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!
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
Biot, 7 January 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.
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!
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!
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!
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