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.
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!
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!
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 don’t pretend to be even in the vicinity of a photographer as great as Henri Cartier Bresson, but every now and again I like to tell myself I’m on my way to get a little bit closer… small steps. Today I had a very slow day, photographically. But if there is just one shot you have been waiting for, suddenly is there… these moments make it all worth while! Hope you like it to!
So I got lost… again… on purpose.
Heading for the Mumbai slums, I found myself in a city within a city. Narrow ally’s, stairs leading to little box houses, one put on top of the other. I went from bright, sunny and very busy streets into dark, nearly black and very tranquil ally’s and back again. I found it hard and challenging to go back and forward with my settings, including the ISO. Many times I forgot, many didn’t work out, but some did very well.
I’ll definitely will be heading back one of the next days, ‘cause I haven’t seen half yet. Besides I really like to practice the settings some more. I’m happy that I did choose to take the Monochrom, especially in some of the low light conditions, where I had to go for ISO 1600 or even 2500. I have tried to use the summicron 75mm a bit more, but I guess the 35mm is just my lens. Maybe somewhere in the future I’ll try Cartier Bresson’s 50mm. But for now I’m stuck on the 35.
So here we are again… deciding to go color or monochrome. I just arrived in Mumbai and walked around for about an hour. Already I love it - probably because of the wonderful weather up here - and already I got lost in one of the slums. My first instinct was to grab the M9, thinking the Leica Monochrom wouldn’t do justice to the upbeat atmosphere that is going around in the slums. The colors are beautiful, the people friendly and they have no problem with posing in front of the camera. Another big difference, they don’t ask money for it! (Except for the kids – that or chocolate.)
So I took the pictures I took with the M9 and converted them in Silver Efex Pro. I think they look stunning (and I, purposely, didn’t use the color sliders) BUT… what I assumed did happen with a few pictures. They get a drama feel that I think doesn’t completely do justice to the atmosphere that was there… Even though I really like them in black & white. Dilemma. Especially if you take in account that quite a few pictures didn’t work out so well because of slow shutterspeed - 1/15 sec, because I didn’t want to use to high ISO with the M9. Witch is no problem for the Monochrom. ( Hopefully the M is going to be as good as they say it is!) I should have brought a second 35mm instead of the 75mm (as I rarely use it) then it would have been easier to switch cameras. Now, for comfort, I decide up front what to shoot with.
Hope to hear your opinions. On my facebookpage I posted an album with some more color vs black & white that I shot in this hour.