WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

Taking The Time To See

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Looking At Sculpture

“The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.” William Osler

Do you take the time to see? I mean, to really see. You alone can answer this question, but I have to guess that most of us in these time-starved days simply don’t have the opportunity, or willingness, to slow down enough to “smell the roses,” so to speak. After all, time, with all its virtues and detriments, plays games on us all. There’s simply too little of it available for creativity and inspiration after factoring in all the “must do’s” in life. Work, family, personal grooming, chores, wait time, you name it and we’ve all been there. In fact, and as much as it pains me to say it, I’ll go as far as to say that such demands on our time are simply unavoidable. They are an integral part of the weave of life, at once detracting from and enriching our short journeys on planet earth. But if these time demands are inevitable, how is it possible to find time for creativity and inspiration in this journey. Was Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) correct when he said in that it is not that we have so little of it, but rather than we waste so much of it?

Perhaps the answer lies not in the effort to create more free time than what we have (although this is always a good thing), but rather on increasing the “quality” of the time we have. And yes, I’m talking about he old “turn lemons into lemonade” argument (which admittedly Seneca described much better), but with a twist. This twist has to do with the difficult process of accepting that in this finite world, there are simply a lot of things we must choose to do without. Want to concentrate on truly discovering every intricacy of a work of art? Then you will have to consciously accept that you will not be able to get to other parts of the museum. Need a healthy amount of solitude to create your masterpiece? Then you will have to dispense with the company of others for long periods of time. Want to really get to know Croatia and the Croatian people, but only have two weeks of vacation? Then you must accept that Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland are journeys for another day.

This sort of acceptance is primarily a mental one. And while there are spacial constraints there too, they only seem to play a minor role when compared with our willingness to “accept less in our pursuit of more.” Looked at it this way, the road to personal fulfillment could very well be paved by our individual abilities to do without. It is the feeling that comes from waiting for the sun to go past the horizon during an incredible sunset. Stillness and divestiture of worldly concerns and impositions, while short-lived, are the building blocks of indescribable joy. Call it “being in the moment,” or whatever, but they are moments when nothing else matters but what is in front of our eyes, immediately present in our reality. Fireworks on a moonless night. Forever in a minute. But what a minute it is.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 6th, 2015 at 11:00 am

If It’s Sunday, It Must Be The Market

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Cutting Fruit

Local markets present a great opportunity to taste products before buying them. [Click photos for larger versions]

Chives

When was the last time you had a chance to talk to the actual producer at a supermarket?

Pancakes

It may not be fancy, but these loaded pancakes will guarantee that you won’t leave hungry.

Bread Shopping

The great variety of artisanal bread at the Dupont Circle market are reason alone to be there every Sunday.

Every year after the 4th of July celebrations in Washington, DC, a sort of lethargy descends on the locals. Not that this is a character trait, mind you, but rather that after all the fireworks and concerts (not to mention the terrorist threats) people are kind of spent. This year, not even the weather was adding any cheers to the weekend, as storms forced the evacuation of the National Mall hours before the concert and fireworks were about to start. Talk about damper.

But if there’s something you can always count on during summer weekends, it is the myriad of seasonal farmer markets that come-hell-or-high-water, will be there to sell their products. The region is blessed when it comes to farmers and produce. Vendors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia descend on DC every weekend bringing such variety of products that they often leave these city slickers dumfounded. And then there’s the Chesapeake Bay, with a seafood bounty that could even impress the folks from the Deadliest Catch in Alaska.

But when it comes to rarity, there’s one product that always challenges the best of them: artisanal bread. Who would’ve known that we have so many great artisanal bakeries (and even patisseries) in the tristate region. When I lived in the suburbs I could’ve sworn they had been rendered illegal. Bread came from the supermarket, mass produced and with enough preservatives to guarantee that future archeologists could still eat it 1,000 years from now. Luckily, there’s still hope, an local farmer markets are giving these emerging bakeries some well-deserved exposure. My waistline awaits their renaissance.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 5th, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Peru In The Heart Of Washington

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Rope Weavers

Peruvian rope weavers expertly build super-strong ropes from simple strands of natural fibers. [Click on photo for larger versions]

Cloth Weaver

Weaving colorful cloth requires both incredible talent and coordination.

Dancer Mask

Traditional dancers hide their faces from the audience after making their offerings to the Virgin Mary.

Hat Maker

It takes a minimum of eight hours of continuous weaving to make a single straw hat.

