Blog - Pia Parolin

Welcome to my blog posts!

Sur les traces de Vivian Maier en Champsaur – Une histoire improbable

J'ai rarement entendu une histoire aussi improbable que l'histoire de Vivian Maier. Ce n’est que par une série d’événements fort coïncidents que ses chefs-d’œuvre photographiques se sont révélés et ont enrichi les musées, les expositions, les livres. Vivian Maier n'était pas photographe officiellement, et elle avait à peine développé quelques un de ses 120 000 négatifs. Elle n’a jamais montré ses photos, elle les rangeait proprement dans des boîtes.

Son argent elle le gagnait comme nounou à New York et à Chicago entre 1951 et 1993. Elle se présentait avec un accent français en disant : "Je viens avec ma vie et ma vie est dans des cartons". Elle avait toujours son appareil photo avec elle. Dans les années 50 ce n'était pas courant, comme rien n'était habituel chez Vivian Maier. C'était une grande femme avec les chaussures de taille 44, célibataire et sans enfant, qui se consacrait discrètement à sa photographie. Elle a vécu cela avec tant de passion et de perfection qu'elle est devenue une artiste et en même temps un témoin contemporain d'une valeur infinie.

La chose la plus étonnante dans sa carrière, cependant, est que les négatifs avec les images, qu'elle n'a jamais vus elle-même, ont été achetés par hasard par un photographe de Chicago. Il cherchait de vieilles images de l'architecture de la ville et il a acheté à l'aveugle plusieurs valises contenant les affaires de cette vieille dame qui avait besoin d’argent. John Maloof a découvert un trésor. Ce qui est merveilleux avec cette histoire, c'est qu'il a reconnu la valeur de ces clichés au lieu de peut-être jeter les photos contenant des portraits d'inconnus dans la rue. Grâce à cette découverte, Vivian Maier est maintenant considérée comme l’une des photographes de rue les plus doués. Mais il y a aussi le problème qu’aujourd’hui les images valent des dizaines de milliers de dollars et l’héritage n’est pas encore totalement compris. Les officiels aux États-Unis sont toujours à la recherche de proches éloignés, et le développement est bloqué pour le moment.

La chose la plus étonnante dans sa carrière, cependant, est que les négatifs avec les images, qu'elle n'a jamais vus elle-même, ont été achetés par hasard par un photographe de Chicago. Il cherchait de vieilles images de l'architecture de la ville et il a acheté à l'aveugle plusieurs valises contenant les affaires de cette vieille dame qui avait besoin d’argent. John Maloof a découvert un trésor. Ce qui est merveilleux avec cette histoire, c'est qu'il a reconnu la valeur de ces clichés au lieu de peut-être jeter les photos contenant des portraits d'inconnus dans la rue. Grâce à cette découverte, Vivian Maier est maintenant considérée comme l’une des photographes de rue les plus doués. Mais il y a aussi le problème qu’aujourd’hui les images valent des dizaines de milliers de dollars et l’héritage n’est pas encore totalement compris. Les officiels aux États-Unis sont toujours à la recherche de proches éloignés, et le développement est bloqué pour le moment.

The power of repeating

I used a spare hour to go explore the heights of Nice in beautiful Cimiez with my camera. It was just before sunset, I had very little time and … discovered a universe.

It was not the first time I went there, I used to go there with my children and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Now I am back as a photographer, and I find so much potential for great photography there! And I had so little time to get it all done the way I had it in my head: the right person in the right position at the right spot with the right light…

In Cimiez, there are Roman ruins, a beautiful park with hundreds of old olive trees, a cloister with a wonderful flower garden, a modern museum, and the spectacular art déco buildings from the belle époque when the French Riviera was invented. People play pétanque and walk their dogs, make sports together in the shade of the olive trees or simply sit on a park bench. The calm and silence of a remote mountain influences the mood although we are just above the busy city center and just below the very busy highway.

While driving back home I thought: how lucky am I that I can come back to this place, with my camera, with other photographers, whenever I want. And I realized that the only way of getting better and to grow as a photographer is to go back to the same place, over and over again. Maybe I can be lucky to get the perfect picture with the perfect light in the right moment at this first visit.

But the right moment and position is not easy to spot on the first visit. And then perhaps I find it but the light is just not in the right spot. So I will go back to the same place, repeat, get better.

find - wait - click - repeat

find - wait - click - repeat

It is great to travel abroad: I just came back from a month in Madagascar, so many new places and people and nature to explore. But the things that make me really grow as a photographer are… those right in front of my house!

Nice, 3/9/2019

Nuremberg, Dealing With an Uncomfortable Past

Published by Ugo Cei, written by Pia Parolin July 2019

Nuremberg and Nice have been twin cities for 65 years. Not that the majority of Nuremberg´s or Nice's citizens knows that. I have been living near Nice for 15 years now, and those whom I spoke to about my upcoming trip were rather surprised: "Really? Nuremberg? That's the city where Hitler ... "and that's where the knowledge was confined.

