A Bit of Normalcy

Last week I had a touch of what some normalcy tastes like. I did my first travel since the world locked down one and a half years ago. Of course, it wasn’t totally back to the good old days. Still, on airports and when flying one has to wear a mask – and when arriving to a country there were covid-19 controls.

Nevertheless, I could travel! Which almost felt a little strange but most of all joyous. Just sitting back and feel the airplane taking off for a new destination was exhilarating, despite the pestilence of having to wear a mask. And then arriving. Touching down in a new place!

Nevertheless, for me the absolute best was finally being able to meet my love one after one and a half years of forced separation. In fact, that’s why Iceland became our first travel destination since the lockdown. It’s one of the only countries that would accept us both, without quarantine as long as you are vaccinated.

I have been to Iceland before, but it was back in the 1980’s, so it’s been a few years. Of course, generally the landscape doesn’t changed much over a few decades, although Iceland is one of few countries in which landscape changes do happen every so often, whenever a volcano erupts. In fact, this year saw a new eruption just south of the capital Reykjavik. Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted in March. After the first eruption, it’s been more of a low flowing river of lava, covering the valley of Fagradal and slowly moving towards the sea.

On the photo, I am overlooking Fagradalsfjall with the crater to the right. Not every day is it possible to see glowing lava, but it’s steadily creating new land. Nevertheless, it was a impressive experience to view.

I will get back with more photos from my trip to Iceland. However, I first need to edit and process the photos I captured. For now, though, I will take the rest of July off from blogging, but I’ll be back in August. Enjoy the summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere). See you again in August.

A Devilish Ride

I continue my ride down memory lane. This time literally. You may have noticed that the last couple of blog posts, I have been writing and showing images from past experiences. Two reasons for this: First of all, I have been re-organizing my analogue photo archive, and then we have this travel ban imposed on all of us, so if nothing else, I can at least travel back in time.

This time, I will take you to Bolivia and a mindboggling bike ride I did quite a few years ago. The ride took me down what used to be the main road between the capital La Paz and Las Yungas, the lowlands north in the country, the spring of the Amazon. Today a new road has replaced it, but back then the Inter-American Development Bank designated the old trade route to be the world’s most dangerous. Every year, around 100 people lost their lives on this important but life-threatening trade route.

The bike ride was organized by a local tour agency and the group was brought to La Cumbra pass at 4700 metres or just under 15500 feet. Ahead of us was a 65 kilometres (40 miles) winding road down 3600 metres (11800 feet) of altitude difference.

The first part went along the new road already under construction, paved and just pure fun. The biggest danger was dogs chasing the bikes—not something you want to hit at a speed of, at the most, 90 kilometres per hour (56 miles per hour).

About halfway down, we enter the old road, caved out along a steep mountainside. Many places the dirt road cut straight into the vertical rock wall. Several hundred meters of free fall to one side made it a trembling experience. In some places, the dirt road is actually narrower than some of the trucks, which used to use it. Most accidents along the death road happened due to truck drivers who had to hurry to earn enough for a living.

While we had sun the first part of the ride, when we enter the old road, fog came in from the mountains.

After a while, I could see absolutely nothing. The fog was like wet cotton. The last remnant of sight, the torrential rain took away. I knew the abyss was there, just a metre or so to the left of where I now raced down a bumpy and muddy dirt road by bike. 300 metres straight down.

As we descended into the valley, the temperature rose. After a few hours we were met by the steaming jungle. As we came out of a narrow gorge and the valley opened up, the fog and rain eased, and soon the sun would be shining from an open sky again. The last kilometres would be pure victory ride.

The Curse of Hit Rate

The photo above was captured on my last overseas photo workshop before the world closed down. That said, I am not going to rant about the pandemic and what it has deprived us of—we all know that too well. Neither am I going to write about photo workshops I hope to get going again—if the pandemic will allow me to do so.

The reason I chose the photo has to do with the photographic process, the workflow of capturing images, if you will. As much as it isn’t depicting something I could plan, but rather capturing the unpredictability of life as such, neither is it an accidental photo.

The photo was taken in La Higuera, a tiny village in Bolivia with only a handful of dwellings. It’s where Che Guavara, back in 1967, was captured by the Bolivian army—or more precisely in a gorge right outside the village. Irma Rosada, the woman in the photo, was only a girl when the world came crashing down on her village. She clearly remembers the capturing of Che Guevare, his imprisonment in the local school and the subsequent execution the next afternoon.

Today, Rosa runs the little store in the village, and the photo shows her baking bread for her store.

Everything in the photo tells the story of Irma, or adds to the story; obviously herself, the bread and the brick kiln, but also the water melon, the dirty ground, the sunset behind trees, indicating the landscape beyond, and even the bit of laundry hanging out to dry. And more so I captured Irma as she was about to empty the kiln from a batch of rolls. Her gaze, her lifted right foot, the habitual handling of the baking tray, her facial expression—all say something explicit about Irma.

The photo tells a story about Irma Rosalind. I took the photo, and it turned out very nicely. I am happy with the result. However, as mentioned, it wasn’t accidental. First of all, I was ready. Secondly, I took a lot of photos to ensure I got it.

The latter, I am not the least embarrassed to say. I take a lot of photos that are crap, not working, looks like shit and will never make it out of my archive. The thing is, I don’t care about all the bad photos I end up with. What I care about is the few left that I can be proud of or feel good about.

Too many photographers have a thing with “hit rate” and being good enough. They think that some day they will be able to take 40 photos in a day that are all masterpieces, because that is kind of the idea you get when you look at exhibitions or a photo books and see the masters’ images. You somehow think they did them all in one take.

