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. 
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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.

Brighton and London by Holga

It took me a while, but now they are finally up, the photos I took with my Holga in London and Brighton back in May. The reason why it took me so long, apart from some issues with my aging scanner, was that I also re-arranged the set-up of the Holga page, and decided to try out a new version of the software I’m using to create the web pages (in case you’re interested, I’m using Rapidweaver to create the web site, in combination with the Photographos and Photographos IV themes). The new version of Photographos offers some nice new features, such as a console to hide text and thumbnails and a good-looking mobile version of the pages, but it took me awhile to get the layout right. To cut a long story short, the new pages in the new layout are up since yesterday, and I hope you enjoy them.

A note on the films I used: I was trying out the new 120 films by Lomography. As you can see, the colours look great (better than Kodak, not quite as good as Fuji), but you also notice some light leaks on a few shots. Actually, on of the rolls unrolled in my hands as I unwrapped it – at least half the shots were waisted. Not so good… The black and white shots are from the trusted Ilford films – you can’t go wrong there, still my favourite b&w films.

Here are the links then:

New Polaroid Set: Abandoned Homes

A few weeks ago I came across a vast area of houses being demolished to make way for a new, controversial strip of highway to be built across Berlin. The area was fenced off but a gate was left open so I slipped in and shot a couple of films of Polaroids, a selection of which I now uploaded.

In case you’re wondering at the nature of these houses, they are really ‘city cottages’. They are part of a typical phenomena in German cities: stretches of land set aside for gardening where city people can rent plots to set up a cottage and tend a garden. These places tend to be miniature worlds – somewhat akin to trailer parks and year-round camping sites, where people set up for themselves their own little homes away from home, often fancifully decorated in ways that people probably would not deck out their main places of living. This is not necessarily in the best of taste – there can be found a fair abundance of garden goblins and other similar pseudo-rural kitsch used in obvious attempts to create make-believe suburban utopias in the heart of the cities. 

In this particular area the cottages are now being demolished, the buildings are empty and only the shells remain (for now). These shells have become the canvases for urban artists to leave their mark and create imaginative, if temporary, pieces of art. This I find one of those phenomena typical of urban life: creation amidst destruction.

I used a Polaroid SX-70 Sonar camera for the shoot, with Impossible Project PX 70 and PX 680 CP films.

[Click here to view]


Street Art by Instax

While on the lookout for motives for the ‘Occupying Spaces’ project (see blog entry a bit further down), I started shooting graffiti and interesting street art using the Fuji Instax 210 camera. While the Occupying Spaces project is now at an end, I still enjoy photographing interesting pieces of street art when I happen to see some. I’ve put up a selection of the shots I liked best. With there being so much street art here in Berlin, I figure this set is pretty much going to be a work in progress…

Here is the link: [Urban Art].

Occupying Spaces

Now that summer is wrapping up, I’m also wrapping up my summer projects. I have just added a new set of Polaroids to my site, entitled “Occupying Spaces”, a photo documentation of sorts of occupied places in Berlin.

Occupying public, or indeed private, spaces has had a long history in Berlin. During the time of the Berlin Wall, at a time when living space was limited in West Berlin, many real estate developers let apartment building stand empty in order to get permission to tear the rotting buildings down and build new ones. Many, if not most, of these buildings ended up being occupied by squatters. Similarly, another phenomenon occurred on unused (or disused) public terrain: squatters used them to set up camp, living in trucks, sheds and mobile homes. As they fortified the camps against possible raids by the city authorities, these settlements became known under the Wild West term of “corral” (“Wagenburg” in German).

When the Wall came down, squatting bloomed briefly in East Berlin as well as people found more disused buildings to occupy, but in the 1990s, with Berlin being again the German capital, most of these buildings were cleared, often in violent confrontations between the occupiers and the police (or the government came to an arrangement with the occupiers who’d eventually became owners of the buildings); and most of the “corrals” were cleared as well, 

However, that whole “cleaning up the city” act by the city government does not mean that there are no more occupied spaces today. There are still a few corrals left here and there; and a couple of squatted apartment blocks also remain. Additionally, a number of old factories and warehouses along the Spree river which are left to rot as developers are seeking permission to tear these old buildings down and erect shiny new office palaces on the much-priced water front, have now been occupied by squatters who live there, artists who work there, or modern day nomads from all over Europe who come to stay there for a while. And, it has to be said, by trigger happy tourists who have read about these places in the latest tourist guides….

Then there is the curious case of Osman Kalin’s tree house. Mr. Kalin, a Turkish immigrant, set up a garden and tree house on a patch of land that technically belonged to East Germany but was located on the Western side of the Wall. During the separation of the halves of the city, he was left alone by both authorities, but after the Wall came down, pressure was put upon him to tear down the tree house. Mr. Kalin persisted… and lives there still. 

Unused areas along the river also became the site for a good number of improvised beach bars – now unfortunately getting replaced by commercial venues as Berliners’ fondness for sipping beer and cocktails by the river has been established. 

Yet another now popular past time is for local residents to set up improvised gardens, playgrounds and even pet zoos in patches of unused and/or unclaimed land.

In other words, Berliners are still busy (re-)claiming their city from what they perceive as willful negligence by those trying to make a quick buck out of… doing nothing.

As one of my summer projects, I tried to document these “occupied spaces” with the Polaroid cameras. I visited occupied factories and derelict buildings, a couple of the remaining “corrals”, improvised “beaches” and camp sites.
There are a couple of remarks I should add. One is that, as you can see, graffiti plays a big role in occupying these spaces – as indeed it represents a ‘marking of the territory’. As such, I extended the scope of the photo selection to also include random, interesting graffiti around the city not necessarily linked to occupied places.

As to the “corrals”: the inhabitants of these camps are notoriously private and averse to visitors, especially those carrying cameras. For a good reason: since some of the tourist guide books have started “featuring” them, the corrals have become tourist attractions of their own. Thus, while I photographed the surrounding “public” areas (taken up by mostly by graffiti and art work), I did not manage to get any photos taken inside the camps proper, which I find too bad.

I used primarily a couple of Polaroid SX-70 cameras with a variety of Impossible Project films, including the new “color protection” film.

In a few instances I also used the Fuji Instax 210 camera, and I added an additional gallery with only the instax photos on urban art.

Links: