at the instant when the traffic lights go green. Life in the urban jungle isn’t so easy for a lady, especially when you’re threatened by carnivores on wheels that don’t know pedestrians are to be respected.
[Ascent to Luminescence]
Me and my wife were visiting a friend who was a professor at medical school. This stairwell was just outside his office. I thought the profile of the stairwell wall, when looked down from the upper level, was geometrically interesting for a photograph… but not that interesting without a person in the frame. So I had my wife go down to the level below and asked her to go up with her hand on the rail. I took the photograph while she reached the spot that I’d pre-visualized for the composition. Thanks to my lovely wife for her co-operation!
[Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side!]
Shot on a rainy night outside the entrance of a supermarket near home. I saw the wet pavement reflecting the red light emitted by the neon sign above the storefront and thought it would make good foreground for an image. A girl walked into the frame pretty soon. My lips pressed one of the volume buttons of the phone’s earphone cable to fire the shot, right when her legs were in wide stride in front of the bright store light.
[Up is the way!]
I was wandering around a bus station one afternoon when I hit this spot under an overpass where a triangle was formed by the columns and the edge of the overpass. Without hesitation, I focused on the stairway, carefully composing the scene so that the top tip of the triangle touched the top edge of the frame, and waited for my prey to get on the stairway.
[Mama told me not to come!]
It was in a lovely August afternoon last year when this photograph was taken. A few kids were playing and running around in an open area of a park, and the pinky dress and shoes of this jolly little girl attracted my eyes immediately. I pre-focused on the ground about 1.5 meters in front of me, squatted and waited for her to run past me, and she did!
Viva innocence and purity!
[Universal Fountain of Love]
At the fountain in the frontal plaza of the Hyatt Hotel in Beijing, which was pretty close to the Royal Palace/Forbidden City/Tian-An-Men Square. The fountain was lit from inside the rim around which people like to take selfies or pictures of their family and friends. The plaza is usually swarming with people in the evening so it can be hard to take a clean photograph of the fountain.
The girl in the frame had just finished posing for her friend’s smartphone on the rim of the fountain and was bending down to pick up her purse, getting ready to leave when I took this photo.
[Nothing Lasts Forever]
The city of Beijing had a pretty heavy snowfall on November 22nd 2015. I was delighted because I had been hoping for the advent of snow so I could go out and have some fun shooting in it. My white trip started at about three in the afternoon. I had already been rewarded with a couple of worthy frames when patrolling in the wafting snow before this image was taken. The snow on the branches of this tree by the river, along with the snow on the surrounding ground, were tinted electric pink by the row of red neon signs on the other side of the road. I put my iPhone on a tripod and set it up about 3 meters from the tree and half a meter above ground. I angled it up approximately 30 degrees so I could have the tree, with its hanging leaves, as a natural frame that partially veiled the residential buildings across the steaming river.
The sun had completely set when I began working on this image. To have the ISO value as low as possible to avoid noise and grain, I set the shutter speed of my ProCamera app to the slowest it could go: 1/2 second, and I had to set the ISO to no lower than 160 before under-exposure was inevitable. I left the auto white balance on as the colour temperature decided by the app was quite spot-on on this occasion. The app’s self-timer was set to 25 seconds, giving me time to get into position in the frame, playing the human element.
This image, as a self-portrait, conveys my state of mind at the moment:
Steam on the water, snow on the ground, leaves on a tree, smoke from a cigarette, man in an overcoat – all conditioned things are but fleeting existence. Nothing lasts forever. So don’t be attached whatsoever.
May all be in peace and joy!
Paul Yan is a talented photographer and Picker. He is the first author to be published on Grryo following the announcement of our partnership with Picwant.
See more of Paul on : Instagram | Interview video on YouTube
It was almost as if the rain had washed away any traces of an identity we – the tourists, travelers, photographers, writers – gave Marrakech over the years, and had now revealed a much more accurate truth of a city usually depicted as way more colorful and exciting than it really is. But not that day. Gone were the beautiful and rich colors – and smells of various spices and freshly cooked foods usually experienced in Marrakech. Instead, I was witness to a grey and flavorless, almost melancholic, truth of the so-called red city – unfolding a deeper drama of mundane life right in front of me and thus catching my deepest interest.
Wandering through almost deserted streets, I was able to catch a glimpse of a reality totally concealed to most of the foreign visiting public, a reality filled with boredom and uselessness – there was no need for artificial excitement for there were simply no tourists present who had to be artificially kept excited. The only people around, despite a few stray visitors like myself, were Moroccans going their way or hiding from rain underneath a canopy, in shops or by a door, and alleyways, minding their own business. I met Nick at Café de France later that day. After being separated from each other for a couple of hours – we decided to part ways for some time in order to be able to focus on taking photographs without distracting one another – we sat down to drink a coffee and have a talk on the roofed balcony only minutes before a heavy rainstorm hit us. As the people seated in the front row of the balcony started fleeing from the fierce rain, Nick and I – seated in the much safer back row – were rewarded with an excellent view of the usually heavily populated Jemaa El Fna square.