In fact, Nuremberg was chosen by the horrible dictator as the city to represent the Nazi regime because of its central position. What most people do not know outside of Germany, is that Nuremberg is extremely committed to dealing with its past, and they have done a great job. It is one of the most beautiful medieval cities with open minded friendly people you can think of. It has a huge university and thus lots of students strive by on their bikes in the green belts along the picturesque river in the city centre. It is part of Bavaria, so hanging around in the beer gardens is a must and a pleasure.

The city has more than 500,000 inhabitants and is known for its culinary and cultural richness, for its beautiful rebuilt old town, important former citizens like Albrecht Dürer and Maria Sibylla Merian, and much more. Loads of international tourists find their way to the medieval castle on top of the hill. Everything is in walking distance and within pedestrian zone, so a really nice environment to walk, take photos, meet other people.

The city is colorful, openminded, with a happy communicative atmosphere and consistently positive. Just like Nice, the formerly Italian Mediterranean sister city with its equally picturesque old town, flooded by tourists from all over the world, and the Promenade des Anglais which stretches along the blue Mediterranean, full of life and colours even after the devastating attack 3 years ago. So both cities share a dramatic past, be it decades or just three years ago, and developed their strategies to find back into a normal positive life.

In 2018, I was contacted by the French Cultural Institute and then by the International House of Nuremberg to make a photo exhibition with my series "Promenade Moments" in Nuremberg. I was immediately thrilled. As a native Italian with a German passport living in France, I feel deeply European.

It is my intention to contribute to international understanding and to combat generalizations and ignorance. It is important to me to see our beautiful Europe united and open, tolerant and laughing instead of surrendering to populist thinking and building up walls and demarcations. This also came to my mind when I read the invitation. And I immediately agreed.

The series of photographs intended for the exhibition shows minimalist colourful pictures of the promenade, looking straight at the sea, with people passing by, often with intentionally inserted motion blur, full of colours and movement and life. Things happen for an ephemeral moment and in the next second they are already presented differently. This is also the core of street photography, which I am discovering in recent years.

After a life as a scientist, with a phd in biology, lecturing at the University of Hamburg and making research in the Brazilian Amazon region, I now discover the world on the doorstep with the camera. And that's just as exciting! My vernissage at the International House in Nuremberg was a great success. The gallery is a bright large room with a view of half-timbered houses and the Pegnitz river, ideal conditions for an exhibition.

Other than usual, my photos were printed on paper, in 35x35 cm and with frames for this exhibition. I have had solo exhibitions with huge flashy photos printed in 1x1 meter on shiny metal, minimalistic without frames, and reflecting the light. But the gallery opted for the small paper prints, and I was curious what it looks like. I was amazed: even on paper, the colours look beautiful, calming and happy at the same time. A well-attended vernissage, everything perfectly organized by the International House, the visitors were thrilled, full of questions and admiration.

A huge pleasure shared also by the Nuremberg Unposed Collective, the whole group of street photographers came along. The photos will still be on display until 31.7., then they will go to Bonn to the French-German Institute where they will be on view until October.

On this evening in Nuremberg, I made many new contacts, talking about the beautiful sea but also about terrorist attacks and dealing with the past. I find it very satisfying to see my photos displayed and admired in a beautiful setting. However, much more important and more satisfying to me is the intellectual exchange that accompanies this. That's why I travel across Europe and the world, because I care about European countries getting to know each other. Neighbouring countries should not freeze in prejudice.

Existing long-term connections should revive and be fertile instead of slowly dying like the partnerships of these two cities. So now, many ideas are buzzing in my mind: artist exchanges, mutual invitations to exhibitions and joint photo projects, barbecues with collectives getting to know each other, and photo walks in the two cities. But above all, I wanted to get to know Nuremberg better, and used two free afternoons during my stay to explore the background of the Nazi regime and the workup done by the next generation. I went to the Documentation Center on the “Reichstagsgelände” with the huge Congress Hall, the former representative enormous “Aufmarschstraße” and the endless “Zeppelinfeld”. It took me several hours to circumnavigate the entire area in a walk of more than 10 km.

While walking I realized even more what an absurd megalomania this reign of rightwinged terror propagated. After coping with the oppressive feeling of walking a lot, I found my own way of portraying and ridiculing this gigantic Nazi project. I do not mean to say that the fascist regime and its millions of murders are ridiculous. What looks like a funny colourful triviality in the photo, for me is the symbol "Flamingos instead of cannons! Bright colours instead of hate slogans! " – just my form of dealing with it. People in Nuremberg in the end deal with it in a similar way. They installed this fun park all around the old Nazi buildings. The main building is larger than the Coliseum in Rome and represented the nucleus of the planned powerful empire.

