Prologue to an Explosion by Titika Røtkjær

Prologue to an Explosion by Titika Røtkjær

I looked at the rays of sun on the walls in my living room. They were beautiful, golden and warm even though it was late September. I ought to go out and make some pictures in the city, I thought, grabbed my phone and jacket, ran down the stairs and started to walk around in the streets. 

It was Saturday and Copenhagen was full of people enjoying the sun. The atmosphere was lovely. Because the sun is such a rare guest in Copenhagen, people make sure to appreciate it when it’s there. I walked among the pictures of my mind as a double exposure landscape between the houses when I was captured.

Darkness instantly poured over me. I was lifted some inches above the ground.

“Be still. Listen and remember: you have work to do.”

Eventually everything around me became brighter and glittered strangely with a soft cloudy quality. What was going on? I couldn’t touch the ground and at the same time I was in the middle of Copenhagen. People passed by and buildings were clear to me, but it was as if I had become invisible. Was I going to die now?

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

“No, but it may seem so for a short time while you experience the explosion. You need to be transformed to fulfil your mission here on Earth. Don’t worry, we will provide the advice needed.”

An explosion? No, no, no, I don’t want an explosion. I like peace. I’m not the explosive kind of person.

“Much on this planet can be confusing. Not everything makes sense. Accept that. Don’t try to add meaning to the meaningless.”

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

Standing in front of the old University building in the center of Copenhagen, the shadows still shone with an enchanted light when the voice disappeared. I sat down at one of the stone steps in front of the main entrance. Across the square two men in suits talked and pointed at the church. A small girl and a woman walked hand in hand eating ice creams. A young woman sunbathed on a bench. Other people sat on the steps behind me, smoking, drinking coffee and reading in the late summer sun. The atmosphere was lazy and calm. I tried to understand what had just taken place…

I couldn’t.

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

In the following days I started to doubt my experience. It seemed more and more unreal. At the same time I felt scared of being transformed and sometimes lost as if the world was too big for me. When that happened I walked. Walked and walked for hours, and focused on details so as not to become overwhelmed. Beauty for sure was in the detail: the sound of waves by the sea, the smell of rain, for example, and the way the sunlight changed colors in the late afternoon.

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

A week after the voice contacted me, a map appeared on the palms of my hands. It was early in the morning and I was in the process of deciding which of my almost identical black skirts to wear when it became visible.

I folded my fingers and saw how a pattern developed. The pattern turned into a picture, and the picture into a movie. I recognised myself walking around unaware in my own hands. I was hypnotized. Looking closely I understood that I was protected and shouldn’t fear.

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

I grabbed a random skirt, put it on, held my breath and listened in order to hear if the voice from the other day had any additional comments…

Nothing! 

Kind of disappointed, I began vacuuming my apartment. 

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

After that I paid extra attention to my hands, but of course there was nothing to see out of the ordinary. 

Was it my imagination? The experiences with the voice and the pictures in my hands were both very surreal, yes, but at the same time persuasive. I was confused and ambivalent. I feared them, and I was attracted. Even though it might seem weird: they had implemented a certain feeling in me. A feeling I couldn’t get rid of. I felt sure I was going to be transformed along with my life. It would be a dangerous process, but I would be protected. 

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

I was in a constant nearly-nervous state no matter how much I walked or met with friends or tried to calm myself down. Despite the nervousness, my energy was upbeat. I did a lot of work and that was good. And meeting with friends in the lovely weather was a true joy. 

An evening drinking wine and talking with my best friend after a movie I considered telling her. We sat outside on a café by one of the ponds. It was dark and I really felt like sharing my experiences as if I could make them either vanish or become more ordinary by talking about them. 

I didn’t tell her. I started to, but stopped in the middle of a sentence when I saw the expression on her face. Big mistake, I instantly realized. The whole thing was too mysterious. And moreover, I wasn’t able to explain, nor to describe, in a way that was as compelling as I had sensed it.

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

On my way home later the same evening it started to rain. Wonderful, relieving drops blurred my sight. I ran, jumped, danced. 

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

As if the rain was still there I couldn’t see far for many days. That didn’t scare me, I was convinced my sight eventually would be back. I knew it was a sign: the day of the explosion was approaching. I tried to be patient, do what was necessary, and what I considered normal. 

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

When the day came I prepared myself: up early, shower, coffee, soft shoes, warm clothes. At six o’clock I walked out. The morning was freezing dark and the city sleeping. The winter arrived early from one day to the next that year. A thin layer of ice covered the big ponds in Copenhagen. The city council kept one end of one pond open for the ducks. They were asleep when I passed them. From time to time a car engine split the silence, then it closed again. Here and there I saw lights in windows, but most of them were covered by darkness. 

I walked fast to stay warm and to make any reminiscence of nervousness subside. As usual, it helped to walk fast. At one point I felt totally calm – and overwhelmingly scared. 

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

And then it happened: the explosion.

It’s kind of complicated to describe. I was thrown through space and it was beautiful: pure melting light and dancing colors in all directions. Transparent forms changed shapes continuously. I also heard a sharp metallic sound that felt soothing and mild. It stayed with me for a long time. I was flying. I remember smiling, stretching and reaching before I blacked out.

I woke up a second later in a hospital. Or to be exact: seven hours and thirteen minuts later. I was dizzy, but I instantly knew I was blessed: my level of energy and joy was way too high for a smashed person. Of course I was in pain. But what can you expect? It didn’t worry me. 

The next morning I tried to stand up. After a while I gained balance. As soon as I could walk without holding on to anything, I thanked the doctors and said goodbye. They looked at me with a mixture of concern and amazement… Subsequently, they agreed to send me home. 

Strangely transformed but recognizable, the world felt confusing and different. So did my body. I started to navigate. I found the right door, put my hand on the handle and saw how it opened. I stood still for a moment. Then I went through. I had work to do.

A Copenhagen Tale @titika.ink

To read more by Titika Røtkjær, see “Tango”, “Newcastle Noir” and “Concerning Life and Light…”

Or visit Titika on Instagram.

 

Concerning life and light, death and miracles

Concerning life and light, death and miracles

I woke up in a dimly lit room.
I was amazed
to be alive!

M was there. He touched my face and kissed me. “She’s awake,” a nurse said, and added, “she’s too cold.” Another nurse placed a pre-heated blanket on my stomach under the quilt. A little later the first nurse took my temperature again. “She is still too cold.” The second nurse replaced the first pre-heated blanket with another. I felt uplifted, blessed and surprised.

I was standing in front of the large mirror in my bedroom in Copenhagen. It was winter outside, and freezing. I made an effort to let what had happened to me during the past three weeks sink in: I was with M in the UK where he worked. It had been this lovely long summer, with mesmerizing light every day. I was occupied with plans and pictures and poems, so entirely happy and inspired. I felt healthy and fit. Maybe a bit tired now and then…but who cares? I had been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, and struggled with the condition for the last eight years. That spring this frozen darkness which had taken over my whole existence was melting away. Since I was a child I have suffered from anxiety and depression, but never as massive as in those eight years. In September 2016, I had been well for six months. Then I began to feel sick in a more physical way. It was diffuse, but always in combination with fatigue and stomach pain. I went to the doctors.