We watched in awe as the storm got heavier, several lightning strikes occurred and people all over the square ran around seeking shelter. The sky cleared up and the storm ended just as fast as it had begun, and we continued our journey through Marrakech together. Drawn to a crowd of people standing in front of a huge but unobtrusive building, right next to the Maison de la Photographie – which we just visited – we decided to stick around and observe the scene for a little while. It quickly turned out that this building was in fact an elementary school about to end classes, and soon the people in front of it were greeted by dozens of children rushing out of the school screaming, chanting and laughing – young lives invigorating the lifeless streets again.
Quickly backing off to an opposite wall while joyfully watching the kids being hugged by their benevolent mothers and fathers, I looked around and noticed five to six men approaching really fast, carrying a gurney loaded with something unidentifiable, covered up only by a white sheet. Seemingly unnoticed by the parents – there was just too much commotion going on – the men slowed down while shouting and simultaneously pushing their way through the crowd. Catching a glimpse of what was hidden beneath the sheet, it was then I realized that they had loaded the dead body of a young boy onto a bier, carrying him as fast as they could through the narrow streets of Marrakech to whatever their final destination was. A man who stood right next to me – and one of the very few having noticed the load too – told me in french that he had heard about the recent tragedy of a young boy being struck by a speeding car, not far away from the very school he and other parents were standing in front of, eagerly waiting to pick up their children. “Il est mort,“ he said with a toned down voice, and sounded certain about that young boy’s fate. “They are rushing him to a nearby hospital, but it’s already too late. He’s dead. It happens a lot around here. People are getting hit by cars almost every day. It is horrible. You just can not be careful enough,“ he continued, shortly before embracing his son and with him vanishing hand in hand around the corner.
Pictures of Marrakech – and Morocco in general – usually show us only the sunny days, the vivid markets, the tasty food, the carefully prepped up tourist attractions of the Medina, the architecture, smiling elderly people, cats and donkeys – or all sorts of things and animals – creating a wide variety of colorful and playful motives – as seen in some of my other images too. But a beautiful color palette doesn’t matter if there is no light to be shined on by it. I guess, in a way, that was the reason for me to shoot mostly in black and white that day – so Marrakech, the red city, could remain grey and sunless for a day, mourning the loss of another son.
“We like to pretend that what is public is what the real world is all about,“ Saul Leiter once said. But the truth is, there is always another world hidden beneath the obvious and purposefully displayed, a world that’s not often been photographed or recreated countless times before due to its mundane and unspectacular nature. But it is not sensationalism that drives me or that I seek in my photographs, it’s the ordinary lives of ordinary people that interests me. During that day – while aimlessly roaming through Marrakech at first – I was somehow able to catch a glimpse of exactly this reality I’m seeking and I am deeply grateful for having experienced this.
To know more about Alexandre visit him on : Website | Instagram | Tumblr
Gone stray. How I find myself involved in a documentary project about stray and colony cats
In the beginning, it was not a photo project. It was just me going to take photos in a park where a huge colony of stray cats live. I had started taking photos of cats when I adopted my two cats three years earlier. That was something I had never done before; I had never had a cat, not even as a child. I knew nothing about cats. Honestly, I was not a pet person at all before adopting them. They totally changed the way I felt about having pets at home and it became natural to me to grab my camera to make memories of our daily life together. However, after three years I needed new subjects. So when one of my friends told me about the park, I went there on my first day off from work. Just 40 minutes from home. I had never heard about it before. It used to be an Army Fort until it was shut down in the early 90s. Now it’s a public park.
Some of the old buildings are used as offices and restaurants. Others are abandoned and almost crumbling down.
The park is known for its colony of cats; they’ve been living there since forever. There are also two cat sanctuaries. Volunteers of the two sanctuaries take care of them, providing them with fresh food and water every single day and medical care when required.
