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. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. 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.

In the Time of Corona

I am sitting at my work desk. It’s the end of the week. A bizarre week, to say the least. Outside, traffic has ceased, almost completely. I see only one young lady crossing the street. And a car every once in a while. Otherwise an unusual silence, almost ominous. The society is in lockdown-mode. The buzzword is social distancing.

What maybe surprises me the most is the fact that I have been able to maintain almost full workload. I have produced stories for magazines and papers that still keep the press running – if not literally in these digital times.

However, I have hardly photographed people this week, and when it happens, it’s from a distance. I always preach to photographers; go close, but in the time of corona, it’s not feasible any more. Not surprisingly, I am photographing much less than I would usually do.

I certainly can’t do much street photography. Well, I can, but not with much activity or people close up. Maybe I will give myself an assignment to photograph emptiness and how the lockdown has so dramatically changed city life. Next week.

As much as I have been able to keep myself busy this week, it seems to change as of now. I haven’t gotten new assignments, so naturally as the projects I am presently working on get done, my workload will quickly diminish. I do not despair, though. I will survive. Instead I will start developing new personal projects that I have long wanted to do, but never found time to commence with.

Here in Norway we are in the second week of the lockdown with severe regulations imposed by the authorities. Most people are doing okay, but I feel a kind of despair emerging from the collective soul. We are all getting somewhat restless from all this isolation we are supposed to enforce. The despair gets more evident as people start to see that this is going to last for months, not just a couple of weeks.

Last weekend it was as if the safety valve blew. After a more than usual rainy winter, the sun finally showed some grace here in my hometown. Suddenly every single one who has been practising social distancing needed to get outside and enjoy the sun. On the mountains surround the city, there was almost a line of people hiking up and down. So much now that the health authorities found it necessary to impose new regulations for the use of the outdoor vicinities.

I unconditionally confess, I was among the culprits. And how good wasn’t it for soul and spirit! I could lift my eyes, see and accept what is to come. I am ready, now after getting in touch with mother nature and seeing her beauty is still untouched by the plague. In fact she is doing better than in a long time, with diminished pollution, diminished pressure by modern society and diminished exploitation.

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. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. 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.

Stay Positive

The world is in crisis. The virus spreads from one country to another. The numbers increase, of those who are contagious as well as the death polls. The economy is collapsing. We are all worried and anxious. We don’t know how the future will look like when all this has passed. Most of us feel it already or soon will. I for one have had to cancel this year’s photo workshop in Cuba and might have to cancel workshops further up the line. In addition, my work is quickly slowing done. Suddenly the world has changed upside down.

I hope you are doing fine, that you won’t give up hope and you and yours will stay safe. Personally, I am as good as one can expect, although I am sitting here in a country that pretty much has folded because of the pandemic. Of course, I am unhappy about not being able to go to Cuba and teach my workshop. In the big picture, that is a minor setback, though.

Things are slowing down. Work, activities, social contact, life as it used to be. Nevertheless, I try to stay positive—as I hope you manage to do, too. With all the extra time suddenly to my disposal, I have decided to use it to something other than getting depressed and sadden by the present events. I want to read, learn more, develop myself and my photography, work on all those goals I otherwise never have time to do.

Maybe an idea for you, too? If you are quarantined, if you are limited by restrictions, don’t want to expose yourself too much, need to stay home; why not use the extra time to something positive? Develop your knowledge base and your craft. Learn. Read. Develop your post-processing skills. Play with your camera.

I am sure we will get through this. It’s important so try to stay calm and not despair. It might take some time, but all the more important to try to adapt a positive attitude. Now is the time to show solidarity with those in more need, help and be compassionate with each other. But then, fill the extra time that might have been imposed on you with positive actions. Learn. Read. Expand you horizon.

And stay healthy and safe.

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. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. 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.

In the Heart of Cuba

Last autumn the photographer Sven Creutzmann—my good friend and colleague—launched his beautiful book about Havana. It’s a collaboration between him and the writer Bert Hoffmann. Across 320 pages, the two of them share a personal encounter and deep understanding of the Cuban capital, this fascinating city that is beauty and the beast, incarnated.

The book is published in German. It’s called Havanna – Im Herzen Kubas, which translates into Havana—in the Heart of Cuba. The German text may be a disadvantage for most readers of this blog. Nevertheless, Sven’s photos would still make it a book at which anyone interested in Cuba—and photos in general—would want to at least have a look.