Peruvian Masks

Masks are everywhere at the festival and each one of them had a different meaning for those who made them.

Peruvian Weaver

There is always some curiosity when a camera is pointed at you, but a smile always makes up for the surprise.

One of the great things about living in the Washington, DC area is that you get to experience world cultures without having to leave the city. Of course, this is mainly because of the great Smithsonian Institution, which sits royally in the heart of the city and acts as beacon of culture that is second to none in the world. On this particular weekend it is Peru that has their attention, with a celebration of Peruvian culture and traditions at the Folklife Festival smack in the middle of the Washington Mall. In fact, after visiting several of these festivals in the past, it is my impression that this one is one of the best festivals I have ever seen at the Mall, and I’m not just saying that because of the copious amounts of Peruvian food I came in contact with. Really, they even have Alpacas there, which you can go check out after trying your dance skills at the sound of some rhythmic Andean tunes.

But what was most impressive for me was the sight of weavers and boat-makers who could turn simple threads and straw into incredible works of art. In a city where the first thing that comes to mind when talking about “ancient skills” is having to type on a manual typewriter, actually seeing people who can build something with their hands is a quite a big deal. And after several hours observing them at work, I never saw a single one of them using a cell phone. Amazing that people can survive without them. Gracias amigos.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 26th, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Life At 24mm

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Long Hall

The wider you go with a lens, the more perspective you will add to a photo. [Click photos for larger versions]

Work Outside

In what passes in DC as a patio, a man finds a little quiet in which to do some alfresco work.

Lunch Break

With a name like the Upper Senate Park, this quiet local gem is hardly ever visited by tourists.

Market Restaurant

The 24mm focal length is ideal for capturing a lot of real estate when photographing indoors.

Wide-angle photography is not everyone’s cup of tea. Ask any photographer out there what his or her favorite focal length is, and more-likely-than-not the answer will be other than a wide-angle lens. I count myself in this group, because throughout the years I’ve developed a real affinity for 50mm lenses. You could say that 50mm is my general visual comfort level, even if this sounds a lot less glamorous than the more technical explanations you’ll see on the Internet. But it is what it is, and no matter how many times I hit the streets with my camera, a 50mm is always inside my bag.

Having said that, it is also true that in the last year or so, I have also developed quite an affinity for the 21-28mm focal length. Perhaps because reality makes more sense when it appears in context or something, but ever since I acquired the incredible Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar lens, my eyes have been opened wide, so to speak. These wide, optical marvels usually don’t come cheap (they can set you back as much as the cost of an European vacation), so my move into this area can best be described as hesitant at best. At least until recently, when I decided to give cheap a chance.

That’s where my incursion into the 24mm range comes in. It all started with a conversation that took place during my recent trip to Chelsea in NYC. During this trip I had the pleasure of meeting Olof Willoughby, one of the co-founders of the popular Leica Meet group. It just so happens that Olaf is quite fun of the Leica 24mm range (think European vacation here too), and the day I met him, that was all he was carrying. So, I started wondering that if such a distinguished photographer as Olaf loved that 24mm focal length, that perhaps I was missing something. Not that I haven’t dabbled into 24mm before. I have, and I was once the proud owner of the magnificent Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED lens. But weight and bulk considerations got the best of me, and after kind of abandoning this lens back at home for too long, I decided to part ways with it. Have I lived to regret this decision? Of course I have, but since that lens now retails for about $2,100 (which admittedly is way less than its Leica equivalent) I haven’t been too keen to replace it.

But here is where the “hiding in plain sight” story comes in. I’m referring to the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D lens, a small gem originally designed in the 1990’s. Retailing for $391 and weighing a mere 270 grams (9.5 oz), it is no wonder why the lens has remained quite popular with travel photographers. Affordable, lightweight, and tack-sharp, this lens produces incredible results while ensuring you stay away from your chiropractor’s office. Nano crystal coating?  No.  Any aspherical elements?  Nope.  Class leading element/group combo?  Of course not.  Modern design?  You must be joking.  Great photos while saving you thousands of dollars you could put towards that European vacation?  You bet.  Modern glass, while unquestionably great, is not providing thousands of dollars worth of optical performance gain to justify their ever-growing cost.  That is specially the case when you factor in the capabilities of modern processing software.  Blasphemy?  Not really, but perhaps a kitchen analogy will help explain it.  It is often said that buying a modern knife will not necessarily result in making anyone a better cook.  The secret to better meals is just to learn how to cook better rather than to keep spending tons of money on the latest kitchen gadgets.  Too simple?  Perhaps, but something that entire generations of Italian grandmothers figured out a long time ago.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 25th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

A Visit To Alexandria’s Seaport Center

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An apprentice boat maker performs detailed measurements on a wood joint. [Click photos for larger versions]

An apprentice boat maker performs detailed measurements on a wood joint. [Click photos for larger versions]

Looking more like museum pieces, well-worned clamps wait their turn to help stitch the boat together.

