Signs of the Times

Last year I published a set of instant photos entitled Fragments: Signs of the Times, which I just updated with a selection of photos taken throughout 2014. Fragments is a collection of images depicting public art, graffiti, posters and other symbols (both permanent and temporary) which epitomise Berlin at a certain instant in time. The permanent structures tend to reflect much of Berlin’s late 20th century history, especially its division, as they symbolise, and sometimes directly address, the tastes, affiliations and beliefs typical of West and East Berlin respectively – not just pre- but also post-fall-of-the-wall. The more temporary displays – graffiti, posters etc. – on the other hand reflect moods, tastes and opinions of the moment in time when the pictures were taken – current then, but history a couple of weeks, months, years down the line.

All the photos except one were taken with Polaroid cameras and a variety of Impossible Project films, both colour and black and white. 

Urban Geometry

Urban Geometry is the title of a new set which I’ve recently added to the Polaroid section of the site. In it, I explore the geometry found in modern architecture and urban development. I shot these images chiefly in Berlin over the course of 2014.

I Wonder If I Know Him Now: India Revisited

This past October I returned to India for what was my tenth trip to that country. While revisiting familiar places, I also spend time in a corner of India which I haven’t been to before, namely Odisha, or Orissa as it was formerly called. This western state lays claim to some of the oldest temples in all of India, if not the world – temples up to 2000 years old; but for all that, it is not really a tourist destination – at least not a place where western tourists flock to. As such I saw but three westerners during my stay in Bhubaneswar, and while Puri and its beaches attract a number of backpackers, they are vastly outnumbered by the Indian tourists and pilgrims. Puri is home to the large 12th century Jaganath temple, one of India’s four holy pilgrim sites. Bhubaneswar is home to a range of temples, some of them dating back to BC, including the imposing Lingaraj temple with its 54m high tower. Other holy places nearby are the caves at Khandagiri and Udayagiri, hewn out of the rock by Jain priests in the second century BC, and a more recent Buddhist pagoda in Dhauri, honouring the warrior-king turned pacifist Buddhist, Ashoka. The largest temple in the vicinity is the Sun Temple in Kornarak, dating back to the 13th century.

Odisha is not as spectacular as Rajasthan is, the northern state I visited on my

last two trips to India. Rajasthan boasts glamorous palaces and colourful cities which Odisha doesn’t have. Odisha certainly has magnificent landscapes, but in the end, to me as an outsider at least, the region seems to be very much about the holy places, and thus about religion and spirituality. Obviously, India is by nature a very spiritual country, or should I say, Indians are a very spiritual people. Not all, of course, but many, even those who are not outright religious, consider themselves to be spiritual. This is reflected in their outlook, their customs big and small, their food, their adornments (which are never just adornments but always symbols of something), and not to mention the many religious festivals held throughout the year. Odisha, with its high concentration of temples and pilgrims, and it’s lack of worldly attractions, seems very much like an epicenter of this spirituality; and indeed, there was not a single person from Orissa who I met who didn’t, by word or by deed, displayed their affinity towards, or veneration of, all things religious and spiritual. 

Religion is not something I generally think highly of. I believe it is at the root of most evil perpetrated in the world, as it constitutes the greatest single cause of hatred and intolerance; and certainly India had and still has its fair share of strife caused by religious intolerance. Yet it is very hard not to be charmed by the outlook on life which rises out of the beliefs of many of the Indians whom I met over the years. For starters, their attitude is generally a very inclusive one, at least with regard to visitors (whether or not the same tolerance that is granted outsiders is shown to members of one’s own family or close friends is a different discussion). It’s also very life affirming and optimistic. And it even produces effects that you wouldn’t normally think – such as the fact (as some people claim) that the preponderant veneration of the goddess Kali in  the city Kolkata leads to women in Kolkata being generally more empowered than in other parts of India.

This makes India a good place to visit as the people you meet are open and welcoming, tolerant of one’s quirks and differences, curious in a good way and ready to become friends. I’ve stated this in previous posts, but to me, visiting India is more about meeting people than it is about seeing great sights. And this time, even more than on previous visits, that fact is reflected in the photos I took. Yes, I also photographed temples and other sights and aspects, but 90% of the photos I took are portraits. Indians in general are happy to be photographed, all you need is ask. I asked pilgrims and priests, families on the beach, passers-by on the street. Sometimes, I didn’t even need to ask as some, mainly youngsters, happily volunteered. The result is an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life.

On the last two visits to India I had chiefly taken colour polaroid films with me, but each time I was unhappy with the resulting  exposures as most of them were discoloured – whether by the heat or by the airport x-ray machines, I don’t know, but I found the resulting red discolouration more than just a bit distracting (see my earlier post here). Thus, this time around, I packed but one colour film and seven black and white films, including Impossible Project’s new Pigeonhole film with its round border, which I found perfect for portrait photography. This decision paid off as I came back with many more worthwhile polaroids than I did on previous trips. 

I put together a selection of the best instant photographs, focusing on the portraits, under the title: I Wonder If I Know Him Now: Faces of India 2014. I have yet to develop a series of Holga films which will follow later, which, together with a selection of digital photos, will focus on other aspects of the visit.


Finally: the title of this blog post and of the set is based on a poem by the Kolkatan writer and artist Rabindranath Tagore:

I wonder if I know him

I wonder if I know him
In whose speech is my voice,
In whose movement is my being,
Whose skill is in my lines,
Whose melody is in my songs
In joy and sorrow. 

I thought he was chained within me,
Contained by tears and laughter,
Work and play. 

I thought he was my very self
Coming to an end with my death.
Why then in a flood of joy do I feel him
In the sight and touch of my beloved? 