Havana is an extraordinary metropolis through which Sven and Bert lead us. Especially Sven’s photos bring us behind the clichés, the façades and the ordinary tourist look of the city, those images we have all too often seen. He takes us into the backyards, into the small streets, into people’s homes. The book also tells us the story of Cuba through Fidel and those who still run the Cuban revolution. Some of the images of the former commander in chief are simply astonishing.

Sven has photographed his adopted home over the last 30 years. His images show an authentic approach beset with passion, of Caribbea, of people and of pure emotions. You can tell Sven is in love with this island. After having finished the book, you understand why he chose Havana as a new home back in the 90’s.

One of my favourite parts of the book is a dialogue between Sven and the Cuban novelist and journalist Leonardo Padura. His is probably one of Cuba’s best-known writers internationally. In this section, Padura comments a handful of Sven’s images. For instance, as he says about one of the photos picturing the balseros, those who fled to the States in 1994: “This photo is the reality. The drama. The gesture and the look of the woman. And this farewell in the picture—that’s the magic of artist, the photographer. What a farewell.”

Every so often Sven comments some of the photos himself. Those testimonies give an insight into the story behind the photographs as well as how Sven thinks as a photographer. There is an immediacy and awareness in his way of seeing and photographing. It shines through in the images, but so too, in every one of those rather brief comments.

My German is not good enough to try to review the writing of Bert Hoofmann. I will only say I have enjoyed it very much. However, I can say with hand on my heart, that Sven’s photos are exceptional. Of course, not every single one to same extent, but generally they show the traces of an inventive, dedicated and extremely proficient photographer. You will not see anything like his photos from Cuba; I am pretty sure about that.

If there is one thing I do not fully approve of in the book, is the use of too many and too small photos. The majority of images are double pages, something that is necessary to grant them full justice. However, when for instance four photos are crammed together on one page, they render small and harder to enjoy. I would have rather edited with a tougher hand so only those images that really shine could be displayed as they deserve. A handful of less strong photos diminish the overall impression. Absolutely unnecessarily.

All the same, Havanna – Im Herzen Kubas is a book I truly recommend even if you are not German speaking. When doing so, I owe it to the readers of the blog to tell that Sven is a good friend of mine. We teach photo workshops together, regularly in Cuba but also in other countries such as Nicaragua later this year.

Unfortunately, Havanna – Im Herzen Kubas is only available from the German branch of Amazon. Nevertheless, click here if you want to go there.

All photos © Sven Creutzmann

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. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. 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.

Diving into Unconsciousness

Andektig morgenstemning på toppen av Green Lotus Hill

The first time I discovered the beauty—yes the beauty, despite the doubt and ambiguity being part of the process—of surrendering to the unconscious mind in the creative moment, was 30 years ago. I was photographing a Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown, New York, during a time when I was struggling with my photographic vision.

Suddenly during the shooting process, I felt like I was swept away and lost completely to the intoxicating and exhilarating activities taking place all around me. The New Year celebration and I became one. I stopped thinking consciously and became absorbed with the energy and power of what was going on in front of my camera lens. It felt like being thrown into a deep tunnel with no exits or alternatives, but to move forward as part of the chaos and madness.

Three or four hours later I was spat out of this tunnel, completely wasted and exhausted. I couldn’t recall my doings or what kind of pictures I had captured through these hours. But I felt extremely good, content and animated. And I knew I had photographed something both strong and personal.

The creative process depends on surrender by the artist on many levels and in different ways throughout the whole process. First and foremost, the artist has to give up the idea that the art he or she is creating is actually his or hers and instead understand that it is simply being channelled through him or her. It’s like a baby; you give birth to it, help it mature and then let it loose on its own as a grownup human being. You don’t own your child.

For me, this concept of giving up ownership in the creative process is closely related to trusting the unconsciousness. As artists, whether we are photographers—like I am—or painters, musicians, performers, writers, filmmakers or express ourselves through any other art form; to be able to create something new, we need to surrender ourselves to our unconscious mind.

According to Rollo May—the American existential psychologist whose work includes “The Courage to Create”—creative courage involves the discovery of new forms, new symbols and new patterns.

