So I’m in Kenya now. The crowd funding worked and I have to thank some people for that… First of all Klein Haarlem, a foundation supporting young, creative entrepreneurs, for supporting and pushing me to go on this next journey. But also Aad, Marc, Mark, Ruha, Molly, Guy, Cees, Christine, Dean, Wilco, Remco, Laura, Ewoud, Lorette, Renée and of course my mother.
That being said, lets describe my first day. After a 10 hour flight arriving at 3:45 AM the first day was a day of relaxing and arranging some small stuff. Arranging a local sim card didn’t really work out and the festival we were supposed to visit was cancelled at the last minute. Unfortunately we found out by the time we got to the location.
Also the flat tire that our guide had the day before my arrival was beyond repair. Basically it was a day where everything that could go wrong…. did go wrong. But, for some reason we had fun, the atmosphere was relaxed and we ended up having a wonderful day.
Today was somewhat different. After breakfast, we started with a special visit. Eric Wainaina, one of Kenya’s most famous musicians. We met him at his house and after talking with him he committed to helping Peacetones out with some of the workshops they’re planning in the shantytowns.
In the afternoon we picked up some small video cameras, that were sponsored by a Kenyan security company. Peacetones will donate these to the people joining the musical workshops and tomorrow, Joshua (an American photographer who’s also with us) and I will give a workshop on how to use it. Looking forward to it.
In the afternoon we witnessed a rehearsal of some musicians in Babandogo, one of the shantytowns. During this trip, Transcontinenta was kind enough to provide me a 24 mm Elmar (f3.8), I couldn’t have been more happy that it was in my bag as the room was small end completely filled with people. Even though you’re supposed to use an external viewfinder for this wide angle (which I didn’t bring) it worked like a charm.
After the rehearsal, right during the “golden hour” we walked back through the streets of Babandogo. This is what I love most…. wondering and wandering, talking to the people you meet and taking some great shots.
Wow, this was a nice first three weeks of the year.
I did some nice portraits for the magazines, a lecture in Apeldoorn in working with the autistic children in Peru and I had a fun weekend at Noorderslag, one of the most important music festivals for Dutch bands on the verge of breaking through or famous and important for the popculture.
One of the portraits was of Dutch actor Victor Löw. For the magazine it had to be color, so I’ve shot it with the M, but I really love it in black and white. It was fun and easy working with him. Even though we only had about 45 minutes to do a shoot of about 4 different settings, I felt comfortable enough to still use the Leica. With some of the shots I used a bit of fill in with a Lastolite reflexion screen, but that wasn’t really necessary with this one.
During the lecture I spoke a lot about my work in Peru of last month, but also about working with the Leica and specially about working with silver effex pro. Most people by now, know this monochrome plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop that converts your color photos into black & white beautifully or enhances the shots of your Monochrom. I get a lot of questions on how I post process my work, well this is it for me. And the best (general) tip I can give for this workflow is: Don’t overdo it (specially with the structure sliders) and use the control points to make local adjustments instead of processing everything as one. It sounds simple, but apparently I helped a lot of people by telling them this.
Besides this I introduced my new idea, of which you can check a preview here. It’s only work in progress but I’m very excited about it.
Last but not least, some of the pictures I took at Noorderslag. This was a festival I was invited to. Not to work, but just to have some fun. Of course I couldn’t leave my camera at home and I loved using the Monochrom this weekend to get a few shots at the edge of the stage. If you like to see more of them check my flickr page.
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 (!?).
Traveling through India for a couple of months, I’ve been roaming the streets, got lost in the slums and had some nice conversations with people I portrayed. Whether it was a big city, a small village or out in the country; there’s one and a half billion people and they all had a little story to tell. Like I said in one of my blogs, this is how I try to understand the world.
To keep challenging myself and to learn even more, I also need to change perspective every now and again. Most of the time this happens unexpectedly. Coming to Khajuraho, that opportunity presented itself quite clearly. The first day I still did what I always do. I walked the little streets, had some fun with the kids that ran around me, when roaming through the outside neighborhoods.
(picture by Maartje Grond)
But Khajuraho is known for its temples. Even though it’s a very small village, it even has an airport to fly in the herds of tourists coming to see the Kama Sutra temples of Khajuraho. So there was no way around it. I had to pay my entrance fee and see what the fuss was all about.
After five minutes I already noticed… this is not what I’m looking for. I can see how impressive the buildings are. I can even be overwhelmed for a minute by the idea that everything is build by man, some 1000 years ago. But this moment of astonishment only takes a very short time. It’s probably why I don’t do architecture photography, or product photography. (Although I like to work for real estate agents… but that’s because I can snoop around in people’s life just for a couple of hours or so.)
My curiosity towards the “typical” groups of tourists on the other hand is something that immediately made me grab my camera. The way these herds of white-socked people, with safari hats and huge amounts of camera gear move, is something that intrigued me right from the start. It may sound like a huge judgment if you read that last sentence, but it’s not! I think it’s great people travel the world to see what other countries and cultures have to offer. And I really couldn’t care less how they do it. It’s just that “their way” of traveling and exploring is completely out of my comprehension as well. Therefor I did what I always do when I don’t understand. I photograph.