The first time I went there I spent almost three hours shooting. I loved it there, seeing so many cats napping in the tall grass or chilling on the ground enjoying the warm sun. It was clear those cats were in good health and well taken care of. I went back there the week after that, and the next, and the next … and so on for a whole year. Every time I shot new photos; every time I met new cats I hadn’t seen before. As months went by I began to know that park and those cats better. I had not realized it back then, but after a few months I was not going there just to take photos of cats anymore. I was getting familiar with them; I was getting involved in their lives, I got to know them by name as I had the chance to talk to the volunteers who worked there. I got to know what their favorite places were. Cats are territorial animals. They like to stay in the same places, but they change according to the seasons. So with each new month, depending on the weather, new photo opportunities arose. From the very beginning I liked most reserved cats that napped or chilled in abandoned buildings. It was not easy to take photos of them because as soon as they heard a noise they were gone. So I had to move as quiet as possible. Besides those places were dark, so technically it was hard to shoot there.
The only available light came from a few windows. And that’s where I had to shoot from. I couldn’t go in there. Some windows were broken, some were left open so cats could go there to sleep or stay dry and warm on rainy days or cold winter nights. My going there to take photos was a real adventure. Every time I went back home with a new capture I realized it was another small piece of their story. By then the decision was taken – I wanted to tell their story with my photos. I wanted people to know them. I wanted to show people how those cats lived and how special that place was, thanks to the volunteers who looked after them.
From the very beginning I shot photos in black and white. It was not a stylistic decision at first but it came natural to me. When I was there I saw the world in black and white. After a year of intense shooting, I realized what a huge number of photos I had taken. And it was only at that time that I felt I needed to try to organize them. To my greatest surprise I realized that it was not necessary. They were already organized. All my shots could be divided into four or five basic subjects.
The year after that I kept going to that park once a week. I still do. I’m still working on those original basic subjects, but after two years I still bump into new situations and meet new cats. That place is magical for me. It always presents something new, even if I don’t look for it. I never go there with a clear idea on my mind. I never go there thinking ‘Ok, today I want to shoot that cat napping on that window.’ It doesn’t work like that. First of all, whenever I go there with such an idea in mind, I never find the cat or the situation I was looking for. And even if I do, I’ve noticed that even if the shot might be technically good there’s something missing. Because it’s shot with my mind and not with my soul. That’s why I never do that. That’s why I go there with a free mind and an open soul. I go there and wait until that park and those cats give me a special moment to capture. Every shot is an unexpected gift to me. Nothing is planned beforehand. Sometimes I go there early in the morning, as soon as the park opens, when all offices and restaurants are still closed and there’s no one around. Just the cats and me. It’s quiet; silence everywhere.
Being with them makes me feel good. And special too. After two years I’ve come to think that those cats know that I’m there for them. They know I want to document their real life and they show it to me. That’s why, as time went by, I decided to keep shooting in black and white. It helps me concentrate on the essential and show it to people. That’s why among my photos there are no small kitties nor romantic situations. There are no stereotyped images that are usually seen in social media. But there are no pityful images either. I do not want people to feel sorry for them. They don’t need that. They are taken care of, they are not out in the street. But I want to raise compassion, which is different, and I want to make people get to know these stray cats and where they live. I try to do this with respect for them to show how dignified and beautiful they are.
For more information about my work check out my feed on Instagram and Facebook.
“It is spring time now! While the world looks for a new war to fight, you look for a cherry blossom to watch! Let the stupid seek violence; you seek the elegance!” Mehmet Murat ildan
The wind picks up a plastic bag from the street and swirls it into the air. The crackly noise breaks the silence; the kind of silence that only an early Sunday morning can bring in a big city like Cologne. It’s quarter past 5am, the sun hasn’t come up yet, but the sky already has that golden shimmer. I am loading my car with cookies, hot tea and of course my camera gear. Alexandra (a friend I met on Instagram) and I are going to Bonn to enjoy a very special treat. One that only lasts for a couple of days every year.
Hanami – Japanese – “the enjoyment of the beauty of flowers”. A word that is mostly used to describe the more than a thousand-year-old tradition that exists around the blooming of the sakura. The cherry tree.
In the 80s, when the city of Bonn decided to undertake major restorations in its city centre, they also planted cherry trees. Today, for a few days in April, a handful of narrow streets are dipped in pink.
I pick up Alexandra at the river Rhine. There is still a chill in the air but it is promising to be a beautiful day. We are engulfed in mist as we drive along the big river and then down the six-lane highway which, usually full of traffic jam, is now completely deserted.
Enjoing the silence of an early sunday morning.
As we get out of the car in Bonn we are greeted by the aroma of fresh coffee. Some of the locals have opened their windows and one of them is looking down on us while we slowly make our way along the street, our heads tilted back.
The sun rises and we begin to feel its warmth. As we turn around a corner onto the main cherry-blossom-street, we almost bump into another photographer. There they are, about ten other early birds, with their tripods and big cameras.
The things we do for a good photo…get up at 4am on a sunday!