Reality is that every photographer who ever did any master images only did a relatively few good photos and even fewer great photographs in a lifetime.

If you look through the negatives, slides or digital files of master photographers, you will see plenty of photos out of focus, too over- or underexposed, empty streets (because the subject hasn’t entered the frame yet or has left before the photographer pressed the shutter release button). Even more importantly, when you study the best photos that define history, you will see that the photographer actually captured a lot of photos of the same scene—and only one survived.

As Elliot Erwitt once said: “It takes a lot of photographs to make one good”.

If you do an internet search on “hit rate in photography”, you will find a lot of articles and posts about how to boost or increase your amount of so-caller keepers. Why would it even matter if it’s 5 percent of 20 percent of captured images that are good? What matters is how many good ones you have in the end. All the rest, and how many, is of no interest at all.

Yes, some photographers blast away and aren’t mindful when photographing, but usually I see the opposite; that is, most photographers are not photographing enough. I see that in every workshop I teach. They may capture three or five images of a situation—and think they have photographed a lot. When in reality they have hardly started.

As you can see the screenshot beneath, I took a lot of photos of Irma Rosado, to get then one I was satisfied with. That’s why it isn’t an accidental photo. And I don’t care for a second how many captures it took to get the one. So, don’t worry about your hit rate. Just photograph.

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.

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.

Earthy Bolivia

As I have written before, the photo workshop I taught in Bolivia in the end of September and the beginning of October was a great experience for all, for the participants and the organizers alike.

Bolivia is a splendid country for a photo workshop. The people are open and hospital, the majority of which live a simple and down-to-earth life, their culture rich and colourful and not the least the nature they are surrounded by, with breathtaking mountain ranges, spectacular valleys and lush forests.

As soon as the participants had acclimatized, they captured amazing images, and better and stronger for each day of the workshop, as could be seen in my post Excellent Photography a couple of weeks ago.

Here are a handful of images I was able to capture myself. They don’t come close to what the participants were able to produce. But that’s how it should be, they were in Bolivia to learn and photography, while I was there to teach and guide. I am only happy they got home each with a strong portfolio of Bolivia photos.

Excellent Photography

© Jathushiga Bridget Rajah
© Inger Ellen Eftevand Orvin
© Vigdis Robberstad
© Katharina Dale Håkonsen
© Monica Broen
© Nicolaas Kuipers

As I wrote in my last blog post, the photo workshop in Bolivia in the end of September and beginning of October was a great experience for both participants and the organizers, that is me and my colleague Sven Creutzmann.

Not only was it great experience, though, during the ten days the workshop lasted, the participants grew and showed significantly developments. Of course, to varying degree. For anyone who is already an experience photographer, it’s always harder to show any drastic improvements. However, those in an earlier stage of their development have a larger potential for advancing their photography. And that’s exactly what happened during the Bolivia workshop. It was great fun to watch how they all were able to capture stronger and more enchanting images, particularly as the days went by and towards the end of the workshop.

Here is a handful of their captivating images, showing the rural life in the eastern mountains of Bolivia. Enjoy!

A Delightful Bolivia Workshop

I have just returned from teaching my latest photo workshop in Bolivia. It was a really fun workshop, with dedicated participants, lots of photo opportunities and plenty of enjoyable moments. Most important for us, the workshop teachers, was seeing how each participants were able to develop their photography during the 10 days we were travelling in eastern parts of Bolivia.

This workshop involves a lot more travelling than most of the workshops I teach. More or less every second day we were taking off to a new town or village, which both makes the workshop more adventures as well as add some pressure with regards to being able to find time for picture critiques and lectures every day.

We were travelling in the footsteps Che Guevara and his failed revolutionary attempt in Bolivia fifty years ago. Following his last days was just a framework for the travel not a theme for the photographing—unless participants chose to do so. After meeting up in Santa Cruz, the financial hub in eastern Bolivia, we took off first to Samaipata, then to Vallegrand and La Higuea before returning to Santa Cruz. The highlight was no doubt La Higuera, a small village high up in the mountains with a handful of houses and only 43 inhabitants.

I think it’s fair to say, that the combinations of daily feedback on photos the participants take as well as being able to photograph one and one next to either me or my colleague Sven Creutzmann, with whom I taught the workshop, give a good dynamic for each participant to develop his or her photography. The result was noticeable. A lot of very strong imagery was captured during the workshop.

This is the third team we have organized this workshop.

Here are a couple of glimpses behind the scene during the workshop. Later on, I will get back with photos we shot during the ten days in Bolivia.

On the Road Again

As you are reading this post, I am getting going teaching another photo workshop in Bolivia. It has just started. Today, Monday, we are heading out from Santa Cruz, the regional centre in eastern Bolivia, to the village of Samaipata. Over the next week plus, we will continue to Vallegrande and La Higuera and finally head back again to Santa Cruz at the end of next week.

I have been looking forward both to be on the road and not the least to teach this workshop again. Last time we did it—that is my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann and I—was back in 2013. We have a nice group of participants with us this time, most of whom have attended at least one of our workshops before.

This is definitely a photo workshop for the more adventures photographers. Yes, here in Santa Cruz we stay at a great and quit luxurious hotel, but hereafter it’s going to be plenty of bumpy roads and the most unpretentious of accommodations. Simply because that’s all there is in the towns and village up in the eastern mountains of Bolivia.

The tour will follow in the footsteps of Che Guevara. For some he was a hero, for some a terrorist. No matter what you think about him, the history and how it all ended here in the mountains of Bolivia is fascinating.

I will try to keep you posted about the trip and the workshop as we go, but cannot promise anything. Internet is not well accessible in these rural areas. Anyway, here we go.