Oct 262009
 

I’ve not been outside today, I am still not feeling completely well. This is an image from the recent trip to Poland, taken when we made our way over small roads from Kraków to Auschwitz.

I suppose this plane is not in use any more, and why someone would have a jet plane in his garden, I really can’t tell. I just found it curious.

Apart from that, there are some new things on this website. If you read this in Google Reader or some other feed reader, you will have to click through to my site to see them.

The first thing are the portfolios. See the menu on top? There have been portfolios for the last four calendar years for a while now, the recent addition is a bicycle portfolio.

The other thing is that I am just beginning to offer free wallpapers of some of my images. They are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, which means that you are invited to use and share them, as long as you don’t sell or change them.

Of course you may already have discovered the new NEWS widget on top of the side bar. This is where I will post announcements from now on.

The Song of the Day is “The Garden” from the 1996 Einstürzende Neubauten album “Ende Neu”. Einstürzende Neubauten, this is Blixa Bargeld‘s own band, his other major involvement was of course with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. See a video on YouTube.

1067 – Ride Across The River

 Sigma 28/1.8  Comments Off on 1067 – Ride Across The River
Sep 152009
 

Forget about post-processing. Yes, I did some things and it’s been more or less random. I followed impulses, and as on another day the impulses would be different, so would be post-processing.

No, it’s not the procesing, it’s the crop. This is what took time, what made me try and go back, back and forth, many times, but now I am satisfied. I really like the balance in this image, and – interestingly enough – it’s a kind of hobsonesque balance that I originally set out to achieve with today’s image, and that I now enforced in this image of last Monday, our first full day in Poland, the day we went to Auschwitz. Obviously taking photographs and processing photographs are two very similar creative processes for me, cropping being very similar to the original process of composing through the viewfinder.

Why I post a past image instead of what I photographed yesterday? Easy to answer: I only made one image, a personal portrait snapshot. We had rain all day and that very fact sucked the creativity out of me 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Ride Across The River” from the 1985 (oh my, so long ago!) Dire Straits album “Brothers in Arms”. This is the very album that made the then new Compact Disc popular. Hear it on YouTube.

Sep 152009
 

You may or may not object to it, but resistance is futile. Today an image is what you make of the raw data that the sensor captured.

These are two images of Saturday, our last day in Poland. We had been visiting Ko?ciuszko Mound in the morning (the image of the spiral stairs is from there), later the salt mines of Wieliczka, and finally, late on that overcast and gloomy afternoon, we drove a little bit around, and that’s where I made the other image.

As to the Image of the Day, I could not really decide what I like better, the B&W version, concentrating on tonal density and contrast, or the color version, concentrating more on the Yin-Yang aspect. I like both. You decide.

The other image is presented in two versions, to the left straight out of the camera, and to the right what I made of the RAW file. This is not a particularly good image, it’s more that I tried what I can do with it and myself was surprised about the result. I post it as a reminder to all those JPEG shooters. You miss something 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Your Own Choice” from the 1970 Procol Harum album “Home”. Hear it on YouTube.

By the way, I had a hard time with yesterday’s image of the town hall in Tarnów. I finally decided to give it an overhaul and have cropped it from below. The result finally has the balance that I was looking for. See for yourself. You may have to reload the page to see the new image.

Sep 132009
 

I’m back from Poland. We drove back all day, without any problem. Now it is Sunday night, well, actually it’s past midnight, and again I have no more than one post today. I will try to catch up tomorrow. These are two of the images that I made on Friday.

Friday we mainly visited Tarnów, a city about 100km east of Kraków, the warmest place in Poland, a city that had about 50,000 inhabitants before World War II, half of them Jews, the highest percentage in any Polish city.

Tarnów is another place where Amon Göth committed his crimes, the very same man whom you most likely know from “Schindler’s List”, a man who delighted in the fear of his victims, a man who liked to play God, a man who played games by randomly killing people. Göth was the leader of the troupe that “cleared” the Ghetto in 1943, Göth, another Nazi criminal from Austria, maybe the worst, at least there is not much more bestiality imaginable in a man.

The Image of the Day shows the entrance to the old town hall in the middle of the central square, the “Rynek”.

The second image was taken on our way back, already near Kraków. It was one of these gloomy evenings, the sun had vanished in smokey fog, long before it had had a chance to set. It doesn’t completely catch the atmosphere, but I think it is not completely wrong either.

Other than that we drove through Nova Huta, the former “ideal town” of socialism, built as a place for the workers in the big steel mills to the east, built as a revolutionary counter-weight to the traditionally conservative Kraków. In the end the experiment failed, Nova Huta became one center of resistance under the flag of Solidarno??. But not that is interesting here.