Looking more like museum pieces, well-worned clamps wait their turn to help stitch the boat together.

An unfinished boat sits inside the boathouse surrounded by the hand tools typical of the craft.

An unfinished boat sits inside the Seaport Center surrounded by the hand tools that make working with wood possible.

The colorful, nautical atmosphere at the boathouse brought back memories of my time at sea.

The colorful, nautical atmosphere at the Center brought back memories of my time at sea.

Finished boats moored outside the boathouse as example of the great craftsmanship going on inside.

Finished boats moored outside the Seaport Center as examples of the great craftsmanship taking place inside.

Talk about happenstance. This past week I had a chance to photograph inside a building that I’ve been eyeing with my camera for a long time, but one that is not generally open to the public like other places in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m referring to the Seaport Center, a floating structure that is the area’s only boat-building facility along this part of the Potomac River. Endless times I’ve walked along this building, at times seeing people inside hunching over small tools while chiseling away at curved pieces of wood. But the doors have always been closed, obviously to prevent the inevitable procession of visitors from interrupting the detailed work going on inside. But to my surprise, his past week those same doors were open, and a gracious member of the staff who saw me with my camera even asked me if I would like to come inside and take a tour of the place.

Finally, after so many misses, a chance to step inside this photogenic gem, and with all the time in the world to spare. One problem, though. Not imagining this would ever happen, I had only taken a 50mm lens with me for what was to be a short walkabout, leaving my best-suited-for-the-job wide-angled lenses safely inside a bag at home. This being a relatively small facility, those wide-angle lenses would have been perfect for the occasion, but at the time all that I could think of was the old saying that “now is all I’ve got,” so in I went into the boat house with a grin on my face.

This particular day just happened to be an “open house” day for the Seaport Foundation project. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of this particular initiative prior to my visit, but after hearing what these folks were doing to help the young people in the area, I had my faith in humanity restored quite a bit. Under a “Building boats, building lives” slogan, the Boatbuilding Apprentice Program run by the Seaport Foundation is not only a one-of-a-kind craftsmanship program, but one that directly impacts the lives of young people by introducing a much-needed environment of belonging and purpose into their lives. These folks are doing tremendous work, one life at a time. As a photographer, I walked through those doors thinking that my day was about to be made amazing by the opportunity to photograph something I’ve been wanting to capture for a long time. Unbeknownst to me, what was about to make my day truly amazing was meeting such a wonderful group of people engaged in one of the noblest causes you could ever imagine. They possess something that I could never capture with a camera, but which served as a reminder that in small places like these all over our country, people are working diligently (and more-often-than-not, anonymously) to make a better world for others. It is humbling and inspiring at the same time, and they deserve all the credit in the world for what they do.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 21st, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Hanging Out With The Leica Meet At The Big Apple

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Everywhere you look in Chelsea there are great restaurants and trendy bars catering to all tastes. [Click photos for larger versions]

Everywhere you look in Chelsea there are great restaurants and trendy bars catering to all tastes. [Click photos for larger versions]

The crew conducting a street photoshoot were not too happy with other photographers showing up.

The crew conducting a street photoshoot for a popular magazine were not too happy with other photographers showing up.

In Chelsea, what could easily be confused with graffiti is a trendy hangout for the cool locals.

In Chelsea, what could easily be confused with graffiti is a trendy hangout for the cool locals.

Remember the pre-tech revolution days when some things were simply too hard to ignore?

Remember the pre-tech revolution days when some things were simply too hard to ignore?

On the hottest day of the year to date, one man finds shade and solace under a small umbrella.

On the hottest day of the year to date, one man finds shade and solace under a small umbrella.

