The charm of two wheels

I’m hearing, the bicycles are on the rise. Be it because of a better health consciousness, or perhaps more practically, because electric bikes are becoming cheaper and make pedaling easier. Whatever the reason, I like it as a concept, and I like it, because more bikers means more interesting photo opportunities.

Shadow framed bike
Shadow framed bike

While the shot above is showing the entrance to the Warsaw Academy of Arts, the one below spotted a young biker taking the plunge into the famous Ulica Karowa, known for its hellish bends, covered with paved stones, that lead you down to the river.

Off to the races !
Off to the races !

Note the Wehrmacht parade in the background – memories of past wars are present everywhere in Warsaw.

“Cantaloupe Island”

Feminine accent

When I’m out in the streets looking for photo opportunities, I get very quickly the “flavour” of the place. In Warsaw, it’s startling how many young people are around, and I can’t help noticing, that young women there are getting increasingly attractive.

Long legged generation
Long legged generation

Maybe, this is because I’m getting older, but more likely, because they are getting more emancipated and affluent , and invest more in  stylish personal appearance. Men are still aesthetically confused, struggling to achieve similar proficiency in their outfits.

Warsaw's female yuppies
Warsaw’s female yuppies

This fresh feminine accent adds spice to the environment, and makes your day more colorful. I find this perception reflected in this short piece: “Little Lulu”.

Music of the Spheres

Sound of empty architecture
Symphony of an empty city

Musica universalis,  or music of the spheres, is an old metaphysical concept, ascribing sound harmonies to mathematical proportions governing the universe. Personally, I believe that we can find the same proportions in harmonious architecture, and when I find myself alone in an old city, resting my eye on surrounding buildings without the distraction of human presence, I perceive  a visual effect akin to listening to music.

Notes on a wall
Notes on a wall

The broader and more imposing the view, the more symphonic the effect, the more we concentrate on detail, the more cameral and intimate becomes the music.  I like to look for smaller accents, that lead me right down to a jazz ensemble.

Jazz ensemble with a leader
Jazz ensemble with a leader

“Softly, Like in a Morning Sunrise”

 

 

Same crime, different stories

“Rashomon”, a 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa is one of the milestones of modern cinematography. I doubt many of you have seen it, but maybe some will remember its Western version starring Paul Newman, titled “The Outrage”. The film shows multiple depictions of the same crime, obviously depending on who of the persons involved was being interrogated.

Generation clash
Generation clash

As photographers, we often can have a similar possibility: tell multiple stories of the same event. It only takes a change of focus, angle or vantage point, and sometimes the only thing you need, is to wait patiently for a few seconds. The most famous photographic “interpretation” has ben shown in the iconic film by Michelangelo Antonioni:  “Blowup”, where a photographer discovers an unexpected story unfolding in a shot he took, by enlaging the picture. If you haven’t seen this film yet, don’t waste any more time, it is a must. BTW, the photographer’s profile has been shaped on the figure of David Bailey.

 

A matter of perspective
A matter of five seconds

I have decided, to terminate these posts with  a piece of music, which in my perception goes well together with the photographic theme. Today, it is an unusual choice, because casually, it is not jazz.

“Just an Illusion”.

 

HCB, Leica and the DMCR

If you are into photography at least a bit, most likely you have read about Henri Cartier Bresson, and the definition, through which he has described the philosophy of his work:

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

Caught in the act
Caught in the act

While the underlying philosophy was formulated in the 17th Century, HCB has been thrown into photography after he has abandoned the study of painting, and was looking to find a stimulus that would clarify his interest in life. The image which made him understand, that a camera could bridge his aesthetic and social interests, was a photo by Martin Muncacsi “Three Boys at Lake Tanganiyka”. Apparently, it was the only photograph that has ever adorned the walls of his apartment.

HCB has bought his first Leica camera in 1931. What ensued, has been the most important body of photographic work of his time. In fact, he has been dubbed: “The eye of the 20th Century”. His style, later called “decisive moment photography” can be intuitively recognized by a confluence of compositional harmony, and human presence, often caught in the midst of an important event or an expressive gesture.

All reporters and street photographers who came after HCB have been influenced by him. Even today, you will find multiple photo groups on Flickr, dedicated to the decisive moment photography. When I started shooting with a rangefinder camera, and eventually bought a Leica as well, the temptation to step into HCB’s shoes was too big to be resisted.

Man walking, tree falling
Man walking, tree falling

This led to the development of   DMCR (decisive moment conditional reflex), where a street scene reminiscent of one of HCB’s images would spur me automatically into compulsive action, or where a compositionally interesting background would freeze me for several minutes, with the camera ready at the eye, waiting for some human event to unfold, and “trigger” the picture.

