Personal Portraits

I posted a new set of photos to my web site, consisting of a series of portraits which I made of friends and acquaintances over the last year, entitled ‘Up Close & Personal 3′. It joins two earlier sets of the same name, the first one of which features analog portraits, while the second one consists mainly of photos taken with the iPhone. This time around, the set features mostly photos taken with Fujifilm X-Series cameras, but also some Leica and a couple of iPhone ones.

More of my people photography can be found [here].


Detritus: Signs of Uneasy Cohabitation

Over the past 12 months, I shot a  series of photographs throughout the Berlin districts of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln, two traditionally working-class districts that are now being gentrified. The series focuses on items – furniture, cloths, shoes, electronic appliances – placed outside on the pavements by local residents.

Berliners always had a tendency to get rid of unwanted items by simply disposing of them in the public space. However, in Neukoelln and Kreuzberg, this phenomenon has become increasingly more prominent as gentrification increases, and as the old working-class (or unemployed) tenants have to make way for the hipsters and the young professionals. Disposing of trash by simply putting it out on pavements and in parks is against the law, of course, and as such constitutes an act of defiance against Germany’s much loved sense of order. This act of defiance may simply be down to lazy nests or economic reasons (you have to pay money to get bulky items properly disposed of), but it can also be seen as a defiant gesture, the departing locals giving the finger to the new arrivals before they leave the neighborhood; or a sign of protests against the prettification and increasing orderliness of the neighborhood – in the same way that graffiti is used as a protest against law and order. Be that as it may, it is this act of defiance that I chose to document with this series. Continue reading “Detritus: Signs of Uneasy Cohabitation”

Personal Portraits 2015

It’s been a little over a year that I reverted back to digital photography, abandoning, for now at least, the lo-fi analog cameras which I had been using for many years before. This is a good time then to look back at the photos taken over that year, and particularly the portrait photographs. While much of the photography I undertook this year was either street or architectural, I selected the portraits for a ‘best of’ review which I posted here: Up Close and Personal 2015.

The photos included in that set feature portraits of friends, acquaintances and random strangers who agreed to pose for me.

I have been playing around with three cameras, the nicely compact and versatile Fujifilm X-30, the Leica X2 which takes great pics but is in dire need of a view finder, and the Fujifilm XT-10, which has become my favourite camera. All three cameras, plus the iPhone, are represented in this set. 


Neighbourhood Watch (Folks of Many Shades)

I live in Neukölln, a part of Berlin that until a few years ago was mostly a working class district, with a high percentage of ‘guest worker’ immigrants (that is, mainly first and second generation Turks and Lebanese, and a sprinkling of East Europeans), and an unemployment rate bordering on 30%. When I moved here some 15 years ago, nobody wanted to live here. Anyone who could afford it moved out, even more so if they had kids who reached schooling age. Rents were low and the district was going down the drain. Shops closed one after the other, only to be replaced by game parlours and betting places. There was one single decent restaurant around (a sushi place of all things), and you could count the amount of decent pubs on the fingers of one hand. The area was known for drug trafficking, for youth gangs, for schools who could not find teachers to teach, for heaps of dog shit on the sidewalk, and for people walking their beer bottles every hour of the day. Its fifteen minutes of fame came and went when national media  outlets started branding parts of Neukölln as ‘no-go areas’. Oh, and David Bowie named an instrumental track after it, only he managed to spell it’s name wrong (‘Neuköln‘, on the album Heroes).

Continue reading “Neighbourhood Watch (Folks of Many Shades)”

As Summertime Ends

With summer drawing to a close in these parts of the world, it’s time to wrap up those summer photo shoots. I’ve still been out and about in Berlin over the last sunny weeks and captured more street photographs, a selection of which I added to the sets I uploaded a couple of months ago: The Singer On the Couch and Scenes of Summer, the former being in black and white, the latter in colour. As before, the bulk of the new colour photos were shot with the Leica X2, and all the black and white ones with a Fuji, this time the X-T10. These are the final additions to these sets, and I must say I’m happy how they turned out.

Apart from the images which I added to these sets, I also shot a bunch of street photos around my neighbourhood, most of them with the Leica X2, which I will be adding later as a separate set – these photos really stand on their own and don’t really fit in with the happy-go-free images of the other two sets.

So, here’s to a good summer almost past. Enjoy.

