Tales of Strangers #5: Flieger

Along the river Spree in Berlin, tugged in between newly built posh riverside residencies, lies a squatter’s camp called Teepee Land. It has been founded by and is run by this man, who calls himself “Flieger”, which may be translated either as flyer or as aircraft. I walked through the camp last Saturday and asked Flieger if I could take a few photos, and I also spent some time chatting with him. While now, in winter, there aren’t that many people living here, he says they have some five hundred people pass through every year. People come from all over the world, many Europeans of course but also people from Africa and Asia. They live, as the name implies, mostly in teepees (so does Flieger), or in makeshift huts. Some pass through, but others seem to have settled on a more permanent basis. The coloured hut in the background is where a Japanese man is staying, one tent was occupied by a gay couple from Eastern Europe who fled repercussions in their home country; there is a also a Turkish man living there who became homeless after being forced from his flat by unscrupulous landlords who want to cash in on Berlin’s steep increase in rents. The camp also features a stage where they hold concerts in the summer, and a café where you pay as much as you like for your drink.

Flieger seems to choose the people who can live here, and he seems to choose them on the basis of whether they can contribute in maintaining not only their own teepee or hut, but the camp as well, as all inhabitants are expected to help keep the camp clean and functioning.Apparently the camp’s inhabitants have a good working relationship with the city government, and despite the fact that more apartment buildings are going up around them, Flieger has been assured that they can remain for the ‘foreseeable future’ (the camp is on public land). That is some measure of good news I guess.

The Photos below show Teepee Land. The colour photos were taken this past weekend while the black and white ones were taken in the summer.

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Interior: Bar

For a change of pace, and in order to hone my eye for formatting photos, I decided to step away from people photography for a bit and embark on something which I have never really attempted before: photographing interiors. By this I was inspired by some of the photos I took inside some of Sevilla’s historic buildings. The challenge is to capture the elegance and beauty of a room while working within a confined space.

These images are from my first attempt. I shot them in a club here in Berlin which was empty at the time, a club in a historic 19th century building that used to house craftspeople’s workshops. It’s a first attempt, more to follow…

“No Photo”

dscf9249Saturday was not a good day for street portraits. I found three people who I thought were interesting, got my courage up to ask them if I could take their photo, and all three said no…. Well, you have days like that. I couldn’t help wondering, though, whether it was the fact that Saturday I had mounted the rather big 56mm lens, instead of the rather unobtrusive 27mm pancake lens I normally favour… who knows?

The story with the guy depicted above, though, was different… He was hanging out on Admiralsbrücke, a bridge in the Berlin area of Kreuzberg, a spot where people (locals, expats and many tourists) just love to hang out and drink beer. He was with friends drinking beer, and at some point started playing the guitar and signing in Spanish. I took these two photos and was just about to approach him when he noticed the camera and very energetically told me “no photos”, and a bunch of other stuff in Spanish which I didn’t understand. I nodded yes and that was that, but I didn’t delete the photos I’ve taken earlier.

Now, normally if people tell or show me that they don’t want their picture taken, I respect that. But in this case, I thought, if you’re playing guitar and singing in the middle of a street in the middle of a bridge in the middle of a city, you’re not exactly minding you’re own business, are you? So, whether you like it or not, being photographed is part and and parcel of making yourself a public spectacle… Hence, I decided to publish these pics.

I don’t know why he so vehemently refused to have his photo taken…. but maybe the clue lies in his tattoos…?

 

Camera: Fujifilm X-T20

Tales of Strangers #3: Walli

Part 3 in the stories behind some of my recent street portraits:

Walli

Walli was fairly reticent when I asked if I could take a some pictures of him. He had just put on his skates and was about to go skating in the park. But he didn't decline. He asked me what I was gonna use the pics for, and I explained that I put them up on my web site and on Flickr, he then went online and checked what I had been posting. Then he agreed to be photographed, and immediately struck this pensive pose which made me think that he's actually used to being photographed. I couldn't draw much information out of him, after all, skating waited…


Tales of Strangers #2: Ludwi

Continuing the stories behind some of my recent street portraits….