Everything happened fast: tests, scans, examinations. For two and a half weeks the diagnosis was uncertain and I was hoping that it might “just” be precursors to cancer, because the doctors couldn’t see any tumor on the scans. But late one afternoon a surgeon called with the final results: “You’ve got cancer, and a rather large tumor.” Silence. Then she added: “I checked the results from your four-year-old tests; they showed precursors to cancer. Something should have been done back then. You should file a complaint when all of this is over.” And then she told me exactly how much she and her colleague had to remove from my body. I was shocked.

One and a half days later: the surgery.

Standing in front of the large mirror: grief, vulnerability and sadness about what had happened were in a chaotic fight with relief, strength and joy to be alive. I have always had problems accepting my own body, and now I really looked worse than ever, way beyond miserable. My abdomen was swollen, my chest flatter than usual, my arms were skinny and my cheeks hollow. I need to see a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, a healer or maybe a priest? I need help!!! I thought. I can’t handle this alone.

Instead of crying, a profound calm and clarity suddenly overwhelmed me.
At that point I made peace with my body.
For the first time in my whole life I didn’t criticize it.

I was grateful. My body was working on my survival, to heal, to get back into balance. I accepted it completely. A totally new and surprising experience. I decided to heal myself without help from any therapist. Mixed feelings would wave over me in the times to come. Sometimes I nearly drowned in helplessness, vulnerability, sadness and confusion, but that would subside, and the mood from when I woke up after surgery took over and saved me from sliding into a long-term depressive state. A sense of being uplifted and miraculously protected carried me through the following months.

During the surgery all lymph nodes in my abdomen were removed, along with the cancer and anything else doctors feared the cancer could have spread to. I was afraid of developing lymphedema. Removed lymph nodes are lost. They don’t come back. But the system can make new vessels for the lymph fluid to circulate in the body. The lymph system is important for keeping the body healthy. Lymph fluid protects against infections, and the lymph nodes cleanse the lymph fluid before it enters the blood vessels. I did research. I consulted websites from experts, medical centers and hospitals all over the English speaking world. I found the right food to eat, and how to perform lymph massage, and when I could touch my stomach again I started to do this massage every day. And I meditated. I also did a mild exercise program until I – slowly, little by little – could do bits and pieces from my Ashtanga yoga routine. Exercise should not be exaggerated in the beginning. It can make the condition worse. The most effective thing was lying on my yoga mat, stretching, moving and trying to tune in to my body’s needs – what kind of movement, what kind of food, how much rest – and follow its signals. As a mild start, I walked. Walking stimulates the lymph system. So the third day after surgery, I went out. It was a Nordic dark-all-day day, and freezing. It was raining a little bit too, and the air was sharp and fresh. I usually hate that kind of weather, but that day:

I was floating.
I hardly felt any pain.
A strange light filled me with joy, energy, gratitude.

A year before I received the cancer diagnosis, I discovered that my hairdresser, D, was a psychic and a healer. Since I was a small child, I have felt a spirit, an angel – or maybe God – was watching over me. In difficult times I would talk and listen to that…energy? Ask it for help or protection, or advice. But during my depression I lost the contact. So when D gave a course in “Connecting with your spirit guide”, I attended the course and re-established my connection to this protective, guiding, healing, knowing-it-all energy. It was incredibly easy! As if it had been waiting for me to make contact again. I call this energy: Divine. I had always kept my religious or spiritual life to myself, but I needed someone to talk to about these matters on my way out of the depression and anxiety, and especially during the three weeks from my first test to the diagnosis. D was my constant support and help.

When I received the cancer diagnosis, I consulted Divine. Divine told me I was about to be transformed. I interpreted the words through my worst perspectives, and thought I was going to die: that something would go terrible wrong during surgery, and that I wouldn’t wake up again. I was scared. I was sad. There was so much I wanted to do in this dimension, and now there was no time. Divine tried to calm me down. One day when I was resting, I suddenly felt I was being healed by some light-spirits. It was wonderful and strange and very real. Like they were making me ready for surgery. Later l told D about it. We were sitting in her salon, talking for ten minutes before the next customer arrived. D smiled. “Yes I know,” she said. “They are still with you. I can see them.” It didn’t convince me, and I prepared for parting with this world. Which is why I felt such surprise and joy when I woke up after the anesthesia. From then on, I listened to Divine with trust and no fear. I can say much about that, but in short:

All areas of my life have been deeply affected
and changed.

As I said earlier, I have experienced recurrent depression and anxiety since childhood. Even on “good days”, I still tend to be a little nervous, often in combination with low self-esteem. I have built up a way of forcing, fighting and pushing myself to do a lot of things, no matter how frightening, exhausting, painful they might be, just to appear normal, or not to disappoint anyone. That underwent a change. A transformation. A greater sense of purpose is permeating my life. And that provides me with the feeling that I – just like anybody else – have my own right to be in this world. I’m still nervous, and tend to sense everything without filter, but at the same time I feel protected and secure.

Every third month I go back to the hospital to be scanned and examined for precursors to cancer. In October 2017, all results had been fine for one year!

To see more pictures by Titika Røtkjær, go to Instagram.

‘In my next life, I want to be a cat’

‘In my next life, I want to be a cat’

‘In my next life, I want to be a cat.’ Charles Bukowski, On cats

I knew I had more lives left. So when the moment came, I knew what my choice would be. ‘In my next life, I want to be a cat’ were my last words on Earth as a human. If you say it at the right time the magic can operate, and it did. It always did…

By chance, I always remember my previous lives. It takes a little while to remember, but after few weeks, the knowledge and awareness of past experiences become conscious. Time is needed. I was two months or so when I realized I had become a cat. I felt dizzy at first, but day by day I felt more comfortable and started to explore my new territory, every corner of it.

I am shy, a little frightened of everything. Noises sound different than before and I am so tiny that everything looks gigantic from this perspective. It is so intriguing to step into this world and discover it as if it were a new one. Cat’s eyes give me a deep awareness of things, something that wasn’t there when I was a human.

I enjoy being a cat and experience new sensations every day. I love jumping like a kangaroo, and moving like a crab with all my hair standing up. Spinning around, playing with my tail, is such fun. Sometimes I stop for a few seconds because I get dizzy, and then I start again until I fall on my back and keep playing, shaking my paws in the air. I value each moment for itself, and it’s a great joy to live it so fully.

I love inaccessible places, and I find my ways are becoming more adventurous each day. The stronger I get, the more I experiment. It took me some time to be able to jump on the low table, then on a wooden chair. From the chair I could access the library. I like to walk on it, surfing between books and plants I can play with. Once on the library, I was able to climb on to furniture I couldn’t access before. I enjoy this point of view every day now; most of the time I sit there in the morning.