– The Singer on the Couch (black and white set)
– Scenes of Summer (colour set)

Eyes Wide Open – 100 Years of Leica Photography

C/O Berlin is currently hosting a photo exhibition: Eyes Wide Open – 100 years of Leica photography. This extensive, and impressive, show which features hundreds of photographs, traces the trajectory of the small, handy camera through the various aspects encompassed by modern photography. Used first as a tool by people to document life around then, the Leica camera was quickly adopted by photojournalist, and served to pretty much document the better part of the 20th century in the Western world, including most of the 20th century conflicts from the Spanish civil war onwards. From journalism, the application of the Leica branched out, onto street, fashion and fine art.

The photos on display include a great many of the last century’s iconic, classic images – from Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle, to the Vietnamese girl running from Napalm by Nick Út, the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, and the classic James Dean portrait captured by Dennis Stock. Different national tendencies are also analyzed, as the show dedicates different sections to respectively German, French, US, Spanish and Japanese post-WW2 photography.

The bulk of the images on display are in black and white, and personally I found that the chosen colour images resound even stronger for that. The fact that the 21st century plays only a minor role in the collected body of work obviously documents Leica’s diminishing role in this day and age, whatever the reasons may be.

The exhibition is rounded off with information about the Leica and the people and facilities behind the discovery and the production of the camera. The accompanying hard-cover catalogue is massive and clocks in at nearly 600 pages (and almost 100€).Thus, all in all, a very worthwhile exhibition to visit. It is on until 1 November 2015. Various lectures on different aspects of Leica photography as well as guided tours with the curator are also offered.

For more information, see here:

The Singer On the Couch….

I recently uploaded the second part of the street photography project I have been pursuing this summer (read the blog entry here). After the initial set of colour images, I now put uploaded a collection of photos in black and white which I entitled ‘The Singer On the Couch and Other Berlin Tales’.

On any given day, I decide before heading out whether I will shoot in colour or

in black & white. I seldom mix and match during an outing, the reason being that I find it takes a certain mindset for either option (the same for choosing between shooting in analog or digital). While in winter I generally use black and white, in summer I like to vary. I love shooting in colour, but shooting in black and white in sunny weather has its own rewards as you get to play with light and shadows and stark contrasts. Some of the images in the set hark back to last winter, but the majority was shot this summer. They reflect the joys of summer, the feeling of being alive that people exude during this all too brief season in our part of the world. Sometimes the scenes are serene, sometimes playful, sometimes even silly; but always joyful – something which I find black and white photos are able to bring better to the forefront than colour photographs do, possibly because colours tend to distract or infuse emotions of their own.

Again, I tried to select photos that go beyond being more snapshots, taking into account factors like framing, grouping, use of light and darkness, but also context, which for me is as important as the subject being photographed. 

I used three cameras for this project, the inobtrusive and reliable Fujifilm X30, thr more flexible Fujifilm X-T10 with a zoom lens as well as 27mm and 35mm lens, the latter having become my favourite lens. I also used the Leica X2 for a few shots, but mainly I keep that camera for the colour sessions. 

– The Singer on the Couch and Other Tales of Berlin (Black and White Street Photography)

Summer Scenes: Berlin Street Photography

recently blogged about the fact that for the time being I’m concentrating on digital photography rather than analog as I used to. Earlier this year I posted architectural photographs from Berlin and London shot mostly with the Fujifilm X30, which was the first project I undertook with the new digital camera. 

I have now also uploaded a of new set of images which I took as part of a second project that I embarked on with digital cameras, namely street photography. This is the first set for this project, and it features colour photographs which were taken this summer, mostly using the Leica X2 camera, but also a Fujifilm X30 and more recently a Fujifilm X-T10. I’m quite enamoured with the Leica’s colour output, I must say, which is why it seemed to me the best choice when heading out on sunny days (although I do wish the camera came with a view finder!). Although Fujifilm cameras do a great job too with colours, I find I use them mostly for black and white.

The project is ongoing, as is summer, so the set may yet change. I’m also putting together a second set with black and white photos which will be up later this summer.

I hadn’t really attempted street photography in Europe recently. When travelling in India and China, I enjoyed photographing people, be it candid shots or casual portraits. Asians in general, and Indians in particular, are very relaxed about being photographed. It’s usually a matter of ‘you shoot me, I shoot you’ attitude, which is all about sharing. Not so in Europe, and particularly in Germany. Germans have this thing what they call ‘the right to your own image.’ They like to cite that to you like a mantra whenever you mention that you photograph strangers. I blame Karl May for that. Karl May is that 19th century German author who wrote novels about the American West (and other exotic locales) without ever having set foot there. He claimed in his novels that Native Americans did not want to be photographed as they believed that it robbed them of their soul (May had a lot of BS theories about Native Americans). Germans, who basically grow up on Karl May, seem to have internalised this philosophy: if you (a stranger) take their image, you rob them of a part of them. At least that’s my theory as to why so many people tell me off, give me the finger, hide their faces or give me the evil eye when I aim the camera in their general direction (ok, I may be a bit harsh here on the Germans, maybe all Westerners have internalized this Karl May philosophy). 

