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Category : Travel Photography

Dar Roumana, Fez, Hotel downstairs room

Dar Roumana, a Gem Hidden in a Labyrinth

Dar Roumana, Fez, Hotel downstairs roomDar Roumana is within the Medina of Fez.

I had been to Morocco one time before, also for work. That was in Casablanca, working for Harvard, you can read about it here.

I wouldn’t say I am a fan of Casablanca, my disappointment compounded because I loved the film. The reality is that it’s very noisy, dirty and for the most part kind of charmless.

Fez on the other hand was is more captivating, disorienting too, the world’s biggest maze.

The first night I got a whirlwind tour through the labyrinth of the Medina, popping into a beautiful and mysterious riad owned by French friends of the client.

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3 people entrenched with their mobiles

Cuban Night Life and Cuban Night Light

Cuban night light

My third Cuban adventure. You can see images from the last visits here.

The first thing I did, when I woke the first morning, was walk to the malecón as the sun came up.

There were already fishermen perched on the wall, indifferent to the waves that lashed the defences.

My first visit had been in 1998, then in 2002 I returned for work and was a little shocked at how much it had changed. I expected even bigger changes this time around, but apart from Havana Vieja being completely given over to tourism, it seemed pretty much as i remembered it.

Of course it is much more open to free enterprise, so eating out is now fraught with the dilemma of choice, and not the quest for anything half-edible.

The other thing that was the same as I remember, was the light at night, notable as much by it’s absence, as it’s lurid tungsten and fluorescent hues.

But now this was augmented by the clean white light of modern technology; the mobile phone had arrived.

All life in Havana in on the streets, sat in doorways, hanging on the corners, everyone chats and occasionally does business there. Now, because of the new technology and the precious few wifi hot-spots that exist, you have a new phenomena; people gathering like moths to a flame, looking for connections, though not with the people they huddle with.

As a photographer it made for some interesting shots, self-lit as they were, it gave a novel twist on the self-obsession of selfies… they were oblivious to me taking pictures.

It is easy to see this change of behaviour as a corroding of the old social fabric. I am not sure what I think, but I did often feel I was awake and walking amongst the sleep-texting people and their dreams in a crumbling city.

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Hagia Sofia and construction

Istanbul and Instagram, Late to the Game but Catching Up

Istanbul and Instagram Hagia Sofia and construction

Ceiling detail Hagia Sofia mosque

Istanbul and Instagram is part 1 about my trip to the city and contains images shot on the iPhone.

I have a list of places I want to go to and I have a friend who makes me go to them.

The places tend to be the easier ones, the ones you could visit over a weekend, with little planning and therefore, never end up going to.

Thanks to Yeesan I have finally made it to New York, Rome, Berlin and now, Istanbul, even the UK one time: a paying wedding gig was the sweetener.

Her modus operandi consist of booking stop-overs (mostly travelling from NYC to Malaysia), that are in my part of the world. It’s a great service, someone should make an app for it.

So, Istanbul in December. Colder than Barcelona but I am rarely bothered by a few days without sun and the weather suits B&W photography.

I alway knew I would like the place, kind of ramshackle, the emerging cool and trendy living cheek by jowl with faded glory and prosaic poverty.

Our apartment was pretty prosaic, but the area was great. Perched on top of a hill, an occasional boutique breaking up the uniformity of bric-à-brac  vendors and corner shops.

Pretty soon I realised Yeesan was on her phone a lot more than normal, and normal normally means never.

Social media had finally got her. I had, to be fair, joined Instagram quite a while ago but it ended up on the shelf. I just did not get it.

Yeesan did though, the secret was hashtags. When I realised this it all made sense. The trouble is coming up with good hashtags is harder than coming up with good photos. maybe I could outsource that?

So, each day we set off, keen travel photographers both and both fans of the Olympus OMD10, so now this was in  one hand and our iPhones in the other. I know you can do all that wifi sharing stuff, but as I love to use a fixed 40mm equivalent lens on my camera, but I get a little extra space with the iPhone which is sometimes  handy.