I own a small DSLR camera with a standard zoom lens and a 50mm that I really like, but a lot of my pictures are still taken with my phone. I enjoy the spontaneity of it and that I have the result right there, ready to edit with an app and share it straight away if I want to. Apart from my phone, my other constant companion is a plastic bag. I get a few strange looks as I pull it out of my bag to get down on all fours into the curbstone.
#beautyiseverywhere Don’t you think?
The meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan is best summarized as a symbol of perfect beauty and the beginning of spring, a time of renewal. And then there is the fleeting nature of its life: a cherry blossom lasts only for about two weeks. It falls after a long maturity in the moment of perfected beauty.
An ocean of pink in a blue sky.
The Japanese cherry trees in Bonn are not plants whose fruits can be eaten later. These are ornamental cherries with many pink flowers.
As the morning goes on, more people appear on the streets. The café owners and delivery men don’t pay much attention to us taking pictures of their trees. They are used to this madness around at this time of the year.
Alexandra tells me about her first visit here, a week earlier, on a Saturday afternoon. “It was so busy“, she says, “people were waiting in line to reach one of the few high points in order to get a clear shot of the flowerage.” Entire busloads of tourists, couples in wedding attire taking wedding pictures one month before their wedding, girls posing for their Instagram pages…
The unknown Instagramer and her photographer.
And in fact, the crowd starts to change while we continue down the street. After the bright daylight has replaced the golden sunrise, the professional photographers disappear one by one; families, groups of friends and photographers with their models fill the air with happy chatter.
We all know what this will look like in Instagram, don’t we! 😉
The occasional car scatters the crowds onto the sidewalks for only a moment. The magic of the pink tree tunnel has us all back in the middle of the road immediately.
“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” Kobayashi Issa
It’s almost 10am now and my phone is about to die. Alexandra and I have walked up and down the pink streets a few times, but now it’s becoming a challenge to avoid getting caught in the different camera lenses pointed everywhere. We return to our car and head back home, leaving the cherry blossoms to the masses that will appear shortly. We will return next year.
My lucky shot. I didn’t even see them before editing this picture.
“Ah, if in this world there were no such thing as cherry blossoms, perhaps then in springtime our hearts would be at peace”. Ariwara no Narihira
Thank you to my lovely friends Alexandra and Alexandra! @alexandra.loves.cologne for being my photo walk buddy and @whisper_feather for being my editor!
For more cherry blossoms in Bonn visit the IG hashtags #kibo17 and ‘kirschbluetebonn. See you around! @tonivisual
An Interview with Photographer Idan Golko: A Self-examined Life
In one of my prior corporate gigs, a division VP said to me, “Mark, you seem to lead a self-examined life.” I was surprised by this. I mean, I took this remark as a compliment, but did I? Did I inspect my life? Did I regularly question my existence by screening my thoughts and actions?
r u capable? © idan golko
Fast-forward to mid-2016. The first time r u capable?—a photographic blog that raises simple questions with complex answers—blipped into my tumblr radar. Flashbacks of when I became more aware of my consciousness (meta-awareness) infused my thoughts. This r u capable? concept is onto something, I thought. I wanted to find out more.
“We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.” – Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
The person behind the r u capable? images and blog is Israel-based photographer Idan Golko. Idan’s brilliant marriage of moody cinematic photographs with thought-piercing enquiries is a meditation on reality. His concept, reminiscent of the Socratic method, illuminates a creative approach to cleaning the lens through which we perceive all things. The lens I’m referring to here is the mind.
“The Socratic method uses questions to examine the values, principles, and beliefs of students.” – Professor Rob Reich, Stanford University
I spoke to Idan on the phone in mid-January 2017. Besides getting to know Idan, I wanted to know the reasoning and symbolism behind his questions. “If I can answer these questions, then I will be a better person,” says Idan. He continues, “then my family will be better. People will be better. The environment will be better and so on.”
r u capable of not feeling alone? © Idan Golko
“I find moments of peace and quiet when I take a good shot. “ – Idan Golko
Mark: When did r u capable officially start?
Mark: What inspired you to create r u capable?
Idan: A very depressive day. I was in the middle of a big (stressful) project. I wanted to express my feelings and distress in the best way I know–through photographs and words. But before this dreaded day – in fact, several years earlier when I was living in Tel Aviv (in a very urban state of mind) – a friend of mine had asked me if I was capable of intimacy.
Well, this “are you capable?” question had a specific tone and meaning along with a repetitive nature. And, the question stuck with me—it popped up again on that depressive day while I was looking at my photographs. I knew I was doing meaningful things in the world, but I was not doing my thing, and I was asking myself the general question: r u capable? Just like that—black and white, yes or no, and the answer was yes. Three hours later, the blog was on the air.