So, to cut a long story short, street photography in Berlin is mostly about stealth. Sometimes some folk consent to begin photographed if you ask nicely, but in general it is best to remain inconspicuous when shooting in the street. This is one of the strengths of the Leica X2 of course, it is small and silent. Using the Leica however presents the challenge of using a fixed 27mm lens,  meaning you have to get close to your subject. That’s one skill I’m still working on, one deep breath at a time….

This set, then, is a representation of a typical urban summer: locals enjoying the elusive sun or coping with the heat, tired tourists trying to put a brave face on things, street people trying to cope with life etc. When selecting the photos for the set, I looked out for two things: that the picture is interesting in itself (or because of its subject), and that somehow it goes beyond being a mere snapshot. I hope I succeeded. 

Enjoy… and have a good summer 🙂 


Analog and Digital, or an Identity Crisis of Sorts

I was an early embracer of digital photography. I bought my first digital photo camera in the mid-90s, and a digital Sony video camera not long after. Around that time, the camera which I had been using for over a decade, a Canon AE-1, broke. I never replaced it with an equivalent. For years all I carried around with me was the video camera which I used both for video and for photographs (and it did take very good photos, even if the resolution is laughable by today’s standards). Then in 2004 I became aware of a cheap plastic medium format camera, a Holga, and the pictures I saw online and in print which had taken with that camera just blew me away. This was at a time when digital photography had really taken off, and the craze to put one’s each and every snapshot online, no matter what the quality, was already beginning. In the midst of exchangeable digital photographs, the square, imperfect Holga pics with their tell-tale vignettes and fuzzy edges stood out like a sore thumb (this was long before Instagram and the like began aping the ‘toy camera’ look with their filters). I got myself a Holga, and after a bit of a learning curve, learnt to produce the images I wanted and liked. I branched out, of sorts, by using other types of lo-tech cameras, such as the Diana+, an old Soviet-made Lubitel, as well as pinhole and panorama Holgas. For eight years I never looked back. Medium format film and manual automatic cameras had become ‘my thing’, my style. I participated in several exhibitions (with large format reproductions), had my work published in print and online, and of course kept feeding my web site. Although I favoured a type of cameras often called ‘toy cameras’, I decided to take them seriously, and in my (biased) view, managed to produce exceptional looking results that held their own in the company of photos taken with pro-level cameras – much as many other users of  lo-tech cameras also did.

In 2012 I took up Polaroid photography. Impossible Project were finally producing film stock that was usable – decent colours, great black and white. The Holgas took a back seat as I delved into instant photography, using a couple of second-hand Polaroid cameras and  the not quite cheap Impossible Project films. Again I had found a medium which suited my taste, producing images that were often imperfect but produced individual, and for me, great, results. Instant photography also offered the added advantage of producing physical images, and as such were a great medium for sharing with other people. And I found that approaching people to take their photograph with a Polaroid was a lot easier than with a regular camera, especially if you offered people to give them a copy as well – a trick I put to good use when travelling in India for example. I’ve been using Polaroid cameras now for three years, and again managed to produce a fair number of images I’m proud of.

However, there were shortcomings as well. Instant film is not cheap – 20 euros for 8 exposures is a lot of money. If I add up the money I spent on film during those three years, I come up with a sum that would have purchased me a pro camera. I also found other problems with the film, especially colour film. It doesn’t perform well when it’s too hot or too cold. It’s not a film to take on flights as the security x-ray machines at airports cause discolouration. And I also found that too often, the film was faulty and produced less than ideal results. It also seemed that the colour films got worse as new versions were released, while black and white film decidedly improved. 

Another shortcoming of the lo-tech cameras I was using, both the Holgas and Polaroids, is that they have a limited range in terms of the light conditions they are suited for. Berlin winters tend to be long and above all, grey, and I found myself unable to use either type of cameras for long stretches of those winter months. So in November of last year, for the first time in 20 years, I went out and bought a digital camera. When I started looking for a model that would suit my style and taste, I was aiming for an unobtrusive camera which is easy to use in manual, or semi-manual mode, and that produces great results out of the box, i.e. without any major tweaking required in a photo editor. I liked what I saw online of the Fujifilm cameras (both the look and feel of the cameras as well as the output, which had a decided analog mood to it), and for a while played with the idea of getting a X100 model, but then decided against a fixed lens model and bought a X30 instead. 