Today, the vast empty spaces are used for large folk festivals, beer parties and rock concerts. The symbols left behind are integrated in modern educational museums. The Nuremberg trials were the beginning of international criminal law, still in the early stages of its development worldwide. Here, the first court cases were held with judges from different countries. The Nuremberg Trials produced the world's first charges of crimes against humanity. I wish more countries on this planet would pursue genocides following the example of Nuremberg.

It is a great way to raise awareness, intensively deal with all the details, but then return to a free and lighthearted life. Despite bad things in the past, we have the privilege of living in peaceful countries, leading lives without fear. I enjoy my life without being afraid of diversity. On the contrary, I am curious and open about everything different and new. This is why I deal with the Nazi past in Nuremberg and with the terror attack in Nice by taking colourful photos.

Tired after walking all those kilometres in the summer sun, I found my way back to the city centre of Nuremberg. I discovered wonderful modern buildings near the train station, museums with reflective glass facades, games of light and shadows, perfect for playing with my camera and getting inspired for street photography.

Now I travel back to the warm colourful Nice, full of new impressions, enriching encounters and creative ideas in my head. I am looking forward to the next time I visit Nuremberg and will try my best to motivate people from abroad – and specifically from Nice – to discover Nuremberg. After all, 65 years of partnership correspond to two human generations and thus represent an incredible basis for reciprocal understanding and exchange.

Pia Parolin, Nürnberg 11.7.2019

Beauty

I’m fascinated by beauty. Not the beauty we see every day, on the advertisements or on TV and on Instagram pictures of some nice young girl showing off.

I am fascinated by the beauty of nature and by the beauty created by humans. In nature, I find beauty in landscapes, in complex structures of a flower or an animal encountered on a diving tour, in improbable colours of a frog. But how much beauty has been created by humans, in all cultures, in all forms. 

A perfect song like Bohemian Rhapsody which right now is in everyone´s playlist again but way back in the 80s it already was one of my favourite songs, so complex and unpredictable, like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, or Verdi´s operas.

I find fascination when I watch a painting of Caravaggio or stand in front of an architectural creation like a perfect Inca wall or a modern museum. Architecture, on the other hand, provides a clear illustration of the social, environmental, and economic costs of ignoring beauty, as can be seen in the cities around the world.

I admire beauty in photography. Again, beauty is not reduced to the beauty of a person or a landscape, but the beauty lies in the composition, in the game of the colours, in an improbable situation frozen by the click in this very right moment.

Pictures can have strong or less strong impacts. Joan Miro said: „You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at the picture for a second and think of it all your life.”

Georges Braque once said: Art is meant to disturb, science reassures. I am not sure I share this opinion. Art is also meant to please. It does not necessarily have to and if it disturbs it s a strong means to transport a message.

But art was created to please the eye, to express emotions which touch one´s soul. Art in music, in classical paintings, and in architecture, and often also in photography, is not there to disturb but to be admired and appreciated for the emotions it creates.

It may create emotions because it is just beautiful. But then, beauty is very relative and everybody feels differently when confronted to art.

To Teofila Reich-Ranicki, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, beauty meant order and peace in an otherwise barbaric world. When you see horrifying things in your daily life, something beautiful can bring relief and happiness.

Today we are surrounded by apparently perfect beautiful things we try to achieve, the beautiful body, the beautiful villa and seascape for the holidays.

Philosophers unveiled the secret of beauty in the Western society: they claim all is a matter of urges, hormone-controlled, determined by the genes. Our bodies are programmed to see the good in the beautiful, because beautiful people appear healthy and vital…

The philosopher Roger Scruton points out in his documentary "Why Beauty Matters" that in the twentieth century, beauty became unimportant, and instead it became more and more the goal of art to break and destroy moral taboos; it was not beauty, but originality that was sought after. So, whether we strive for beauty or originality, it is still a very personal matter and a necessary part of practical reasoning in any attempt to harmonise our activities and ways of life… in art.

“Man does not live by bread alone - He lives from beauty and harmony, from truth and goodness, from yearning and from fulfillment. He lives from the silence of a church, from the gentle pressure of one hand, from the whisper of the wind, from the scent of flowers, from the sound of water, from the majesty of the mountains. He lives on the venture of the discoverers, on the wisdom of the thinkers, on the works of the poets, on the painters' colors, on the compositions of the musicians.”

And I would add: on the beauty of a photographically captured moment!

Biot, 2 July 2019

The red man

UNIQUE

A fundamental part of being an artist is to have a unique style, to have something different from everybody else. Something, that when people look at a picture, they say: this must be a work by XXX. The day this happened to me for the first time, I knew: now I am a photographer with my own style, now I am not just a hobby shooter anymore.