What fascinated me, is the fact that I absolutely like that place. I had imagined it as ugly, utilitarian, a typical case of cheap and bad architecture, but quite the opposite is true. Of course, today Nova Huta is plagued by unemployment, many of the shops are closed, but I think that from its basic architecture, this is a fine place to live. I suppose at one day in the not so far future it will become fashionable to live in Nova Huta, new shops will open, the town (which is really the most eastern district of Kraków) will boom. I may be wrong, I have been in the past, but I can’t imagine I will be wrong this time.

South of Nova Huta there is also an old Cistercian monastery in Mogi?a. Poland is certainly the most catholic country that I’ve ever been to (no, I’ve never been to Ireland), and it is amazing to see, how much money the Polish put into restoration of old churches and into building new ones. Mogi?a is an old one, but it has been restored in a very beautiful way. They may have taken liberties, as a priest said, to whom we talked when we visited the cloister, the fresco paintings may be far from how the originals had looked, but the whole place radiates a very healthy aura of being used.

The Song of the Day is “Songs of Rejoicing” from Giora Feidman’s 1992 album “Magic of the Klezmer”. Hear it on YouTube.

Well, that’s it for today. I could go on, I could and probably should post more images, but it is well past 2am and I really must go to sleep now. Good night, and see you tomorrow!

EDIT: It’s morning now, and I have replaced the Image of the Day with a slightly tighter crop. It’s much better balanced now.

1063 – Past In Present II

 Sigma 28/1.8, Tokina 11-16/2.8  Comments Off on 1063 – Past In Present II
Sep 122009
 

Do you know that feeling, that whatever you do, it comes out wrong? Today’s images (actually images of Thursday) are such a case.

We visited Kraków‘s royal castle, the Wawel, saw the fantastic renaissance architecture of the castle’s big courtyard, saw the exhibitions, saw the cathedral, … and I made no single good image there.

OK, you are not allowed to take images inside castle or cathedral, but there was so much wonderful architecture there and … nothing. Not a single original image.

I am not sure what exactly causes this … block? No, it’s not a block, it’s maybe more that I feel these places have been photographed from every possible angle, there is not much chance to come up with anything original, at least not while on a short trip, certainly not within an hour or two. It’s a kind of resignation.

I don’t say that you can’t make good images there, but at least for me it would take more time and leisure than I can muster at such times. It would mean to go there, look, go away, sleep a night over it, come back, look again, and then I think I could find one or the other new and original view. Probably.

The other thing is, that on travels you are at the mercy of the weather and all kinds of external or self-imposed schedules. You make plans for visiting this and that, and when you get to the Wawel in brightest noon light and under a clear, blue sky, you have a pretty hard time to produce anything that does not look like the typical tourist picture. My image, the one of the cathedral, certainly does.

Being in such a place, you basically have the choice to hunt for moments when nobody stands between you and the monument (and the wider the lens, the less likely that will be), or to make images not about monuments, but about monuments and the people viewing these monuments. I mean, the way to go is pretty obvious: don’t avoid the people, use them. Make images of people and their interaction with monuments. Show them viewing, show them photographing.

Sometimes I try these things, but most often I do them when I am on home turf. Here, on vacation, more often than not I can’t help but act as a tourist myself. Plenty of room for improvement, I guess 🙂

All other images but one were taken in Kazimierz, the district formerly inhabited by a lively Jewish community, but of course that was before the Nazi barbarians made an end to it. Today you still feel a shadow of the past, and of course there are many Jewish tourists, but the Jewish infrastructure of today is only touristic.

The last image, this gentle landscape, is from outside of the city. We concluded the day with a short trip north, just to get some different views. I actually used one of my split neutral density filters to darken the sky, and although I managed to make the sky quite dramatic, I ended up cropping most of it away. Just like so often, a square made for better balance.

The Song of the Day is one more time “Past In Present” from Feist’s 2007 album “The Reminder”. Hear it on YouTube.

1062 – Close To The Borderline

 Nikon 18-200 VR, Sigma 28/1.8  Comments Off on 1062 – Close To The Borderline
Sep 112009
 

On Wednesday we made a trip to the mountains south-east of Kraków, the region between the Beskides and the Tatra. In a journal from 2001 I have read about the region, that legions of its inhabitants had gone to America, especially to Chicago and Toronto, but that most of them never had given up their houses.

Indeed you see innumerable of the typical wooden houses being uninhabited. In fact it’s pretty easy to see why: Although the region is beautiful, there is not much work available, almost no industry. My impression is though, that in the meantime tourism has become a substantial pillar of the region’s economy, with Zakopane being the #1 winter sports center in Poland.

Personally I was not particularly impressed though. I am afraid I am spoiled by our own mountains.

