Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 24.5 mm (the equivalent of a 54 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/100 of a second. Aperture: f/2.8. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed first with the Pixlr-o-matic app and then with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 36 Comments

Contrasts of Life

Being a photographer means moving around in all layers of the society. You get to photograph the rich and the poor; you get to photograph the leaders and people at the other end of the ladder; you get to photograph those who are happy and those who are struggling to survive. For me it’s one of the huge attraction about being a photographer. Besides actually photographing, of course.

After having seen and photographed both the bright and dark sides of human life, you learn to appreciate whatever you experience of happy and good moments yourself—and I believe you start to see the world around you with more humility. Life is not one of the other, not for anyone. Some struggle more than others, and for some life comes easier than for others. There is no telling who will end up where—even when you are born on a bed roses.

Last week I got to photograph both extremes. First, I was fortunate enough to photograph the wedding of a lovely couple. A wedding is one of the happiest and most beautiful events in anyone’s life and for a photographer to be able to photograph this blissful moment in someone’s life is a gift and a blessing.

Some days later, I did a story about a horrible drug scene that has developed over time close to a rehabilitation centre. It was a place of sadness and misery. While I was interviewing and photographing some of the drug addicts, others were shooting up around me, some not being able to set the needle properly. Blood was flowing from a multitude of wounds. Just a few meters or yards away was a young guy completely passed out, laying across a staircase under a bridge. By the end of my visit, an ambulance arrived, this time it was a woman who had overdosed and needed to be taken to the hospital. The place was like entering Dante’s purgatory. In particularly that was true for an underpass. It was simply terrible. Rats were all over the place, it was filthy and full of garbage—and used syringes were all over the place. And then all walls tagged and littered. Not a place most people would want to stay.

Nevertheless, it’s really eye opening to visit and talk to the condemned of the society, to experience their heartbreaking and hopeless way of life, and then realize that they are just as much human beings as the rest of us, with the same dreams and the same desires.

It’s a quite a leap from the happiness of a wedding to the despair of drug addiction. Nevertheless, it’s all part of the human experience—if not for every single human being. Fortunately enough, one would add. However, being able to learn from the whole spectrum is often what makes working as a documentary photographer both fulfilling and such a learning experience.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography, Photojournalism | Tagged | 72 Comments

Technique for Its Own Sake

Just before the weekend, I bought myself a new camera. Nothing much to write a blog post about, really. But then I thought about how little excitement I felt about the acquisition—and how good that actually is. Which, then, is why I now write about my new camera.

My point, of course, is that a camera is only a tool, something we need in order to be able to take photos. The camera, whatever kind it is, or however expensive it is, doesn’t matter much. It goes back to the old saying; it’s not the camera but the man or woman behind the camera that matters.

When I got my new camera, I set it up and customized it so it works the same way as my other cameras for easy transition between the cameras I work with. Then I took a few test shot, was happy with the result, and put it in my camera bag. Yesterday I used it for an assignment—and all is back to normal by now.

I have not always been this laidback about my cameras. In fact, I think that goes for a lot of people who photograph—and certainly photographers. There is always something special about a new camera and camera technique in general—at least for many photographers. You don’t need to be a camera geek or a technical wizard to be able to take pleasure in the technical aspect of photography. When I started with photography, I certainly was in that place. Not that I wasn’t interested in the final result, the photographs, but I enjoyed handling the cameras and the equipment as well, and I was definitely excited whenever I acquired a new piece of equipment. Today I know that technique is okay, but also that it’s very easy to get stuck in it.

Technique for its own sake is meaningless, at least if you are out there photographing and intending to create personal and moving photos.

When I first picked up a camera with a more serious intention, I got caught up with the technical aspect of photography. I learned as much as I could about the craft, I quickly found out about all settings my camera had to offer, I read about optics, camera functionalities, composition and so on, and I took sharp, well-exposed and well-composed photos—mostly at least. But the pictures all lacked soul, although at the time I didn’t think so. This was in my late teens and into the beginning of my twenties. Back then, I would not even consider a photograph that was not technically perfect or at least of good quality. These days I have come around 180 degrees. Today, if I had to choose between the two—a meaningful picture that is technically poor and a meaningless picture that is photo-technically unassailable—I unhesitatingly would choose the first.

Of course, back in those days we needed to understand the craftsmanship more than we do today. We shot with unforgivable film, the cameras where manual, without autofocus and mostly without automatic exposure modes. We had to know how to set the shutter speed, the aperture and we had to focus manually, with films that had little latitude and was expensive, at least for a young man still not making tons of money. Although all this craftsmanship I needed to learn did not help me create photos with any soul and heart at the time, it became a backbone when I finally was able to let loose and started to adapting towards a more creative approach (so don’t get me wrong; the technical aspect of photography is an important part of it all).

The turnaround came when I studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. I came with the idea that I was already a proliferate photographer, and got completely frustrated when my fellow students and my teachers clearly did not think the same. However, instead of closing myself down inside a shell, I pushed on and pushed through and finally started to listened to my heart more than the craftsmanship I had so believed in before. So, yes, it is all too easy to get stuck in the technique.

The morale is simple: Cameras are not important. You behind it are.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon EOS-5D and a 28-135 mm lens set at 93 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 s. Aperture: f/13. The camera (the one I photographed) was placed on a light table and lit with a flash from the front. The photo was processed in Lightroom.

