WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

The Power of Contemplation

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"He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age" ... George Eliot

“He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age” … George Eliot

Very few things fascinate me as much as when I observe a stranger in a state of utter contemplation. Can’t quite say why, but I assume it has to do with what such scenes do to the power of the imagination. Contemplation is perhaps the ultimate form of freedom, as it gives birth to who we truly are, stripped from the the cacophony of sounds that demand so much of our senses, but deliver so little to out souls. Of course, many would argue that such musings are nothing but signs of mental illness on the part of photo blogger, but I have to believe that there’s something to it. When we loose ourselves into ourselves, something transformative seems to happen. We connect dots, we make sense of us, and above all, we come to know the self in ways that are so deeply personal that it is impossible for others to see. That is precisely what this simple scene along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris reminded me of. Silence, contemplation, and a journey that only eyes that had seen so much more than mine, could see. No doubt that scenes like these led Percy Bysshe Shelley, the famous British romantic poet from the early 19th Century, to perfectly capture the deep feelings generated by such moments:

 

There is eloquence in the tongueless wind, and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rustling of the reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something within the soul, awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture, and bring tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one beloved singing to you alone.

 

But why do we allow so very few of these moments in our lives? Fear of what we may discover? Or could it be that they would require us to give less to others as we pursue more of ourselves? I’m sure that there are as many explanations are there are pebbles on a beach. Such a pity, for I’m sure we could all benefit from heeding Shelly’s wise advice to “… awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture…”

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

February 8th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

The Universal Language Of Photography

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Birds fly high above the Limmat river in Zurich, Switzerland.

Birds fly high above the Limmat river in Zurich, Switzerland.

Over the past few days it has dawned on me that photographers, together with many other artists out there, may well be some of the greatest linguists in the world. I kid you not, they really are. Think about it. What language is the Mona Lisa? Or the photo above? It really doesn’t matter whether I snapped this photo myself or someone from Botswana took it. Does it? Photography, like so many other artistic forms, truly enjoys the virtue of universality. It speaks not in a single language, but in a way that anyone from any part of the world can understand. A single voice, a single moment. It renders language barriers irrelevant and elicits those simple feelings that are common in us all. It makes us aware of the fact that while we are all rather unique creatures, in the end, we are also so very much alike.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 26th, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Lately, I’ve Been Seeing Red

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While small in size, the red purse dominates the canal scene. [Click photos for larger versions]

While small in size, the red purse dominates the canal scene. [Click photos for larger versions]

A red mailbox is a very rare sight these days.

A red mailbox is a very rare sight these days.

Even in a busy scene, the color red will stand out like no other.

Even in a busy scene, the color red will stand out like no other.

The color red tends to monopolize a scene like no other.

The color red tends to monopolize a scene like no other.

Not all colors are alike. How’s that for a tautological argument? But let me explain. I spend a considerable amount of my time on earth walking around cities searching for interesting photographic subjects. And while my somewhat optimistic searches don’t always prove fruitful (ok, some of it may have to do with my inherent photographic limitations), there is no denying that colors, or the lack of them, kind of influence what I look at, or at the very least, what I find interesting. They make objects stand out from their surroundings and dramatically influence the visual choices we make out there in the world.

So what is it about the color red that usually makes it stand out supreme from other colors? It’s not even my favorite color. But no matter where my eyes take me, red is a color I’ve found impossible to ignore. In its own silent way, it screams at me, demanding my visual attention like no other color out there (well, maybe with the exception of the neon oranges that some tourist groups wear so they won’t loose anyone). From a fashion perspective, you would not catch me dead wearing such a color. Perhaps because different to other colors, I don’t find red to be a passive color, or unassuming for that matter. It visually pokes you and demands not to be ignored. In its own convoluted way, it represents both passion and pain, smiles and tears. It can’t hide and cannot be missed. It pulls more than it pushes, and demands a photographer’s attention like no other. Resistance is futile, so it’s not even worth trying. Isn’t that wonderful?