Leica photographers are a passionate lot, but the folks who form part of The Leica Meet group are perhaps the most passionate of them all. Not only are the vast majority seriously devoted to travel and street photography, but these Leica devotees manifest a level of loyalty to their camera gear that may require an experience clinical psychologist to explain. From this passion (and the hard work of its founders) came The Leica Meet, which for most of us Leica photographers was like when you suffer from a rare affliction and suddenly come in contact with a group of wonderful folks “enjoying” the same affliction. So here it is finally, a Leica collective of folks who love spending time with their rangefinder cameras and can’t wait to get out on the streets to search for that elusive great shot. This sort of community was long overdue, and we could not be more grateful to the great photographers who who made it possible.

Leica photographers are somewhat of a different lot, though, and if there’s something they are not known for, it is for their speed. No hurry here, for this group is indeed a deliberate one. Patience, observation, and timing are the stuff they are best known for. Need to wait 20 minutes for someone to walk in front of a sign? No problem. Leica photographers can hang. And contrary to the famous “see and be seen” quote, these photographer would rather no one notices them when they are out and about, camera (excuse me, I meant Leica) always at the ready. What’s great about The Leica Meet is that it not only brings these photographers together for a day (see events here), but that these gatherings are also virtual walks down Leica’s memory lane. Photographers show up with film and digital cameras, new and old, vintage lenses, stuff that is no longer in production, and hard-to-find gear that inevitably leads to a Pavlovian reaction from some of the participants.

Last year the NY Meet took place around Soho, but this year it was Chelsea and the Meat Packing District that did the honors. I had never been to this part of the city, but now I know that I’ve been missing something great when traveling to NY. The food hangouts alone make these areas must-visit destination, but for street photographers the place is simply heaven. People are so used to cameras that unless you come up to a celebrity (or a photoshoot like I did and was told to get lost), no one seems to really care about your picture taking. This being NY, though, if they do care at least you can rest assured that the feedback will be immediate and unambiguous. What a great city.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 14th, 2015 at 1:12 pm

“Within Me, I Am A Thousand Others”

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It is mostly in those alone moments that we let our imaginations run loose. [Click photos for larger versions]

It is mostly in those alone moments that we let our imaginations run loose. [Click photos for larger versions]

Body language is oftentimes a window into a person's secret world inside.

Body language is oftentimes a window into a person’s secret world inside.

Some parts of people's lives only appear during quiet moments of solitude.

Some parts of people’s lives only appear during quiet moments of solitude.

Being alone with ourselves appears to be as important as spending our time with others.

Being alone with ourselves appears to be as important as spending our time with others.

It was the very talented Indian writer Faraaz Kazi who authored the words that introduce today’s blog. Recently, I just happened to come across a reference to this author, and upon digging a little on the Internet, I stumbled upon his full quote, which goes like this: “I inhale loneliness like it is the sweet smell of virgin earth conquered by fiery rain drops. Within me, I’m a thousand others.” Suffice it to say that I suddenly smitten when I read that last sentence. Six words, but within them one of the best depictions of the power of our imaginations that I’ve ever encountered. Moreover, I realized that these words were very applicable to some of my recent photos.  For some reason or another, I found myself taking photos of people who in the middle of a buzzing city, appeared to be alone, or alone with their thoughts for that matter.  Immediately after reading Kazi’s quote I started thinking of these photos and how his words seemed to apply to the scenes I had captured with my camera.  Detachment, solitude, disengagement, and perhaps a thousand other realities becoming active in people’s imaginations.  In those brief moments when I pressed the shutter, endless flights of imagination could have been taking place, hidden from the world and unencumbered by its limitations.  At some level, the photos were merely an attempt to depict the kind of “me” time that only solitude can deliver, and where anyone can become anything they dare to imagine, even if that means a thousand other versions of themselves. Maybe this was not what was happening inside the minds of my photographic subjects at the time, but the romantic in me cannot hold back from wishing it was so.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 9th, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Bourbon Heaven In Fredericksburg

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A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photo for larger version]

A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photos for larger versions]

Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.

Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.

Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.

Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.

Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.

Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.

A small production line for their hand-crafted products  can be found within the main visitor's building.

A small production line for their hand-crafted products can be found within the main visitor’s building.