Only by connecting to our unconscious mind are we able to bring something new into being. If merely the rational mind is involved in the creative process we will find nothing but what is already known, albeit at first sight it may look new. Two plus two is always four no matter how we turn it around with our rational mind. If we look at the equation without rationalizing though, we might find something completely different and beautiful even in such a simple calculation. The fact is that even math can turn into art—and does do so on a higher level.

Our creative expression is channelled through our unconsciousness. Some call it the work of God, some think it’s a spiritual connection, some see it as an encounter with an unlimited creative well, while others call it inspiration and yet others believe it to be something less tangible. No matter how we see the process, it’s all about bringing something new into being; something most of us don’t even understand exactly where it comes from, but certainly has to be outside of our rational thinking. That’s why I so strongly believe we need to engage our unconscious mind in the creative process.

How we engage is expressed in different ways, too. We talk about getting out of our comfort zone, taking chances with our art, letting go or trusting our intuition—all of these expressions indicates that we need to force the rational mind to step back. As the renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said about the photographic process—which I believe to also be true for any art form: “Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards—never while actually taking a photograph.”

Trusting our unconscious mind isn’t always easy. On the contrary, engaging the unconscious mind in the creative process causes lots of doubt among those of us who think of ourselves as artists. I believe that any artist at some point will doubt his or her artwork. Again and again we see this. Paul Cézanne, for example, strongly believed that he was discovering and painting a new form of space which would radically influence the future of art, yet he was filled with painful and ever-present doubt. The reality is that creative commitment is healthiest not when it’s without doubt, but in spite of doubt. In other words, we need to accept our own doubts about what we are doing, and still keep doing it. It’s simply another layer of surrendering.

I always try to recall that special feeling from the Chinese New Year celebration in New York when I am shooting. I try to let myself become absorbed in whatever it is that I am photographing and try to throw myself back into that same tunnel of unconscious awareness.

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. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. 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.

Transitions

I have always been fascinated by cities and the pulsating energy that emerges on the streets of those cities. That, in turn, has lead to a fascination for street photography. Last year I turned that fascination into a new project that I have called Transitions.

It started during a workshop I attended in Rome last May, taught by the devoted and passionate Swedish photographer Martin Bogren. After the workshop, I displayed some of the images from Rome here on the blog. Since then I have photographed for the project in every city I have visited—or at least tried, not always succeeding. Like last year, I had an overlay between flights in Panama City for about 14 hours, which I had planned to use to photograph for the Transitions project. However, a delayed arrival put a spoke in the wheels for that plan.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed photographing for the project wherever I have had a chance. Well, enjoyed as well as dreaded. Because when you go out on the street with a camera, you put yourself on the line. I don’t mean literally risking anything (that is, you can of course). What I purport to is the emotional risk; you own insecurity when facing strangers and wanting to photograph them, the discomfort of imposing yourself on others, or even just stealing a moment of their lives.

One of my ideas behind the project is to capture how we human beings are formed by the culture we live in. For instance, our appearance on the street is different in Calcutta than say in Panama or New York. It’s the way we clothe, but also expressed through attitude and temperament. Of course, in our modern, globalized world these differences fades, but still, on a general level, it’s mesmerizing to notice the kaleidoscope of different forms our appearance take from one place to another.

Generally, cities act as interfaces for human beings. They are places we congregate, but not the least places of transitions. We pass through cities to get from one place to another. While transiting, we continuously encounter other fellow human beings, randomly and only for brief moments. Most of them we will never meet again. Yet, we move through cities with acute awareness about how others will conceive of us. We put up a façade; make a display of what we want our fellow human beings to think of us. Thus, cities also become vehicles for a personal transition, from private to public person.

I just read something that stroked me personally. It was words by David Campany, writer, curator and artist, in a foreword written to the book Easy West that showcases less known images by the photographer Harry Gruyaert. Campany writes: “Observational photographers are often lone figures themselves, never quite sure of their aims, hoping something will happen. Through a kind of empathy, they will photograph people in similarly existential or marginal situations. But to be drawn to this in a town so explicitly dedicated to the pursuit of enjoyment is an act, conscious or not, of distance. Wariness, even.”

Here are some of the images I from my last shoot in Seattle. They were actually captured before Christmas, but only lately have I had time to edit and process them.