Architectural photography is not something I practice with any degree of regularity. In fact, I generally try to avoid it if I can, as the genre is really more difficult than it looks. On rare occasions, though, I dabble a little in it more out of sheer curiosity than anything else. This is specially the case during scorchingly hot days, when people avoid venturing outside and nothing much is happening on the street. A few days ago, this was exactly the case. In order to avoid the heat, , I headed out to find some good structures inside the many national museums in DC to photograph (get it, air-conditioned museums). After visiting a few of them, my mind kept wandering back to the first time I visited the somewhat out-of-the-way National Building Museum, and before I knew it, my feet started moving in the direction of Judiciary Square where the museum unassumingly sits.
Not sure what it is about this place that attracts me so much (aside from the obvious architectural beauty of the place). Compared to the traffic you see in other DC museums, this place is a ghost town. Sure, in most normal days people kind of trickle in and kind of meander along its Great Hall, straining their necks to look up to its long, arched hallways and imposing, marbled columns in the center of the hall. But most of the time the place is also a gem of a quiet space in the midst of a busy metropolis. This silence is no doubt accentuated by the scale of the place, which dwarfs anyone who enters its carpeted Great Hall. I can’t help but think that this grandiose scale is some sort of reminder that human creation is vastly more grandiose than the individual humans themselves. Can’t quite put my photographic thumb on it, but for whatever reason, I keep coming back. Hallucinations from the scorching heat or elevation of the human spirit when witnessing such incredible human creations? I would much rather think it’s the latter, air-conditioner or not.
Ever been to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market? Well, if you haven’t, then I would suggest that you add this place to your bucket list, and do it soon. But before you visit this food paradise at the “City of Brotherly Love,” there are a few things that you must get out of the way, or come to terms with, to be more precise. For starters you must convince yourself that all food products in the world were meant to be eaten. Then you tell yourself that dieting is a bad thing, but unchecked consumption is a virtue. Follow that with some brainwashing on the benefits copious amounts of pork, beef, and Provolone cheese to your health, and then you will be mentally ready to tackle this heaven of culinary extravagance. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of lighter, salad stuff at the place, but this is Philly we’re talking about, and that to me means only one thing: go big, or go home. Dinic’s over-the-top pork sandwich? Must you ask. A few Amish filled doughnuts dripping with glaze? Why not. A block of Peach corn bread? Can I get an Amen! So as you can see, overindulgence will be the least of your problems at the Reading Market. Your greatest problem will be resisting the temptation to camp overnight so you can be the first in line the next morning. It is that good of a place and one that I’m sure I will be visiting many times in the future, but only after I’ve given my body a rest.
Not sure whether it was nostalgia or mere curiosity, but I couldn’t resist the impulse to go and photograph the old Florida Avenue Market (or Union Market, as it is commonly known today) one last time before it disappears forever. No wrecking crews there yet, but there is no doubt that major developers in the area are already salivating at the mouth about the money they will make when this part of Washington, DC is finally brought to the 21st Century, so to speak. Not that progress in of itself is a bad thing, mind you, but rather that it is not clear at this point how much of the old market’s character is to be retained and how much of the new development will make the area undistinguishable from so many other developments in the area. In talking to one of the displaced butchers yesterday, it was obvious that he was lamenting the magnitude of change in the area and the upscale transformation of the market. I can’t help but share some of his sentiments, as I was kind of fond of visiting the cavernous warehouse businesses where all sorts of products from Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia were on sale by immigrants with heavy accents, but whose rhythmic sale chants were exotic melodies to my ears. A bit rough, a bit chaotic, but a place like no other in the area. As it disappears in the name of progress and modernism, I can only wonder whether I’ll ever hear again those imagination-inducing, linguistic melodies that so easily transported me to those far-away markets around the world. I’m afraid progress has its very unique way of dealing with those voices.
Going over my photographs from recent trips to Europe, I came to the realization that I had spent a lot of pixels photographing bicycles. In fact, it became clear that I was working the scenes with the meticulous care of a photojournalist photographing a major sports event. But why? Why bicycles of all things? Maybe it has something to do with nostalgia, or memories of growing up, or perhaps a simple fascination with the fact that an old technology remains alive and well to this day. Not sure what the case is, but the seeming compulsion to photograph these two-wheeled marvels is alive and well in my photographic psychic, and judging from what I see in places like Flickr, I don’t seem to be alone. Perhaps it has to do with the setting, as the older character of some European cities make for the perfect travel photography backdrop. All I know is that if I were a novelist, there is no doubt that one of these photos of lonely bikes on desolate cobblestone streets would be the subject of the opening scene in one of my novels. How’s that for imagination?