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 18th, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Imagination Defines The Image

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What we see if usually more important than what we look at. [Click photo for larger version]

What we see if usually more important than what we look at. [Click photo for larger version]

As far as I’m concerned, imagination, or simple flights of fancy, are the stuff of life. I say this because no matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to be able to look at the world for what it is. No, not possible. Images, and the scenes I constantly see before me, are mere windows into an imaginary world. For some reason or another, I keep thinking of what I see as incomplete stories, almost begging for me to fill in the blanks with my imagination. A man standing at a corner is not just simply a man standing at a corner. This untamed imagination refuses to see just that. He must be waiting for someone, he has nowhere to go, time doesn’t matter to him, he is there because the events in his life, he seems to be in love, or appears to be totally devoid of it. Whatever. It just goes on and on, and there’s nothing I can do to control it. Imagination, like time, is simply impervious to boundaries.

And thus the photograph above. Is it just a picture of a man in a white uniform staring at passerby’s? Or a baker taking a break from the morning rush? I stood there for nearly ten minutes observing the ongoing scenes, and all that I could think of was the title of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd.” What to make of this solitary man with his forlorn look, staring at a “madding crowd” of shoppers and consumers? Surely, more than twenty or so feet separate their world from his, and there is no doubt that he was being ignored by the very people who’s lives he was enriching by his labor. Did he envy these people? Or pity them? Did he aim to join them, or leave them? I wondered what his plans were for the holidays. Who would be waiting for him at home. Who misses him when he’s gone, while he quietly observes the crowds, not uttering a word to anyone and no one uttering a word to him. And so it goes, imagination trying to add context to the scene, something that photographer Duane Michals understood very well when he addressed the subject: “I believe in imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.” I must agree, because therein, behind the raw data collected by our senses, lies the mystery, and the wonder of the things we see.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 29th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Slowing Down In Freiburg, Germany

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A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz during the early morning hours. [Click photos for larger versions]

A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz during the early morning hours. [Click photos for larger versions]

While not as large as in other cities, the Freiburg Christmas Market is just as colorful.

While not as large as in other cities, the Freiburg Christmas Market is just as colorful.

Vendors don't seem to miss a day to sell their wares by the Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.

Vendors don’t seem to miss a day to sell their wares by the Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.

There is never a shortage of patrons at one of the most popular breweries in town.

There is never a shortage of patrons at one of the most popular breweries in town.

Like in most European cities, getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.

Like in most European cities, getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.

Blankets are very popular at local cafes, where locals insist to sit outside no matter how cold.

Blankets are very popular at local cafes, where locals insist to sit outside no matter how cold.

A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops is part of the charm in Freiburg.

A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops is part of the charm in Freiburg.

A fairly typical German university town, Freiburg has an abundance of affordable eateries.

A fairly typical German university town, Freiburg has an abundance of very affordable eateries.

Some places have a way of captivating you through their quiet, unassuming ways. They usually don’t make the front pages of travel magazines, nor do they become world-famous for hosting major events like the Olympics or the World Expo. And yet, for those who venture outside the normal touristy venues to explore a bit deeper into a country, these somewhat out-of-the-way gems are full of rewards. In a type of understated way, they charm you not with UNESCO-type monuments to humanity, but rather with the easy-going simplicity that characterizes most of our everyday lives. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany is such a place.

Straddling the western side of the Black Forest, this smallish university city in the state of Baden-Württenburg provides a much welcomed break from its more touristy French neighbor to the north, Strasbourg. It’s geographical location alone (sitting on the south-west corner of Germany by the Black Forest) makes it somewhat of a refuge from the tourist lanes that crisscross most of Europe these days. To go to Freiburg, you must want to go to Freiburg, because it will require you to get off the main road to do so. But this, my friends, is the good news about this wonderful city. It charms you for what it’s not, which if you have traveled any time recently to the overcrowded, major European cities that dominate most vacation brochures, you will soon come to appreciate.