It is very satisfying to feel unique. But then I ask myself: do the people understand my picture or series the way I understand it? Must there be a unique way to see and feel and interpret a picture? Is this really important to me as an artist?

To answer these questions, I think it depends on the purpose of my picture. If, for example, I want to send out a message about the conservation of nature, it is important that people who observe my picture understand what I want to say with it.

The message must be clear and the way to interpret it must be unique. I do not want to leave much room for interpretation in this kind of context. I want the people to feel the same emotions as me and react in a particular way as a consequence.

My aim is to stimulate them to reflect by looking at my photo so that my photo motivates them to make their own contributions to nature conservancy. However, in a different context it might be less important to send out a unique message.

If I take a picture in the city, for example of a lady with a long colourful dress who walks along the Promenade des Anglais, I have certain emotions linked to this: I think of beauty, holidays, freedom, happiness full of light and colour. Once this photo hangs on a wall, it emanates these unique emotions to me. The way I took it, the way I interpret it, the way I understand the context, it releases unique thoughts to me.

But obviously, someone else with a different background and associations can see it and feel completely different about the same picture. Someone who was present on the same spot on the day of the murder attack of the 14th of July 2016, and lived the horrors of that night, will not share my emotions. They will have a deeply different feeling about my picture, perhaps one of pain and anger and depression.

So, since it is my creation which I did with a certain purpose and to transmit a certain message – can I expect the observer to see and feel my picture the way I want? Clearly this is impossible, and it is even sad not to allow different emotions linked to my picture. It is a gain of freedom and of diversity to receive multiple responses to my interpretation of a photograph. There is not a unique way to see and feel and interpret a picture.

In the case of my colourful photographs of the “Promenade Moments”, some people may even be offended by the superficial happiness they emanate. But they are not meant to be disrespectful, on the contrary. I apologise here if someone interprets my pictures in a different way, it is not my intention to hurt somebody. I made many efforts to contribute and help the surviving victims and their relatives.

Not everybody was as lucky as I was: my kids were on the promenade as well on that evening of the 14th of July 2016 but they came home safely on the next day, after being received in the house of strangers for the night. I was asked repeatedly to take photographs of the memorial which I did happily and obviously without asking for money.

I donated pictures for a book to raise money for the memorial, I donated several large expensive prints on metal, I offered workshops and kept up the dialogue with people who did not yet find their way back to a normal life.

So my unique happiness is not shared by this group of people who have a unique sadness when watching my series. I know artists who want their work to be understood exactly the way they understand it. They add clear descriptions in order to share their point of view.

I also know artists who never give their photos or series a title, just to allow for the complete liberty of the observer who this way can develop whatever he/she likes to see in the exposed picture.

This way, my unique feelings do not matter at all and are not perceived but re-interpreted by the unique feelings of someone else.

Both types of approach are fully valid but I think it is important that an artist makes up his mind on which of the two he wants to live. Maybe there is even room for a middle way or an approach which is completely different.

The one important thing to me is to be aware of this all, and to make up my mind about which message I want to send out. Then I can decide if I place a description and a title near my picture or rather not. By the way I always go for the option that my pictures have a title and the series has a short description.

This also helps me to clearly define the series for myself and create a coherent group of pictures by asking myself: does this photo fit the idea of my series, or is it too unique? I am happy to share my ideas about my photos but far from imposing that it is the only possible way to see them.

How wonderful is it when I observe young people spending ten minutes in front of one of my pictures, actively and creatively discussing their interpretation and ideas and feelings and emotions. What a loss it would be to impose my emotions, what a gain is it to share and learn other people´s point of view.

21.6.2019 Magdeburg, after the opening of my photo exhibition at the Moritzhof Cultural Centre 

Seborga, a village that is its own country

Seborga, a village that is its own country by Pia Parolin On the occasion of a 50 year anniversary of a friend, we wanted to organise something really special with a group of ladies. And in the year 2019, is there something more romantic than being received by a prince? And furthermore, receiving a passport of one of the smallest micro nations in the world? All of this is possible in the picturesque village of Seborga, hidden in the charming hills behind the Mediterranean Sea in Northwestern Italy, near the French border. If you are looking for an old beautiful Italian village with friendly people who smile when you photograph them, Seborga will fit the bill nicely and add picturesque views on top of it. And much more than this! In a small rented bus we went up the winding roads which lead from the Mediterranean sea through fields of flowers and greenhouses. Just before reaching the summit of the hill, a monument indicates that we enter the Principality of Seborga, an area of 14 sq. km located in the Italian region of Liguria.

The Principality´s flag with blue and white stripes and a red cross in the middle was waving in the mild wind on a bright sunny day. At the entrance of the village stood a man who was awaiting us: we learned that he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in person. After a warm welcome he gave us a guided city tour which started with an old church right at the village entrance. Seborga is an old perched village up on top of a mountain, with houses that are a few hundred years old, standing so close that they seem to be all one. Beautiful squares open up in the middle of the village which was founded in the year 954.