I’m playful and I love to hide in the most unexpected places. Things move and I am always keen to stop them in different ways. I also like to watch the human I live with and surprise him when I think he can’t see me. Hide-and-seek is truly my most favorite game.

I love corners and I usually anticipate my human’s moves to frighten him when he comes by. At the very beginning I loved the grey armchair, but now I prefer a 70s one because I can watch him more easily from there when I rest. Any noise he makes, I just open my eyes to see what he’s doing, in a glimpse.

In the morning he writes on a small table in his bedroom. If I’m not playing around or asleep on his knees – he’s quite comfortable, I have to say – I like to sit there and watch his pencil moving. It’s quite fascinating, but soon I can’t stop myself from playing with it. I love to tease him. I guess I’ve kept my great sense of humor. Look at my face, sometimes I smile from the inside…

I love light. At night, I play with my shadow reflected on the wall because of the light. Windows are still my favorite places. I love looking down the street, at people passing by. I hate motorbikes and trucks. They are too noisy for this quiet, peaceful life.

Each time I hear their sounds, I escape from the window and go hiding in the library. There I’m safe and I feel better and I can enjoy the books I push down. He likes to pick the books I play with, my human. Maybe he’s curious to know about my readings…

It’s true that we have things in common. We both love rain. I remember the first time I saw rain as a cat. Its sound against the window was magical. I am more sensitive to sounds now and I really enjoy hearing them as if they were little songs in my heart.

It’s been a few months now. It’s just the beginning of this road, but I already enjoy it. I sleep fifteen to sixteen hours a day. I’m peaceful and quiet. My world is a territory I’m never too bored to explore. I eat around twenty times a day in small portions. I have my crazy moments. I can be sweet and ask for attention when I need it, or I can be wild and independent, refusing caresses when I’m not in the mood for it. I’m free. I enjoy any occasion to play. I’m a cat. I live in the moment.

 

 

 

Short Elegy for Anafi

Short Elegy for Anafi

 

The wind strikes the hillsides mercilessly and all the boats at the tiny port resemble carved pebbles. Late in the afternoon, a steep road pushes the travelers towards Chora, and as the sun sets behind the village, one can only see an outline: electricity pillars, TV antennas and a cluster of houses in front of the orange sky. It is a settlement stretching oblongly on the top of the island, resembling dice bestrewed after the only game played under that sky once upon a time. Hills swallowing one another wrapped with dry stacks – and down below, the sea.

A stripe of barren land amidst the sea: this is Anafi. A dozen Saints supervise the island from their churches, scattered guardhouses made by whitewash with a lonely window to the Aegean Sea. In the taverns of Chora, which in fact are just homes with welcoming courtyards, the talk of the locals always leads to some Saint who helped them in times of need. A woman is narrating how she survived while swimming: behind the high waves she saw the church of Agioi Anargiroi. If she could escape death that day, she promised to celebrate a liturgy. Tonight, she is narrating that story again, with her hands crossed tight upon her chest.

All those locals staring at the horizon narrate past stories about the waves and simultaneously observe the travelers. The elderly women, dressed in black, banish their mourning by looking at the linen clothes of the vacationers; their outfits betray middle-class salaries and a complicated life. All you need to say is “hello” in order to make the local heads turn the other way, and then one is free to cross the narrow alleys without being observed anymore. This word seems more than enough to eradicate the label of Stranger, in the exact same way the smoke of the slow boat that carried the same Stranger to Anafi is vanishing: like a doctrine that dies.

*

It doesn’t take that much time to get used to that settlement on the top of the rock and the initial indulgence soon transforms to insouciance. It is liberating to climb the stairs between walls that do not oppress you and at the same time act like a shelter from the howling wind. Up here, the trade is still in its archaic version and the feeling of being broke or petty is not a misfortune but a chance to gain access to whatever remains from life if you subtract all the norms: the sea, the soil and the bushes, with their peppery scent, stand there like an unripened summer.

At Klisidi, a broad beach full of tamarisk trees, an occasional crowd takes a breather next to the stormy sea. The bodies that got shaped through gyms and weight control prefer to lay down complacently ashore, their feet digging holes in the sand. All this life of maintenance and preservation has dried the sense of danger within them and the only ones swimming are the middle-aged, faces that have no illusions of perfection to lose. The desire to exist prevails against the desire to lessen the risk.

By contrast to the pretentious Santorini, the tacky trend of the sun-bed is non-existent here. One brings tomatoes, cheese and a bottle of water and tries to settle in beneath the tamarisk trees. You then have all the time in the world to see the sun following its orbit, to imagine the waves crashing at the Monolith, to observe the ants running in the hot sand, and to feel grateful for the breeze that visits the beach every now and then and cools down the salted skin. The rough sea bursts on the peaceful landscape, exactly as a man bursts when smothering from injustice. But, alas, you must know how to endure this prehuman rage: you don’t need berms against the sea. 

*

The curves of the white houses imitate the curves of the landscape. Those suspicious roofs have seen people migrating to distant cities and never return. The roofs know that a hundred and fifty heads will sleep there during the winter, people who won’t have the courage to leave the house when the wind will howl without mercy. They will expect a last dosage of hope from the boat that appears only twice a week, like a lost frame from a Visconti movie. It is the resurgence of the moral that keeps them alive though, not the supplies that the boat unloads.

All those hills that the old bus is daily traversing on a slow speed isolate Chora from the rest of the island. The rattlesnake roads seem to push away the Monolith, which stands all alone on the edge, with a monastery on top. One can gaze from the butte two islands with vivid names, Pachia and Makra, both of them always being the first to taste the weather’s mood. The hikers on the way to the Monolith look at each other with some sort of complicity. None is revealing his secret, none succumbs to the temptation of sharing his life with a stranger he met on the way to endlessness.

Like dots on an arid landscape, people hike towards the white rock as if they are sailing on a sea of traumas.

*

Later in the evening, the lanky girls sit on the pavement of the little square and the locals stare at their wet hair. It is a spot that the alley broadens and seems to be demarcated by the two mini-markets of the island. The men sit on the chairs of the coffeehouse and listen to the girls’ laughter for a while, before they once again sink into their talk about daily life. They talk about hunting, share thoughts about council tax, as well as ideas on how the water will reach the fields. They contemplate the future of the island’s accommodation facilities. They light cigarettes, they blow their smoke and, when the only thing left from them is the filter, they stub them out on the ashtray with fingers made of steel. They have already forgotten the girls in their summer clothes, and they are so engaged in their talk that they fail to remember a basic rule: in the ashtrays of Anafi there always rests a wet napkin, so that the ashes won’t disperse.

It’s not the people that let the night fall, but the square itself. The nights in Anafi have been identical for centuries: a luminous piping on the top of a rock and beneath it an unfathomable darkness. The talks seem to be recorded by a stenographer who’s using his last chalk. But humidity erases the words, and when the sun rises, no one remembers last night’s promises. This ritual is repeated continuously, without interruption, every night. Yet, the day that one embarks on the morning boat, he will see Anafi for one last time. Up there, on the top of the rock, Chora appears like a white, shaky line. It is, of course, drawn by chalk.