This ‘I’ beyond self I found
On the shores of the shining sea.
Therefore I know
This ‘I’ is not imprisoned within my bounds. 

Losing myself, I find him
Beyond the borders of time and space.
Through the Ages
I come to know his Shining Self

In the life of the seeker,

In the voice of the poet. 

From the dark clouds pour the rains.
I sit and think:
Bearing so many forms, so many names,
I come down, crossing the threshold

Of countless births and deaths. 

The Supreme undivided, complete in himself,
Embracing past and present,
Dwells in Man.

Within Him I shall find myself –

The ‘I’ that reaches everywhere.

(Translated by William Radice)

Berlin in Black & White

These past months I’ve been heavily shooting black and white instant films. One of my favourite films has turned out to be Impossible Project’s new ‘Hard Color’ film with its solid colour frames and stark contrasts, a combination I really like; but I’ve also been using that other favourite film of my, the black framed one.

I’ve put together the best of the urban-themed photos which I shot around Berlin in a new set entitled ‘City Polaroids: Berlin in Black & White’ [Click here to view]. I’ve always loved black and white photography for its seemingly time-bending quality, that is, the fact that it couples memories of old classic photos with contemporary realities such as (post-)modern architecture and contemporary urban scenes. Or alternatively, how it evokes a sense of a lost past when photographing historic places or old buildings, a theme I explored in an earlier set, Another Time [read the blog entry here].


People Polaroids

I’ve uploaded a new set of portraits taken with Polaroid cameras. The set also includes several shots produced with Impossible Project’s Instant Lab camera, from original shots taken with the iPhone.
The photos date from last summer until now. Most were taken in Berlin, but there are also a few from India and a couple of other places.

For more people photographs, click here.

For more instant film photographs, click here.

For more info on the Instant Lab camera, click here to view the Impossible Project site.

Flipboard magazine now available via browser

For a while now Flipboard, the app that allows flipping magazine-style through Twitter, Facebook and other social media entries, has allowed users to ‘curate’ their own magazines, made available to other users of the app. At the time I set up a magazine entitled ‘People in Polaroids’, which meanwhile has garnered over 91,000 readers. Until recently, these magazines were only available within the app, but recently Flipboard made them accessible via browsers as well. If you don’t use the app, here is the link to the web based version:

Lines and Light

As you might have guessed from previous postings, I like to photograph buildings. Often, I find a building at it’s most fascinating when, on sunny days, it becomes clear how the architecture plays with light, be it in the way it reflects light,  breaks it, or lets it through. When lines and shapes are enhanced by light and by shadows. 

I just put up a new Polaroid set which reflects this, Lines and Light. The photographs were taken in Berlin, in Metz, France (some in the Centre Pompidou), and a couple in London.


Rajasthan Revisited

In October I went on my 9th trip to India. The two-and-a-half-week journey took me back to familiar places – Mumbai and Udaipur – as well as a new place (Jaipur) and a city which I had last visited 26 years ago: Kolkata – or Calcutta, as it was still known then.

Jaipur was about sightseeing, but the rest of the trip was not – it was mostly about catching up with friends. As such, the journey turned out to be a study of contrasts: I went to villages in the mountains around Udaipair where at the best of time people subside on very little and where this year’s overlong rainy season destroyed the maize crops and thus the villagers’ income for the year. I visited a friend’s house whose family is living four people to a single room. In Kolkata I was shown around the (now empty) palace of the Maharaja of Burdwan. 

My stay in India coincided with a nine-day religious festival, Navratri, dedicated to the worship of the goddess Durga. In Kolkata, I spent a night visiting the Durga Pujas, and in Udaipur I was ‘coerced’ to participate in the traditional Garba dances which take place in honour if Durga

I also met two of the 26 remaining members of Kolkata’s Jewish community, which once numbered more than 3000, and visited the two synagogues there (I also visited a number of Hindu and Jain temples).
As for the touristy bits, there were a few: the Amber Fort and the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur, Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the Monsoon Palace in the hills above Udaipur.

I’ve said this in previous blog entries, and I’m mentioning it here again: India for me has always been about the people. Which is why, this time around, most of the photos I brought back are portraits or street photographs, with few exceptions. I had with me again a Polaroid and a Holga camera. Unfortunately, just like last time, the Polaroid films were damaged by the airport x-ray machines (despite taking a film with lower ISO) and the prints have a noticeable red tint. I also took a fair number if photos with the iphone, mostly using the hipstamatic app and choosing a black & white ‘film’. 

I posted the following sets:

The flipboard magazine….

“People in Polaroids”, which I started a few months ago, and in which I collect portraits taken with Polaroid cams from various internet sources (mostly flickr), has meanwhile garnered over 57.000 subscribers…. wow.

Here is the link, again. You’ll need the Flipboard app to properly view it.

Fragments: Signs of the Times

I put together another Polaroid set which I called Fragments: Signs of the Times. It is a collection of shots of the kind of bits and pieces of the the type of signs that humans leave behind in the cities and which, eventually, come to stand for a certain time, and possibly a certain place. This can be anything from street art and public art to human detritus or simple decorations. The city in question being Berlin, these fragments point to bin the distinct cultures and tastes that evolved in the two parts of the once divided city, of the free spaces that opened up on either side of the wall before and after its fall. 

If this sounds a bit highfaluting, it isn’t meant to be… at the end of the day, it’s about finding interesting motives to photograph, especially finding new motives to photograph in a city that I, and many other people besides, have been busy documenting of late….

I’ve been shooting the photos pretty much throughout this year, using various Polaroid cameras, and on a variety of Impossible Project films, so that the results come in different moods and colors (including black & white). I hope you enjoy it.