Posted in Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged | 77 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 10.9 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/60 of a second. Aperture: f/1.7. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , | 34 Comments

Visiting My Family Again

Since my first visit to Cuba in 1991, I have as often as possible visited a farming family in the valley of Viñales, in the eastern part of the country. The family has become like a second family for me, always welcoming and always happy to see me again. As I am to see them.

After being done teaching this year’s Cuba workshop, which I have already written a couple of posts about, I once again returned to the family. I spent a couple days with them, unfortunately not having time for a longer stay. It was nevertheless a pleasant reunion.

Since the first time I more or less coincidently came across them, the family has transformed notably. Some of the family members have died and new generations have been born over the years. I first became acquainted with the old couple, Miguel and Catalina, who were the head of the family more then 25 years ago. Both are now deceased. Miguel died nine years ago, while Catalina passed away last year.

Today it’s their two sons and their daughter who is taking care of the family’s land. And grandchildren are already securing the next generation of farmers. The three families—the sons and daughter, included their spouses and kids—share the land and live the same simple life the family has done for as long as they can remember.

They don’t have much, but they always want to share whatever they have. Food, coffee, a smoke or just the evening under an open sky talking together. I always leave the family in Viñales feeling richer and more grounded than when I arrived. I am moved by their hospitality and joy of life—despite the hardship making a living of the land.

I have written about my family previously in these posts: Back from Cuba, Where Time Stand Stills, A Family of Farmers and My Second Family.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , | 82 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , | 41 Comments

The New Visual Language

I come from a tradition of classical story telling with my photos. It’s the way documentary photographers have emphasized both content and moment in the stories each of their photographs tell. My friend and colleague, Sven Creutzmann, comes from the same tradition. And this—you may call it traditional visual language—is what we teach in our workshop, like the one in Cuba earlier this month.

We are not stuck in the way we see photography and of course let each student develop his or her own voice. At least that’s what we try to stress for ourselves as well as the students and that’s really our focus. Even though we believe in the classical use of visual language, I think it’s fair to say that we are both open to other approaches in ways of shooting and expressing oneself.

Nevertheless, over the last many years, we have seen a shift in how for instance award winning documentary photography are less and less accentuating the clear story telling, and we have both been puzzled by this change. In documentary photography, a more artistic or ambiguous approach has become more prevalent. Personally, I like photos that are open to interpretations, in which the message is not clearly set by the photographer, and where there are layers of understanding embedded in the photo. However, the photos that win these contests have quite often baffled both Sven and me.

It’s the postmodern or even post-postmodern school of young photographers that are now dominating the spearhead of photojournalism. It’s a kind of photography that is often described as deconstructed in which traditional rules or guidelines are broken in order to create a new visual language. Again, I am one who promotes not following any rules or established guidelines. However, I have found a lot of this new photography rather boring, drab and uninteresting. As I wrote in my post The Emperor’s New Clothes? a couple of years ago, the postmodern approach is often plain and boring—almost as intended—but is raised to the sky by pretentious acclamation.

I admit. This sounds like an old, outdated photographer ranting about times that are changing. And maybe I am. Still, I have always been one to push myself and try to go into unknown territory. So, after Sven and I were done with this year’s photo workshop, we decided to sit down and figure out what this new visual language is. We looked up a bunch of award winning photographers and tried to deconstruct their deconstructed photography. I tell you, the result was quite surprising.

To quickly sum up what we found: One aspect that we took away was the fact that a lot of the photography we looked at for us would have been mistakes we wouldn’t have selected and certainly not submitted to any photo competitions. Furthermore and to be more specific, we found that these photos often put elements in the foreground that are unsharp and add a visual disorder to the imagery. Photographers who shoot with this new visual language move further back or move out of the story (whereas I always teach that you cannot get close enough). They seem to capture in-between-moments where Sven and I have trained ourselves to be able to capture the peak of a moment. They use less wide-angle lenses and they often shoot reflections or through windows or openings. They often include weird details or something that is not quite clear what is and often the composition is static or symmetric. Their photos are often simplified and does not try to build a story, at least not in a classical sense, and part of this is that they often do not include moments at all (not only off-moments as already mentioned) nor people. Finally, we found that many of these photos are heavily worked over in post-production.

One thing that puzzled us was why some of these approaches were used, until a friend of us who is not a photographer, told us that maybe it’s to leave more open to interpretation instead of showing a clear-cut story, simply to be less clear. Of course, that is at least part of it.

Deconstructing is one thing, though. After having done so, Sven and I went out in the streets of Havana and tried to shoot with this new visual language as a template. At first, it felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but it didn’t take long before both of us got a sense of freedom in our shooting. The next couple of hours we completely lost ourselves in the process and captured thousands of photos. We had fun, we felt inspired and it was simply liberating to do something completely different.

Even the result took us aback. I am not saying this is amazing work, by far. But it certainly gave me a different perspective (you can judge by yourself). I think I am more open to the new visual language. Furthermore, I am sure I will pick up what this lesson taught me. It won’t shift my photography completely, but I have gotten a new tool in my photographic tool box. I really enjoyed this new visual language. Of course, by now what is new has already moved ahead to a new place. But that’s OK. I will just have to repeat this exercise every so often.

Posted in Challenging Yourself, Creativity, Personal Work, Photographic Reflections, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 73 Comments