It took me a while to get back into digital photography. Actually, I’m not quite sure I’m there yet. I still very much use the approach I took with the analog cameras. I refuse to take series of hundreds of pics of the same motif in the hope that one image turns out right. I still want every take to be ‘the one’. If not on the first take, then at least on the second one… I also use the view finder rather than the display (another reason I chose the Fuji), and many of the photos I took in winter were in black and white.  I enjoy being able to shoot at night, indoors and on dark days. I enjoy not having to scan the images or the negatives (scanning negatives is really time consuming). The wide-angle end of the lens comes in handy for architectural photographs, and the zoom for street photography. I don’t have to worry beforehand which kind of film to load, I can switch between colour and b&w as I see fit. So, plenty of good reasons to like digital.

And yet…

There is a saying that it isn’t the camera that takes good pictures, but the photographer. That’s a statement I very much agree with. However, I also feel that the type of camera you use says as much about your style, and your identity as a photographer, as the motives you choose. My style had long been to incorporate the lo-tech cameras’ imperfections into my work. The blurry edges of the Holga cameras, the light leaks, the not-always-spot-on framing, the scratches and patches on the instant film photos, all added to what I was trying to convey. 

Susan Sontag once wrote that photography always attempts, but always fails, to capture reality. What I had liked about the kind of analog equipment which I had been using was that these cameras did not even bother to try capturing reality. They were all about producing a disjointed, unreal, sometimes surreal, reproduction of the world around us. That’s what I liked and that’s what I embraced. 

And now I’m using these digital cameras (I recently also purchased a used Leica X2 camera with, yes, a fixed lens), that produce technically great images. Yes, I could choose filters on the camera that ape the Holga and the Polaroids – but how daft would that be? In other words, faced with cameras that produce (technically) perfect results (or as perfect as you can get for the amount of money which I could afford to pay for them) and offer possibilities not present in a low-tech, I was thrown back to the question: how do I see myself as a photographer?

My work always had two foci. One was portrait and street photography, the other urban/architectural. As I mentioned above, the new cameras offered new possibilities in both these areas. My first real project with the Fujifilm involved shooting buildings and working out urban geometries. It is a motif I had already pursued with a Polaroid camera, but the Fuji allowed me to use a different approach and produced different results (read the blog entry here), and I’m very happy with that series. So far so good. 

It’s a bit of a different matter when it comes to street photography. Both the Holga and the Polaroids produce very iconoclastic images when using them for street photography, or indeed portrait photography, images which are not in the same vein as the iconic photographs we know from the likes of the Cartier-Bresson (Polaroid is not particularly well suited for street photography but is great for casual portraits with willing subjects, but the same applies to these kind of images). What the digital cameras (and smartphone apps) do well is to emulate the style of the classic street photography cameras, notably the Leica. All the cameras offer more or less convincing black and white filters and settings that offer a close approximation of classic analog b&w photography. Sometimes they even do the same with colour photography. Again, so far so good. But, as I mentioned earlier, my style had never been about classic photography. Nor is it about to become about high-tech, sophisticated digital photography – HDR for example is a no-go for me. If, as I mentioned above, my style has always been about imperfections, what am I doing using near perfect cameras…?

So why am I writing all this? Foremost, I guess, to explain where I am, now. When you look at my current output on flickr  this is what you see: photographs which are still very much of the type I like, but not necessarily in a style I consider mine. Some photos  I like a lot, others I find adequate. I find none of them outstanding (and in case you’re wondering, yes I think I shot a few outstanding photos, especially with the medium format  cameras).

So, in other words, I’m at a crossroads. I can chuck the digital cameras and go back to analog, or I can dig deeper into digital and find something that makes those photos mine. I can do both, of course, but not at the same time. A particular camera requires a particular frame of mind, and mixing these vastly different types of cameras hasn’t worked for me when I tried. 

At this point, I don’t know where the road takes me. For a while at least, I’ll keep using the digital cameras, taking advantage of the possibilities which digital cameras offer while trying to find something in digital photography that I can own. 

However, I also stocked up on Impossible Project’s new generation of instant films.
And I have a pile of Fujifilm 120 films lying around which I stocked up on before they went out of production last year.

So we shall see, shan’t we. Stay tuned.