‘Tis a Jolly Grryo Christmas

‘Tis a Jolly Grryo Christmas

What does a Grryo Christmas look like? We asked each member of the Grryo Lead team to share their heartfelt experiences…

Romina’s story

For me, so much about the Christmas season is about the sacredness of time. As soon as December arrives, I am hit with an avalanche of farewell dinners, end-of-year concerts and school functions, all while manically trying to buy gifts for family and friends. Time speeds up, it would seem, and I often feel breathless from the sheer momentum of it all.

Time…

As I say goodbye to colleagues, watch my children graduate to a new school year and write cards to loved ones, I subconsciously whisper my thanks and farewell to the year that’s passed and to everything that has been.

And then, finally, time slows down again, as the rush draws to a close. I savour the gifts of cooking, chatting and laughing with family and friends before I turn my eyes to the time that lays ahead: a brand new beginning brimming with possibility.

Susanne’s story

I cherish all the light that Christmas brings to the darkest of the months.

When days are short and nights are long, we fill December with stars and candles. And then darkness no longer feels like an enemy.

Christmas means time spent with the family. We sleep longer, close our laptops and phones, bake gingerbread cookies, play board games and relish traditional Christmas food. My kids, especially the younger one, are looking forward to meeting Father Christmas again on the 24th, Christmas Eve. Father Christmas lives in Northern Finland, in Lapland, in a place called Korvatunturi (Ear Fell in English), where he has his secret toy and gift workshop.

Antonia’s story

In December my world is dark with city lights and rain. Christmas means too much office coffee and the sound of the city’s traffic on wet streets. It’s the time of the year when I am all caught up in my job while days are short and daylight is sparse. It produces a feeling of abstraction, like being a detached island in a sea of hectic gift buying, baking, cooking, traveling and doing all things Christmassy. I enjoy watching the circus and love to dip a toe in when I join the merry masses at Christmas markets and dinners with friends and colleagues.

city lights day light @tonivisual

When daylight is the city lights, and tires on wet concrete is the soundtrack. @tonivisual

Out there we fight the darkness with lights and sugar. The cities wear their Christmas markets like a scratchy, favorite winter garment. Renditions of jingle bells fill the air and the smell of Glühwein (hot spiced wine), anise, roasted almonds and melted chocolate lingers wherever you go.

Girls's night out on Christmas markets @tonivisual

Girls’s night out on Christmas markets @tonivisual

It even seeps down into the catacombs of the subway stations where commuters are joined by herds of shoppers and people dragging their live Christmas trees up the escalators.

On Christmas eve, I leave my island and join my family for cooking goose, the big Christmas tree with real wax candles and cozy nights with board games by the fire.

lone man in the subway station by @tonivisual

“lone man in the subway station” – the feeling when the season’s circus is all around but you’re not in it yet. @tonivisual

Tommy’s story

Every Christmas is different. Family changes. People grow older. Children grow up. A wedding takes place as two lives become one. A grandson will experience his first Christmas. My fourth Christmas with Grryo will be my last.

Every Christmas is the same. Family gathers. Friends share the joys of the past year while at the same time we always find something new to celebrate. We all experience some childlike wonder even though our hair starts to gray. And the richness of story, which is the core of Grryo’s purpose, stays with us always.

Merry Christmas!

George’s story

Around the Christmas table, I try to remember what have I lost and what have I gained during the past year. I tend to get extremely bored in family dinners and given the melancholy of the days I’m usually the one searching for excuses in order not to attend -the excuses always fail and I eventually attend the dinner. I avoid shooting photos with a camera or a smartphone and I only take instant photos with a Fuji Instax. The prints find their way straight into a box and I check them again after weeks or even months. There is a certain weight in religious celebrations that I am always unwilling to carry. The only fun thing is setting some goals for the coming year. There is usually an overload of goals and usually around February they vanish into thin air. I can’t give you any good advice regarding setting goals, but if I had to, I’d just say set a single goal for 2018 and try to achieve half of it; this seems already enough.

@exil_et_royaume

Berlin, 2017 @exil_et_royaume

Try to spend some quality time with your beloved ones. Even in the most boring dinners, there might be a sentence that will change you a bit. Use it as a chance to remember a day that for some reason everybody seems to appreciate. And remember your last year’s dinner and compare who was around and who might be absent. I am usually more happy about past year’s dinners than the coming ones. I remember the faces, the family table, the food. Last year it was the last Christmas dinner with the grandma; she won’t attend any of the future ones. Drink some wine, appreciate the presence of people and their presents too. And get slightly bored: this seems to me as the last shelter of creativity.

@exil_et_royaume

Berlin, 2017 @exil_et_royaume

Simran’s story

The word ‘Christmas’ fills our minds with snow, winter, Christmas decorations, joyful carols and various savored baked goodies. As it isn’t very Christmassy spirit on my side of the world, I choose to count my blessings as the festive season approaches and the year ends. Every year brings its challenges but we make the choice of whether we want to complain or appreciate our moments. Gratitude allows us to live in the present moment and continue to see the light by moving forward.

Borobudur Sunrise by @simranvues

Borobudur Sunrise @simranvues

It has been a good year for us at Grryo. We have started to grow slowly but surely with beautiful stories that keep us amazed at the huge talent that exists. As we share our Christmas stories at Grryo, where all of us live in various parts of the world, we celebrate it by making use of the digital world. It is remarkable what technology can do when used productively.

Colourful Christmas Decor by @simranvues

Colourful Christmas Decor @simranvues

The connections and relationships we have weaved together at Grryo, have made us feel like a family even if we have never met one another. I truly appreciate and value each one of them. It has been a great pleasure building friendships with all of them. Let us cheer for the jolly season and be hopeful for the blessings in the coming year ahead!

Sleek Architecture by @simranvues

Sleek Architecture @simranvues

The Grryo team would like to sincerely thank you for making 2017 a great year of stories shared! Whether you wrote stories or read them – or both! – a very big thank you for your continuous, amazing support. We wish you safe and happy holidays. Looking forward to more of your wonderful stories in 2018!

Pas de deux, part 2 by Christian Mondot

Pas de deux, part 2 by Christian Mondot

This is the second part of two articles re-assuming a relationship based on reciprocal admiration and a long conversation about the need for photography.

 

This story begins with two photographers: the first one, Christian, a Frenchman  living in Arcachon, a little town on the Ocean, 70 km away from Bordeaux. The second one, Valeria, an Italian living in Milan.

They have met by chance in the virtual land of an app called Instagram in 2013, and for the last four years they have been sharing their thoughts about photography through two other apps called Viber and Kik. They have never met in the real world until now, though they have been planning to do that sooner or later. As they share not only a love for photography but also the fact they don’t like talking about their personal work, they have decided to write about one another.

(Within dance the expression pas de deux refers to the number of dancers, men and/or women, performing together a sequence of a ballet or choreography.)