I must confess that even when having lived here for a long time, the good, old state of Virginia just keeps on surprising me.  It seems that everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone making some great product that you’ve never heard of before.  This week for me it was bourbon.  Now, I do know that in some parts of Virginia little details like Prohibition have never dampened the local’s taste for liquids other than water, but bourbon is something that we all tend to (and by default, I’m afraid) associate with the folks in Kentucky.  This probably has more to do with ignorance than with taste, though.  Well, no more.  From what I experienced at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg recently, Virginia is definitely a bourbon state, and in a big way.  We’re talking about the hand-crafted, small batch stuff here, not the gallons coming out of a mega-distillery partially owned by some European investment group.  And while I was familiar with the famous saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” this was the first time that I had a chance to walk in to a facility where I could smell the perfume bourbon scent in all its glory.  One hour touring the distillery and there was no doubt in my mind that if you are a bourbon aficionado, this place has to be on your radar screen, and pronto.

 

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil’s Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon, and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.   (W.C. Fields)

 

Tucked away right off Rt. 17 South right past the town of Fredericksburg, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery has to be one of the best kept non-secrets in Northern Virginia. The distillery not only produces an impressive variety of bourbons locally (have I mentioned the great aroma yet?), but they also provide some extremely informative tours of the place before you get down to the “business” of sampling their products. Unfortunately, and to my chagrin, I happened to find myself there without a designated driver and had to pass on the tasting portion of the tour (which required serious depletion of my residual self-control supply). But, there’s always next time, and in the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 3rd, 2015 at 4:04 pm

A Little Street Photography Therapy

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The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]

The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]

Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.

Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.

You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.

You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.

Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.

Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.

You know those days when no matter how hard you try, it is virtually impossible to come up with any great idea for a photographic project? Well, today was one of those days. Nothing there. So as I have done so many times in the past when I am in desperate need of some photographic therapy, I grabbed my camera and out I went. I figured that a little street photography would do me some good by clearing up the Friday photographic fog. No plans, just random walking for as long as my feet could stand it. I’m glad I went out, thought, because everyone seemed to be in a good mood in this otherwise grumpy city. No doubt the Friday “I’m out of here” thing was beginning to sink in or something, but more likely it was the effect of a perfect spring day before a long holiday weekend. Whatever it was, it was definitely contagious. Over six miles of walking with my camera, a very enjoyable culinary visit to several of the local food trucks, and a quick stop for some liquid therapy at the bar in Jaleo, and everything was well with the universe once more. A great day after all.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 22nd, 2015 at 7:30 pm

The Yards: An Old Neighborhood Reinvents Itself

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The most prominent architecture at The Yards is its modern footbridge. [Click photos for larger versions]

The most prominent architecture at The Yards is its modern footbridge. [Click photos for larger versions]

The Yards are characterized by lots of open, quiet spaces where friends can hang out.

The Yards are characterized by lots of open, quiet spaces where friends can hang out.

While still somewhat urban, the views from The Yards are some of the best in the city.

While still somewhat urban, the views from The Yards are some of the best in the city.

Lost of places to sit and enjoy a quiet lunch while the rest of the world is going crazy.

Lost of places to sit and enjoy a quiet lunch while the rest of the world is going crazy.

Young, eager entrepreneurs have discovered the area's potential early on.

Young, eager entrepreneurs have discovered the area’s potential early on.

Creative urban planning has totally redefined the character of an old neighborhood.

Creative urban planning has totally redefined the character of an old neighborhood.

With the Federal Transportation Department in the background, The Yards are a great example of livable urban spaces.

With the Federal Transportation Department in the background, The Yards are a great example of livable urban spaces.

They often say that if you want to really get to know a city, that you must first familiarize yourself with its neighborhoods. I kind of agree with that and have made it a point to visit distinct neighborhoods whenever I travel. But sometimes you don’t have to travel very far to see how new neighborhoods transform the cities in which they sprout. As old continues to give way to new, places like The Yards in Washington, DC continue to redefine the city’s urban living landscape.  Sure, not everyone is happy to see an old way of life disappear, but shinny, new things also have their attraction.  And in a city that has experienced significant population outflows in the past, authorities are quite eager to attract those taxpayers back to the new neighborhoods.  The bait: open spaces, shinny new apartment buildings, trendy restaurants, and above all, quick access to the Metro. Oh, and should I mention that a Major League baseball park and a New York Trapeze School are within walking distance too? Well, that surely must help.

