The beach has been swallowed by the rising sea. There’s a storm brewing somewhere on the horizon. The waves keep getting higher and stronger. They splash against the concrete wall, creating foam tentacles descending upon unsuspecting passers-by.
The air smells of fruits getting ripe in the gentle autumn sun. The trees are full of apples and plums. I took a short trip to the village where my grandma used to live.
The old house is slightly crooked and beaten by rain and winds but defiantly still there.
I knew what I wanted to do long before I arrived there. I climbed the wooden ladder hidden in a small backroom, where grandma used to keep the pickles and jams, and there I was again. The attic of my childhood.
Full of darkness, old books, jars and all sorts of discarded objects. Always dead silent when I went up there during the day. At night, it came alive with noise and movement and wouldn’t let me sleep.
After all this time, the place kept its magic. It looks exactly the same. It smells exactly the same. That smell of old wood and of dust gradually accumulating over decades.
So much has changed outside. So much has changed in me. Still, standing here on the edge of the hatch, everything feels the same. As if I had just turned over a stone and found underneath a long lost object from childhood.
If I listen very carefully, I could maybe still catch a glimpse of the small talk and the laughter that I used to hear back then, in the distance. A reverberation of things that happened here and could never leave the place.
The fabric of time starts to fall apart at the seams and I find myself in a dark place where the flow of time seems to have slowed down to a trickle. Everything else outside was caught in the flow. I left this place a young boy. I return here weathered, broken and recomposed.
I know that I will come down this ladder and I will find myself in the flow again. There’s no other way.
I used to photograph in natural settings most of the time. Natural light was a given, with some exceptions when I wanted to experiment, especially when shooting in very low light.
Then I started photographing in urban settings more and more. I love walking around early in the morning or late at night. I like the backstreets that feel as if they are still part of an old, forgotten city frozen in time. I like the energy of city life – not the crowds but the small gestures and happenings at the margins. I like to see the city calming down and, in a way, coming back to itself after all the agitation and shouting are gone. I like to observe people going about their lives.
As the sun rises, the forest wakes up. There’s movement and bird chatter and the wind picks up. Although the sun is now shining through the trees, shadows still reign all around. It’s as if sunshine were confined to a narrow channel that does not allow it to spread around. The yellow summer flowers are slowly moving in the morning breeze.
In a corner of my mind, there’s the beginning of a poem I read months ago. At first, I cannot make much out of it. Just like everything else, it remains in the shadows. It stays there and takes its time to percolate to the surface. Then it dawns on me.
"I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
(Mary Oliver - I Worried)
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange
Did photography change the way you see things, the way you look at a scene?
It certainly did for me, although not sure I could say exactly how. Maybe it’s a certain attention to significant details. Maybe it’s the ability to “see” the frame in the apparent chaos of what the naked eye sees.
Maybe it’s being able to notice the quality of light. And this is what the photos below are about.
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.