To see the complete series, both the streets ánd the temples of Khajuraho, check my Flickr page.
As the albums on my Flickr page and my facebook are starting to become a bit abundant, I decided to start selecting a bit stricter. Also I decided to delete some of the pictures in my facebook albums. Not that they are bad, but some others are just a better and in the end you only want to keep the best.
For me it’s one of the hardest things to do: “killing your darlings”. Especially because they are not only my darlings, they are also part of my journey. Of course I don’t throw them away, But in the end nobody wants to relive the hours and hours you spend behind a projector at your grandparents. And nobody really wants to see the wedding book with 750 pictures of your uncle dancing the cha cha cha or your nephew spoiling tomato soup on his mini smoking. Most of the time 50 pictures is enough, after that, attention most of the time decreases rapidly. Often less is more, so choices must me made.
What makes me decide which picture stays in and which one goes, is hard to tell. Most of the time it’s a gut feeling. It’s easy to select the ones that have to stay in for sure. The diamonds. Thing is; if I only leave those, I’ll end up posting maybe 5 pictures out of all (not each) albums. I’d like to think I’m my most critical judge. So after selecting these I go on.
I try to look at the balance in my story. I can have ten women sitting in their door opening, but I only need one. Again everything is just a gut feeling. Which woman gives me the feeling I can’t leave her out. Because of the way she looks, or her colorful sari or the beautiful woodwork of the doorposts. Looking at the light, composition, technique is another way to get rid of some of my babies. Even though sometimes it’s the one that breaks all the rules that stays in. Just because the “feel” is right.
In the end it’s all just a matter of taste. Which ones do I like the most? Which ones give me the uncontrollable urge to show them to the rest of the world? Which ones do I think people like to talk about? Which ones do I think tell the story?
Luckily, here I can make a separation again. Here on my blog, I tell you how I work and what problems I encounter. I show you some of the shots that either clarify my story or some that I just think you should really see. At my facebook page, I now show you the ones that I really think are good. This differs from time to time. I add pictures and I take some of. Same goes for my website, only on my facebook, I also give you updates about the trip, some behind the scene photos and every now and again a link that I think you should check. On my Flickr account I post a lot more. This is the place where people tend to go to browse pictures, just like they browse youtube for videos. So make your pick, or check them all… Hope you like what you see!
Sitting in a car heading for Rajasthan, I had the feeling that I had made a wrong decision. It’s a great way to travel through Rajasthan -the part of India I’m traveling now - but it’s just not me. I need to be amongst the people.
Not exactly sure what it was that made me feel this way I endured a little bit longer. I don’t mind changing my mind all of a sudden, but I do want to know why I change it. It wasn’t the driver. Even though his English was very poor, he was very polite and he had no problem taking me wherever I wanted. This was the reason I took the car in the first place. The idea of not planning a train ahead, being able to stop at every location on my way sounded very appealing and practical for my photography. A flat tire even gave me a sudden feel of adventure, although it was solved quickly.
I think it was the fact that everything was going smooth. To smooth. He took me from city to city, hotel to hotel. The hotels were good, even though they had weddings going on with loud music, had good restaurants and great rooms. The driver used B routes so there was plenty to see during our long drives. It was perfect and easy.
I think my decision is best compared with the Leica I’m working with. The driver and his fancy hotels were like my old Nikons on program mode. Everything was great, effortless and without trouble. But if I compare the pictures I took with my DSLR while traveling, they tend to have a lack of story. They are good photos but they miss some sort of depth.
If I read back the blogs about the time I started with the Leica M9 in Cuba, I struggled. But it’s that struggle that made the journey. It’s the cursing and the discomfort that makes me want to see and learn more. My first trip in India was a 37 hour bus-ride to Kashmere and I remember vividly how things looked, smelt and how I was feeling at the time. Now, nearly 2 months later, it has been one of the best parts of my trip. Maybe not photography wise , but definitely when it comes down to traveling India. Of course I did take some pictures in the towns that the car had dropped me. This is something I can do where ever I am, and independent of how I got there. A few I’ve posted here and the rest is on my fb page or at my Flickr page. I even grabbed the Leica M9 a couple of times instead of the Monochrom. Not because I was doubting, like I did before, but because I like to change things up every now and again.
After two days in the car, I send the driver back to Delhi and booked myself on a train from Bikaner to Jodpur. Instead of traveling through Radjashan in a car for the upcoming two weeks, I’ll be struggling and cursing while booking train-tickets. There will be families cramped up against me in a bus, little children that follow me around through the streets and beggars asking me for money. And I’m looking forward to it!
Framing is quite an important part of photography and I guess it’s something that comes with practice. (like everything else ;-) All over the net or in any bookstore that sells “how to” books, you can find information on how you can or should frame your pictures. Rule of third, Diagonal rule, when to shoot horizontal or vertical, leading of lines etc etc.