This recently-developed, waterside area of Washington, DC is sandwiched between the Navy Yard and the Washington Nationals baseball park. Major construction projects are still going on out there, so the place still has that “work in progress” feeling about it.  And if the area has not been totally discovered by locals yet, this probably has more to do with its somewhat off-the-beaten-path location than with anything else. Sure, you can get there via metro, but if you drive, prepare to pay at the few parking facilities there (and even on Sundays when most of DC does not charge for parking). Enough reason to stay away? I don’t think so. The Yards are one of the few places in the city where the lack of crowds, traffic, and noise allow for the perfect evening stroll, or for enough quiet to concentrate on that great book you’ve been meaning to spend some time with. Trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and an all-natural ice cream shop round up the good news about the place. Who knows, this may end up becoming one of the best kept secrets in the city after all.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 21st, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Searching For Urban Serenity

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Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]

Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]

Movement without movement.

Movement without movement.

Memories of another season.

Memories of another season.

Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.

Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.

A place where endless stories are written.

A place where endless stories are written.

I have long been fascinated by the notion of capturing urban serenity in my photos. Not that I’ve always been successful in doing so, but rather that I enjoy looking for these types of scenes as if with the devotion of an astronomer looking for a new star. I know these scenes are out there, but my eyes don’t always see them. This is not for lack of trying,mind you, but rather that in the visually oversaturated environments of our modern cities, it is not easy to avoid visual distractions. Sort of like trying to write the next, great American novel in a room full of people who insist on constantly talking to you. Not easy, to say the least.

The challenge of capturing an image depicting urban serenity is compounded by the fact that most of these scenes can only be found in a portion of our natural field of view. That is, they hide in parts of what we see, not in all we see. Sometimes they may not amount to more than 10-20 percent of what’s in front of us, off to a corner and easily overshadowed by the more visually-demanding center of the scene. From the photographer (or the creative), these hidden gems demand a certain level of visual cropping–the ability to segment a scene into smaller micro-scenes that could stand visually on their own. It is the proverbial needle in the haystack challenge, and it’s never an easy one.

There is also a certain calm in those scenes. Like the quiet person in a busy room, they can’t help but attract your attention in spite of their best effort to be ignored. They attract us because they engage us, they make us think, or at the very least, imagine. And even if for a brief, but precious moment, what better place to live than in our imaginations.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 18th, 2015 at 2:36 pm

The Lakeside Town Of Como

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Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]

Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]

Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region's hidden treasures.

Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region’s hidden treasures.

A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.

A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.

The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.

The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.

Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.

Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.

The Piazza Alessandro Volta  is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.

The Piazza Alessandro Volta is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.

During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.

During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.

The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.

The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.

Set of stairs leading to and from the town's main train station.

Set of stairs leading to and from the town’s main train station.

If I ever were going to attempt to write romantic novels for a living (don’t worry, I’m not), there is no doubt in my mind that I would do so from a place like Como in Italy. This sleepy, little town by the shores of the lake that takes its name, Lake Como, is everything you can imagine of the romanticism of a bygone era, and then some. What is it with these northern lake regions in Italy and southern Switzerland? To say they are beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe them, because they are so much more than that. In fact, I had once heard a Swiss actress in America say that she returned to her small village in the area every year in order to recharge her spirit. And now that I have had some time to wander in the area from Locarno in Lago Maggiore to Como, I now fully understand what this actress was talking about. Life at a slower pace, natural beauty beyond description, and some of the most wonderful food in the world combine to form the perfect antidote to all that ails us in our busy, chaotic lives. I may not know how many places in the world possess such wonderful potion, but Como definitely has its share of it.

Como the town is not a big place, but three main areas seem to dominate the region. For starters, there’s Lake Como with its postcard-perfect landscape. This southernmost part of the lake is quite a busy place, with ferries taking passengers to other famous towns around the lake and lovers slowly strolling down Lungolago Mafalda di Savoia as if oblivious to the world. The lake and its indescribable scenery are nothing short of visual candy, and sitting by that shore on a perfect spring day will be all the proof you’ll ever need that it is possible to be happy in this life.

The other two main areas in town are the city-center square, Piazza Alessandro Volta, and the imposing Cattedrale di Como at Piazza Duomo. Both extremely impressive and surrounded by small shops and quaint restaurants where you could easily pass the hours away with total disregard to time. In between these two, an old-world paradise for the senses makes sure that you never move at a fast pace while you are in town (which the many cafes in the area would’ve guaranteed anyway). Stopping every few steps to gawk at some window display while stopping yourself from spending your retirement money becomes virtually impossible in Como. This is what Italy does to you, and we love her for it.

