Back home for nearly two weeks, it’s time to look back at a wonderful trip. Because I had to return the Monochrom to Transcontinenta BV, who very kindly supported me with the camera for this long experiment, I would like to look back at working with this wonderful camera.
It felt like a crazy decision at first, going to the land of colour with an all black & white camera. And the first month I did have some doubts. I even turned back to the M9 some times. Which I only brought with me as a backup. But during the trip I fell in love with the camera. By now, I actually don’t see a reason not to switch from the M9 to the Monochrom. In these two weeks back home, I think I’ve figured out why this B&W camera got to me. Some of the questions and remarks I had on my blogs and facebookpage, helped me discover this. Thank you for that!
As I told you in an earlier blog, I use my camera to interact with the people I meet or to cope with the situations I’m in. I use a lot of energy connecting with my subjects. I have figured out that the Monochrom helps me to safe more energy. The way it does that, is taking away choices.
When I was shopping in the Netherlands for the first time in 5 months, I suddenly realised that making a choice, does cost me energy. In India, shopping for cornflakes, will give you cornflakes. There’s only one kind. (if they have any at all!) Here in the Netherlands, it takes me 5 minutes to figure out which cornflakes to take and then I have to choose if I want a small package or a large one. Same happens when buying the milk to go along with it. It takes time, and therefor energy to make such decisions.
With photography it’s the same thing. Most “modern” cameras have so many options I don’t know where to start. Specially when the camera is equipped with a 24-70 mm zoom. With the Monochrom and its 35 mm Summicron, there is very little choice. Actually there’s close to none. This camera is as basic as they come. Therefor all my energy can be spend with the subject of my picture.
That said, I did have to become a craftsman before I could use this camera in such way. The technique had to be ingrained in my hands and in my mind. Luckily I had done so in the past two years with the Leica M9. Now I’m shooting the same way as I did when I started photography: Instinctively. The only difference is that now, I know what I’m doing, so I can work with a minimum in choice and a maximum in quality (camera) and knowledge (technique).
The Black & White aspect is another important aspect of why I love this new Leica. In the same blog I referred to before, there’s another reason why I take pictures. I need to observe. I need to step away from the story to actually see the bigger picture. For me personally, colour distracts me from the story. Whenever I see a picture in colour, the first thing I see is colour, vibrance (or lack of) and contrast. When I look at a monochrome picture, the first thing I see is a story. To me there’s only one exception to this and that is when colour or it’s vibrance, ís telling me the actual story.
Of course I could also “sell” the camera with it’s toning, beautiful sharpness, it’s dynamic range etc etc. But every advertorial or advert will tell you this. For me personal this is not that important. A camera is good or it’s not. What’s most important for me, is that it lets me do what I like to do the most: Get to know the world and tell my stories as I see them.
If you would like to see more of the pictures, check my facebook page or Flickr sets
One of my pictures has gotten a mark of excelence in the I-Shot-It Child photography contest…
One of the most fascinating things in the world for me is religion. I find it mysterious, visual very attractive and I don’t understand a thing of it. I don’t judge, I think everybody is entitled to find their own way of coping with the world, I just don’t understand it. To me it doesn’t make sense. So when that happens, I grab my camera. It’s a way for me to get close, to observe carefully and to see what drives different people in this world. It makes me understand life just a little bit more.
Here in Burma religion is a huge part of life. There is no other country I have been to, that has as many stupas, temples and monasteries. And therefor it has more monks than I have ever encountered. It’s these monks I find the most interesting.
As some of the temples are very dark inside, I realized once again how happy I am using the Monochrom. The high ISO performance of this camera is great and has virtually no noise at 1600 or even 2000 . By now I think I know exactly what I’m doing, which makes me comfortable in even the darkest temples. Working with it is wonderful. The camera is a lot less intimidating, I’ve actually seen the examples of people running away from a professional, bulky dSLR. Besides all that, it’s just wonderful to travel light.
As you know by now, the Summicron 35mm is my favorite lens and I’ve had some really nice shots using the lens at f2.0. I love the bokeh and the way it sets my subjects apart. All in all, I’ve finally found my perfect set and I don’t think I’ll ever need anything else.
If you would like to see more of the pictures, check my facebook page or Flickr slideshow
Going out on a boat early morning at Inle lake, Burma, I had amazing views across a peaceful and serene lake. As most action was more then 5 meters away from my boat, I was forced to use my Summicron 75mm lens. A lens I haven’t been using a lot during this trip. What fun it was to be using it again. Getting the pictures I wanted sometimes still stayed a challenge, but with this lens and here and there some cropping I got the results I wanted.