My images below were all captured using an iPhone and always using the square format.

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Postboxes with cool shadows

No Fear & Loathing in Andalucia, or How I Beat Those Black and White Blues

Postboxes with cool shadowsBack in the day, when I was shooting film and travelling, I usually had 2 cameras with me, one with transparency (slide) film and one with black and white.

The colour slide film was for stock library work (I used to make quite good money doing that) and b&w was just for me, to be processed and printed with TLC in whatever lab I could get into, or failing that a converted bathroom or kitchen (eventually I rented a proper place with a fellow photographer and felt like a grown up pro).

But there was always a problem.

I would arrive at some new exotic country and immediately get down to shooting in colour without any issues, but always I would need a day or 2 before I could ‘see’ in black & white.

This would sometimes cause me to panic, after all wasn’t this, in the end, my personal work, the thing I did for pure pleasure?

Because a lot of the images were landscapes, or outside and it was usually sunny (I am from the UK, so back then I never went anywhere that was not sunny, hot and sweaty), and as a result I would often use polarisers or red/yellow filters; the latter options helped me a great deal to see tonally, but never quite assuaged that initial panic that maybe I had finally lost the ability to work without colour.

Fast forward to now and of course with digital photography the limitations of what film you have in the camera are irrelevant, but still you have to deal with the ‘act of seeing,’ many times I have determined to shoot an image as b&w only to get it into my post-production application and find the colour version preferable (this happened a lot when I was in Berlin, a place you might think was invented for b&w!)

Then I started using M4/3 cameras and discovered the glory of digital viewfinders; you can turn them to monochrome!

I am not sure if this is cheating, as is the ability (with RAW files) of still being able to go back to colour if you decide. But what the hell, whatever works.

So when I went to Andalucia I made a point of spending several days shooting only in monochrome and of course my rule of using only one fixed lens (I have written about this elsewhere, but to recap; I work with some much equipment I therefore like the freedom of no choice when travelling).

It is still difficult, but I have always had grave doubts of anything that is too easy; that feeling you are on auto-pilot.

So, yes I often struggled but I got some images I really love and that adage of ‘no pain, no gain’ holds true even if you aren’t actually killing yourself with exercise.

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Astypalaia, Chora, Tree in the wind

Chiaroscuro in Astypalaia

Astypalaia, Chora, Tree in the windI am not being completely pretentious, using that artistic term in the title, as the island was ruled by Italy for about half of the 20th century, up until the end of WW11.

I learnt this fact one day when walking around the town on a blistering day and came across a little old widow in a worn-out shawl, “like a wizened black olive” I thought, she was gabbling away in Italian; “very curious,” then later a local told me that quite a few of the older inhabitants only ever learnt Italian because of the occupation.

I have been to Astypalaia a few times and having wandered all over the town for countless hours felt a little jaded, picture wise.

One night, escaping the kids and couples, I found myself at the cemetery with the sun going down, there was a ferocious wind and a melancholic atmosphere, that only increased as the night came.

That part of the town tends to be quieter than the centre and is a labyrinth of nocks and crannies.

I realised I had found a new muse, and returned several times to try and capture whatever it was that had that inspired me the first time.

I made a point of getting out early enough to get the light just before dusk; in the two shots of the open window with curtain I was able to make it look fairly light, and as a consequence capture the movement caused by strong winds.

Most of the other images are shot during the night and I found myself drawn to the often lurid quality of mixed light sources, consciously stopping the camera from correcting these, often you would get a light, more or less natural, combined with tungsten or florescent (one of my favourites is the one where the fence shadow is cast as green).

It is a fascinating thing how easy it is to escape the hotspots in some places by making a turn down an alley, or dim lit street and find yourself in another world. In Astypalaia this netherworld is the kingdom of a different beast; stand still long enough and the shadows metamorphous into countless feral, curious and slightly intimidating cats, like ink smudges that flow about you.

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Harvard Business School, Casablanca, plaza

Harvard Business School, Casablanca

Harvard Business School, Casablanca, girl interviewBack in January I flew to Casablanca to take photos for Harvard Business School.