Since 1079, Seborga has a prince: the Pope gave the abbot the authorization to bear the name of prince. However, Seborga’s independence ended in the Middle Ages, when Seborga became part of the feudal holdings of the Counts of Ventimiglia. In the 18th century it was sold to what would become Italy. But after a long break and winding historic events, during which this little town was just one of hundreds of Italian villages, the Prince came back! In the year 1963, a Seborgan named Giorgio Carbone brought back life into Seborga’s history of independence. He found documents in the archives of the Vatican which demonstrated, as the Seborgans claim, the validity of the status of Seborga as independent from Italy. The sale of the city was invalid as proven by some documents found by the villager. So for most residents of Seborga, this tiny village is not part of Italy! They consider it as an independent principality and declared their independence, without weapons and wars. Recently, a new Prince – Marcello Menegatto – was elected for seven years. Yes, in Seborga the status of prince is not inherited but is elective. This way, Seborga stands in line with other elective monarchies like the Vatican, Malaysia or Samoa! Today, the village counts 300 inhabitants who all know each other – much in contrast to most Italians who have no idea that there is a hidden monarchy amongst them! Seborga residents all speak Italian but they have their own Seborga id cards, their own stamps, and their own local currency.

...

After a nice lunch on the main square, we left Seborga with the intention to come back one day and meet the Prince in person. The Seborgans told us that he is usually in residence during festivities, when he takes the time to greet every single person who is present. Maybe this village will never really be independent, maybe the Seborgans play a game for themselves, but they do it all together and they all have this smile on their lips indicating: “Yes, we know this all seems weird, but we love to live outside reality here and there. We play together and share wonderful moments like in a fairy tale.” Who cares about the real world and real politics that lie far away, down the winding road? They all have a beautiful story to tell and they know that their struggle for independence is as serious as the passport they release to visitors. No one has to fear weapons and wars to protect their Principality. Their weapon is the open smile which let us be part of their fairy tale for a day. Being a photographer, sharing these smiles and capturing them with our photographs is very rewarding. By spreading their story with our pictures we can contribute to their dream of being a real Principality. 

... read more on Ugo´s website: 

https://www.ucphoto.me/b/seborga/

March  2019

  • The bad guy who followed me

Amsterdam Street Photography

The photographer Ugo Cei  pushed me to write about my travels. He  intended really different places like the Amazon or Borneo. But I decided to start with Amsterdam.

Why look so far afield when there is so much close at hand?

On a rainy day I landed in Amsterdam with half a day ahead all for myself. My plan was to walk through the city, enjoy some spontaneous street photography while walking the streets, in the style of Alex Webb with multiple layers and peoples‘ portraits.

I found that the colour red is really obvious and ubiquitous in the city of Amsterdam - so I decided I will focus on the colour red. I enjoyed doing this until I took that picture of the red bar with the red sign and red chairs inside and one guy sitting in there. Nothing special but I liked the setting and composition. I stood in front of the shop with the open doors and took a picture.

First I took it in a candid way and then I thought I might focus better on the composition and took my time. After four pictures I walked away across the street and I did some panning on bicycles passing by.

For sure people remarked me. Some ignored me, some looked in a questioning way and some even smiled. While I walked on a long road all alone close to a Gracht, this young man approached me, a small guy not even 30, with a cell phone on his ear, definitely from the middle east, speaking good English. He said in a quite aggressive way « you took my picture », and I said « I don’t think so » - because I honestly did not intend to take a picture of this guy in particular, I was looking at the colour red and just liked the little restaurant with its red chairs (I made the faces unrecognizable on purpose). He insisted that I took a picture and that I should delete it. No problem! But then I thought that scrolling back and just delete the pictures would take forever and eat up my battery. I was not even aware which picture he was speaking about at that point. So I said in a very polite way : „Oh come on, just forget about this, I did not take your picture.“ I turned around and just walked away and thought this is it, everything is okay. I went on walking and taking pictures of people in the streets of beautiful Amsterdam in the rain.

It must have been at least 20 minutes later, and some kilometres away, when I noticed that the same guy was standing behind me. He had been following me through the little roads of Amsterdam all that time! Now I honestly was a bit scared.

I turned around and in a very polite way I asked: „why are you following me?“ He said „you took my picture“ and again I said „I did not take a picture and if I did I can delete the picture but just leave me alone please“. I was a bit worried, I must admit. Maybe I should have just deleted the picture, but I did not want to scroll all the pictures down in front of him.

While thinking what to do best, I walked and he stalked me. So I walked faster - and I can walk fast! - and turned left and right at improbable moments. At a certain point I hid behind a huge bus and the next moment the guy walked past me, and I ran back the other way. I think that’s where he lost me … but I was not sure.

