Magic moments

Street of dreams
Street of dreams

The great North South divide in Europe could be reassumed by the following story:

A well off German manager takes a holiday and decides to visit some of the more exotic European destinations. He travels to Naples. As he walks  close to the sea, he spots a beggar on the sidewalk asking for money. Irritated, he decides to unfold to the beggar some of the secrets of his work ethics:

– Instead of asking for offers, you should do like me. You should study, look for a job, make a career, earn the money, and then you will be able to afford to idle in the sun in the Golf of Naples !

– But Sir, protests the beggar, I am ALREADY idling in the sun in the Golf of Naples !

Sea, sun and me
Sea, sun and me

People who live in cold and cloudy climates fail to understand the importance of nice weather. It looks to them, that it is only a difference of several warm days in the summer, but for the rest, the year still has its long dark, chilly and damp spells. What you discover when you live on the Mediterranean coast instead, is that there are three elements that count: average temperature, average daily amplitude and number of sunny days in a year.

On Cote d’Azur, the average temperature is not very high, probably only just over 16 C, but the daily amplitude hardly ever goes beyond 6 degrees. In other words, you don’t need to wear multiple layers of clothing to be ready to face a long day.  There are 62 rainy days a year here, around Monaco and Nice, that means statistically only one day out of every six.

This drives a lot of social life out into the open of the streets, promenades and parks.

Forever young
Forever young

When friends or families meet, eventually their common activities evolve towards one of the numerous establishments, when you can socialize more effectively over some food and a glass of wine.

Celebration of eternal spring
Celebration of eternal spring

What you see on the photo above, is one of the numerous restaurants along the market of Cours Saleya in Nice, and the elegant building in the background has hosted for several years the apartment and atelier of Henri Matisse.

“Momento Magico”

Complex simplicity

Random mutation
Random mutation

One of the most inexplicable mysteries of the universe, is the source of complexity. The idea, that our environment is so full of incredibly complicated structures, beginning with inanimate crystals and ending with our brains, is simply mind boggling.  This is why for so long people mainly believed, that the only possible source of this complexity had to be out of this world, or in other words, superhuman. It took a very long time, and a somewhat extraordinary person too, to arrive at an idea, that the secret could be disarmingly simple.

From a mackerel to an Iphone
From a mackerel to an Iphone

Alan Turing was the man, who during the war was deciphering the codes of German Enigma  machine. It was a cryptographic device, first broken and reverse engineered by Polish matematicians, an achievement that has vastly contributed to the allied success during the WWII.  After the war, Turing has directed his attention to a hypothesis, that a simple “encryption key” could be at the base of biological processes as well. The ensuing story is brilliantly narrated by Professor Jim Al Khalili in a BBC video “The Secret Life of Chaos”.  It explains, how complexity is an integral part of all physical and biological processes, and how it can arise on basis of extremely simple rules. If you are interested to explore the subject more, you could play with Wolfram’s Cellular Automaton, and take a look at Solomonoff’s Induction.

Enigma of nature
Enigma of nature

When it comes to biological life, the game changing man was Charles Darwin. He developed the intuition, that forms of life evolve under evolutionary pressures of the environment. But he struggled all his life with discovering the mechanism, that could enable  enough variability inside one species, so that the most fit individuals could be selected for reproductive success. This has only been understood, when people discovered genetics. Genetics demonstrated, that at the basis of all variation, lies a random process of cellular mutations of the DNA. In other words, most of the complexity of life could be explained with two simple concepts: feedback loop of chaotic growth, and rewarded random mutations.  Obviously, in order to arrive at what we can observe today, it was necessary to let these forces play for several billion years.

Children of the stars
Children of the stars

The Theocentrics among you might ask : But how it all begun? The universe, the life on Earth?

I am not sure, that we will ever know these answers, although there are numerous hints, that biological life here has been implanted from the outer space through falling meteorites. We are most likely, children of the stars. This obviously would only shift the question a number of light years left or right.

Just like we accept as a given, that time only flows forwards, or that you cannot add any speed to the speed of light ( light emitted from a fast moving object will only travel at the speed of light, not a notch faster), we shoud probably accept, that there is no answer to the  question:  What existed before the origin of Time?

A beauty and a library
A beauty and a library

I find the scientific process to be extremely tiresome, almost like the workings of a democracy. Yet, when we manage to unfold some truth about ourselves and the world we live in, the results can often be disruptive and liberating. The amazing fact about our era, is that both the speed of the scientific advance, and of dissemination of new knowledge have become exponential. What is lagging behind, is the efficiency of adoption of this knowledge for the benefit of everybody. We still live in a world, where hundreds of millions of people are not even allowed to learn about Darwin.