Basically they had several groups of students there who were working on business proposals and as part of the assignment they had to essentially interview people around the city for market research.

So an interesting challenge, with added language and cultural hurdles to overcome. The groups were of mixed gender, so theoretically it was easier for females to approach women, but even so, from my vantage point (more on that later), I noticed that a group of clean-cut foreigners, approaching local women, did seem to bring out proprietorial traits in the men.

My job was to try and capture the interactions in as natural a way as possible, ideally the subjects would not know I was taking photos or at least be relaxed about it. My problem is that I am about 1.89m tall and blonde, so I kind of stuck out, even without waving a camera around. But you can become good at vanishing; it’s amazing how almost anyone can blend into the environment with a little practise, there are some tricks you can use of course, but in essence it’s about body language.

Luckily the support team was very helpful and I spent most of the day with Christine Ferro and a minder/translator and several times I made use of them to cover my shooting.

As with most jobs, after a couple of hours you learn the limits of what you can do and relax, so towards the end  when dealing with younger people I was able to shoot freely and closer in.

It was a satisfying job, I liked the work in the Medina, where space was cramped and you had to be on your toes, but all the angles and dramatic lighting threw up lots of interesting compositions.

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World Trade Centre Buildings

NYC: Back After Three Years, 3 Years Too Long Away…

World Trade Centre BuildingsI am painfully aware of how slack I have been in writing blog posts: but trust New York to cure that.

I am having breakfast in Maybelle’s Cafe in Brooklyn and I am surrounded by industrious people tap-tapping like fiends on their laptops, so out of pure guilt I am endeavouring to do the same.

The weather here has being capricious to say the least, yesterday it was balmy and so I walked from Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan, then headed north, finishing the day having cocktails with my friend Yeesan and eating great Malaysian food at Rasa.

But before all that I had my first full day in Manhattan and thought I should head to see the memorial park for The World Trade Centre. I was not really expecting to be that impressed but actually I was wrong, it has grandeur and the openness of the space is kind of refreshing amongst all the looming towers.

And I like the waterfalls, I found them hypnotic, contemplating them made me feel peaceful, even with the crowds.

It is in the end for most, a tourist attraction and most people were having a good time; endless selfies with cameras on sticks, lots of joking around and loud chatter.

But I saw one young woman who seemed to be quietly tearful and a couple of guys searching out a name on the panels, so look carefully amongst the happy crowds and maybe you’ll find someone who will bring it back home just what happened there.

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Graffiti in Basket Ball Court

Astypalaea Revisited (or) Trying to Avoid The Bloody Obvious…

Graffiti in Basket Ball Court… I think I half succeeded.

Greece has to be one of those places where it is too easy to slip into shooting what there is, as it is. Faithfully recording rough-hewn houses, fossilised doors, blue domes, endless steps… and cats… and cats… and… and…

I was here 4 years ago and even then felt I was treading a well-worn path, in truth I felt it 20 years ago, when, in Mexico, where I had the first of a series of epiphanies/crises, depending on how I am feeling when I think about it.

And that was in the era of film! Now, asking yourself ‘why take  photo’ is a thousand times more appropriate, so what to do?

Well the last time I did this: The Greek Islands

And this: The Greek Islands, Again

(Maybe I should rename this post ‘The Greek Islands, Again, Again…)

And the thing is I know, even back then, I was preoccupied with the same dilemma, so, looking at them now, I see things I still like and things that make me think ‘ho hum.’

Ok, this time what to do? I had a lot of time and a lot of reasons to escape the chaos of an extended families holiday, but I was not enthused, but I persevered and whether the results have merit or not, does not negate the fact that I did what any self-respecting photographer does; set yourself a task, create a project and make yourself do it, sometimes it might feel like pulling teeth but always, eventually, you get something special.

One thing I have done for the last year when travelling, or doing work just for myself, is to only work with a 20mm f1.7 Panasonic (40mm full frame equivalent); this limitation is liberating.

So I looked for details, always a good way to get out of the mid to long distance travel photography rut.

