December 1st I will travel to Peru to make a reportage on autistic children in Cuzco. The Dutch foundation Abrazos (sorry the website is in Dutch or Spanish) has asked me to make a reportage on their work and the families that benefit by their help. Their goal is to raise awareness and provide knowledge about autism in Peru. By now they help over 170 different families in Cuzco.
For this project I’m not to worried about my photography skills. But I have no experience what so ever with autism. I have no idea what to expect and I don’t know how these children will react on a stranger being near… specially a stranger holding a camera.
Most of the time I play things by ear, not preparing anything. This helps me to approach my subject without any prejudice. Whether you read a book, watch a documentary or listen to a story, you will always be looking or listening to/at somebody else’s vision. I prefer to experience things first hand. That’s why I love to travel and why I love my job as a photographer; I get to see, feel and form my own vision of whatever I’m documenting… (Of course I do check if I need some safety precautions where ever I go.)
This morning though, I had the chance to prepare a little bit for my trip to Peru. A friend of the foundation lives here in the Netherlands with his autistic son, who was born in Peru. So today I have spend two hours with Patrick and his son Gijs. Observing Gijs and talking to his father, I do have a little bit of an idea of what lies ahead. (although Patrick also pointed out that autism comes in many ways and forms.) These are some photos I took this morning.
One thing is for sure, it’s going to be an intense and very interesting month. Of course I’ll keep you posted here and on my Facebook page.
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.
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!
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