If I had to pick a term to describe my time in Freiburg, I would probably refer to it as “slow travel.” None of that need-for-speed stuff that characterizes major metropoles these days. On the contrary, days wandering the twisted, quiet streets in Freiburg tend to blend into each other with the ease of day passing into night. After spending some time in a major European city, life in Freiburg felt like you had arrived at a place you could call home. Orderly, clean, and charmingly low-keyed, it is the kind of place where you go to recharge your batteries while enjoying a simpler way of life. But don’t get me wrong, Freiburg is not some desolate city where nothing of any consequence is happening. Rather, it is a charming city with all the trappings of a larger city, but on a much smaller scale (and a lot cheaper too), and with a lot less tourist traffic. And even if you wouldn’t think so from trying to find a free table at the incredible Hausbrauerei Feierling brewery (which by the way, is reason enough to go to Freiburg for a few days), you will be able to dispense with any notion of speed during your visit there. The city, with its easy-going, unassuming rhythm, will definitely grow on you. And as you board that train on your way to Basel, Stuttgart, or wherever your travels are taking you, you will be glad you took the time to stop and visit this charming city by the Dreisam river.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 21st, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Winter Days in Strasbourg, France

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Some of the small restaurants near La Petite France are the sheer definition of ambiance. [Click photos for larger versions]

Some of the small restaurants near La Petite France are the sheer definition of ambiance. [Click photos for larger versions]

A characteristic establishment in La Petit France could not be more inviting.

A characteristic establishment in La Petit France could not be more inviting.

Friends enjoy the few, precious hours of sunshine during the short days of December.

Friends enjoy the few, precious hours of sunshine during the short days of December.

A sole gargoyle sits on the grounds of the cathedral as if keeping an eye on it for all eternity.

A sole gargoyle sits on the grounds of the cathedral as if keeping an eye on it for all eternity.

The religious fervor of the locals was quite evident during the days leading to Christmas.

The religious fervor of the locals was quite evident during the days leading to Christmas.

Cold December days convince customers to move inside, much to the consternation of the smoking crowd.

Cold December days convince customers to move inside, much to the consternation of the smoking crowd.

Some travelers do not enjoy returning to places they have visited in the past, but I’m not one of them. Granted that with so many places to see around the world, it is perhaps advisable not to narrow your travel focus to a mere few of these. Nevertheless, there’s something nostalgic about visiting old stumping grounds after your feet have taken you far away from those familiar places, and for far too long. Strasbourg, France is one such place for me, and while it has been undoubtedly too long since I once roamed its streets accompanied by those happy days of youth, the magnificent sights of this great city still evoke the sense of romance and awe that was there when life was nothing but a long, uninterrupted spring.

During the month of December the city of Strasbourg, with its award-winning Christmas Market, dresses up for the holidays like very few cities in the world can. Anywhere you go in the Old Town there will be too much to see, too much to eat, and when it comes to that great, spiked wonder that is Gluehwine, too much to drink. And while in other places of the world people may complain about cold, overcast, and otherwise sun-deprived days, in Strasbourg these sort of days only add to the pure magic of the season. Small, cozy restaurants and cafes around the inner city will be beautifully illuminated and decorated, affording couples the perfect backdrop for conversation accompanied by a glorious Alsatian wine. Stopping during the blue hour on the Passerelle de l’Abreuvoir bridge to take-in the ancient rooftops surrounding the Cathédrale Notre Dame will transport you back to those days in the 17th Century when the cathedral was considered the tallest building in the world. And if it is your softer side you need to get reacquainted with for a change, just walk the narrow, twisting streets of La Petite France at night and you’ll be reminded that life is not just about speed, or about the eternal chase of golden mirages. Walking along these streets as if in a mindless drift, I could not help but think that the sheer beauty of this dimly lit city during the Christmas season had to be the perfect antidote to the many worries afflicting us these days. A beautiful city, lit by candlelight. An energy drink for the soul, and the stuff of which life’s most pleasurable moments are made of.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 18th, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Zurich, Switzerland Never Disappoints

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The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]

The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]

Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.

Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.

Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.

Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.

Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.

Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.

While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.

While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.

A local chef and a bartender take a break before the dinner crowds descend on their establishment.

A local chef and a bartender take a break before the dinner crowds descend on their establishment.

Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.

Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.

In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.

In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.