Five minutes later I walked past two police ladies and I told them my story. They asked: where is the guy? And I said: „Honestly, I don’t see him any more so he might have lost me“. She said: okay, take it easy. I could not take it easy but I just walked away fast for another 3 km, right and left and right and left until I was close to my hotel. I wanted to make sure there was nobody to see me get into my hotel.

At the Hotel desk I told the guy my story, so that he would be prepared in case a terror commando would come in to kidnap me... In the end I had a nice Dutch beer! And when I checked my pictures on laptop, I recognised the guy on so many of my pictures because he had been following me for such a long time! I will definitely pay more attention the next time I take pictures of people, and I will make an effort to delete the picture in front of them right away if they ask me to do so.

But I sure saw a lot of nice parts of Amsterdam rushing through the city today!


Amsterdam, 6 March 2919

I am allowed to play!

Great art comes with great inspiration… and time. I found it hard to take cool inspiring photographs when I have my watch telling me that the minutes countdown is running to pick up my daughter or write that report.

As a scientist and mother, with full time working, family and social activities, lots of traveling and a big house to manage, time is a very rare and precious item. I learned to fit in my personal relaxing and creative moments into the daily routine of my job and my family.

I considered it selfish to ignore the needs of my family and friends and colleagues and just leave, alone with my camera. And when I finally went out with my camera, my conscience always told me I should rather be fixing this problem or organising that issue rather than „just playing around with my camera“.

It took me a long time to realize that I am allowed to play! It is no use to try to be creative with my camera if my brain is still in the modus: „you should be with your family or at work“. I even felt envious of the adults who play with their inline skates just like children...

I started telling myself: the world does not end if I take an hour or an early morning off while everybody is still sleeping. It needed maturity and responsibility and a clear planning, but I finally managed to create moments in the month or week when I could immerge 100% into my selfish wish to play with my camera.

I told myself I should not have a bad feeling – my kids don´t really have a bad feeling when they hang out with their friends although dinner is ready at home, my colleagues don´t always have a bad feeling when their revision of a paper is overdue.

And most importantly: Just a little bit more selfishness still does not make me a selfish person. It makes me a more satisfied happy person! And this in the end is more satisfying for my family and colleagues too. It felt like a liberation.

But this liberation does not fall from heaven. It was a process in which I continuously told myself: everything is organized and ok and I am allowed to play. I can take my time, without regret. It took some time to learn to focus on the moment, to find the inner peace and freedom. On Amazon you can find over 3000 books dealing with how to learn this!

I learned to accept the gift of time for myself and each time the „little devil“ came up to raise my bad conscience I just focused on my camera and ignored him! Simple non-observance of bad conscience and the happiness to get back to playing like a child brought back the creativity and inspiration.

Yes, I am allowed to play, and it feels good!

Have a great childishly creative week

Pia

Biot, 7 February 2019

The evolution of a photographer

Being a biologist, evolution, development, and innovation are processes that are very familiar and give the salt and pepper to the biological thought. Being also a photographer in my spare time, and having reached a certain level, I am now struggling with the question: where to next? What can be my next creative challenge that gives me as much satisfaction as I had from other achievements during the past years?

Like the evolution of plants (as you can see on the picture above), the evolution of inspiration and creativity can take really spectacular shapes (Puya raimondii; Peru 2015).

So first, as a scientist, I define the levels of a photographer, the different evolutionary steps in the ontogenesis – the personal development. I am sure that the development is as manifold as people, and camera types, and cultures and backgrounds are diverse. But still, there might be some similarities beyond the borders of personalities and artistic paths.

I do not earn my living with photography, I earn my money as a biologist, so I am a photographer for fun in my spare time. It is different if you need to make money with your photos. So for those who do it for leisure and pleasure perhaps this blog can bring some inspiration, and I can get some inspiration back if you reply to me!

The evolution of a photographer today often starts with making pictures by clicking on your cell phone, to keep the memory of a moment with friends or a beautiful landscape or an artistic meal at a restaurant.

The next step might be to put more effort into the pictures and this means that at a certain point you might get a real camera. The new photographer now needs to learn how to deal with the camera, by reading and experimenting. You will perhaps get information and inspiration from youtube videos, from all the ressources the internet offers, webinars, podcasts, and also old books, art expositions and museums.

At this level, knowledge, inspiration and creativity go only in one direction: There is information out there and it gets into your brain, skills and capacities.

The next level then is to interact with other photographers, with a teacher in a workshop, where someone looks at your pictures and the whole process takes place at an exchange level, via an individual dialogue. After learning from virtual or real teachers and getting feedback on the work, the next level could be to show your work to the world. For this, you need to have inspiration, ideas and enough self-confidence! First you can post your pictures on Facebook and Instagram and Flickr but maybe you print them and show them at a local exhibition, and maybe you start getting attention, you might win a prize.

