I started out, as most of us do, being overly preoccupied with sharpness and focus. Of course, there’s a place for sharpness and focus and some compositions require them more than others. But there is also lots of scope for playing with them and sometimes leaving them behind. This is true even for documentary photography, where selective focus and graininess can produce amazing results.

For this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge, Sofia dares us to show how we play with exposure in order to create mood, movement, and emotion. I have selected a few photos shot a few days back, in Brussels, at a procession organized for Dia de Muertos. I remember following the same procession three years ago, before the Covid pandemic.

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Rainy night

It rains over the city like a curtain falling after a big show.

Contours are blurred out. Light trails lit up the night. Colors dissolve into one another. Hurried silhouettes pass by.

Summer is gone. The irreversibility of this simple fact is now made concrete, almost painfully tangible. There’s no going back to that part of life, with all its good and bad.

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Summer in Paris

A cloudy summer evening. We’re walking aimlessly through the big city.

On the banks of Seine, young people are chatting around something to eat and drink. The waves created by big tourist boats fade away at their feet.

The Seine between Pont Neuf and Pont des Arts (July 2021)

The rain comes unexpectedly and we find ourselves floating in a sea of umbrellas. For a few moments, it rains heavily. Il pleut des cordes, as they say here.

Saint-Severin Church and the Latin Quarter under the rain (July 2021)

The setting sun appears through the rain. It changes the contrast and texture of things. It makes them heavier, more real. Shadows are getting longer.

A busy street in Saint Germain-des-Pres (July 2021)

I don’t know if it was me taking your hand or you taking mine. We enter this old, glass-covered Parisian passage with small shops and cafes. Embroidery, stamps, jewelry, toys.

A silver-haired guy in a colorful coat, perfectly in tune with the atmosphere of the passage, briefly looks at the posters then enters a stamp shop. He looks like he belongs here.

Jouffroy Passage (July 2021)

When we get out on the other side of the passage, the rain has passed, the streets have dried up, and it’s almost dark. It’s just that indefinable after-the-rain smell that still endures.

Cities in silence: Brussels

I’ve done this short series that I called “Cities in silence”. It’s the silence of cities devoid of people, withdrawn, turned towards themselves. There is a certain nostalgic beauty to it. The last in this series is Brussels.

This is the place where it can rain for a whole week and winter winds chill you to the bone. It’s the place where – depending on your mood – local administration and politics can either make you laugh hysterically or drive you crazy with its absurdity.

But it is also the place where you can meet people from all over the world. Where you sit on ancient oak benches and savor a Trappist beer, produced by the monks themselves. Where you can watch the night sky laying down on the pavement of Grand Place, the central city square, around which the whole city developed through centuries. Where you can discover little bits of the old city in unexpected places.

These places have known plague, war, famine and despair. They have known joy, endless evenings on the terraces, couples making out, groups of friends celebrating something, doesn’t matter what, people walking alone with the wind in their hair.

The crowds will eventually return. The students, the rich, the tourists, the loners, the freaks, the drunk and the lovers will cross each other again along these old streets.

For now, the city still lives its silent life. Still breaths its hidden breathing. Barely moving but alive. I can hear its breathing beneath medieval pavement stones and rundown building fronts.

You can also read the other two posts in this series, about Paris and Lisbon.

Keep on moving

I miss travelling.

I fall in love with places and I tend to come back often. I care about them. I feel hurt when I read about illegal logging in a forest where I used to walk as a teenager. My heart beats faster when I see a photo of a city street where I’ve lived something that stayed with me. An old square where I took a coffee early in the morning, watching the sunrise. A place where I’ve left part of me.

There are different ways of travelling.

There’s travelling to see and travelling to be seen. There’s travelling to live and travelling to show.

The first is about discovering and losing yourself in what you’re discovering. It is about trying to become part of the scene without altering it. Staying low key, watching, letting things happen.

The second is about affirming yourself wherever you go. Making your mark, letting people know where you are and what you think about that. It’s about imposing yourself on whatever is happening.

These ways of travelling (and of being) are also reflected in photography.

The first one would correspond to the type of photography in which the photographer remains a discreet presence behind the camera. The focus is on what is going on, on the situation, on the story. The story says something about me as photographer, because it’s MY way of telling the story. But the focus stays on the story, not on myself.

The second one emphasizes the photographer at the expense of what is going on. The photographer can either be physically present in the pictures (the selfie maniac) or compose the photos so that they bring the attention back to him/her.

There is a difference between doing photography as a continuous ego-affirming exercise and doing it for the sake of showing / documenting / honoring what is out there. We lose sight of this difference too easily.