On the train back to Milan I couldn’t stop thinking of how beautiful this country is.  Sitting in that train longingly looking out the window to the passing countryside before me, I couldn’t help but think that I had just been to one of the most wonderful places on this planet. And as the train got farther and farther away from Como, the famous words of composer Giuseppe Verdi kept replaying in my head: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” My sentiments exactly.

 

A Short (And Wonderful) Visit To Milan, Italy

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Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.

The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.

Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.

Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.

Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II there are some of the best cafés in the city.

Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II you can find some of the best cafés in the city.

Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.

Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.

The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.

The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.

The busy cafés along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.

The busy coffee bars along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.

If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.

If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.

One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.

One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.

One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.

One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.

Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

The richest city in Italy is one that is often ignored by tourists. Not that they never go there, but rather that it just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Venice to the east or Rome to the south. That’s a pity, because after spending some time in Milan, I am convinced that this northern powerhouse has to be one of the nicest cities I’ve visited in a long time. While Venice and Rome are representatives of the country’s past, Milan is definitely the poster child for Italy’s future. Sophisticated, classy, and energetic, this northern-most post of all things Italian oozes with class and energy. Not sure what it is, but there’s definitely a different vive about it that is hard to find in other parts of Italy. Not necessarily better, but different, and in a good way.

Landing in Milan I was well aware of the city’s fashion and publishing fame. In fact, the publisher who brought the world Boris Pasternak’s smuggled script of Doctor Zhivago hailed from Milan. And when it comes to fashion, you name it and it is in Milan. But what I was not aware of was how nice the Italians from this city were. Friendly, conversational, and kind of patient with the hordes of people who swarm the city during international events like the World Expo, they are approachable and always willing to help.  And then there’s food. It’s almost impossible to do it justice with words alone, but suffice it to say that if you spend any time in Milan and don’t put on some serious poundage, then there’s something definitely wrong with you. From the famous Aperitivo hours (a sort of Happy Hour where you buy a single drink and can gorge from a buffet for three hours) to the out-of-this-world Risotto a la Milanese, the city’s bounty is a perfect compliment to the fabulous wines from the adjacent regions (Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Amarone). And coffee. As far as I am concerned, standing along coffee bar counters for a quick caffè, macchiato, or marocchino in the afternoon is reason alone to visit Italy, and in Milan you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with perfectly coiffed locals getting their afternoon fix.

The visual rewards of the city are just as compelling as its lifestyle. The downtown is dominated by two of the most famous structures in the world: the gothic-styled Dumo Cathedral with its 3,600 statutes and the über-elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Both breathtaking to say the least. Drift behind the Galleria and you will find yourself face-to-face with Teatro alla Scala, the most famous opera theater in the world. Walk a bit further and you can get happily lost in Brera, a neighborhood of twisted streets, university-district ambiance, and a multitude of incredible, small restaurants that could easily be featured in postcards. The green Metro line will rapidly take you to the Navigli, where elegant canals designed by Michelangelo are lined with restaurants and stylish bars that provide some of the best nightlife in the city.

There’s a lot more to Milan that I could ever describe in these short paragraphs. Suffice it to say that this photo-friendly city (no doubt the result of the armies of models and designers that hang around the place) was a real joy to visit. And when the time came to catch my return flight, I simply wasn’t ready at all to leave this wonderful place. Like Zurich to the north, Milan is one of those understated cities where you immediately (and effortlessly) feel at home, even if most tourist brochures never tell you this. Then again, this may be one of the best kept secrets in the world, so I better stop talking. Just don’t tell anyone.

Expo Milano 2015

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The American Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015. [Click on photos to enlarge]

The American Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015. [Click on photos to enlarge]

The imposing main hallway of Expo Milano, lined with  over 140 country pavilions, goes on for several miles.

The imposing main hallway of Expo Milano, lined with over 140 country pavilions, goes on for several miles.

Many of the national pavilions elegantly displayed products that have made their country famous.

Many of the national pavilions elegantly displayed products that have made their country famous.

Emerging countries like Vietnam went all out in designing their pavilions and showcasing their contributions to feeding the world.

Emerging countries like Vietnam went all out in designing their pavilions and showcasing their contributions to the world’s food supply.

World-famous Parma hams were beautifully displayed near the Italian section of the Expo.

World-famous Parma hams were beautifully displayed near the Italian section of the Expo.

The imposing Chinese pavilion made an impressive architectural statement at the Expo.

The imposing Chinese pavilion made an impressive architectural statement at the Expo.

With all the great food at the Expo, it was virtually impossible to avoid putting on the pounds.