Stockholm is not an easy city to get lost at. With its incredible public transportation system and orderly rhythm, getting lost is something that you really have to work at when visiting. But like in most of the great cities of the world, the city can easily be divided into places where tourists hang out and places where the locals go about their everyday lives. It is the latter that interest most photographers and creative people, even if the touristy places are also a necessity if you are ever going to understand the history and grandeur of these famous cities. Such is the case in Stockholm, where visiting the busy Sergels torg and the beautiful, horseshoe-shaped Nybroviken harbor area are a must. But so are the more off-the-beaten-path places like the Katarina-Sofia hilltop neighborhood with its cobblestone streets and its quaint, tree-shaded parks like Mosebacke torg, always blessed by the lazy, yellow light of a northern summer sun. So it is possible to get lost in Stockholm after all. In the process you are sure to discover not only the beauty of an ancient city, but also the wonders of a life with a more humane rhythm and balance. It is nice to know that such places still exist and that such a life is still possible in this modern, hectic world. Maybe it has something to do with only having a somewhat homogeneous population of about 9.6 million in the entire country (about half the population of New York state), or the fact that most of the year the country remains sun-starved and indoors. Who knows. Whatever the reason behind that lifestyle is, there is no denying that it is there nonetheless. Just don’t try getting a pizza delivered to your front door at midnight on a weekday. That, my friend, is why the Swedes come to our neck of the woods for.
It has definitely taken me a long time to visit this jewel of the north, but the long wait has only made me enjoy this glorious city that much more. Stockholm, Sweden is one of those places that is much more than a city. Yes, it is absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful architecture and incredible views that seem to pop right out of a postcard. But more than that, Stockholm seems to be a state of mind, a place that for those of us coming out of the über busy, constant stress western part of the world, seems to have almost a zen quality to it. Don’t get me wrong, the place is quite busy on its own, but you can’t spend more than a few days in the city without feeling that there is a certain rhythm to life here that is somehow lacking in our personal worlds. When visiting the residential area of Hornstull in the southern island of Södermalm, I actually met couples of professionals around 10:00 AM at a café who were actually enjoying a cup of coffee and a croissant together before going off to work. That’s right, 10:00 AM, couples, moving as in concert with the slow, yellow light of a morning sun. Who are these people?
No doubt the city itself has a lot to do with people’s attitudes towards everything from work to family life. A conglomeration of islands, Stockholm is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that is best appreciated during the warmer summer months. The busy city center of Norrmalm rapidly gives way to the incredible middle island of Gamla Stan, or Old Town, anchored around the imposing Royal Palace and Parliament building. And then, there’s easy-going Södermalm, with views of the city of Stockholm that will take your breath away. Perhaps more than any other area in the city, Södermalm personifies the quintessential Scandinavian lifestyle, at least as the rest of the world imagines it. Beautifully old architecture around the cobblestone streets of Bastugatan and Pryssgränd, eclectic and trendy in the SoFo (south of Folkungagatan street) district, and idyllically laid back around its western Hornstull waterside neighborhood, Södermalm appeared to me to be the perfect place to live and raise a family. The incredible city views along the Monteliusvägen trail and the hilltop hangout at Mosebacke Terassen only add to the area’s incredible charm.
But there’s a lot more to Stockholm than Södermalm that I will be addressing over the coming days, even when fully aware that nothing I say here can truly capture the full scope and wonders of this great city. Even now when my feet are firmly planted back home where the skies are not as blue in a 24/7 world of take-out coffee and fast food restaurants, I’m finding it hard to release my mental grip from around that Stockholm state of mind. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to hang on to that feeling, but I’m going to try as hard as I can not to loose it.
Do you nap? If you are like most people, you probably won’t admit to it, even if you secretly grab a “z” or two throughout the day. For some reason, the old siesta trend has never taken much of a hold in North America. Coffee, mid-day power walks, and slacker phobias make sure that this doesn’t happen. Where Europeans and Latin Americans see rest, people in the good-old USA see laziness. Not that a little rest nap is less needed in the USA than any other place in the world, but rather that in the name of über-productivity, you are not getting paid to doze off while on the clock. Oh, sure, you can chat all day at the office and waste time like the best of them while getting paid, but napping? Just forget it. But as these photos show, sleeping in public places may be a new, socially accepted trend in America. For the modern worker, this could be a much-welcomed development. Going out for lunch can now be combined with a quick power nap at a park bench. No park benches where you hang out? No problem. Any flat, solid surface will do, as the only requirement seems to be that the surface be uncomfortable (which will send the message that you are not trying to get too comfortable). Knee up or knee down? I would recommend knee up because it conveys a more dynamic pose, which implies that while you are flat on your back, you do intend to get back to something productive soon. Who knows, this may just be what you need to move your career to the next level. What level will that be? That I’ll leave to you to find out.