I’m so lucky. Beautiful weather, plans to go to the beach and luckily I brought my camera. Lucky because Jennah Bell was performing live at the beach. This girl comes from New York and just played the night before with her band at North Sea Jazz. Mark my words, she’s going to be huge!
I just lost myself taking pictures while listening to her wonderful songs. After the gig I started chatting with some of the band members and I was pleasantly surprised they were heading for the studio the next three days.
They responded very happy when I asked them if I could come to the studio as well. For them it would mean some extra photos and for me it would mean, watching these artist at work and testing the Monochrom in a sound sensitive environment. Would it be silent enough for me to sit in the studio while these musicians were recording? Yes it was and I could stay with them the whole time while recording… It was great.
I take photographs to understand. To observe a world that is unknown to me. To look at situations I’ve never been in.
So when I got the opportunity to photograph 5 days out of the life of an activist, I jumped at the occasion. And what an opportunity this was: shadowing the director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, for 5 days in Istanbul, while he was attending the Global Power Shift conference, meeting with journalists and marching through the streets of Istanbul, raising awareness about how the fossil fuel threatens the climate and environment. And all of this, only weeks after the Gezi protests sparked unrest in the entire Turkey.
Greenpeace Turkey’s staff and volunteers were involved in the initial protest against the demolition of Gezi park, one of the only remaining green areas in the vast city of Istanbul. We also joined a protest to commemorate all the people that were killed in Turkey during the past few weeks.
Now, looking back at it, I can honestly say: ”That man is a machine”. And I mean that in the most respectful way I can possibly think of. Imagine a work day that starts early in the morning and doesn’t end until the night comes, seven days a week, for a cause he so strongly believes in. And imagine that there is rarely a glimpse of tiredness to be seen. Every person he meets, every group he addresses, every interview he gives, is with warmth, contact, focus and attention. One late night he started a conference call and was on for several hours, just as I went to my hotel room to sleep. I just couldn’t keep up.
In the quick moments between meetings, he makes calls, deliberates with his colleagues, or listens to spoken Turkish words on his phone so that he will pronounce them the right way when speaking at the rally we were going to.
I’m aware of my special position. Everyone who meets this man, gets a certain amount of time, dedicated specially to them. After that, he’s gone and you have no idea what he is going to do next. This man lives in a constant hyper focus with the ability to convey what his vision of a better world is. I got to see, up close and personal, how this man shifts between tone and the words, often explaining the same issues. To 20 volunteers, the message has to be brought differently than on a live TV program for the Turkish public. But the message is the same: a better world is possible. The intensity is overwhelming each time, and it was empowering to see how one person can inspire so many.
So here I am, in Istanbul. Not to capture the events on Taskim Square, but to shadow the head of Greenpeace, mister Kumi Naidoo. He will be attending the conference of the Global Power Shift.
Still, I’ll meet him tomorrow, so tonight I did go to Taskim square. What else would you do ;-) As I was still carying my luggage, looking for my hotel, I didn’t make a lot of photos on arrival. But I did take a few, because the amount of police there was overwhelming.
Tonight I went back and I took some more. A perfect moment to check out the high ISO settings (2000) on the Monochrom, combined with a 1/30 or less shutter speed and an apperture of f2.0. I have to say… it delivered.
Luckily there wasn’t to much action, otherwise the slow shutter speed would have been a problem. Actually it was quite interesting to see some people demonstrating, police joking around with each other and venders trying to sell their food and balloon swards. Kind of surreal. And so very busy even on a Tuesday night at 23.30 h
Being back home, I notice everything changes. I need to find my way again. Where I was holding a camera nearly every day for five months during my trip, now I’m holding one maybe twice a week. For the rest I’m talking to people, figuring out what to do next, meeting people etc etc.
Luckily, there were some people that have been following my journey and they decided they want to make a book out of the India journey. An offer I just couldn’t refuse.
So here I am, sitting in my office, music out loud, trying to reduce the huge selection of photos back to about 150 pictures. It’s hard to kill your darlings and even harder to find a proper balance between close up portraits and street views and everything in between. But it’s also very rewarding and flipping back through all I have shot, I’m traveling again. I see new things, experience new emotions, I can sometimes even smell the atmosphere that was there at the time I took the shot.
Of course I’ll keep you posted on the developments of the book, either here or at my facebook page.
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.
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.
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.