There is a stronger side in me that chose to live and chose the bright positive path. But that side comes from the dark with a lot of struggle. These two contradictions inside me were a great inspiration as well to create r u capable.
r u capable of taking responsibility over your soul? © idan golko
Mark: You met your wife about three and a half years ago. Was this event the catalyst for your life change?
Idan: Yes. The main change for me was when I stopped expending most of my energy for others. Then I was free to put energy into my projects. My wife gave me courage and strength to make this change and focus on my things in the best way.
Mark: What is the central message you are trying to convey with r u capable?
Idan: To raise the awareness to the possibility of choice through confrontation with your shadows. If you are capable of healing your soul wounds, the impact of that in the world is much more significant than you can imagine.
r u capable? (no i can’t, not today) © idan golko
Mark: What is the philosophy behind r u capable?
Idan: The philosophy behind r u capable is quite simple: to recognize your soul’s defaults, and to sincerely ask yourself if you can deal with these defaults. The questions are simple; I’m not inventing anything. I’m just bringing some thought or emotion to another level of awareness. I want to be a better person to my daughter, my wife, my family and friends, to Earth, and to myself. To recognize our bad defaults is half of the problem, and to solve them is the other half. I’m trying the best I can on both ends of the spectrum. I’m not trying to survive only mentally, but also to be content with my reality.
I have no idols, but I’m inspired by many things and people, such as Ian Brown (Stone Roses fame), Thom Yorke, Nick Drake, Dark 80’s, Monty Python, Serge Gainsbourg, tattoos, drugs, world climate, violence, justice, hope, love, the sea, smell, and so much more.
I feel that in today’s world, everything is “bubbling.” I want the good to win. What is the good? I can’t point one finger at it (there are many), but I do know and feel what is happening in the world today is almost the opposite of good.
Mark: Why photography?
Idan: I find moments of peace and quiet when I take a good shot. The images help me to deal with myself. I find answers in the images I take and I especially find comfort in them. It gives me a short break from all the mass inside me and around me. The photographs I take reflect my mental state. I’m looking outside in order to understand better, to learn more about myself, and to improve – that is, to be a better person (to be more human). I use only secondhand cameras. I never use long zooms
r u capable of healing urself? © idan golko
Mark: Define what a “good” shot is to you.
Idan: A shot that makes me feel something whether it’s the person, the scene, the mood, the light – my heart needs to feel.
Mark: What does it mean to be more human?
Idan: It is easier to start with defining what is not human. Being disconnected with the reality around us is not being human. Often, reality overloads our senses with too much information. We can react to this overload by disconnecting. But, that makes us feel less human. To be more human, we must keep our hearts open and build trust in the mysteries of life. The ultimate goal is to have harmony between the external reality and our internal reality.
r u capable of being patient? © idan golko
Mark: Why only secondhand cameras and no long zooms?
Idan: I love things from the past. Using secondhand cameras, for me, is sustainable. I also like the low-tech aspect of the older digital cameras. I guess I am a bit of a technophobe in this regard. I use a FujiFilm x100 and Sony fF28. These cameras are not old, of course, just secondhand.
Long zooms are a big advertisement that you are taking pictures. I’d rather not be noticed because I want to capture something meaningful that is undisturbed.
r u capable of entering ur dark sides in order to find some light? © idan golko
Mark: What do you “normally” do when you are not taking photographs?
Idan: For many years I found myself doing different things in order to survive financially. I worked many jobs, from being a bartender to a business development director to brewery manager to art dealer and collector’s assistant. When I met my wife, three and a half years ago, I stopped “selling my soul” to others. Since then I’m focusing on my photography and writing and also doing other things, such as dealing with music and cinema memorabilia and secondhand items. I love old stuff, I love the rhythm of the analog.
These days I’m also running a very private documentary project, mostly in video, with a well-known senior actress in Israel. It’s been running for almost a year and it will keep running for another year at least.
I’m also a curating a photography exhibition for an Israeli photographer who died 14 years ago. He was photographing street and portraits in Israel during the late 70s and early 80s. The exhibition is planned for May 2017.
So after almost three years of incubation, I’m finally doing my things.
Mark: Do you have future plans for r u capable? If so, please share.
Idan: Yes. I plan to continue what I’m doing and to expand in many forms of creativity. To find and later on to create other platforms that can serve as a vehicle for r u capable?.
r u capable of looking deep into reality’s eyes and understand that u need to cooperate and not only observe? © idan golko
To sustain his projects, Idan has a few irons in the fire. He is working on a documentary project and he is generating revenue from his photography. Wait, there’s more. Idan also creates a signature product he calls “analog-i” where he takes rare music posters and mounts them with vintage frames that he discovers in flea markets. “I am now back on my feet and beginning to see the flowering from the seeds I planted a while back,” Idan says in gratitude.