It’s been a long while since I last visited Zurich, Switzerland.  In fact, it’s been about a decade, to be precise, and if it was wonderful the day I left, it has gotten even better now.  Sure, the crowds have increased quite a bit, and this world financial center has not gotten any cheaper.  But the Alpine magic that once captivated a younger version of myself is still there, and in great quantities.  The blue evening glow generated by the sun’s reflected light from the snow-capped mountains, the chilly morning strolls along the Limmat river, and the joyful holiday spirit that makes the Christmas season so special along the Alpine Region of Europe.  Yes, they are all still there, and so is the evoked feeling that you are visiting a very special place in the world, where in the course of one day you can’t avoid but feel that you have heard just about every language under the sun spoken along the old, cobblestone streets in the city.  I may not understand most of them, but one thing I do know for sure: that they are as fascinated as I am with this gem of a city.  How do I know this?  Because a happy face is easy to spot, and happy faces they have.  After all, couples don’t hold hands and kiss in public places when they are not happy.  But Zurich has that effect on people, and as long as it does, this aging traveler will continue to come back to find its incredible magic.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 7th, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Little Havana: 50 Years Late, But Still Worth It

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One of the iconic images of Little Havana is the old cigar maker sitting in front of his shop smoking.

One of the iconic images of Little Havana is the old cigar maker sitting in front of his shop smoking.

Summer straw hats have been a symbol of the Caribbean nation for longer than anyone cares to remember.

Summer straw hats have been a symbol of the Caribbean nation for longer than anyone cares to remember.

Hand-crafted Cuban cigars are one of the main reasons tourist still flock to Little Havana.

Hand-crafted Cuban cigars are one of the main reasons tourist still flock to Little Havana.

Sidewalk-facing coffee stands are the perfect places to experience the powerful Cuban espresso shots.

Sidewalk-facing coffee stands are the perfect places to experience the powerful Cuban espresso shots.

Hanging bananas brought back memories of youth growing up in the Caribbean.

Hanging bananas brought back memories of youth growing up in the Caribbean.

The heart of Little Havana lies at the Domino Park in the middle of Calle Ocho.

The heart of Little Havana lies at the Domino Park in the middle of Calle Ocho.

Not everyone can join the local domino games, but if you are over 55 and a local resident, then you're in.

Not everyone can join the local domino games, but if you are over 55 and a local resident, then you’re in.

The colorful, Cuban restaurants are still thriving there, with prices that will make you want to come back over and over again.

The colorful, Cuban restaurants are still thriving there, with prices that will make you want to come back over and over again.

Sometimes, it takes a long time to get to a place that has always been right in front of you.  In my case, four or five decades, to be exact, but even if late to the game, the trip was still worth it.  I’m talking about one of the most famous communities in America: Little Havana.  After endless trips to Florida, I finally made it to the famous Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Miami.  And while perhaps the original flavor of the place has changed somewhat since the 1960-70’s, the Cuban latin vibe that made it famous in the first place is still there, even if perhaps in smaller quantities.

Coming from the somewhat sober Washington, DC area, it was more than refreshing to walk down a street while listening to the latin rhythm of bongos and enjoying the unmistakable aromas emanating from Cuban kitchens.  And while I had been forewarned about petty crime in the area, all I experienced were great, friendly locals who didn’t mind at all you taking their pictures.  Maybe the fact that I spoke Spanish had something to do with it, but I’m not totally sure.  My impressions were more of a very proud people intent on showcasing their cultural heritage while feeding you copious amounts of food.  And if it is great food at incredible low prices you’re after, go no further than the Nuevo Siglo (New Century) grocery store/restaurant, where you can eat lunch with various sides for less than $10.  I guess the domino-playing locals at the Domino Park were right when I asked them where would they have lunch today in Little Havana if they had to.  A little bit of Cuba and the Caribbean in America.  And for this roving photographer, a welcomed reminder of an island upbringing and the Spanish melodies that still, quietly reverberate inside his mind.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 22nd, 2015 at 10:59 am

Attempting To Figure Out Luxembourg City

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An old observation post sits high above the Vallé de la Petrussé. [Click photos for larger versions]

An old observation post sits high above the Vallé de la Petrussé. [Click photos for larger versions]

Small, trendy restaurant bars line the off-the-beaten-path, narrow streets of Luxembourg.

Small, trendy restaurant bars line the off-the-beaten-path, narrow streets of Luxembourg.

While there seems to be a lot of French influence in Luxembourg, the city has its unique, classy character.

While there seems to be a lot of French influence in Luxembourg, the city has its unique, classy character.