However, we have come a long way. Looking at the photo above, I am not sure what is more amazing: the beautiful young lady, pinnacle of billions of years of evolution, or the  books in this library, a monument to human genius ?

– Oh, well….

“Oh Well”

 

 

Shadow line

Human mark
Emerging human

When I was young, I remember having watched a film by Andrzej Wajda, titled “Shadow line”. It was based on a novel by Joseph Conrad. The film was not a great success, but it planted in my mind the allegory of life as a struggle to emerge from the shadow into the light, in spite of all the adversities. Conrad’s adversities were the anonymous forces of nature, the oceans, but also the adversities we find inside ourselves.

Walking the line
Walking the line

I’ve begun to suspect that the shadow line will always make part of my life, when I reached maturity. What seemed like a feeble demarcation line, easy to cross once you can sail at full speed, has begun to look like a moving target, a carrot on a stick tied to your harness, which remains always just a few steps distant, no matter how fast you run.

Stepping in
Stepping in

At a certain point I’ve started thinking, that in order to enter the zone of light once and for all, it will be necessary to draw a line how far you want to go, to decide how much is enough.  Certainly, it might be a relief, but wouldn’t it also be risky to think that happiness can be identified in a situation, rather than in a frame of mind? And what about the scope of our actions, the time that needs to fly while we perform our daily fatigues?  – I don’t see myself basking idly in the sun.

Sun salutation
Sun salutation

“The Shadow of Your Smile”

 

Peace

Symbol of peace
Symbol of peace

I took this shot in one of the small squares in Nice, not far away from Place Wilson.  Although the bird caught here strategically in the center of the composition, is not a dove, but simply a seagull, I think it looks close enough to serve as an illustration of the concept.

The recent war ramblings of Mr Putin, have reminded me of the problem of war and the origins of the dove as symbol of peace. The dove bearing an olive tree branch has  been first depicted by the Jews in the Torah, but only the Christians have taken it up as peace symbol. The Jews, as usual, had some more complicated and Jewish centered interpretation of this image.

Then came Picasso, with his communist party membership card, who has impudently used a religious symbol for a militantly atheistic logo of peace, hence used and abused by the Soviet bloc propaganda. Apparently, he got inspired by Matisse, who gifted him a beautiful white pigeon, originating from Milan.

The fact remains, that no matter how confused one can be when speaking for peace, peace is a value in its own right.  In my various humanistic meanderings, I’ve come across three interesting opinions about what are the strongest factors which foster peace.

First, you are normally reluctant to make war on members of your own “Tribe”, and the single most important element in human culture that denotes belonging to the same tribe, is the use of the same language. Hence, it’s good to speak many languages.

Second, you normally do not want to make war if that implies your economic ruin, and the most important lifeline of any economy is money. Therefore, if you don’t want wars, adopt a common currency – does it ring a familiar note to you, Europeans?

Third, in any kind of political decision that can gravely impact the lives of fellow citizens, it is paramount, that the decision maker ( i.e. politician) has something personal at stake. The best guarantee, that adopting war as policy will not be done lightheartedly. would be if the leader who decides, has a child in the army. This way, he could actually visualize, how it would feel to put at stake the life of his own offspring because of his decision.

As far as I know, Mr. Putin has two daughters, and I don’t believe they would serve on the Ukrainian front. There is a rumour, that he has an illegitimate son in Germany, so perhaps he will think twice, before launching nuclear weapons on Berlin.

The unofficial fourth factor in favour of peace, would be granting the powers of war and peace to a woman. Unfortunately, in Russian history this has not worked very well, if you look up the rule of  Catherine the Great. Perhaps the reason had been, she was actually born in Prussia.

“Peace Piece”

SINGLE SHOTS # 2

Morning clean up
Morning clean up

This is one of these photos that just happened for no specific reason. The morning hosing ritual is quite popular around here – since my office has been moved to the other end of Monaco, I cannot wear Geox shoes anymore, because as I walk along the sea in the morning, the hose men are busy cleaning the pavements, and I’m literally going through a huge puddle.. This one has been shot in the Old Nice.

“Waters of March”

SINGLE SHOTS # 1

Strike of light
Strike of light

So far, the themes of these blog entries have been dictated by the order of the photographs that I’ve been fishing out of my “marinating keg”, which is a folder on my computer. I knew that this strategy had a limited horizon, because it’s not that I take photographs of an infinite range of subjects. Some single shots have inevitably also started accumulating in solitude, as I could not immediately tie them to others of similar kind. This has prompted me to begin the “Single Shot” series, which will be a handy way to keep this blog alive without a need for me to become a permanent story teller.