Participating at the activities of a local photo club, going to openings of photographic exhibitions to meet other photographers, participate at local competitions, photo marathons and exhibiting the photos in the real world and not only on virtual internet sites, is the next level in the development as this gets you involved with real persons, other photographers who inspire you and reassure you and share photographic moments with you.

The next step could be to create a coherent series of images, and exposing it as a series at an exhibition, in an art gallery, or in the restaurant next door. At the latest at this point you need a nice website, business cards with a contact email and a Facebook and/or Instagram page. To round up your work the series might get published in a book, and you might start to sell your art work at exhibitions, local fairs and markets.

Once this level is reached, to my mind the next challenge is to participate in a collective of photographers, and / or to find someone who represents your work in a gallery and does the marketing. I guess everybody would be highly flattered if he/she reached the status of being well-known around the globe, not in the virtual Instagram world but in the real world, with real appreciation for the art you produce, maybe with good sales, and exposing in renown museums. It all depends on where you want to go – selling art work at an interesting price, sharing photographic skills and learning, exposing at international exhibitions.

This is the step where I find myself right now, and I wonder what could be the next step. My dream is to edit a beautiful big book with my photos, and to reach a level of recognition outside of the local community, more European or global.

For this goal, it is important to get out of the comfort zone, make the effort to leave your country and change language, participate at competitions in the neighbouring countries and at workshops in cities which you can reach with a train or low-cost airplane. In Europe it is easy to just fly to London, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Rome and find weekend workshops or photo walks, and this way get to know other photographers and new places and sources of inspiration.

For me the one important thing in my personal evolution is to never stand still, there is always a movement, and I am well aware that movement is not necessarily progress! So I look for the next step that means progress in my personal evolution as a photographer. I want to improve my technological skills, and continue to stimulate my creativity by watching the big masters in museums and art books.

I love inspiring podcasts, like those by Valérie Jardin, Ugo Cei, Kai Behrmann and Gate 7, Marco Larousse, but also Seth Godin and many others. I might find a new direction and style and themes and then go for it – just play around and try out new things. Listening to the new podcast with Ugo Cei and Fabrizia Costa, “Closing The_Gap”, one sentence remained in my head: Start before you’re ready. This is a good way to get out and take pictures without the fear of failure. Without this fear, creativity can take the lead and with a bit of luck this opens a new universe.

However, once I find a new subject, I try to stick to it. I stay there and try to focus because creativity has to mature, it is not there all the time on a very high level, it needs time. I don´t even try to be perfect from the start, because otherwise I do not start. But I learned to be patient, and let the creative flow evolve to perfection.

Perfection in photography is important, but it should not inhibit the creativity. Once a decision is taken, “don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done” as someone wrote on the internet. However, Leonardo da Vinci said he could never finish his artworks, he only could abandon them. So every artist is different and has a different demand towards himself.

For a hobby photographer, life is easy. As Seth Godin said in his podcast “Akimbo”: “If it is work we try to figure out how to do less, if it is art we try to figure out how to do more!” The evolution of the photographer is driven by creativity. And creativity has to be maintained alive and fed regularly. To look for satisfaction with the questions in mind: “Where to next, which is my next creative challenge?” might be the catalysator that enables us to make progress and evolve, innovate, and this way develop great photographic art.

Pia

Biot 3rd January 2019

The Making of ... "RAINY WINDOWS"


If you get bored on rainy days like these: I am happy to share my knowledge about how to take rainy day pictures! On a rainy day, sit in the car, park it in a way that the object of your focus is well placed behind the windshield. Do not even think of taking pictures while driving!! Set your camera on manual focus (3-10m, depending on your object of focus outside the car), aperture f16 to have both the drops and the objects outside in focus, the rest is regulated semi-automatically; you will automatically have a very low speed, so if possible pose your camera on the steering wheel for stability and look at the display rather than through the viewfinder. Hold your camera at ca 30-50 cm from the windshield. Look for good backgrounds, like a wall or something which makes your object stand out. Otherwise the picture is too charged and you do not recognize anything with the drops on it. Be sure to wear dark clothes so there are less reflections on your windows caused by yourself. Have fun on the next rainy day! Oh yes, and do not forget to turn off your windscreen wipers!