And then there were the moments that I was able to get close and I was lucky to make some of the portrait photos that make this lens famous. For me it’s the second lens everybody should carry with them. The way I can play with DOF and the immense sharpness it gives, specially combined with the sharpness of the Monochrom, makes it one of my favorite objectives to work with. (next to the Summicron 35mm witch is almost always on my camera.)
It was amazing to see how these fishermen almost perform a dance when they row their boat forward using only one leg. The light in the morning giving some beautiful silhouette pictures. In the end it was a wonderful day, giving me a glimpse of everyday life on one of the most beautiful lakes in Myanmar.
If you would like to see more of the pictures, check my facebook page or Flickr slideshow
Sometimes, you need to admit you’re in need of desperate help. This is one of those times. When on the road for a long period of time, shooting as many pictures as I have, you can lose track and certainly objectivity of the pictures you have shot. I can make a reasonable estimate on which pictures are good and which are even better, but picking out just one black and white photo out of all the pictures I have taken during my trip, is a task that comes near to the impossible. Still this is what I need to do, so I ask you… Help me.
You can check the pictures at my Flickr page and leave a comment and a description of your favorite here on the blog. Thank you so much!
So Bangkok just didn’t really work for me, even though I wanted it to. It just wasn’t the time. A train ticket to Ayutthaya would help me ease the pain… I thought. Unfortunately in the start, it didn’t. This place is full of old temples and is lovely to ride through on a rented bicycle, but it didn’t really give me the inspiration that I was looking for. At the moment it is about 40 degrees Celsius which keeps most people inside or in the shadows doing nothing.
So I decided to do the same. Give in to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen and lie down with a book in the shade. Second day, just to have a break from lying down, I decided to take a short walk. Not intending to take any pictures or look for any interesting situations. There it was… a huge tent, filled with Thai people, a boxing ring in the middle and banners hanging down, shouting: “Muay Thai Boxing Championship.” There was no hesitation, no doubt, this I needed to see. This needed my Monochrom to get out of the bag and work.
I found out, shooting sports with a rangefinder is hard. I needed to shift my thinking. The movement of the boxers was to quick to keep up manual focus. Luckily I knew I could push the MM to ISO 640 without getting noise or quality loss. This way I could close down my aperture a bit ( to f8.0), to ensure that the movement of the boxers wouldn’t immediately mean my picture would be out of focus. Using the zone focus scale on top of my lens gave me the opportunity to focus on framing and the actual action. More important I could do it without loosing any speed. And that’s what I needed: speed. These athletes were ferocious, quick and all over the place.
I walked up to the ring and maneuvered myself into the corner where one of the boxers would be patched up every break between rounds. I was only send away once, as I nearly sat down on one of the referees lap, but I was virtually hanging inside the ring most of the time. Very necessary because a 35mm Summicron is a great lens, my favorite, but you’ll have to get in close and I didn’t want to crop (to much) afterwards.
Looking back at the results, again I’m so happy with the Leica MM. It again delivered above my expectation. And one thing I’m quite sure of: the pictures are completely different from the ones taken by all the photographers that were there using their highspeed dSLRs with mega zooms and flashes (!?).
To see the whole series you can check my facebook page or the Flickr slideshow
After a few days of feeling miserable because of a writers block, I decided to talk with one of the owners of a little street-bar. He looked nice, had a charismatic face and after a couple of gin tonics I had the guts to ask him if I could photograph him and his friends in his own neighborhood. He thought it would be cool and invited me to stay at the apartment building the next night, sleeping on the roof. Of course I excepted.
Next day, with a clear head, I had doubts about the whole idea. What kind of neighborhood would I end up in? What kind of friends would he have? Would it be safe? Still I did want a new series of photos, a nice story to tell, so after having a coke that night (I was going to stay sharp for sure) I got in the car with one of his friends and drove 17 km out of Bangkok. The ride on itself was an experience, as this men turned on his radio and he suddenly started to play ” I wanna go home” and several other country and western ballads varied with some classic music of Chopin here and there. It was so out of place, so very funny.