This shot, taken from my office window,  originated during one of last winter’s mornings right after sunrise. It was a sudden strike of light, and it gave an immediate touch of life to that  gray beginning of the day.

Here’s a great piece which helps to illustrate the feeling. I particularly enjoy the arrangement and Georg Mraz on the double bass.

“I’m Beginning to See the Light” – Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie

Children

Exploration
Exploration

Children are a great photographic subject. It’s not only because we love them, and because our sense of beauty is modeled on basis of child like facial features. The main reasons are that children are at the same time full of energy and very poor at self control.

Youthful energy
Youthful energy

While the high energy level is typical of most young mammals, and reflect the need to learn through play, the lack of self control has more to do with the peculiar cognitive evolution of our human species.  I have read somewhere, that our brains develop full self control capacity only around the age of 30, and particularly the young boys tend to be very poor at it. This brings some interesting conclusions, like the scientific confirmation of the idea to avoid punishment based upbringing in favour of reinforcement of desired behaviours through rewards. It is not a fear of punishment ( because of the lack of sufficient self -control ) that will block improper behaviour, it is more likely that we can induce desired behaviours through positive feedback instead.

Scooter rehearsals
Scooter rehearsals

There is also a great lesson that we, photographers can try to learn from kids: their unadulterated vision of the world. The older we get, the more our visual perception is a construct of cultural experience. This has been neatly summarized by Andersen in his famous fairy tale ” The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Only a child could see the obvious truth, and express this freely.  Picasso has famously said: ” When I was young, I could draw like Raphael. But it has taken me my whole life to learn to draw like a child.”

Unconstrained imagination
Unconstrained imagination

Children like to break the rules and simplify the complicated. Why should one use the stairs, if it’s possible to jump? They are also great at showing raw emotions, which of course makes them very photogenic.  I have noticed something else as well, although I could not claim it is a scientific fact:  when they are happy at play, the boys prefer to do it with the fathers and the girls with the mothers. When they are in distress and look to cling for comfort, the reverse applies. So your preference for the sex of your child could vary depending if you are more looking for a game buddy or intimate friend.

My heart belongs to daddy
My heart belongs to daddy

 “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”

 

Fascinating rhythm

Dominoes
Dominoes

We are inextricably immersed in regular rhythms. Days and nights, beats of our hearts, regularly spaced telegraph poles, stripes on zebra crossings, not to mention the music, most of which today is heavily rhythmical.

Musical nap
Musical nap

Humans, and human photographers in particular, are virtual pattern recognition machines. What most people don’t understand, is that we don’t “see” with our eyes, but with our brains, that reconstruct “raw” images received through the retina, and give us an output that  we make sense of. In a way, you tend to see, what you expect to see, thus rhythm and symmetry are two particularly important concepts that we use subconsciously to our advantage, in order to organize visual information.

Barcode fashion
Barcode fashion

The popularity of striped garments in fashion is relatively recent. In Medieval times, only prisoners clowns and prostitutes used to wear them, as the pattern was seen as being “evil”. Apparently it was Queen Victoria in 1846, who has broken the spell by clothing her 4 year old son, Albert Edward in a striped sailor shirt to board the Royal Yacht. The style has caught on, with sailor like uniforms for kids becoming widely popular, and subsequently got extended to bathing suits. In 1917 Coco Chanel  has introduced stripes to fashion through her nautical collection, but she has been inspired directly by the Breton stripes.

Discreet yet fascinating rhythm
Discreet yet fascinating rhythm

I always am on a lookout for some visual order, and if anything, you need to be careful not to overdo it, because still perfection tends to get boring quickly. A good rule of thumb, is to combine the diversity of life with some underlying visual harmony  for an additive effect.

“Fascinating rhythm”

Dogs # 2

Sentinel
Just friends

It’s quite striking how many people with dogs you see around here, in the south of France. Perhaps mainly because of tradition, and in part because there are many elderly  who like to keep one. The multi child family model also helps, because once you grow two or three kids, an addition of a small dog doesn’t make a lot of difference to your lifestyle…

Relaxing in Place Garibaldi, Nice
Relaxing in Place Garibaldi, Nice

Walking your dog is a great duty – ritual, particularly pleasant if the weather is fine, which is usually the case on Cote d’Azur.

Checking the dog-mail
Checking the dog-mail

It helps you socialize and enjoy life in the open air.

Meeting
Meeting

At times I can’t help thinking that some people go out just to show off their favourite canine friends.

Sunday show off
Sunday show off

But  the nicest scenes happen, when you see the owners and their dogs behave, as if they were having romance.

Like someone in love
Like someone in love

 

“Like Someone in Love”