Pia

Biot 16 December 2018

Yellow Skate Girl

Connectivity

In my generation, born in the 60s, things took time. To see a printed picture after you shot it, to exchange a letter, to be tracked if you took someone´s picture – this could take weeks or months, or sometimes it never happened. Obviously things have changed a lot since the landing on the moon with a computer that probably had a smaller capacity than the cellphone everybody carries in his pocket today. I am well aware of technological progress and love it, and yet there are moments of real astonishment. Last summer, I could not believe how fast I was in contact with a skateboarder whose pictures I took on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. I did not ask, I just took the pictures of this girl who made her acrobacies in front of me. In fact, I was supposed to pick up my teenage daughter and should have left long ago. I had already packed my camera into my backpack and waited for my daughter while the sun started to set. I was tired and bored and my daughter was late and I started to feel cold and just wanted to leave. I received a message that it would take her another half hour. One advantage – or rather disadvantage? – of being connected is that you can make last minute changes and actually tell the person who had a planned meeting with you about it. So I said ok, so what, I looked at the beautiful evening sea and suddenly this girl with her skateboard showed up. I watched her and admired her acrobacies. Finally I took my camera out of the bag and took some pictures without even getting up, I was tired and wanted to go home. Finally my daughter showed up and we left. When I looked at the pictures at home after dinner, the pictures of the skateboard girl happened to be the best I had taken in the whole day! I was happy and proud and posted one on Instagram right away. And then the incredible happened: after less than one hour I was in contact with this precise girl – whom I could easily have spoken to while taking pictures, but I was too lazy. I was really astonished about how fast and without intent we were connected. I am followed on IG by some hundreds of people, not many actially, but there are friends of my teenage kids among them and one of them knew that girl and tagged her and she replied in the same minute that she liked the picture. Luckily! Imagine she would have been upset… I wrote her a message introducing myself and telling her that I admired her and had shot some nice pictures and that I would send them to her if she wanted. I also offered to delete everything if she preferred so. but she was happy and proud and at the launch of my first printed photography book I invited her and we took pictures together in front of a large sized metal print of her. She was so happy! In this specific case, the connectivity resulted in big happiness and proudness. I am aware that this is not always the case and since then I pay a lot of attention to ask the people whose faces are recognizable for permission, or to take the pictures in a way that their faces cannot be discerned. Another a funny story happened this week: I sold a ticket for a theatre evening that I cannot attend, and the woman that found my announcement on the theatre page and whom I had never seen before told me: “I know you, I follow you on Instagram!” She realised this the moment I sent her an SMS – her cellphone popped up my name and made the connection! 😱😊 Moral of the story: No matter what, you are connected. Be careful and make the best of it!

Pia

Zürich / Switzerland, 12 November 2018

Inspiration versus Plagiarism

Hi to everybody and thank you for reading what I want to say, and to think and discuss it together! This is my very first blog post about photography and I hope you are interested in sharing your ideas and experiences with me.

Yesterday, once more, I visited a museum. It was an excellent exhibition of Belgian Jan Fabre in the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence. Among dozens of sculptures, one was outstanding to me. Being Italian and with a passion for art, much to the surprise of the other art lovers around me I recognized the sculpture “Il Cristo Velato” made in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino and conserved in the Sansevero Chapel in Naples. But in fact, it was not this sculpture but an almost identical one, with a female head and breasts. Astonishingly, neither the title (“Gisant”) nor the dedication (to the American neuro-anatomist Elizabeth Caroline Crosby) referred to the original work which even the museum guide never even heard of. Later I read that in 2011, Fabre exposed a “Pietà” at the Biennale in Venice – same situation, a plagiarism of a well-known classical oeuvre.

A plagiarism? For a long time I have been discussing this issue with friends and artists. I am not concerned so far with plagiarism but maybe one day the problem arises. So far, I watch someone´s work and get inspired, and I take pictures that are influenced by what I saw – this way I develop my creativity.

So today´s philosophical question: Where is the line between inspiration and plagiarism, in photography and in art in general? When is appropriation legitimate? Is it enough to build up your own conceptual idea around a picture or series even though it may copy something already existing? How can I defend my work against the accusation of plagiarism if I develop an idea, that is only partially new?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Pia

Biot, 7 November 2018

Welcome to my Blog!

For years I thought that I would start to write a blog. I write them in my head but then never put them into my computer. I read blogs and listen to a lot of photography podcasts and participate at workshops and meet other photographers and painters and sculptures just to talk about art and photography. So my head is filled with ideas, creativity, knowledge, questions, need to share the thoughts and understand how other people see things, interpret a given fact, understand a situation. And since my energy is almost interminable and my thoughts make my head explode I decided to use this valve to let all my thoughts out and get feedback and start a discussion with other interested people. I am a passionate biologist, I lived many years in the Amazon for my phd studies and was a university lecturer and am currently a researcher at a French Institute. I travel the world for conferences and round tables, for field work and cooperations. And yet, this passion is not enough. I finally re-discovered photography and allowed myself to play and take my time just like a child who does not care for anything else around and lives the moment…so here I am ready to share: thoughts and fears, creative approaches and methods, ideas and ideologies, let us start a conversation!

Capture a moment, create an atmosphere!

Biot, France; October 2018


Please share your thoughts!

Powered by SmugMug Log In