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
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.
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.
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:
14&15 Mobile Photographers
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One two three four
Six seven eight.
Balance, lean, follow,
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.
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.
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.
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
From an uncertain point
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.
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:
- 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?
- To convince myself that I don’t look like an elephant. Anymore.
To see more pictures by Titika Røtkjær, go to Instagram.
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
When taking photos, there are times we feel the images we captured aren’t good or maybe we lost our touch. Thus, we spend time looking for inspiration and motivation in photography by looking at people’s feeds on Instagram or other photography platforms. It isn’t because we failed; rather, our willingness to learn and keep growing gives us the thirst to be better. Seeing others’ feeds brings a new feeling and often a new perspective to moments.
Suddenly Sherbet by Jay McCullough
It is hard with the advancements and, of course, competition in photography these days. But we must not forget why we started taking photos in the first place. Yes, getting commercial has become important to some. Yet, for many of us who started photography as a passion, we shouldn’t lose our way. Through my journey in photography, I feel if we forget that first moment we started capturing and don’t continuously relive that feeling, then, however professional we get, at one point the taste and enjoyment of it will fade. Many photographers in the past kept clicking and stayed humble to their passion, which is why we always feel inspired through their work. Compromises may have been made, yet their brilliance remained true.
Light by Victoria
Coming across the feeds of Aki Sato (_akisato_), Victoria (vi.or) and Jay Mccullough (jmcullough) was one of those moments for me. Their feeds and photos bring a fresh feeling. The first time I saw their images, I was amazed at their captures, clarity and perspective. Each of them have different styles, unique in their own way. The idea and motive to keep it original has lost its way for many, but when seeing their feeds, I was convinced that there are some who want to stay original and be themselves.
Here are a few words Aki and Jay share about how it all started for them :
I live in Tokyo, Japan, and I’m an instagrammer taking photos with the iPhone 6s.
Photography has always meant something to me. But I’ve got a different point of view of my city and my photos after a Copenhagen trip in 2015.
Before I went to Copenhagen and Stockholm, I had no impression about my city because I’d been so busy at work. Tokyo was just a place to work for me. As you know, Tokyo is one of the busiest cities in the world. I had no time even to look up to the sky. In Copenhagen and Stockholm, I met lots of happy people. They were proud of their city and enjoyed their life even though they worked so hard like us. I really loved them. After the trip, the scenery of Tokyo was totally different from before. Everything looked very fresh, even if it was a flower on the street. The trip opened my eyes and it was so inspiring.
Also, I really love a simple interior and monotone fashion, even in my everyday life. ~ Aki Sato
I’ve loved photography since I held my first camera in grade school. This interest carried through high school and college, influenced by everything from Ansel Adams to Rolling Stone magazine. I’ve enjoyed photography throughout my adult life, but it became a regular and serious hobby for me a couple of years ago around the time I started using IG. Since then, my love and interest for photography has grown exponentially. From minimalism to mood to light to magical moments with my children… I could not be more in love with capturing beauty and artistic expression through photography. ~ Jay McCullough
Victoria’s words can be seen here.
Simple and minimalist are not easy to approach in photography. Some people have a sense for it and are able to capture the essence. Aki, Victoria and Jay have done a fine job in showing how simple things can stand out stunningly. Their photos speak of various moments. Every photo is telling you a new story. Aki’s photos form an intertwining story of their own and make you see Tokyo from a new angle. Victoria captures minimalism in street photography through her creative eye. Jay magically captures various moments in daily life filled with colours.
Let’s create the story through their photos below :
Architecture by Aki Sato
She stood there on the stairs, whilst time stood still. She wondered and waited in silence for that one moment when her friend would say, “Hey, I am done, let’s go.” Once she saw the picture she was in awe of how beautifully her friend framed her in this simplistic setting.
Midsummer Night Dream by Jay McCullough
He walked through the fields during sunset. The impressive lines from the power lines striking through the skies formed a lovely, simplistic structure. Intrigued by the colours of midsummer, a thought crossed his mind. “Should I enjoy this moment and let it pass or should I take my camera and hit the shutter?”
Paint the Silence by Jay McCullough
Melodiously, the voice of the trumpet resonates around the house, creating a classic and soothing rhythm. Everyone starts to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere whilst continuing their household chores. Jay, feeling inspired, pictures a colourful moment in his mind and instantly clicks.
*On the street
Street by Aki Sato
He walks whilst looking at his mobile after work. Checking his messages and missed calls on a quiet empty street. Oblivious and in his own world, from a distance, a photographer, triggered by the patterns on the floor, instantly captured this moment and, voila, he is frozen in it.
Green by Victoria
Her prominent red hair stood out against the teal background. As she passed by through the light and shadows, thinking of her next appointment, the photographer felt it was the perfect moment to capture. After playing with some angles, she finally clicked.
Red by Victoria
Lost in trance, the music flowed through him, bringing him to a new place and atmosphere. He felt carefree and refreshed embracing the moment. Victoria, forming the shot in her mind with the stark red background and the man rapt in his world, hit the shutter.
Stairs by Aki Sato
Standing at the center of the stage looking at the audience applauding his marvelous production, humbles him. He is proud of his first-ever successful moment. He thinks, “Wow, one day, it shall come true.” Looking up at the stairs spiraling through eternity inspires her to create a moment that stands still in times to come.
Stairs by Aki Sato
Running through the stairs of eternity, she looks through the crisp blue skies joyfully and blissfully. From behind, she hears a murmur, “Hmm, the steps look great. I wish she would climb faster so I can frame the shot and capture it.”
Stairs by Aki Sato
Wandering back into her past, and exploring her present, she sits contemplating how time has passed. Having no regrets and continuously moving forward in faith she smiles. Aki, her friend, through the flowing patterns and stairs clicks a vivid snapshot, then calls out, “Hey, look here, let’s go!”
*Chasing the shadows
Blue by Victoria
In anticipation she stands peacefully whilst looking at the shadows and colourful background weave through the reflections of the sun. The subtlety of the moment injects her to create this lovely masterpiece.
Dream Awake by Jay McCullough
Shyly, she practices ballet near the window thinking no one’s looking. Gracefully, she enjoys herself in the movements. Her father, quietly smiling, sees the opportunity of a beautiful moment to capture. Picturing the sunlight rays forming a shadow and lovely silhouette of his daughter, he snaps his shutter.
Through their photos and our personal photography journeys, we can see how we can influence one another. Changing vistas, new angles, patterns and structures bring with it a fresh outlook on photography. Let us continue to find our sparks in each other whilst growing to build our passion!
See more of their feeds on Instagram Aki | Victoria | Jay
Thank you, Aki, Victoria and Jay, for allowing me to express through your beautiful photos.
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