The European artisinal café culture is alive and well in Luxembourg.

The European artisinal café culture is alive and well in Luxembourg.

The dancing figures stood in sharp contrast to the foggy, dreary days of November in the city.

The dancing figures stood in sharp contrast to the foggy, dreary days of November in the city.

There are some places that are not that easy to figure out. This may have to do with the grey area that lies somewhere between expectations, reality, and perceptions, but whatever it is, warming up to them may take longer than you have when you visit. For me, Luxembourg City is one of those places. During my short visit there, I found this banking enclave in the heart of Europe to be both beautiful and a bit of a riddle. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it sort of reminded me of those parties where everyone is having a good time, but nothing much exciting is taking place. Lots of mingling, but no music, and definitely no dancing. A city that you travel to not so much with the intention of being in the middle of it all, but rather with the intention of being a bit removed from it all.

In all fairness, though, my first impressions may have had something to do with the time of the year. November in that part of Europe can result in some rather gloomy, sun-deprived days. In fact, for the three days I was there, the thick fog never quite lifted, casting a mysterious (and quite wet) blanket over most of the city. I know there was sunshine there somewhere, but I never saw it in great abundance. But what I could see was quite impressive. The views from the magnificent Monument of Remembrance high above the Rue de la Semois are nothing short of spectacular. And if shopping is what you’re after, you can’t do any better than along the designer stores along the Rue Philippe II (just take a lot of cash with you). Take a stroll at night along the Place Guillaume II and the Palais Grand Ducal during this time of the year and you will find yourself in one of those mysterious, foggy scenes right out of a Hollywood thriller. Without a doubt, everything that is happening in Luxembourg at these hours is happing inside, somewhere behind those imposing doors and majestic facades.

So what to make out of Luxembourg City? A quote by Lady Edith of Downton Abbey comes to mind. Upon hearing from Anthony Gillingham that it would not be very English to make public scenes about things people were passionate about, Lady Edith said, “No, but I envy it… all those Latins screaming, and shouting, and hurling themselves into graves. I bet they feel much better afterwards.” As my train left the Luxembourg station on its way to Belgium, I couldn’t help but think that a little bit of that Latin attitude could do the city of Luxembourg a bit of good too. I can only wonder if all those bankers would agree.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 15th, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Walking And Dreaming In Brugge

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One of the many beautiful canals in Brugge. [Click on photos for larger versions]

One of the many beautiful canals in Brugge. [Click on photos for larger versions]

Viewed from the top of the Belfort Tower, the city of Brugge is a wonderful sight.

Viewed from the top of the Belfort Tower, the city of Brugge is a wonderful sight.

One of the most romantic ways of seeing the city is by horse-drawn carriage.

One of the most romantic ways of seeing the city is by horse-drawn carriage.

Just about every street in the old part of town appears to come right out of a movie set.

Just about every street in the old part of town appears to come right out of a movie set.

Get lost along the city's narrow streets and you will find some incredible restaurants.

Get lost along the city’s narrow streets and you will find some incredible restaurants.

The statute of monks consoling each other is one of the most emotionally moving in the city.

The statute of monks consoling each other is one of the most emotionally moving in the city.

At night, the city of Brugge is as wonderful as in the daylight.

At night, the city of Brugge is as wonderful as in the daylight.

Talk about a place surpassing all of your expectations. For a long time now I’ve known about this wonderful small town that lies deep in the heart of Flanders, Belgium, but my feet have always taken me somewhere else in Europe. So why not? Off to Brugge then. Six incredible days later, I now realize that I should have visited this postcard-perfect city a long time ago. Yes, Brugge, a city that without even trying has moved near the top of my dream list of places that I would love to relocate to. Friendly, approachable, and real, it is the kind of place where people just don’t seem to have the kind of attitude that keeps people “on edge” in other parts of the world.

