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 (!?).
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.
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.
Steve Huff, one of my favorite photography bloggers has put up my guest blog today!
Most of the time when traveling, I find myself going from city to town and back to a city again. Sometimes I almost forget there’s more than that. When I hired a little motor bike and just cruised out of the town Pushkar, I noticed everything changed. Landscape, there’s no surprise, but also the contact with the people I met along the way.
There was no hassle, asking for money or trying to sell me anything anymore. People were open and friendly, inviting and very photo genetic. I wrote a blog a while ago, about sending a private driver back home and taking the bus between destinations. I’m still very happy i did, but after a day driving around on my little moped, I guess next time I’ll be traveling with a drivers license for a motorbike. That way I can buy myself a cheap motor and travel the country on my own. Bringing only my small Leica kit - same as I have with me now - and some necessities like underware, there will be no trouble with luggage and it will bring me at places I’ll otherwise won’t see.
So, at least I have found my reason to stay traveling and go back to beautiful India again and again! ;-)
If you like to see these pictures and some more in higher resolution, check my Flickr account
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.