Is there a lesson in all of this? Has Idan found the holy grail of what all artists seek – liberation from the chains of stereotype? Idan’s photography has an edge and gladly offers a fresh reprieve from the saturation of trillions of cliché images. More importantly, this edge slices through perception, and it perforates our default mode of thinking – our default definitions of what is beautiful and what is ugly.
If Idan has found all the answers, it’s because the revelations came from within, by pondering a simple question—r u capable?
r u capable of being connected to others as well? © idan golko
Find Idan on:
Website | Tumblr
Dubai is rich in history and outstanding architecture. One of my favorite places to visit and to photograph is Al Ras, a small district in Deira near the creek, which means “the cove”. Each time I go to this place, I always discover something new.
A few months ago, I visited Al Ras with a small group of local photographers. “How did you find this place?” a local asked me as we entered a rusty elevator in an old building in Deira. In this building we found an interesting window. The geometric patterns on the concrete wall created the perfect frame for the busy market outside. For most photographers, it’s always a challenge to find new places to photograph and to create something new. “I got lost in the market, that’s how I found this.”
One of the advantages of doing a photo walk with locals is that it’s a lot easier to approach strangers for a photograph. Not that I’m shy, but I usually struggle asking people for a photo. But as the day went by, I got more comfortable taking pictures, while confused onlookers watched me from the opposite side of the street. This was a good day for me to practice portraiture.
We entered a blue door on a narrow alley and found ourselves in the middle of an old villa converted into small apartments. There we met Ali, a Pakistani worker who happily posed for a few pictures.
The place is also famous for the Deira Covered Souk, where you can buy anything from gold, textiles and spices. One can’t get enough of the incredible number of things that you can find here and the fascinating people you meet in this local market.
In the souk we met a Pakistani guy who sells scarves. At first he was hesitant to do the photo shoot, but after seeing how much his friend was enjoying the photo session, he also joined and allowed us to take his portrait.
We rushed into the old parking building in the souk to catch the sunset. From the rooftop you can see the busy market, the colorful trade boats and the glistening water of Dubai creek. We stayed there for about half an hour and admired the beautiful golden sun disappear behind the light blue horizon. No matter how many times I visit Deira, it will always be a place worth exploring and admiring.
Geny is a Filipino designer and photographer based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. You can see more of her work on Instagram.
I walk to the edge of myself and peer into the great abyss that lives behind me.
1. A dirty blond-haired girl with eyes the color of raindrops plays a childhood game of hide and seek. Her name is stamped on her forehead – Unbalanced. She has been saddled with it since birth. Unbalanced climbs into a shiny green-and-white Ford parked in the yard, scorched by the noonday sun, and plants herself on the floorboard. It’s her favorite place to hide. Her imaginary friend, whom she has affectionately named Protector, counts in an emphatic voice. ONE Mississippi, TWO Mississippi, THREE… She runs straight for the shiny green-and-white Ford parked in the scorching heat. She knows this routine by heart. Pieces of her friend lay on the floorboard.
Gathering her up, she carries her inside. She’s done this eight hundred and ninety-five times before. Always picking up the pieces of her broken China doll friend and putting them back together again. A day and a half later, they play this game once more. Protector counts while Unbalanced hides. As usual, she heads straight for her familiar hiding place. She is greeted by remnants of bone and flakes of sallow skin on a crimson stained floorboard. She looks straight into the eyes of the discarded matter.
She doesn’t flinch.
2. A coming-of-age girl, with the body of a fading orchid, stands alone in the bathroom – her mouth wired shut. Pieces of barbed wire are wrapped around her head. Mocking voices of laughter barrel their way down the crowded corridored walls made of concrete block and shove open the bathroom door. She doesn’t know these intruders anymore. She turned her back on them long ago.
She also abandons Protector.
3. A girl, taking up residence in a woman’s body, finds a new Protector; everyone else calls him by a different name. To him, she is a mystery. To her, he is stability. She loves him like a life raft in stranded deep. He loves her like a buried treasure of rings of gold, so they run away together. She doesn’t know how big dreams can be. He cradles her in his arms as her white satin dress, with the white butterfly appliqué on its train, slides to the floor. They move into a house trailer on Wilderness Trail. Sunshine keeps the clouds at bay. Two years rush by.
4. Then they come in succession:
She cries upon their arrival. She’s never felt love like this before. For the first time, she wears the name Protector.
She can barely catch her breath. Lullabies. Late night feedings. Faces flushed with fevers. Giggles. Wide-eyed wonder at some newfound discovery. Bicycle rides and skinned knees bathed in kisses and bandaged with tenderness.