Other than that, let me bring forth one gripe that I have with Poland: It’s the habit of the Polish to burn things. We have called this trip jokingly an olfactory trip into the past. Let me explain.

Sometime in my youth it became forbidden to burn junk and plant remains on the fields or in your garden. Neither I nor my parents had ever done such a thing, but it was pretty common among farmers, and I can vaguely remember the protest against the law. It worked well though, and here in Poland I can experience what it means to the environment to not have such a law: It’s crazy, you see fires everywhere, everybody seems to burn some hay, leaves or whatever, and the air is constantly – and pretty unnecessarily – filled with smoke that hangs over the landscape like fog. That’s rather unfortunate, because the pollution by the heavy industry seems to be well under control.

By the way, the final image shows the name of a village. Language is another problem here in Poland, if for nobody else, then at least for me. Normally when I read a name in German, English, Italian, Spanish and to a degree French, I know how to pronounce it, and when I see it, I can more or less immediately recognize it. Not so here. Polish spelling is in a certain way elaborate that makes recognition pretty hard for me, and in some cases, like with this village’s name, it takes some pondering before I even have an idea of how to pronounce it 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Close To The Borderline” from Billy Joel’s 1980 album “Glass Houses”. Hear it on YouTube.

Sep 092009
 

These are images of yesterday, our first day spent entirely in the center of Kraków. The Image of the Day features the cupola of the small church of sw. Wojciech (St. Adalbert), located in one corner of the vast central market square.

The chain looks gruesome, but it is no more than a simple chain, hanging in front on the Dominican Church. On the other hand, were the Dominicans not the order assigned with the duty of the Holy Inquisition? Maybe the chain is not so wrong after all.

The final image was taken when we sat in the patio of our hotel, drinking a glass of beer and enjoying the last rays of the sun.

For most of the images, and especially for the three shown here, I used the Sigma 28/1.8. A marvelous lens and clearly my current favorite as a “normal” lens.

I have made many, many more images, most of them much more characteristic of this city, but it’s the same old story: I tend to go into “documentation mode”.

Most images will help me remember the place. In fact, from many of my past journeys I remember almost nothing but the places where I have taken images, although those I remember well. Thus a yield of 3 out of 200 does not particularly worry me 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Thou Art Gone Up On High” from Handel’s “Messiah”. As always I recommend the 1990 recording conducted by Trevor Pinnock, though you can’t go wrong with John Eliot Gardiner or William Christie either. Hear it on YouTube.

Sep 092009
 

Sorry for the long silence. I’m not dead and I can’t blame my internet connection either. Must have something to do with being on vacation. In any case I have a real processing problem. Well, some images may turn up another day, when I lack anything usable.

What can you write about a place like Auschwitz? Can you take photos there? People do, and many of them make just the usual images, with their beloved or their friends posing, just not in front of a fountain, but in front of the remains of an electrical fence. That’s just how people are, just as places are what places are.

There is nothing like an evil place. It’s all about the people, and what can you say about a place that was a rural village for centuries, and then, all of a sudden, strangers came, performed their incredibly cruel deeds, turned the place into hell, stayed for five years and vanished again.

It is pretty impossible to conserve the horror. Yes, Auschwitz I, the original base camp, still has something sinister in it. It’s the contrast between neatness of architecture and the horror of the double electrical fences. If at all there is something left of pure horror then it’s there.

Auschwitz II, Birkenau, is different. It’s a vast area, mostly ruins, and it’s there that the masses were killed. It is much less graphic, but in its largeness there is an abstract monstrosity that suddenly makes all those big numbers of millions of killed people comprehensible. This is a place that obviously was built for that purpose, a place that had the capacity.

Still, the question remains: what can you photograph at such a place? Can you show anything meaningful beside the cliché? I don’t know. What you get today is a detail from a fence in Auschwitz II, a view from the monastery Tyniec on top of a hill overlooking the river Wis?a, and the Image of the Day is a birch tree shortly after sundown.

The Song of the Day is “Going Places” from Paul Weller’s 2003 album “Illumination”. See him perform live on YouTube.

Sep 062009
 

Kraków, Poland, just as promised. My Internet connection is great, the only problem is, that I forgot my computer mouse. Editing images with a touchpad is, well, interesting. I’ll get one tomorrow 🙂

We drove all day, everything went well, but we arrived when it was already dark. I was tired from the road and only went out for half an hour to make some images.

These bronze soldiers stand on the small square just in front of our hotel. I have no idea who they were. There is an inscription at the bottom of the monument, but of course it’s Polish. I’ll ask at the reception tomorrow.

The Song of the Day is “Celluloid Heroes” by The Kinks. I have it on disc two of “The Ultimate Collection”. See a live video on YouTube.