Time capsule

I’ve been following for the last few weeks, on Coursera, a very interesting course about human evolution. The incredibly difficult anthropological and genetic research, to find out about how we became human, is performed on basis of scant fossilized fragments of bones, sometimes pieces of stone tools and even calcified plaque on the fossilized teeth.

Letter from the past
Letter from the past

A whole hitherto unknown chapter of the history of Homo has been opened only recently, when thanks to cold climatic conditions in a remote Siberian cave, some insignificant bone fragments (tip of a pinky finger) have yielded good enough genetic material to let us discover a previously unheard of type of man, called Homo Denisova. The scientists have to attempt to reconstruct the anatomy, cognitive characteristics, area of activity, and the timeline of evolution of these beings, with practically only forensic tools. How much easier it could have been, if there were some documentary traces, a stone tablet, a book, a photograph?

Time capsule with a Minestrone
Time capsule with a Minestrone

In 1977 a spacecraft “Voyager” has been launched by NASA into the deep space, with a Golden Record, containing sound, video and other forms of encoded information, about who we are, how and where we live. Voyager will pass in a proximity of the next star in about 40.000 years, and who knows if this “message in a bottle” will ever be read by any intelligent being.

40.000 years???  Let’s have a look, what happened in 1977:

Elvis Presley died, Steve Jobs founded the Apple Computer,  Jimmy Carter became president of the USA, and a cannibal named Jean-Bedel Bokassa crowned himself Emperor of the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union held firm grip over half of Europe, and over the minds of millions of people worldwide. On a more hilarious note: Rover Sd1 was voted the car of the year.

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”

Down and out ?

Benched out
Benched out

Discussing lately with a friend about various aspects of society, I could not help noticing, how easy it is to think through stereotypes. This is moral, that is immoral, taxes are theft, freedom is good, this is white, that is black.

I normally do not like taking pictures of people lying in the street. It hurts me to see humans in pitiful states, and I find no kick out of showing hardship or misery for the sake of entertainment. I always strive to see some beauty in my shots.  So?

Generalization is dangerous. Take the picture above. How on earth did he get under this bench? How come his knees are bent like that if he is asleep? Finally – did he get the kick from the bottle of Evian water, or was it something much stronger? Questions start popping up, while the entanglement of the body with the bench makes for an interesting composition.

Nobody loves me
Nobody loves me

This little kid was mounting a desperate scene, but his parents were a few steps away, and one could reasonably suppose, he was probably protesting against a denial of an ice cream. Again, it might not really be what it seems.

Dreaming of paradise
Dreaming of paradise

During the summer on the Cote d’Azur, you see a multitude of people out and about, in various states of careless conduct. More than clochards by vocation, a lot of them are seasonal free birds: usually young men that decide to roam around warm beaches and enjoy total freedom with only a few euros in their pockets. This one, captured along the Croisette in Cannes, epitomizes the same spirit found in Ginzberg and Kerouac, plus, he looks much more fashionable.

“Nobody loves you when you’re down and out”

These simple things

Fulcrum
Fulcrum

After several narrative posts, it’s time to refocus on the “thing itself”, the presence of simple forms that surround us. Our visual map of the world, close and far, is made up of numerous “ready” images, which we have absorbed, and which we store in our brains for quick retrieval, whenever necessary. How many times, a simple foolish scratch on a wall, road sign or a distant silhouette of a church tower or high rise building, tell us we are in familiar surroundings, make us instinctively find our way, feel comfortable?

Croissant awaits coffee
Croissant awaits coffee

The idea, that commonplace can be beautiful, ordinary can be interesting, that my personal environment can become full of universal signs is not new in art or photography. It is not so easy though, to avoid falling into banality, by claiming that casual randomness becomes artful through brute force of endless repetition. The inspiring and eye opening images that come to my mind, are those of Edward Weston or George Tice, on the other hand, the river of banal ugliness has been opened by William Egglestone, although some of his early work has the merit of uplifting colour photography by a notch.

“These Foolish Things”

 

Fashion

Street art elegance
Street art elegance

Milan is the unofficial world capital of fashion. Obviously Florence Rome and Naples should also be ranked high, but they lack the sparkle given by milanese haute couture crowd.  I’ve seen occasional elegance in Paris, Monte Carlo, London or Vienna ( I shall magnanimously gloss over other metropolis), but nothing compares even remotely.

When you stroll in the center, and assuming you are not going to be shocked by the quantity of immigrant street vendors,  you can’t help noticing, that people both take great care in the way they dress, and also share a generally high standard in aesthetic choices of style and  how to combine it all together. Even this young gentleman playing the saw in the street, took a great effort in setting up his stage, and if you look carefully, not only is he wearing a three piece smoking, but also the shoes are extremely artfully assorted, given the early time of day. Admittedly, he does not wear a tie, but I could say in his defense, that he was performing on a notably hot September morning.

I fighettoni
I fighettoni

“I fighettoni” could be liberaly translated as ” mature but still young guys that like to show off”. Milan is full of them, as well as of the young ladies who do much of the same, with the difference, that they know very well of the power they exert on the males, and thus pretend not to notice the” fighettoni”, in order not to appear too easily approachable – just like the girl passing here with the never missing mobile phone in her hand. If you are intrigued by the Italian way of dressing, particularly clothes for men, then I warmly encourage you to watch a wonderful recent film by Paolo Sorrentino: “La Grande Bellezza” (The Great Beauty), which is not only a great piece of cinematography, but also exhibits spectacular camerawork and shows closely the Italian obsession with aesthetics of everyday life. BTW it is shortlisted among the Oscar Award candidates for this year.