Some days she feels a sliver of herself slowly being shaved away.
5. Thirty looms overhead like a billowing sky of blackened clouds. Old Man Winter seeps into her bones and unpacks his bags, setting up housekeeping. Lullabies and kisses are replaced with deathbed vigils and reassurance from kids wearing old people faces, their wide-eyed wonder slowly robbed of its innocence. She answers to the name Unbalanced once again.
Some days, she summons the courage to stare death in the face. She comes out of hiding. She showers the man, who loves her like buried treasure, with soft kisses. She rides bicycles with the kids behind their house on Maple Street, their sweet, cherub faces returning with rapturous laughter tumbling out of their mouths. They make a soundtrack full of songs like this.
6. She puts pen to paper and writes the story of someone else’s life. Unbalanced names the protagonist Euphoria. Her deep brown eyes perfectly match her long locks of hair that sometimes trail the clear, blue sky. Euphoria plants a Rose of Sharon in her garden. She waters it and watches as it blooms in the shade of flushed cheeks. After spring and summer fade, Euphoria grows tired and lays down on the cool earth blanketed by her locks of long brown hair. With Songbird on her lips, she drifts off to sleep. Unbalanced hides away the unfinished story under her pillow.
7. For Unbalanced, moods bounce up and down like a basketball. Number Four is born. Her birth brings joy and new life into the house on California. That doesn’t keep Unbalanced from bouncing. Summer, autumn, and winter roll into spring. She goes to bed for two weeks with her lips glued shut. Her mother becomes a surrogate. The man who loves her like a buried treasure drives her to appointments and feeds her prescripted medications.
8. Mostly, she stops bouncing and learns to walk a straight line. Sometimes she gets off track. She develops a deeper love and appreciation for the man who loves her like a buried treasure. Occasionally, she pulls out the soundtrack of bicycle rides and laughter on sweet, cherub faces. They decide to make a new one. Its songs sound just as sweet. She buys a camera and tells stories with her pictures. She pulls out the unfinished novel from under her pillow and lets her words flow from pen to page. She fills in the blanks with dreams that are vast as the heavens and wide as the sea.
She climbs to the top of the abyss, arms outstretched. I meet her there.
Lisa Acton Smith and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Sophie, share the gift of artistry. Lisa is a photographer and writer, while Sophie is a photographer and musician. They live in Brookhaven, MS.
If interested in learning more, you can find Lisa’s photography on:
Spring Flowers, 2016 Tampere
Images of Multiple Truth Along the Way
Why do people want to photograph strangers in a public space?
I am a middle-aged father of three children and an art teacher living in Tampere, Finland. I did my master´s degree at the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki (now part of Aalto University) in 1998. Our oldest child moved away from home to study architecture in the autumn 2015. Later that fall, I decided to carry out an idea I had cherished a long time. I bought a micro4/3 camera system, and began systematically shoot on the street. I wanted to refresh the experience of making art, something I lost little by little after uni. Could it be spontaneous, intuitive and surprising still? Could it be part of life outside of my daily work at school? Yes and yes.
Stripes, 2015 Tampere
I have always snapped with my compact camera and earlier with analog SLR. It has been part of family life and travels as usual. One image changed my idea of taking pictures. In Florence at the end of February 2015, while waiting for the order outside of Pizzeria Toto, I turned my camera onto a purple-dressed ”nonna”.
La Viola, 2015 Florence
Purple (”La Viola”) is the city´s symbol color and the nick name of the soccer team. After I took that picture, I had a serious adrenaline peak. I was amazed and confused. Is it okay to do so? The question is valid. My graduation work in the 90´s was a documentary graphic novel based on video material, a story of a man who had lost his girlfriend because of random violence and living on the edge of the society during the economic depression. The project took years, and I got familiar with the questions one has to face in making documentary. But eventually I´ve solved the dilemma of photographing strangers.
I admit, at first the thrill was good enough for me. I fished a lot when I was younger, and I recognized the feeling. The process provided by fishing (as well as by hunting) is similar to the process of street photography. All starts from the equipment and a plan. Then you just have to go out. Senses will awake little by little. The Mind settles, and you´ll live in the moment. There will be a small catch, then maybe bigger. It all depends on the experience, the mind and mrs. Fortuna. And the biggest fish is always waiting somewhere else. You know it for sure. You are patient and walk… finally heading home. At home the catch has to be gutted. Eventually, the fish ends up beautifully prepared and served onto the plate.