With time, I’ve come to realize that there are places you travel to because of the attractions that every tourist must see, and places you travel to because of the feelings they evoke. Brugge is definitely in the latter category, and while there are plenty of local attractions to occupy you during your visit, it is the city’s attitude (or vibe, for that matter) that totally grabs you the moment you set eyes on its wonderful architecture. Venture in any direction from the central Grote Markt square and you will find an idyllic world of quiet canals, small cafes, and quaint, little restaurants that look like places out of a Hollywood romantic movie. Very few places that I’ve ever seen will compare with the serene landscape along the canal bordering Groenerei Street on a rainy day, where arched, brick bridges covered in dark, green mildew, blend seamlessly with the surrounding houses bordering the canal. Wander north to Spinodarei Street to enjoy viewing groups of swans that seem to fly along the watery clouds of the canal. Then head on west along Gruuthusestraat to the 12th Century Oud Sint-Jan hospital site and its incredible courtyard where the statute of two monks consoling each other will almost move you to tears. And what better place to get lost at night, when the soft, yellow lights of barely lit restaurants cast a dimmed glow on the narrow cobblestone streets of an ancient city. It is often said that Paris is prettier when it rains, and undoubtedly there’s a lot of truth to that. But so is Brugge, and in the cool, dark nights of mid-November, it is the stuff of dreams.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 10th, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Daydreaming In Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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One of the old fortified entrances to the hill town of Rothenburg. [Click photo for larger version]

One of the old fortified entrances to the hill town of Rothenburg. [Click photo for larger version]

Sitting high on a mountain range, the walled town of Rothenburg keeps a good eye over the colorful valley.

Sitting high on a mountain range, the walled town of Rothenburg keeps a good eye over the colorful valley.

The main town square in front of the old City Hall is where most people gather every day.

The main town square in front of the old City Hall is where most people gather every day.

Trellised trees are typical to the area and adorn the entrances of many homes in Rothenburg.

Trellised trees are typical to the area and adorn the entrances of many homes in Rothenburg.

What can you say about Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany?  If you ever have the opportunity to visit the place, descriptors like idyllic, beautiful, postcard perfect, and incredible will readily come to mind.  It certainly is no understatement to say that this hilltop medieval town at the beginning of the Romantic Road has to be one of the most wonderful places on earth.  At the very least, a visit to this romantic town will transport you back in time several centuries to a time when when knights and lords roamed the undulating hills of central Germany.  Walk the cobblestone streets at night when hanging lights from ancient buildings glow dramatically in the thick, mountain fog, and you will swear that you have just been transported to another world.  Picture perfect, Rothenburg is like nothing else you’ve ever seen.  Frozen in time, it stands there with towns like Siena in Italy as places that will simply take your breath away.  It is beauty personified, and without a doubt, the perfect place for romantics everywhere.

Is It Ever Good Enough?

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When it comes to deciding what makes a good photograph, the audience will always make that decision.

When it comes to deciding what makes a good photograph, the audience will always make that decision.

Ever wonder about what it takes to make a great photograph? Well, join the club. There is no question that photographers, at their core, are shameless dreamers. They constantly dream of that photograph, the one that will set them apart from others, the one that will surely bring recognition for hours of tireless devotion to their craft. Countless times a day the topic so expertly depicted by Émile Zola in his 1886 novel “The Masterpiece,” is played in the minds of photographers all over the world. In his work, Zola presented us with an artist who, in his own mind, found it impossible to live up to his own imagined potential. Nothing he did was good enough to be called great, or lead to the immortality he so desperately envisioned. That the artist drove a few people crazy in the process (not to mention himself) was a given, and no matter how good his work was in the eyes of critics and observers, the artist always found it lacking. Something, something impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty, was missing. Frustration reigned, and professional emptiness was right there by its side.

But Zola, in his genius, also provided us with the other side of the coin. That is, with the life of an artist who very early in his career created his greatest work and who went to live a long, unhappy life trying to unsuccessfully reproduce his early achievement. Critical greatness visited him before he felt he had achieved the pinnacle of his art; his sudden, and early acclaim condemning him to a life of denied recognition past his initial masterpiece. Nothing he did was to be as good, or memorable, as that earlier work, and the voices in his head never ceased to remind him of his lifelong descent from that early, momentary glory. It speaks to Zola’s greatness that he was able to represent so vividly the many, and often conflicting emotions that live inside an artist’s mind.