**********

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

My first time on Instagram was not that easy. Despite the kindness and the attention that every photographer seemed to pay to one another, the thought of facing the look of a huge community was embarrassing to me. So I quit. Then I came back and, as far as I can remember, Valeria Cammareri’s black and white work (@_soulkitchen_) was part of the work that just kind of helped me stay for good. Some weird, soft and hypnotizing charm coming out of the street moods and indoor shots attracted me.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

And even today, though Valeria is too humble to agree with me, when I try to figure out how to define this peculiar charm, this silent evidence of talent, the only word coming to my mind is art. That is consequently why reading about Valeria’s work will probably lead you to find a new definition for the expression “writing a story” – or at least to reconsider it.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

It’s not only because of her keen eye, which usually captures special moods and moments. It’s not only because she knows so much about people, their feelings, and could easily “write” about them with a camera. And it’s not only because this hypersensitive woman refuses to be considered an artist. It’s mainly because she will not accept or be easily satisfied with the other story she wants to tell you – the one that has been anonymously surrounding the shot. You have to follow Valeria’s invitation to the path.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

This means you have to write your own story about it, about what you see and feel, and the way you see and feel it. And maybe the door will open at the end of the path. But there is more. Even when the first noticeable thing about her work is that quiet talent for composition that shows up in all of her shots, the evidence of a question appears and remains. Art is asking questions.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Loneliness, people, fading or temporary situations, women, and urban life look like her daily companions on her inspiring journey. And I like to go along, knowing I will follow an invisible thread, surrounded by emotions and amazed by the composition, the shadows and the shapes.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Should the answer lie somewhere between language and photography? Behind this hidden game with the viewer? Whatever. I’m not afraid to say I admire Valeria’s work. I do like the idea of feeling like I’m somehow part of the light, somehow part of the mood inside the shot. As if I could hear something coming out of it. Music, once more. Do not some silences sound like familiar music sometimes?

There is no search for perfection here. No taste for showing off any technical ability. No need for any reference to a big name in photography or quoting anyone to justify her work : Valeria knows exactly where she stands.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

I have also been amazed by her use of color. There, again, don’t go looking for any imitation or sophistication – you would be disappointed. Once more photography is used as a means of translation for the chosen instant.  Another kind of language, somewhere beyond the sound of words. You are back on the path. Picture after picture, Valeria keeps you close to her, the invisible passenger, as life flows on. Somewhere beside reality.

 

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

This photograph (one my favorites, definitely) is a genuine example of Valeria’s ambiguous game between reality and life. The shape of a woman’s body shared with her own shadow. The closed door that both hides and reveals just a few touches of her shape. The balance of our mind. Where does real life stand? Here/There. A suggested beauty, an unwanted sensual pose within a so-close/so-far effect that strikes the eye.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Looking at her pictures may also make you realize how much time or remembrance can both lose their significance. As if they did not have any influence upon your thoughts. You will let your mind enter the image, just the way she lets things pass her by, without again considering reality but letting it write its own parallel slow story.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

So if time does not matter, duration, past or future, whether it is vintage colored or black and white, instants are quite valuable to her. Any instant has its own nature. It is just the eye that knows how to catch it that makes the difference, creating situations, inventing moods. Maybe that is the reason why every time I wander through her feed on Instagram, I am just expecting to find something new. And why I do find it every time.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Her stunning game with light and space has always been something noticeable to me since I discovered her amazing work back in 2013. As in the picture above, driving us to some place beside the place with a man in a room, reflecting in a mirror and looking at a new place from what must be a window. Life is a frame.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Part of her work features static situations. More exactly unknown people or friends but generally posing, either sitting or standing. I know she rather shoots isolated persons or will crop the image to focus on one person alone. But I also know how much she enjoys “stolen” moments, shooting as she walks along the city streets.

I love the way she shoots women, definitely. With this real sensation of being close to the situation, part of it, but without disturbing, tip-toeing. I have always been fascinated by the expression of the loneliness appearing through some of her pictures. Human condition and life, or beside life, again.

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Photo by Valeria Cammareri

Unobtrusive and quite invisible, Valeria catches situations in their very essence. Just as if they were the multiple and various parts of a unique secret. And suddenly our everyday life becomes a vehicle on which she is the passenger. Silently capturing the daily journey with her eye, simply showing what we did not notice but was there actually, just beside us.

Just sit away from any noisy mood, like you usually do to enjoy reading your favorite book, and let yourself slowly drift away. Soon you will be writing your own story from her images.

Christian’s work has been published in Shooter magazine, Art of Mob blog, and received honorable mention at the Mobile Photography Awards in 2013 and 2016. Christian says, “I’m not a photographer. I’m only an artist working with sounds, light and words. As a child, I started composing music, playing with a camera and writing. Some kind of compulsive practices, based on my relationship with the idea of time, remain and are related to my inner space, between light and shadow.”

You can find Christian’s work on Instagram and on his website.

For more of Valeria’s work, visit Instagram.

 

 

Love Turns to Rust

Love Turns to Rust

My love for photography turned to rust, quite literally, on April 6, 2014.

I remember the moment well. It was mid-morning on a frosty Sunday and I was standing on a muddy driveway that led toward McLean’s Auto Wreckers in Rockwood, Ontario, about an hour northwest of Toronto. McLean’s has become somewhat of a Mecca for photographers who can’t get enough of that perfect blend of light and rust.

This was my first intentional photo shoot – an initial attempt to create a series of images based on a singular subject. It was also the first time I had ventured out with a group of fellow photographers I didn’t even know.

Given it was April, the hectares of automotive carcasses I was about to immerse myself in were still knee-deep in snow. The challenges didn’t stop there. It was also a brilliant sunny day that made for tough light conditions for even the most experienced shooter.

The group started walking through the fields and I couldn’t wait to see what I would find.

I didn’t have to walk far to discover this adorable robotic creature keeping watch over an old construction tractor. I thought I heard it say, “Go ahead, I dare ya, take your best shot!”

I couldn’t resist. All of its majestic pipes, rubber tubes, lights and peeling paint made me rise to the challenge. I was rewarded with a comical, quizzical look through its myopic eye. Beauty can be strange, and the strange can be beautiful.

I couldn’t walk ten feet without finding another tempting scene. This lengthy old trailer, when framed in this manner, reminded me of a giant caterpillar slinking its way through the frozen fields. Its iridescent yellows and oranges seemed to go on forever in harmony with its prevalent brown rust.

The magic of McLean’s was beginning to reveal itself. And I, the naïve, awestruck participant, couldn’t wait to discover what other painterly pleasures lay in wait.

And then…a fire truck. Every man-child’s dream!

All shiny chrome and faded red with its control levers and hose attachments intact. I must have shot nearly every angle I could of this beauty. Rusty and worn, but sitting there extremely proud of its glory days of fighting fires and saving lives. It knew it was the real hero of the junkyard and I knew I had to preserve, through my lens, its heroic gifts.