The Point of No Return, 2016 Tampere
Conquering Space, 2016 New York
So street photography requires some hunting instinct. People move actively and with interest examining their environment. The Camera comes along in the pocket. Documenting interesting things visually is a direct continuation of the tendency of telling stories, gossiping. Visual narrative applies same laws as stories. Photos must be able to accomodate in Aristotle´s Poetics of a good drama. And like good stories, good images will rise emotions. In a way, we all are telling the same story. The Status, angle and the mood of the story differs. The Grand story deals with us, humans, and our path in this world. The story has always been told, and so it will be in the future too.
Burden, 2016 Tallinn
We are living curious times. Democracy has been questioned, population growth and the climate change threaten our very existence. Such exceptional times had always had an impact on artists and their work. That is happening now in photography with fierce fury. Visual cultures around the world collide and fertilize each other. New factor groups with a new voices show up. They produce a fresh, new art on its own merits. Techniques, contents and themes will be revised.
However, the sense of standing on a cliff fighting against vertigo is overwhelming, caused by the fear of a global climate disaster . And behind our backs humankind grows. Manipulative authoritarian regimes here and there seize the day trying to repress people under their one truth. All of that effects serious art and photography. Me as well.
Vertical Solitude, 2016 New York
How would I describe last year 2016? Surrealistic? Nightmarish?
I´m offering a non-nationalistic and pluralistic, nordic point of view from Europe and EU too. I’ve always been into both politics and sosiological issues, as a teenager I did my political graffiti in Berlin Wall when it divided the city. A Lot is at stake right now. Here in Finland we have faced the unexpected behavior of our neighbor Russia, refugees from Middle East, the rise of the right wing extremists, Brexit and snowless winters. My visit to the USA in the middle of presidential campaigns was a thorough introduction into the irrational division of the country and segregation based on the system itself. Dark forces are on the move and they are living their life in our common consciousness.
But I dived into the world of Instagram too, and found out the barrier of distance, that earlier separated people, had collapsed. The Concept of ”international” diluted. There is no need for ”Paris” or ”New York” anymore. We all are there, constantly, enjoying the jungle of multiple truth and free voice.
Jazz Singer, 2016 Brooklyn
And my ways to see and do things have changed. Having chance to see such a brilliant photography, occasionally strange and uncomfortable, sometimes just beyond my dreams, have forced me to do things better, more planned, more focused. And I´m assured my case is not an exception. I think all of this can be seen in my images.
Mermaid, 2016 Prague
Image and the process around it has always fascinated me. I imply here specifically
an image in general, not photos particularly. Photography for me is primarily a picture making, using camera as a tool.
How, then, visual arts background is reflected in my images? In street photography it´s common to try to find funny coincidences and interesting visual similarities or gimmicks. Humor is a trade mark of many quality images.
Urban Dream, 2016 Prague
Sure I take a picture if I see a humorous coincidence or scene. But at the same time I feel very drawn to images providing the viewer several possibilities of interpretation.
One + One, 2017 Tampere
The aim is to offer humanity as a whole at a time when the picture is taken. I feel that too specific event or a visual coincidence converts image into a pictogram. A pictogram is a picture that has only one meaning (or one truth, so to speak), such as a coffee cup on a roadside signboard. The best photos can be viewed on forever, and their internal splendor won´t disappear. Of course, the best images can be humorous, and in any case they are always compassionate.
So I´m taking pictures of people, who happens to be along the way.
I feel that my photos are documents of the time I´m living in. My view to the documentary is poetic and interactive. These modes are based on the work of Bill Nichols, who have named six types of documentary films.
Waiting, 2016 Tallinn
At the heart of poetic documentary mode is to encounter the subject by subjective process, interpreted by author. The author will be recognized from visual aesthetics. Visual aesthetics means here the whole subject, and visual processing. The traditional narrative content does not mean much. People and events do not develop. It´s a question of juxtaposition of time, space and the subject.
Private Space, 2016 Tampere
On the other hand, I feel reflective documentary mode close. For me, it has always been clear that the reality is difficult to talk about. How to take an image, which corresponds to reality. I solved it by creating ”street setups” with a sense of artificiality. It´s a way to lower the sense of truth, to express that the image is a subjective product. It forces the viewer to understand that the image is the result of a some one´s mind set as well as it tells us something about reality. If viewer suspects the authenticity of the picture, I´ve succeeded.
So what do I want to say with my images? This is a question that puts the author in a difficult position. I feel that my images are first and foremost documents of this time and people. My goal is not to present one truth, more like several of them. On the other hand I do not feel just plain aesthetics productive, but important enough to seduce the viewer.
We all are linked to the great story of humanity with communication. It´s a never ending path, and nicer to walk with camera.
Centuries Watching, 2016 Rome
In the Middle of Car Dreams, 2016 Tampere
Survivor, 2017 Tampere
Adapted, 2017 Tampere
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