To be honest, I’ve never really bothered to read all that stuff. I just shoot the things I see, making sure that everything that is of interest to me is in the frame. Sometimes it’s not until afterwards that I see something that really ads to the picture, or that makes it suddenly a useless one. In this picture for example the boy in the back just started to take a wee. I didn’t really notice when taking the shot. I was to bussy with the two boys on the left side playing and the serious boy making strange faces. It’s a detail that you don’t even see in the low resolution on this blog… but if you check it here, you’ll see it in full. To me, it finished the shot.
So then I started to wonder if it’s just luck if you have these moments. Many would say it is BUT… is it still luck if it happens more often than sometimes? When is the point that you can honestly say you make your own luck?
One of the things that helps a lot with practicing the framing is feedback of others. Sometimes you’re so caught up in what you’re doing, you start missing things. Last week I was asked to provide a horizontal photo that would be used for a magazine cover. It would take both front and back of the magazine. I asked a friend at Transcontinenta, to help look for what would be a suitable picture. After checking out a fair amount of pictures he pointed out that if you use a picture that way, your main point of interest should be in the right side of the picture. The left side is going to be at the back of the magazine anyway. And suddenly I was aware that a lot of my picture actually have the main subject on the left side of the picture. Let me start by saying, this is not on purpose. Most of the time I just see something and I’ll take the shot. Often it’s not even possible to frame it from the other side, due to uninteresting topics that I want to crop out while taking the shot.
It’s not that I will think about this anymore then I used to… I figure that the more I think during my endless walks through cities and slums, I’ll just get distracted of what I’m supposed to do… take photos. But I am aware now. Specially when I know I need a picture for a certain purpose like the cover one or for example one that needs a heading in the picture. I think this is what they mean when they (the books and tutorials) tell you to know the rules, so you can then bend or sometimes even brake them.
I ask myself every day: “Why do I take photos? Why do I feel the urge to record what I see?” And the answer is more or less the same every day. I don’t feel that urge to actually document what I see, at least not for myself. The only reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day. I use my camera to interact with people, to force them and myself into making contact. At the same time the camera helps me to keep a safe distance of what ever is happening. So I can look at it without any judgment or even without forming an opinion. I merely try to observe and hopefully understand whatever it is I’m looking at.
So why not use an unloaded M6 or M7 ( analog Leica cameras working with film, for those who don’t know) instead of the Leica Monochrom? Here’s the tricky part. I would love to do that. It would safe me a huge amount of time in terms of selecting, post processing, uploading photos etc etc. On the other hand… I need to conquer my place on earth, find a way to make a living and - for some weird reason – I feel the need to be seen as an individual just like everybody else. I’m also trying to give meaning to my life in some way. I try to get better at the things I do. I hope to be more successful everyday and I work hard trying to exceed the expectations people might have of me.
I guess this is what it comes down to: “Making sure other people confirm my existence.” I’m pretty sure this is what everybody does. In my case, people give me conformation by saying my pictures are beautiful or that my blogs are shit. Whether they recognize my work or condemn it doesn’t really matter, either way they confirm whatever I’m doing and therefor that I am alive. (I prefer the positive conformation above anything else by the way, like most people would.)
Isn’t this what everybody does? Whether you are a successful businessman, a caring mother, praying to a God, or begging for food, drugs or alcohol. Everybody is just searching for the same thing in a different context: “a way to give meaning to their lives and an acknowledgement of them actually being alive.” I feel truly grateful to have found a way, which comes closest to what I’d like to think I am… an observer.
I’ve been traveling India now for about one and a half month. I’ve seen a lot and there’s many more to come. On the program are Amritsar, city of the golden temple, Rajasthan with it’s blue city Johdpur and its pink city Jaipur, countless colored saris and the endless yellow sands of the dessert. The white sandy beaches of the Andaman Islands are still a place I want to see and there is so many many more.
The crazy thing is, I’m going to show you all these places without color, as I have totally fallen in love with the Leica Monochrom. There were some times I wanted to grab the M9 again, sometimes I even did… but even most of those pictures I ended up converting in Silver Efex Pro. To me the lack of color, takes away the distraction of just that same color. All is suddenly stripped down to emotion, movement, light and energy. Yes color is one of the most obvious in India, but what is left when you take away the most obvious ends up to be often a lot more interesting.
The fact that the Monochrom is so very defined in its dynamic range - specially in blacks - and that it is amazing in sharpness, makes this camera an absolute treat to work with. Because of the high ISO possibilities, combined with the Summicron 35mm it’s pretty much all I need to carry around, no flash needed.
I guess I’ve made the change I wanted to make, from DSLR to rangefinder. I now cary a small bag, light on my shoulder. It replaces the heavy load of 2.8 zoom lenses and 2 pro Nikon bodies. A bag that would easily top 10 kg. But I’ve taken it one step further. One step closer to, what to me has become the very basic of photography: One camera, one lens and a monochrome image. I feel lucky and grateful. I can roam the world, looking at it’s beauty and capture this in exactly the way I observe it. In its naked, vulnerable, most honest way. To me that’s in black & white… in Monochrom.