Tales of Strangers #4: Diego

Continuing the series of stories behind some of my recent street portraits, here is a young man from London:

Diego

Diego was sitting on a bench by the banks of the Thames, across the river from Westminster. Like myself he was taking his lunch break. When I asked him if I could take his photo, he said, cool, he needed some decent photos of himself. I took this one and a couple more, and emailed them to him later. I hope he likes them. Diego is Spanish and living in London. He’s a musician and does odd jobs waiting for his career to take off….

Diego, London 2017. Camera: Fujifilm X-T20

For more on the 100 Strangers project, visit the 100 Strangers Flickr Group.

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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: 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.

Portraits…

… and a look at where I’m now.

2017 is almost half over, so this might be a good moment to reflect on how the year has been so far in terms of photography. To put it bluntly: I think I’ve had better years. The year started out strong with a trip to Morocco which provided plenty of photo opportunities, and I came back with a good number of images with which I was more than satisfied. But back in Berlin’s ‘grey season’, that long miserable sunless season into which autumn, winter and spring have nowadays morphed, things started to look bleak. Blame it on the weather, blame it on extended stress at work, or on just a general lack of energy, but I found it near impossible to take decent photos, especially street photos. I found it hard to get excited, neither about people nor light nor context. If on occasion I did  shoot some photos, the results were less than stellar and this discouraged me even more. Add to that that I felt increasingly uncomfortable accosting people and asking their permission to photograph them, something which I had overcome easy enough in previous years in order to pursue what I like best in street photography, i.e. street portraiture. I’ve only recently started doing this again, on a recent trip to London and lately also back here in Berlin.

DSCF7915Now I know I’m not the first photographer to hit a low and to feel uninspired, and I know it will pass. Anyway, this blog post is not about me wallowing in self pity. It’s really about the parts that did work.

As street photography left me uninspired, I retreated into a comfort zone of sorts by turning to the portraiture of friends and acquaintances. Now, portrait photography was something I wanted to get into more anyway, so it didn’t necessarily feel like a retreat but a step forward. I took part in a portrait workshop which not only let me work with a model but also with other people who were comfortable in having their picture taken and from which I stepped away with good results. The work shop was about portrait photography in available light, and I have another workshop lined up for portraiture in artificial light. 

Normally I wait with the ‘best of’ series until the end of the year. But I figured I could motivate myself by actually taking a look at what I achieved rather than moping about what I didn’t. So I put together this set with a selection of the portraits that I have taken so far this year. They include photos from the workshop, portraits of my friends and a couple of street portraits as well. All were shot on Fuji X-Series cameras, notably my new X-T20, it’s predecessor the X-T10, and the faithful old X-E2 which I keep around. Enjoy.

Links:

Portraits 2017

Portraits 2016

more people photographs

(Note: this is an updated version of an entry posted earlier)

London Street Photos (Part 1, Black and White)

It’s been a while… here are some new street portraits and street photographs from a sunny day in London. There is nothing like travelling to get the creative juices flowing. That, and decent weather, i.e. light. 

All images shot with a Fujifilm X-T20 camera and the 35mmR1.4 lens. Colour photographs to follow…

IMG_5548IMG_5540IMG_5542IMG_5543IMG_5545IMG_5547

Faces of Morocco


I recently returned from a three week trip to Morocco, where I visited the towns of Marrakesh, Meknes, Fes, Casablanca and Ouarzazate. I had with me my trusted Fujifilm X-T10 camera, and came back, as usual, with a good many photos. I tend to take two kinds of photos when I do trips: street photography (including street portraits), and photos with which I hope to capture the essence of a city by focusing on details (see my earlier article “Colours and Textures” on this) and on architecture. I seldom take landscape photos, but in Morocco I visited the desert south of Ouarzazate, and also photographed the fascinating landscape there.

I have now gone through the street photos and made a selection which I put up on my site. The 40 images which I selected include both candid shots, and images of people whom I asked to pose. Morocco is not an easy country for street photography. Many people object to having their picture taken by strangers, some energetically so. I was told off a couple of times, and in one instance I saw a young man force a tourist delete a picture she had taken of him. My first instinct was to ask people’s permission. Some agreed to be photographed, but most did not. Some people I got into conversation with and they subsequently agreed to pose, happily so. But even photographing crowds was difficult. Women especially but also men (especially older ones) would turn their head or hide their faces behind a scarf or a hand if I only vaguely pointed the camera their way. In the end I often had to resort to the old trick of seeming to photograph random objects in the street and thereby capturing people who happened to be in the scene at the same time.

The set includes only two black and white photos, the rest are in colour. Colour is an important aspect of Morocco, and it was a joy to capture the country in all its colourful splendour – especially given how well Fujifilm cameras render colour. As I mentioned above, I used a Fujifilm X-T10, primarily with a 35mm lens, but also the 27mm pancake which came in very handy in the narrow alleyways of the medieval medinas.

I will be posting more of the other photos in the weeks to follow but to begin with, here is the link to the street photography set, Faces of Morocco. Enjoy.

My Year 2016 in Pictures

(Note: this is an updated version of a posting I put up on 26 December. Turns out that that was a bit premature for a full round-up of the year)

It’s that time of year again to look back and see what the year has been like. Like many out there, I feel that 2016 has been absolutely disastrous. It started with the death of David Bowie and just got worse. I thought it had reached its lowest point with the election of Donald Trump (a day I think the world will regret for a long time to come), but of course other low points followed: the atrocities committed in Aleppo, the terrorist attacks around the world, including the recent one here in Berlin.

With the world going crazy, in a negative sense, it became important for me to create a space where I connected with people – with new people. Photography allowed me to do that. It started with my intention to capture more portraits of the people around me, my friends; and then on to street portraits, i.e. portraits of strangers that I’d ask on the street. This curiosity also led me to get acquainted with street musicians here in Berlin, which in turn led me to hooking up with a larger circle of people who lead a free-spirited life outside what are deemed social norms. I called them the “Südstern gang”; Südstern being the square in Berlin where we’d meet on an almost daily basis during the late summer months and well into autumn. Describing these experiences (not all of them positive) warrants an article in itself, not one I’m ready to write just yet. Let’s just say for now that it allowed me to experience different life choices, witnessing both the freedoms and the problems that these choices bring with them. With the onset of bad weather, the group dispersed, but the experience resulted in two friendships, one good and one flawed (the flawed one marred by trying to cope with a drug addict, and all the negativity this entails).

On top of these Berlin based experiences, I also took a few trips. Initially just a few short ones, the highlights certainly being Bologna in March and Oslo in early May; however, I’m currently on a three week trip around Morocco, and two of the images taken on this trip conclude the selection, with one image actually having been taken today, on the last day of the year 2016.

Below then are a selection of image for each month, summarizing best what the month stood for. I picked solely people photos, portraits or street photographs, but they also reflect the place and the time of year they were taken in.

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All photos, except two, were taken using the two Fujifilm cameras, the X-T10 and the X-E2, which have definitely become my cameras of choice, especially the X-T10. Being small and unobtrusive, yet providing high quality images even in low light, they played an important part in my life this year.

Hard Truths

How far do you go in trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? When do you reach the point where you say, enough is enough? How long do you keep watching someone whose every action is a step towards a long slow death, with the danger of a sudden quick death always lurking right behind the corner.

I don’t have answers. Faced with some hard truths, there exists the temptation to run. But a coward’s way is not a way out…