I trekked for a while through a small grove of cedar trees. When I emerged out the other side, I came upon a field full of VW carcasses. I found a gutted Beetle that, immediately upon seeing it, took me back to when I was 16 years old and learning to drive in my mother’s 1963 VW Beetle. I recalled with fondness the graphic on the slide-out ashtray that helped me immensely as a new driver because it showed you the correct placement of the stick shift for each of the forward gears and reverse.

Junkyards, like photographs, are full of magnificent memories. Seeing, smelling and touching this “old folks’ wagon” took me right back to driving up north on the highway on a warm summer’s day, listening, for the very first time, to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety on the 8-track player I had installed in our Beetle. And then I shivered as I remembered scraping the layer of wintery frost from the inside of the windshield that would build up while driving home after a day of downhill skiing!

The irony for me in finding this Beetle lay in the fact that the year stamped on the Ontario license plate was 1973, the same year I was 16 years old and experiencing all these distant memories. Coincidence? Perhaps. I like to believe it was fate.

Mother Nature shows herself as a powerful creative force when she sets her mind to working on man-made objects of steel coated in layers of paint. She’s a true artist. Her medium is rust. Her palette is the rainbow.

It may take her years to complete, but if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her work along the way, it can have a profound effect on your soul.

Which brings me to my favourite shot of that day in the junkyard. The back left taillight of this utility trailer, surrounded by an irresistible exhibition of colour and corrosion. I like to believe that I came upon this particular work by Mother Nature at its peak; the peeling yellow and blue paint, the streaking orange stains, the all-knowing, all-seeing red lens framed by rusty pockmarked steel. Painterly perfection! Incidentally, this image was the very first photography that I sold in a gallery. It may have had my name on it, but Mother Nature gets all the credit.

 

Looking for the Third Eye by Ramón Cruz

Looking for the Third Eye by Ramón Cruz

Since childhood I have considered myself an observer of everything that surrounds me and excites me. Photography has given me the ability to return to those important moments through images, and I’ve always found this fascinating. I’m more aware of it now, this possibility to go back and remember. I still recall with emotion when my grandparents gave me their Kodak INSTAMATIC X-15 for taking pictures. From that moment on I was held captive by anything that would appear in the viewfinder. Nowadays, I feel it’s essential to take photos daily, as it’s a visual and very personal record of everyday life.

This has evolved, in such a way that the traditional consumer of images has now become a “prosumer”, generating and offering their perspective on social networks. As a reference, let’s consider the scope of mobile photography, which has become a powerful tool for telling stories. Personally, it has allowed me to meet interesting characters on the streets and made it easier for me to approach the issues relevant to my environment.

In my pictures I try to capture the contrasts of light and the details of the characters, silhouettes and objects. I think that the best light to do this in is daylight; I only need to go for a walk with a pair of comfortable shoes and my cell phone fully charged. On the streets, a certain look can be intriguing. You can stop, get closer to your subject, or respect their anonymity and take a picture without them noticing and just thank them afterwards. The streets are pure emotion, that is where the stories are.

Personally, I’ve never liked to capture misery or the degrading condition of the human being; this has never caught my attention. On the other hand, shadows, contrasts and the characters that emerge from them, spontaneous symmetry and natural gestures, these are more interesting to me for generating my visual discourse.

Chihuahua city is located in the north of Mexico and, being close to the border, we have an interesting cultural mix. This has caught my attention and led me to title one of my projects: Puro Norte. In it I present urban portraits of individuals with expressions and in activities denoting the identity, clothing, instruments and poses of the urban cowboy, in costumes from a western film.

Go out, walk and be alert, but don’t stop enjoying the ride and the experience. This is where objects and people have something to say, have made their own history and are waiting to be seen. It’s all about going out to look for them in order to find them.

I prefer to document my own environment without expectations and tell the tales of what I see in my own way, though pictures. I don’t ask for poses and often I don’t ask for permission, but I watch and wait for the moment instead. Photography has given me the opportunity to meet some unique characters; it’s just a matter of approaching people with respect and making my intention clear when necessary, as in the case of a portrait.

I am constantly on the hunt, defining my style and reinventing it. This is evolving more and more, allowing me to expand to other networks and find various platforms for experimenting with an image. This is part of the process and the evolution of photography. It changes on a daily basis and requires you to be a curious person.

In my photographs I try to present my vision – what I have to tell – by using certain angles and editing processes. For some time, a quote has accompanied me and it’s by one of my favourite photographers of all time, Lola Álvarez Bravo: “I seek the essence of beings and things, their spirit, their reality. Interest, personal experience, ethical and aesthetic commitment form the photographer’s third eye”. I hope to some day find this, I am still looking for it, but so far I think I’m getting closer.

About the author: Ramón Cruz is a college professor and photographer based in Chihuahua, México. Documentary, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He is currently a member of 1415 Mobile Photographers.

You can see more of his work here:

Instagram
14&15 Mobile Photographers
Twitter
Flickr

The Flaneur – On the art of exploring a city

The Flaneur – On the art of exploring a city

We’re rushing through streets nearly every day, trying to get from A to B in the fastest way possible. This is especially the case when you’re living in bigger cities like Berlin, for example. Hectic is our constant companion on our day-to-day tours, causing stress, exhaustion and sometimes even anxiety, with no remorse. As we’re speeding through urban canyons, desperately trying to avoid any unwanted physical contact with one another, we become increasingly detached from our surroundings, and sometimes even from ourselves. We feel the need to hurry – possibly being late for work or for an appointment is indeed one of many reasons to do so – even though most of the time we don’t really need to; we just want to get it over and done with.

When I was a young boy, around 10 or so, my father always suggested we walk slowly in places we visited during our family holidays, reasoning that if I walked in a more moderate speed I would be able to soak up the beauty of the things around me, and thus have a truly enriching experience no matter where we were. Of course, as a 10-year-old boy, I couldn’t even imagine what he was talking about let alone comprehend his teachings, so I rejected his advice and kept on rushing. I continued this behavior until a while ago, but my childish reasons from back then – excitingly wanting to see as many things as possible in the least amount of time – weren’t really applicable anymore. Instead of curiously soaking up the world around me, I was more and more concerned about being where I wanted to be, as fast as I could, without any distractions whatsoever. In a way, I had shut myself off from the world surrounding me.

Up until one very particular day in my life, I was a dedicated jaywalker, always careful and attentive, and quick to respond to speeding obstacles. That was until I was forced to wait at a seemingly random and dreadfully busy intersection, which I had to cross. Acting out of a strange mixture of boredom and stress, I decided to take a deep breath and feel a bit more comfortable with the situation I was in. Turning my head left and right, I started noticing many different things, the details of my surroundings. For a few seconds I opened up, if you will, guiding my attention towards a beautiful dress worn by a kind-looking elderly woman across the street; the color arrangements of a middle-aged man standing in front of a corner shop (lilac, he was wearing clothes in different shades of lilac, even his tablet was covered in lilac too); the interesting height differences between a man and two Great Danes he’d taken out for a walk; the scent of beer and pizza, and coffee and cigarettes, coming from various sides…transforming this usually uncomfortable moment of forced waiting into something unique and special.