With all the great food at the Expo, it is virtually impossible to avoid putting on a few pounds.

One of the many national groups along the fairgrounds displayed its mastery of Alpine horns in front of the Swiss pavilion.

One of the many national groups along the fairgrounds displayed its mastery of Alpine horns in front of the Swiss pavilion.

French chefs take a break and walk down the Expo grounds talking to folks along the way.

French chefs take a break and walk down the Expo grounds talking to folks along the way.

The many Expo canals between pavilions provided a quiet place for visitors to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine.

The many, small canals between pavilions provide a quiet place for visitors to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine while resting their feet.

Love food? Ever dream of finding yourself at a place where most of the food of the world can be found a mere short walk away? Then you should definitely make plans to visit the 2015 Milan World Expo taking place from 1 May to 31 October this year. For the first time ever, the World Expo is entirely dedicated to food, from its production and management, to its distribution and consumption. It is a spectacle like no other, and the fact that it is being held in the beautiful city of Milan, Italy just adds gravy to the mix, so to speak. More than 140 countries from around the world have gathered in Milan to educate and showcase their contribution to feeding the world’s population, and a lucky 20 million people are expected to visit the Expo grounds and consume endless amounts of food from every region of the world. In between education and consumption, everyone will will have the chance to meet neat people from all over the world while enjoying one of the most unique Expos in the history of these events.

Like any other major event of this kind (or city, for that matter), it is impossible to see everything there is to see unless you have lots of time to spare. This is particularly the case if you want to visit some of the largest national pavilions, where the lines waiting to enter can be quite long. However, some of these long queues will be well worth the wait (like the one at the incredible Japanese pavilion). Amazing technological shows, information booths, and elaborate information displays are everywhere. But perhaps of equal interest to us mundane consumers of good stuff, at the end of the presentations you will usually find a small restaurant serving some wonderful food from the country being represented at the event. Definitely not the place for dieters, or those over-concerned about an expanding waistline. Then again, who ever visited Italy avoid eating too much? But don’t despair, the Expo’s 1.1 million square meters will give you plenty of time (and room) to walk off those extra calories. Yes, the place is big, real big.

And while the endless, world food venues are reason alone to visit the Expo, a more sober and important reason to visit is highlighted by the event’s theme: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Great costs have been incurred by over 140 nations to showcase the endless networks of producers, laborers, managers, and distributors that are necessary to feed our world’s ever-growing population. With its underlying theme that food is life and good food leads to a good life, the message being sent by the Expo is a crucial one for us to understand the complexities associated with feeding the world. Globalized resource networks work around-the-clock to guarantee the availability of these food products, but behind it all there will always be a person. Someone to walk the fields to plant and harvest the goods; someone to sort, preserve, and distribute the goods; and someone to transport the goods to markets near and faraway. Along the way, these individuals also live their everyday lives, go to work, get paid, try to achieve their dreams, and plan for a better tomorrow. They are the heroes being celebrated at the Expo this year. Their efforts and sacrifices sustain our lives, while allowing us to engage in a myriad of non-food-producing activities thousands of miles away from the source of our food.  This is indeed an incredible world we live in.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 5th, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Cherry Blossoms Mark The Arrival Of Spring

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The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photo for larger version]

The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photos for larger version]

The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.

The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.

When the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, momentarily displays a decidedly Parisian flare.

With the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, suddenly shows a decidedly Parisian flare.

It is a yearly ritual, but it never ceases to amaze. The annual spring blooming of the Cherry Blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC is one of those unique gifts of nature that no matter how many times you have experienced it in the past, the sheer beauty of this blooming spectacle is something not to be missed. Sure, the photos by now have all started to look the same, and the crowds will always descend on the place as pilgrims on a pilgrimage, but it really doesn’t matter. Has anyone ever tired of looking at a pretty face? Or has anyone ever wished for less happiness in their lives? Impossible. In the early morning hours of a perfect spring day, the blossoming cherry trees along the undulating shores of the Tidal Basin are the stuff of fantasies. The pink and white colors of the blooming flowers appear to fight for everyone’s attention, while the cool, misty fog along the water’s surface gradually gives way to the lazy, yellow light of a morning sun. It is a spectacle like no other, and year after year, it will bring us back to see and feel the coming of a new spring. A reminder of how beautiful life can be, and how great it is to be alive.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 12th, 2015 at 1:29 pm