This half worked but what really caught my imagination was something else; I found myself repeatedly  drawn to any colour in the whitewashed totality of the place and that, all too often, was of the garish cheap plastic kind, something you usually try to edit out. But it is a good exercise to try to not see or prejudge things for what they are.

Imagine you don’t have these prejudices, imagine in some way you are a creature who does not understand the form or function, the history, or any of it. You just see the shapes and colours.

This is part 1 of my collection of photos of the island, in part 2 I set myself a different goal…

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Homage to Catalonia? (A Touch of Gaudí in Texas)

A little side job I had whilst in Texas (for a wedding shoot) was to photograph the house that Zack built (He was the groom and designed it as well).

I stayed there for about a week and in a few sessions took photos for a book they wanted to make.

It was an enjoyable project; though most of my work is with people (and that is what I like to do most), architecture/interiors is a close second.

What I love most is the change of pace, the thoughtfulness of the exercise. You should use a tripod, not for the obvious reasons, but because it too slows down the process and any excuse for this Zen like approach, in the modern world, has to be cherished.

I am not really being flippant though, these kind of projects benefit from preparation; getting as much right in the camera as possible and most definitely shooting with whatever post-production workflow you have in mind.

The are several recurring motives in the design of the house that appear, you could say (even if it’s not technically correct) on a macro and micro scale. The common denominator is plant structure; supports look like tree limbs, tiles show representations of microbiological details of leave structure etc and the palette is predominately of greens and browns.

I was very impressed by the attention to detail, there were lots of ‘games’ to be played I reckon exploring and trying to find the not always obvious inspiration for certain objects (a fun learning game for kids, beats looking for Easter eggs the whole time).

I particularly liked the story of the exterior walls and the experimentation that was needed to get the right texture that mimics the roughness of tree bark, apparently the ended up throwing the plaster of a particular consistency at the wall, rather messy I was told.

If I was to be perfectly honest I am not the biggest fan of Gaudí, Zack’s interpretation however I like a lot, it has none of the excess and creates a much warmer, comfortable environment and does it in a much more subtle way as well. Though when you walk around the idyllic neighbourhood they live in with its detached custom-built houses it most definitely is the one you will notice first!

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Hong Kong, The Future Now?

I got the opportunity to return to Hong Kong in September and took it. My first trip there left me feeling similar to how I felt when I first went to NYC; dazed from sensory overload.

In both places I was filled with a manic energy that, coupled with jet-lag, was very enervating; a kind of natural high. In the heat and humidity I was running around and always running on empty, butdared not relax lest I missed something. As a consequence, there were a lot of pictures that, though mostly good, now seem unconnected, with no theme, or thread to hang a story on.

As with NYC, my return trip found me a little more calm and thinking more in terms of photo essays. Though I was still kind of hyper and come the evening I was always exhausted, sleeping such odd hours that I often ate two dinners; the second most often at the all-night food market, which is worth a visit, or two, or three…

Where to stay? well I decided to head further north in Kowloon this time and ended up in Mong Kok, which is far less influenced by the ex-pats and suits of say, Tsim Sha Tsui, or The Island. If you think those areas are lively, they are nothing compared to Mong Kok! The sheer mass of people, the riot of colour and neon could be overwhelming. I was fine with it, well, except for one day, when, hung-over, having to venture out into that maelstrom (for my coconut water fix) I wished I was back in sleepy Barcelona.

I think HK just about maintains a balance between the glamour and sanitised vision of the ‘future is now’ and the vibrant, visceral patina that comes from so many people huddled into limited space; I personally like my places  messy, worn around the edges and well, a little pungent.

One day I decided to head toward the Chinese border on a train to check out other towns. I t was pretty depressing. Sure the rain didn’t help, but in truth the unremitting shabbiness of bad intensive housing and nothing historical that I could see, left me feeling like my  soul had been gutted and then probably sold to some rich guy across the border. It was pretty bleak and I was happy to get back to the lurid mania of Kowloon; it has a certain charm and benefits from being a melting pot wherein nothing has completely melted.

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