Upon crossing the street and continuing my course – the green light indicated its allowance to do so – a subtle smile appeared on my face: had I just shared an intimate moment of patience with complete strangers at an intersection?

On my way forth towards my destination I felt unusually light and present, noticing all kinds of patterns, shapes, and colors. Rays of light bounced off various surfaces, creating plenty of shadows and generating an overabundance of beautiful light situations in return. All this within only a couple of hundred meters. I suddenly remembered how my father used to tell me to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. I also remembered that after years of trying, he eventually gave up. Who would have thought that about twenty years later, his teachings would not only come to fruition but also unintentionally lay the groundwork for both a great photographic practice and an exciting way to widen general perception and strengthen the skill of patience?

Historically, the Sunday stroll was always vital to the well-being of the majority of people: the obligatory walk to church on the only labour-free day of the week, used for recreation, quality time with the family, meeting friends and listening to the Word of God – a truly social experience, if you will. Even artists, writers and, later, photographers have devoted their craft to telling the art of strolling – Henri Cartier-Bresson is a perfect example of that. Nowadays, however, it is quite uncommon to just slowly stroll around, observe and pay attention to life happening around you, especially in places usually not frequented by travelers or tourists.

People witnessing me appear to be puzzled by both my slow walking speed and my intense and curious way of looking. Although I agree with Franz Hessel’s claim that you, the flaneur, do look somewhat suspicious, I would rather say interesting. Adding the fact that most of the time I don’t carry a camera with me and am solely photographing with my smartphone, mostly in unusual places, seems to be sufficient enough to be approached by a few irritated, yet interested people, striking up a conversation in an attempt to find out my intentions. A classic, neck dangling camera, however, appears to be the only visible indicator of intent, allowing the general public to decide whether to dismiss or welcome you upon first sight without the need to interact with you.

Usually, those conversations end in smiles, sometimes spontaneous coffee dates, and on rare occasions even turn into long-term contacts. Anxious at first about being approached by strangers – somehow I always felt the need to explain myself – I quickly adapted and became more confident with time. I now see the good in irritating people – it just means that there is something new happening and they don’t know how to properly react to it, which mostly leads to a conversation, and that is always a good thing.

Today, I see the slow stroll not only as a great photographic practice – as it allows you to habituate a certain way of seeing and perceiving things – but also as a way of easing your mind. Having to stop at a red light is no longer only an aspect of obedience, but a welcomed invitation to just pause for a moment and let your eyes and thoughts wander around. If you remove the debatable necessity of speed and are willing to open yourself up emotionally, you will start catching up the vibes around you, thus training your sensitivity towards your surroundings and your empathy towards others, eventually finding yourself calmer, more content, and confident during unforeseen circumstances.

When I told my father about my past experiences, he warmly replied: “You see, that’s exactly what I was trying to teach you all those years ago. Sometimes it’s not bad at all to just listen and take someone’s advice, is it?”

All Images © Alexandre Kurek, 2017 / shot & edited on iPhone using VSCO

 

Forest for the Trees

Forest for the Trees

worship
adoring reverence or regard

Deference. If asked, “What is your house of worship? Where do you find comfort and solace?”, my answer would be, “The forest.” I have always felt sheltered and present in the woods. Dysphoria melts into mindfulness. I am happily lost in the presence of such grandeur.

enduring
lasting; permanent

Perennial Questions. The strength of root and branch, the ability to bow and give to nature’s force, what is this balance? How does the constant weight of snow, the perpetual force of the wind shape trunk and limb? You are over a century old, will you live another?

root
the fundamental or essential part

Foundation. Root over rock, here my seed alighted and here I must stay. Granite and flora, a stark contrast between the inert and the living – an inspiration to adapt, remain steadfast, to prosper. I am awed by the energy it takes to root oneself.

community
an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location

Collective Ownership. Below the forest canopy, below the forest understory is a vast network of fungal connections known as the mycorrhizal network. These filaments of fungi, growing in amongst the roots, are the interlacing connections that bond each individual tree into an integrated system – transferring information and nutrients back and forth. Point in fact, a dying tree will share its stored supply of food with neighbors. Perhaps a last act of altruism to support the forest community.

path
a way or track laid down for walking or made by continual treading

Succession. There is something special about winding through a wooded area following the footsteps of strangers. The path becomes a metaphor for a journey, a culmination of all who have passed.

mystical
mystic; of or relating to supernatural agencies, affairs, occurrences, etc.

Metamorphosis. The magic of the woods is ever present – forms fading and thrusting forward, some geometric, some anthropomorphic. How can imaginary beings not exist?
I remember as a child, walking home at dusk. As the light faded and the katydids’ and peepers’ rhythmic drone filled my ears, the scrub pines of Cape Cod would transform into gnarled and wicked shapes. I would try to look straight ahead and tell myself not to run, for evil smells fear. Once I was through the woods, I would bolt for safety and the glowing lights of home.

ephemeral
lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory

Fleeting Moments. Left with a nagging sense of responsibility to record the moment, transience has always unnerved me. If not captured, the moment may never have existed. The forest has taught me to slow down and observe. I have learned that the celebration of ephemera is an everlasting practice. And, if you happen to record the moment, that is simply a bonus.

lucent
marked by clarity or translucence

Light. In the woods, I feel transparent.
Not invisible, but in a sense porous,
as if the light could pass through my skin and bones.
Forest shadows reaching toward me,
I half expect, when I turn around,
to see a continuation of their shapes
and not mine.

frame
something composed of parts fitted together and united

Acknowledgment. How noble these trees,
how they display the vista, pulling its
likeness between them into balance.
I return to this spot season after season,
hoping these trees will outlive me,
hoping this frame is never altered.

death
the act of dying; the end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism

Mortal Wish. When I die, I wish a thousand living things will sprout from my corpse.

 

 

Tango

Tango

One two three four
Cross
Six seven eight.

Balance, lean, follow,
Be aware,
Corazón y alma,
Relax, and keep the tension.

Open the door,
Walk, walk, walk,
It’s all coming back;
Two three four;
In a new way;
A new way;
Listen to the rhythm,
Sense the beauty,
Feel the strength,
Heart and soul,
Cross six seven.

Stop!
My world has changed:
It is a total secret,
That no one should know of.
It is awful private,
But far to heavy
To carry alone.

So I might just dream it,
And leave you the pictures
Frame by frame?
But then again:
I don’t want to re-
experience it all.

Two three four.
I still have to balance;
I still want to dance;
I still feel the tango.
Cross
Six seven eight.
I’ll bring the dark times to light;
I won’t fear them,
Although they know me,
And how to catch me,
And how to blind me.
I dare to touch them;
I dare to stay,
And reach for light.

I take off my shoes,
Walk past the curtains
(Like in a vision),
Open the window,
And breathe deeply.

I can feel a beginning,
It’s coming closer;
Almost like peace,
A vow transformed:
vision to matter.

Flexible body, flexible mind,
It derives from the soul,
Practice and effort,
Two three four.