Ludwi

I hope I’m transcribing the name correctly, but that’s how he told me: like Ludwig, but without the ‘g’. It’s not hard to guess that Ludwi is Palestinian. He crisscrosses the city – or at least this part of the city – with himself and his motorbike bedecked in Palestinian flags, blaring music out of crappy loudspeakers. I approached him as he was stopping at a red light and asked permission to take a few photos of him and I briefly chatted with him. He said his aim is to raise awareness, and money, for the plight of the Palestinian people… Well, that’s all he had time for to tell me, then the lights changed and Ludwi had to continue on his sacred mission…

Ludwi, Berlin 2017. Camera: Fujifilm X-T20

Tales of Strangers #1

This is a new series which I'm starting. As I have written in earlier blog posts, one of my favourite enterprises is street portraiture, i.e. photographing strangers and learning a little bit about them. Since at times these encounters constitute interesting enough tales, I decided to write some if them up, albeit briefly, and post them here on the blog.
I've been doing this type of photography for a while now, but for this series I'm not planning to go back in time much, instead I'd rather treat this as a project in progress.
I was inspired to do this by a Flickr group called 100 Strangers which you might want to check out for more stories of strangers.
Here we go then, starting with one of my favourite encounters:

Piet

I saw Piet in a park in Berlin's Kreuzberg area where I occasionally hang out after work. It's basically his beard that attracted me, but when I asked him for permission to take a photo, he laughed and said, normally people ask to take a picture of his dog. Well, he didn't have his dog with him, so I took photos of him.

Piet is what Berliners call a typical Kreuzberger, that is, someone from that part of (former) West Berlin that has always been a haven for radicals, rebels, artists and bohemians, even after it became gentrified. Piet calls himself an old-school rebel, the last of a dying breed, and he has quite a few stories to tell of the times when Kreuzberg was inhabited by squatters, not hipsters.

Piet also takes photos which is why he didn't mind me taking his picture. We talked photography as well – I think overall, I spent an hour chatting with him.

Berlin Gay Pride 2017: Candid In the Rain

Earlier in the week, I posted the first selection of my photos from this year's Berlin Gay Pride march (or CSD, as it keeps being called in Berlin. Short for Christopher Street Day), focussing on portraits. With this post, the focus is on the candid photos. A number of them highlight the quite miserable weather conditions, i.e. the heavy downpours that did not quite manage to dampen the party mood.

For more of the pics from the CSD, [click here].

Berlin Gay Pride 2017: May I Take Your Picture?

Berlin’s Christopher Street Day celebration was on this past Saturday. German parliament having recently ratified Marriage Equality, the event was more a matter of celebration this year than in previous years. About an hour into the event, heavy rainfalls began to come down, which didn’t really deter people, and the whole thing became a big party in the rain.

This was the first time in many years that I went back to the CSD march. It’s always been a good occasion for taking photos. This year’s didn’t disappoint either. On occasions like these, people usually don’t mind having their photo taken. I did take a number of candid shots, but the ones I’m happiest with are the ones where I asked people to pose. Gay Pride attracts many photographers, most with huge zoom lenses waiting at the side of the road. My approach is a tad different: I participate in the event, that is, I take part in the march, and I take photos from within, from close-up. When I ask people to pose, most of the time there is a connection, and there is something about the resulting pics which makes them more personal, and also makes them stand out.

I used the Fuji X-T20 camera, with initially a 56mm lens which I soon swapped for the 35mm lens as it was more suited to work from within the crowd.

For more of my Gay Pride photos, [click here]. Photos from earlier CSD events can be found on my Berlin page. Enjoy.

Mario Testino – Undressed

(Mario Testino Undressed exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin)

I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of Helmut Newton’s nudes – for me there is something unsettling about the sensationalist, voyeuristic way in which Newton stages his (all female) models. Having said that, I was happy to see the Helmut Newton Foundation here in Berlin host the works of Mario Testino, a friend of Helmut Newton’s, who approaches nude photography in a totally different manner – but more on that later; first a word on the exhibition itself.

The show is entitled Undressed, and its set-up has been created specifically for this site. The photos have been blown up larger than life and glued directly on the walls, almost covering every inch of wall space available. So basically one wanders through a maze of nude figures. The effect is mesmerising, and a game changer: you’re not peering (peeping?) at details in tiny to poster-sized images, instead the images and their content are right in your face. Quite a bold step for an installation of nudes which literally hide nothing.


Now back to Pestino’s work itself. The show is billed as examining the boundaries between fashion, eroticism and art. The fashion part itself is almost non-existant. Instead, the photos represent models (both famous and unknown) in both formal and informal settings. Some are staged (and look that way), while others (and for me the best) have a candid vibe about them. There is a playfulness about the images and the way that the models are presented which makes the nudity seem casual, almost irrelevant – in other words, lacking the voyeuristic aspect of Newton’s nudes. Testino also features models across the gender spectrum: female, male, and androgynous. While some images highlight the maleness or femaleness of the respective models, this is put into perspective by juxtaposition to those images which mix up and question the gender norms.


Undressed is on until November 2017. It is accompanied by a publication of the same name by the renowned Taschen publisher.

On a side note, the museum currently also features a temporary exhibition of Helmut Newton photos (apart from the permanent exhibition), entitled ‘Unseen’, most of which stem from portrait and fashion shootings which Newton undertook for various publications. This show I also enjoyed a lot.

Links: 

– The Helmut Newton Foundation 
Undressed
by Mario Testino, published by Taschen