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.
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 (!?).
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!
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.
I’ve been asked why I only take photographs of the slums and poor people and not of the richer part of India and the people who indulge in luxury. I’ve not only been asked here, but on facebook and Flickr as well. I even got asked so many times, that I thought it would be a wise idea to write a blog about it.
First I need to explain in this matter, that I don’t make this journey on an assignment. It’s my own trip, no rules, no expectations, nothing. I’m not earning any money with it, I pay everything my self - therefor I travel light and cheap - and I really like it this way. I like walking planet earth without having to go any where, without having to arrange things, to be honest… without even thinking to much. If I had to judge my own pictures, those are the best as well… the ones that I wasn’t really thinking, but I was just roaming the streets, seeing whatever I would see. Sometimes it’s hard to do it this way… Most of the time I do my best not to think of a budget, on how long I can last this way. Most of the time this works out really well… sometimes the “real world” kicks in and I do worry for a day or two.
Anyway, back to the story I wanted to tell. Why slums and poor people and not the rich in India. There are a few reasons for that.
First of all; I’m lazy. For me to photograph the rich people, I have to go out of my normal way. I have to look them up, often go to places that cost me money, and than try hard to get into conversation with people I think might be interesting. If I do get in this conversation, I have to convince them to let me take pictures.This isn’t really my expertise. And I therefor don’t really go to these places… Sometimes it can be nice. Once in a while - most of the time on invite - I like to go there… I even really like days and evenings like this. But that is only once in a while. At home, in the Netherlands, I occasionally get these invites. I get asked to photograph these kind of situations. I’ve even blogged about this in the past. When I do get there, I love it. I feel like a little kid looking at a movie from a distance. I can fit in, but don’t really feel part of it. Now traveling through India it’s the other way around. If I want pictures like this, I have to search for these places. I have to put in an effort. I have to ask if I can please take pictures during an event or at somebody’s house. I just don’t really feel the urge to have these pictures.
Second: The slums I can roam… I can walk around through the streets, see what happens. People come up to me, talk to me, offer me chai and often don’t mind me taking their picture. Interaction is instant and almost every time pleasant. Even if they don’t want me to take their picture, we have a laugh and a chat. I have to say, having a small camera instead of the big SLR does help here. Any way, this is different with richer people, specially the real rich ones. They live in bigger houses. Often these houses are behind fences and many times there even is a guard. They are just not that easy to approach. Here I immediately refer back to my first point… I’m lazy. I don’t really want, and certainly I don’t need, to go through all this trouble. It’s not that I’m doing this project on how all different communities in India live… I’m just sharing my journey with you and therefor the things that I see and find interesting. Things that happen without me doing anything to cause it.. other than saying yes every now and again.
Third: The few times I did try to go out of my way and document the working class - for example the Dabba Wallahs - or a real rich Indian person, things get complicated right away. I need to pay money or suddenly I am very limited in the time I get. Most of the time I’m all of a sudden not dealing with the person I want to photograph, but with three or four other people as well… who all want money. I’m not saying this is wrong or right, bad or good… I don’t really have an opinion on this, other than that I don’t want the hassle. And there’s the simple fact that I don’t really want to spend this money. Don’t get me wrong… If I really like to experience whatever they ask me the money for… I’m happy to pay for it. (As long as it’s asked in a respectful manner). Only this doesn’t happen that often. I don’t really HAVE to experience anything. When it’s there, it’s there… if not, no problem!
So there, I have tried to explain it. I’m not posting my pictures because I want to give you a full view of India. I’m showing my pictures not because I have a higher cause or a story to tell. The only story I’m showing you is the world that I see during my journey and the way I show you is through the lens of my camera. I hope you like it!
After taking the bus to Kashmir, where at this time it’s cold, dark and cloudy, the Monochrom is growing on me. This means I start to love it more and more, but I also recognize its weakness and learn how to work with them. One of these weaknesses is, just like the M9, the screen. Even with the brightness turned to high, the pictures you take tend to be a little bit dark on the screen. At first I compensated for that, ending up with bleached out parts in my pictures. Now I just do the same as I do with the M9, don’t look at the screen.
The highest ISO (from 6400 to 10000) does have noise, specially when your not spot on whith your settings BUT, if you use the noise tool in LR, everything is just fine and you end up with beautiful, very useful pictures.
At the moment I’m in Srinagar, Kashmir. It’s freezing cold and rainy, very little sunshine. Having the Monochrom set to ISO 800 or 1000 gives me room to play around. During a Shia Muslim event called the Mourning of Muharram, I suddenly came across, it was useful to have some speed and some more depth of field sometimes. It was immense impressive and I could feel the way they all connected and formed a community. At first I felt a little uncomfortable taking pictures, but with this small Leica M, it was me more than the camera that got the attention.
Even inside the house where I’m staying, ISO 8000 gives beautiful results. At night in the living room, the family has big discussions while smoking a water-pipe. I don’t understand a word they are saying, but I love sitting in the middle of it all.
As this is a blog mainly about my work with the Leica and about showing what I do with it, I also started a different blog. Here I will tell a bit more about the trip through India, the thoughts I have in life and the way I look at things. I’ll keep you posted on when it goes live!