I open my heart;
I drink the light;
I know it’s time
To leave soon.
Five six seven eight.

I move to the silence;
I count the beats;
It’s all in my soul;
It knows the direction;
It owns the music.
I sense the beginning,
It’s lifting me up
On wings of intention.
Cross
Six seven eight.

I watch the dawn behind the trees;
It’s glowing like trust.
The sky is burning
With light and answers
It’s time to leave.
The night is over
And time readjusted.

Two three four
Cross.
From an uncertain point
Between worlds
I touched the shadows,
Felt them in my eyes,
Felt them in my body,
Their density and cold
As I reached for the light.

Through a shimmering corner
Of my awareness
The light flows
Through chaos and joy,
Bones and soul,
Mind and muscles,
Heart and will,
And much more.
Six seven eight.
It flows through
From All that is.

 

Background:

I am a visual artist working with photography, based in Copenhagen DK and Norwich UK.

I was a dedicated dancer of Argentine tango for 13 years, when I was diagnosed with cancer.

In September 2016, I went through some tests at the hospital, just to make sure nothing was wrong. But, something was wrong.

Late one Monday afternoon, a surgeon called me. She explained that I was diagnosed with cancer located in my lower abdomen and that I was scheduled for surgery Wednesday morning 7.30. She gave me one day to get used to the thought. The operation would be performed by two surgeons, and it would take six hours. It was going to be a large operation. She advised me not to postpone the operation.

I was shocked.
I thought I would die.
Or at least be transformed.

I spent Tuesday trying to get used to the thought of leaving this planet.

The good thing was, when I thought of the people I loved – and still love – I had already told them they were in my heart. That was the most important thing for me.

Maybe it was the surprise of surviving the surgery that gave me tremendous energy and will power? Maybe it was just a miracle? Anyway, I tried to get out of bed the day after the surgery. I succeeded and felt that the healing process was in progress, and insisted on going home.

I soon discovered that my life had changed, and my perspectives too.

Not all of the changes were pleasant: four months after the surgery, I started to dance tango again. It was wonderful and easy and a total joy, with all the renewed energy. BUT, after one hour of dancing, my legs and lower abdomen looked like something that legally belonged to an elephant. They were swollen because of damages on my lymph system. It was terrible. I couldn’t stand the look of myself.

Even though tango is about heart and soul, it’s also an art form that is very much expressed through beauty, grace and elegance. I felt that these important aspects were out of reach.

I don’t want to bore you with long explanations about all the kind of therapeutic stuff I did every day (and still do) to dance again, and to prevent the lymphedema from becoming chronic (and the cancer from coming back); just tell you that I made this series for two reasons:

  1. To express important matters through art. By transforming something private into something generally human, it hopefully becomes meaningful to other people – and it might even make them feel uplifted?
  2. To convince myself that I don’t look like an elephant. Anymore.

To see more pictures by Titika Røtkjær, go to Instagram.

Pas de deux, part 1

Pas de deux, part 1

This story begins with two photographers: the first one, Christian, a Frenchman  living in Arcachon, a little town on the Ocean, 70 km away from Bordeaux. The second one, Valeria, an Italian living in Milan.

They have met by chance in the virtual land of an app called Instagram in 2013, and for the last four years they have been sharing their thoughts about photography through two other apps called Viber and Kik. They have never met in the real world until now, though they have been planning to do that sooner or later. As they share not only a love for photography but also the fact they don’t like talking about their personal work, they have decided to write about one another. This is the first of two articles reassuming a relationship based on reciprocal admiration and a long conversation about the need for photography.

(Within dance the expression pas de deux refers to the number of dancers, men and/or women, performing together a sequence of a ballet or choreography.)

**********

I was a very “young” Instagramer with no awareness of my own work when I first came across Christian Mondot’s photography in 2013. I was making my first steps in the jungle of Instagram when I found his striking bw account (@cclm31) and I was caught off guard by all those images speaking so honestly of their author’s emotional side. It was more or less like when a child perceives the difference between himself and an adult, feeling the shape of authority. Compared to mine, his gallery had no contradictions or random images, but showed a definite strong identity. The most impressive trait to me was that all the images seemed related to one another, like words of a speech, and they were meaningful and soulful despite the absence of a garish subject.

I was in awe of his skillfulness in focusing on humble details, like an old washtub, a newspaper in an abandoned classroom, a closed door.          

His extraordinary way of shooting the ordinary showed a contemplative eye to the world and spoke a language full of intimacy to my heart.

I realized in my naive approach to his photography how intensity doesn’t need spectacularity or drama, but rather a moved eye, and how the importance of a subject comes from the story the photographer sees or imagines behind it. Everything can become important when beautifully focused and framed, but it’s not just a matter of technical skill. The impact was strong but it took me a long period of time and more personal consciousness about photography to unfold the mystery and to understand the message hidden behind that work.

Preferred subjects to talk of his inner world are people and nature. Many of Christian Mondot’s photographs don’t feature visible people but rather their absence: melancholic shots like those of abandoned places full of traces left by their passage, empty restaurants frozen in the wait of customers, interiors of churches in the half light without believers.

Sometimes we get the human presence from a sign, like the light coming from a window, or a dog waiting for its master. Through this feel of missing people, Chris seems to talk of a lost Golden Era, full of warm relationships and expectations, like youth is.

These images without people and missing people are gloomy, and fascinate the observer with their ominous power: the unpleasant loss of the Golden Era is unavoidable. In more recent images, the presence of people seems rather to emphasize the serene acceptance of the loneliness of the human condition. Chris shows himself like a lone wolf, bashful and contemplative, loving his rich and multifaceted microcosm.

Nature is his best friend. Chris said to me he often gets lost in the beauty of landscapes, standing alone and totally overcome by the feel of immensity, absorbing the space around him in an impossible desire of symbiosis and waiting until he understands how to take “that” shot. Nature looks like Mother: peaceful, embracing and supportive. This side of Chris’s work suggests a powerful identity with mystical traits.

He is a professional musician, and music never leaves him alone as it is always in his head like a soundtrack. That’s why looking at his photos featuring awesome countrysides or marvelous sea landscapes, I have often sensed a sound, like a whisper, growing until it becomes the din of an orchestra tuning its instruments.

Chris uses a poetic black and white language to tell an endless series of little stories. He has a very personal use of black and white: his black is deep and enveloping, often taking most of the image, sometimes soft like velvet, others very intense and dramatic. Inside it, smooth like a caress or sharp like a blade, the light insinuates itself, showing beauty. He uses his whites coming out of all those blacks like a curtain raised to reveal the truth. It’s a mystical light and I have often felt in awe of his way of engrossing the observer: ravished and sucked inside the frame, we are called to take part.

Christian Mondot’s photography fulfils its author’s wish to engross the observer in his own emotions. These are artistic photographs, evoking much more than they show, involving more than what they feature.

There’s no way to escape a personal participation in these charming stories, so be ready and enjoy them.

You can find Chris on: Instagram | Website