By the time we arrived at the apartment, it turned out to be a very nice neighborhood and a beautiful building. A bed was prepared on the roof of the building and I had a perfect sleep that night. My hosts, by now I had met four living in the same building, were very hospitable and got me a great breakfast. After that, I was asked to come join them buying his new Mercedes. So now I was heading to a car sale with three tattooed Rastafarian, listening to more country and western and some Jack Johnson this time.
The Mercedes was checked thoroughly and after all friends had given their consent it was purchased. We drove back to the apartment, had some lunch and I decided to take of and start doing my own thing again. Jumping into the deep and saying yes to something that just came up had given me a short break of my block and a really nice new series of photos. Besides that it has given me the opportunity to experience once again that things aren’t always what you think they are…
To see the whole series in higher resolution, check my facebook page or the Flickr slideshow
Suddenly I realize what a writers block means to a writer or a musician. And I know now, that a photographer can have the same problem. Sure you can take pictures of everything and anything, but that doesn’t mean that it will inspire you, let alone your viewers.
Coming from India to Thailand I didn’t know what hit me. From complete chaos and disorder I stepped into a world of structure, order and tourism. From camels in the streets and young children playing at every corner, I came to a city of young backpackers getting drunk. I just didn’t know what to do. All inspiration was gone in a second.
Of course this is something happening in my head. If you look at it, Bangkok is a great and diverse city offering more than enough opportunity to take good photos. But it just didn’t do it for me. Specially after the huge amount of pictures I had taken in India. I just turned blank.
I found myself sitting at a little cafe, eating some springrolls and wondering what in the world to do next. The more I wanted to make interesting work, the less I knew what to do. The pressure of a blog, a facebookpage and a flickr account didn’t really make me sit back and relax either.
In the end I figured out this is exactly what I need to do… sit back, relax, admit to myself that I don’t know what to shoot at this moment and just except the fact that I don’t know what to do for a while.
The reason why I take photographs is to make more sense of a world I understand less every day. When you are a little human being, a child, I can only assume you understand even less of what all these grown ups are doing. These adults tell you what to do and what not to do. They try to teach you what’s right and wrong and they try to explain to you how the world around you works.
This is what happened to me anyway and still; I don’t understand. The only way to truly understand, in my opinion, is to think for yourself and experience.
This is why the 100 cameras project instantly had my attention. “Children who are stimulated to capture their world in photographs.” They are asked to show the world their point of view. They are challenged to think about their surroundings, their city and their country. By doing this, I think, these kids make a huge leap in their upbringing and their development.
Picture bu Kiden, age 10 from Sudan
Picture by Alexander, age 13 from Cuba
But this is not where the project ends. It then helps them sell their pictures to complete strangers around the world, through the Internet. All the money earned, will be used to provide in the needs of their families, neighborhoods, communities and friends. Therefor giving them a sense of responsibility and trust. So the way I look at it, this project helps children to experience, learn, empower and most of all express themselves. And it uses one of the most beautiful mediums to do it: “Photography.”
Picture by Buba, age 14 from Sudan
Picture by Andrew, age 13 from New York
Picture by Anthony, age 11 from Cuba
For more information about the project, or more important, if you like to sponsor this project or buy one of the children’s pictures, you can visit the site of 100 Cameras here.
In Varanasi, there are holy men walking around everywhere. As the Kumb Mela festival has arived in Alahabad, a town nearby, the amount of holy men has ten folded. As I decided to make a series on these interesting people, walking around in cloth or but naked, of course I started with my Summicron 35mm attached to the Monochrom. As I know this set quite well now, it was going great.
Summicron 35 mm
Summicron 35 mm
But… I started to miss curtain kind of shots. Close ups, portraits taken with a different feel… So finally I decided to walk around a full day with the Summaicron 75mm attached instead of the 35mm. As I find it a difficult lens to focus with, specially at full opening, I need to have the time to use it. I took most pictures at f4.0 and f5.6 which gave me a little bit space and therefor a little bit speed to work.
Summicron 75 mm
Summicron 75 mm
In the end it really completed the series a lot, I think. (though it’s not finished yet, theres two more days in Varanasi for me.) And again, it’s getting a bit monotone, I fell in love with this lens as well. I guess the lesson I learned this day -again - is: when I persist, I get exactly what I want from Leica. Whether it’s in monochrome or color, with a 35mm or a 75mm… I just need to be a bit more patient.
Summicron 35 mm
Summicron 75 mm
Of course you can see many more holy men at my Flickr account and my Facebook page.