And so it seems to be the case today with photographers and their work. The Internet is full of tales of photographers stating that they went out on a project and took thousands of photographs, but at best, they only liked a handful of them. The rest? Just not good enough, or memorable enough. Ask any photographer to pick a photo that they would consider to be their masterpiece (apart from Steve McCurry and his Afghan Girl), and you will witness human contortions that would put Cirque du Soleil to shame. No, we’re not a happy lot, or to put it better, we’re not a very satisfied lot. That great photo is out there, and if it takes a lifetime to find it, that’s OK with us. And what about that magnificent photo you took that everyone seems to like so much? Sure, it was good, but not the best. The best is still out there, hidden in plain sight, and there’s no time to waste in our never-ending chase. In the 1964 words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when describing how he could tell something had crossed the threshold into the seedy, we tell ourselves that “I’ll know it when I see it.” And even when our eyes have seen so much over the years, the idea that we will recognize our masterpiece when we see it continues to dominate our photographic minds. Like Zola’s protagonists, we convince ourselves that this is a decision for us to make, when all along, and in keeping with the nature of any art, it is always a decision for the audience to make. Like Justice Stewart, they will know it when they see it, and there’s not much an artist can do aside from trying to create the best work possible everyday of his or her life.  I guess Zola figured this out almost 130 years ago.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

October 12th, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Empty Tables

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There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.

There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.

Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.

Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.

Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.

Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.

I’m fascinated by tables. No, it’s not a clinical condition or anything of the sort, but rather that whenever I see a table with some chairs, it is almost impossible for me not to photograph it. Now, mind you, that I’m not talking about just any table out there. My photographic fascination lies with those unoccupied, lonely, waiting-for-someone kind of tables. Yes, yes, a bit awkward, I’ll grant you that, but I just can’t help it. Every time I see one, I am inevitably transported to an imaginary story of a secret rendezvous, a long wait for a person who never shows up, or the melancholic story of a table that remains unoccupied, night after solitary night. Yes, I can see it now: a long wait, nervous anticipation, an uncomfortable smile, a conversation, a tear. Who knows. All I know is that I’m no writer, but if I were, perhaps it would be at one of those empty tables where I would start my next great story, or end it.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

October 8th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

The Perfect Season

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The most colorful time of the year is upon us. [Click photo for larger version]

The most colorful time of the year is upon us. [Click photo for larger version]

Don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, there is no more perfect season than autumn. Sure, it’s wet, days are shorter, and you definitely need to bundle up a bit before going out. But that’s precisely what makes it so perfect. Nature’s colors at their best, sidewalks covered with fallen leaves, and chilly temperatures that elevate every quiet moment to the level of supreme enjoyment. The heat is gone, and so is the colorless haze that unmercifully mutes the summer colors. The sounds of life’s constant drums are reduced a decibel or two, and nature’s lights are dimmed a bit as if to force us to slow down and take in the transformation that is going on all around us. So here’s a salute to the perfect season: bring out the port wine, dust off the scarfs, put logs on the fireplace, and watch the reluctant sun barely raise over the horizon. Walk out, let the morning dew caress your face, count the colors of the leaves, and breathe the clear, chilly air of a perfect autumn day. Worry less, live more, sit on a bench, hold someone’s hand, and stare at the magnificent spectacle that lies before our very eyes. Let go, let in, and just be. Let nature remind you that every year is different, that you are different, and that in spite of the changes (or because of them), life will still be as colorful as the golden trees adorning the autumn countryside.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

October 3rd, 2015 at 10:10 am

Visual Melody

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An afternoon sun shines a spotlight on a majestic leaf. [Click photo for larger version]

An afternoon sun shines a spotlight on a majestic leaf. [Click photo for larger version]

Today I’m concerned with the notion of visual context. Yes, while the world goes to pieces, I’m worrying about context, and the lack of it. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the rest of the world (because I do), but rather that after taking this photograph a few days ago, I came to the realization that everything around it, or external to it, only detracted from what I deemed to be unique on that lonely leaf. The environment in which this leaf existed seemed irrelevant at best, and obstructive at worst. I simply didn’t care about that environment because my eyes were so fixated on what I was seeing, that everything else was, at best, irrelevant.  If nature had a standing before our courts, I would’ve considered filing scene trespassing charges against it. The leaf was visual melody, the rest was simply noise.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

September 25th, 2015 at 12:39 pm