Casual chic
Casual chic

Even casual styling can be sophisticated. Note the tortoise sunglasses, gilet, recent haircut, trimmed beard, well cut and ironed shirt, classic loafers and impeccable socks “Filo di Scozia” plus the stylish bicycles. The well visible signet ring may, or may not please, but it could indicate noble origins, if somebody would care for that.

Gynecologist ?
Gynecologist ?

We will terminate again with a photo dedicated to the working people. Just like a gynecologist – who, as the joke goes,  has to work, where the others are having fun – this lady is a  window decorator. This is the display of the flagship shop of  Fratelli Rossetti – one of the most stylish Italian shoe makers, and  I am sure she is a heck of a professional. I’d like to drop a print of this photo for her at the shop, when I will be in Milan the next time.

“I’m Old Fashioned”

Change

New engineering, old building
New engineering, old building

As I keep returning over a distance of years to visit cities I once lived in, the perception of change is much more clear.  Obviously, you note new architecture, big and small alterations of the urban tissue, like this external staircase, constructed around one of historic palaces in Milan’s city center, Palazzo della Ragione – ( Palace of the Reason) a hopefully named  medieval building dating back to 13th century.

Tension in the air
Tension in the air

You also notice changes of mood. The current economic crisis has been putting lots of pressure on everybody in Italy lately, and there is a perceptible tension and nervousness in the air. The people of Milan have been  regarded as the most productive and matter of fact of the whole peninsula for decades. The milanese stereotype: “Lavoro, guadagno, pago, pretendo .” ( I work, I earn, I spend, I pretend)  reflects a society centered on purposeful actions in life. When stress overflows, and obstacles to do business as usual become insurmountable, something starts to break.

Make or break
Make or break

The city has been visibly split in two, with sectors orbiting around high fashion and design flourishing thanks to exports and foreign buyers, while the rest is in decay.

“You’ve Changed”

Back home, feel good

During my life I’ve lived in four countries. When I have a chance to visit one of the old homelands, I’m always tempted by some local specialties, that reawaken the home feel good factor. In Milan, it would certainly be a visit to one of the many great caffe’s  around San Babila or Duomo squares, but also, simply a quick lunch based on a good pizza and the local Birra Peroni.

Feat for the eyes and the stomach - Birra Peroni and a Calzone alla romana
Feat for the eyes and the stomach – Birra Peroni and a Calzone alla Romana

This particular beer brand has a long tradition of witty TV commercials, where the image of the beer is superimposed on a beautiful blonde. Milan is the heart of the productive part of Italy, hence even if wine and more sophisticated food would be the gourmet standard, a quick midday meal based on pizza and beer is quite popular among the working population.

Multiple layers
Multiple layers

While some eat, others work, to make their meal enjoyable.  We take the division of labour for granted, but it is actually a fairly recent invention in the history of humankind. It might be for this reason, that some scientists believe, that our highest point in brain capacity is a thing of the past. However, we still evolve our intelligence, under pressure of life in a modern society.

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”

New Old Camera – Milano

Photographer's Mecca
Photographers Mecca

Last autumn I had a chance to make a short trip to Milan, and I took advantage of the possibility to fix some of my cameras. New Old Camera is a photography shop located in one of charming courtyards of an old Milanese palazzo in the city center. It has been started off several years ago by Ryuichi Watanabe as a second hand camera store, and has evolved and expanded over the years, to comprise sales of  new products by such brands as  Leica, Zeiss, Fujifilm and Gitzo, and is also offering to its customers assistance with repair and maintenance.

It is half shop and half   clinic for GAS victims
It is half shop and half clinic for GAS oblivion victims

The staff is competent and helpful, and you are likely to find an atmosphere typical of a hub full of camera junkies. I have actually met there people, I only knew about from photography forums… NOC also promotes photo exhibitions, events, and books about cameras – notably one of the most interesting is the Contarex book by Pierpaolo Ghisetti and Marco Cavina . I find there is something exquisitely mitteleuropean in this institution, and if you pass by Milan, don’t forget to drop in.

“Oblivion”

 

Never let me go

And comes the day of the year, when everybody gets crazy about romance.  Is love overvalued? I don’t think so, but now the fanfare of the media is going to be so loud, that it can make us doubt.

Ain't I lucky?
Ain’t  I lucky?

“Every man should plant a tree, have a child and write a book. These all live on after us, insuring a measure of immortality.”
Quote from the Talmud.

This would be an old fashioned look at things. I prefer to look at it in a different way: Every man ( and woman) should do their utmost to develop fully their human potential, and should spend it for the benefit of  other people, thus transcending their own lives. Love is the ideal means conducive to both processes, and the best part of it, is that when you love, you don’t need to ask for directions.

All have the right to love
All have the right to love

Modern psychology is also discovering, that relationships and even single acts, in which you give to others, are the most potent way in which to increase your happiness. When struck by romantic love, we are full of contradictory impulses, like the wish to give everything, but also to have a total exclusivity. As you cool down with time, what emerges, is that  if your emotional mind set is able to function primarily on basis of voluntary exchange of kindness and love, it makes long term relationships easier.

Rest on my shoulder
Rest on my shoulder

What everybody knows, is that no matter how messy love is, while it grabs you by the throat, you don’t want it to  stop, almost hoping, it will never let you go.

“Never let me go”

 

 

 

Relax

Big calming effect
Big calming effect

What I am going to say will not surprise anyone who is a dog owner: presence of dogs inside a house makes for a more relaxed atmosphere. There are even documented benefits on psychical well being as well as on some objective health aspects, like blood pressure. Some dog breeds spread more relaxation than others: I had for many years a wonderful Golden Retriever, which was a champion in this domain, but it is probably difficult to beat a big St Bernard – both for the benevolent aspect and for the proverbial calmness.

Companions
Companions

“Relaxin’ at Camarillo”