Tripping the trigger
Man meets shadow

I can’t help to like street photography, harmonious compositions and shooting people. While I am certainly grateful to HCB for how his art has enriched the world, I have realized, for today’s photographer it has become a burden you have to shake off, or at least relax substantially, if you want to find your own expression.

Man in a shooting range
Man in a shooting range

Some escape into ugliness or banal framing, others voluntarily create an impression of random timing. I find it intuitively more natural, to look for photographs that above all tell you stories. But, perhaps, our photos are simply not good enough?

Summer games in the city
Summer games in the city

Keeping your eyes open

Eye jogging
Eye jogging

Photography is foremost about seeing. Seeing is a capacity, that benefits from frequent exercise, just like any other human endeavour. It pays to have a camera with you when you are around, and you should switch the perception to a scanning mode, like a plane pilot, when  looking for inspiration. Today most people have a camera inside their mobile phone, which gives them a handy tool for practicing.

Peter Turnley, a great  photo reporter, wrote in his photographic biography about the advice, which was given to him by Edouard Boubat: “Peter, if you keep your heart and your eyes open, there is a gift waiting for you at the corner of every street.”

Peter Turnley is known for many memorable and award winning photos, but the one I like the most, is precisely a child of Boubat’s recipy.

Secret life of living forms
Looking for vantage points

 

 

The Clash

Fingernails on the drawing board
Fingernails on the drawing board

No, it’s not meant to be about a punk-rock band.  it is about a reaction I get, when something I see feels completely out of place. Search for harmony is in our cultural heritage. When you think how much effort painters, architects, musicians, or even philosophers and mathematicians have put into the quest for harmony over the centuries, it becomes obvious why we react to something, which destroys it. Italians have a great term to describe it : “Sfregio alla bellezza” – a scarring of the beauty.

BTW, if you speak Italian, take a look here: http://www.ifioridelmale.it/. Seems a great source for inspiration about art and culture.

The misfits
The misfits

 

Betrayed before dawn

 

Against all odds
Against all odds.  – Anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw.

When I took this image, I felt it was strongly symbolic. It was August 15th, anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw, most likely one of the most important battles of the 20th century.

The Poles have a very particular relationship with their history. They consider themselves part of the West , stalwarts of values born out of Christianity, Renaissance, Enlightenment. Their attachment to personal liberty and national freedom has few equals. Yet, historically, they were unable to construct a strong state or an empire, and fell between the grinding stones of Russia and Germany.  They believe to have saved the western civilization more than once: from the hegemony of Ottoman Empire  during the Battle of Vienna, and from the spreading of the Bolshevik flood in 1920. In both cases, decisive, or important part of the victory was obtained thanks to the cavalry.

They perceive “unfairness” in their history, having often been attacked from all sides, and left alone to combat hopeless wars, while remote allies stood pat. One of famous Polish poems, “Mr. Cogito” by Zbigniew Herbert, relates to this, when he wrote about “those betrayed at dawn”.  Apparently against all odds, they have finally scored their greatest victory, overthrowing communism and  becoming the catalyst of the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989.  When I was a boy, much earlier than I heard of geography or biology, I was taught, that my first duty was to fight for the freedom of my country, no matter the cost. The figure of a cavalry soldier bearing a naked sword, and words: “Bog, Honor, Ojczyzna” ( God, Honour, Fatherland) have been imprinted in my brain.

Bog, Honor, Ojczyzna
Bog, Honor, Ojczyzna

I know of no other capital in the world, where the sense that history is a constant battleground, is so pervasive as in Warsaw. Should you be interested to explore Polish history more, there are numerous excellent recent books available, particularly by a British historian Norman Davies, whom I had a pleasure to meet when I studied in London, and by Adam Zamoyski , who also has a great talent for narration.

Change of light

Change of light
Dappled shade

Travel is usually a great resource for photographers. Looking at unfamiliar surroundings sharpens your photographic senses. I think the explanation is simple and comes from evolutionary psychology: when you are in unknown territory, you are well advised to watch out for unexpected dangers. In other words, we probably owe our enhanced perception performance to historic lions hiding in high grass.

When I travel every summer to my city of origin, Warsaw, the first thing that hits me, is the change of light. The light there is softer, comes from a more oblique angle, and most of the trees around are leafy, creating continuous plays of dappled shade.

Swiss valley
Dolina Szwajcarska

The unlikely name: “Dolina Szwajcarska” (Swiss Valley) has been given to this small park in the center of the city in circumstances now lost in history. When I’m in Warsaw I often pass there, on the way to take a coffee in one of the best pastry shops in Europe.

City of parks
A city of parks

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Le Chat

I still vaguely remember the last scene of that famous 1971 film, with Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret, based on a book of the same title by Georges Simenon.

Cats are present in Monaco, albeit not very numerous. One day, the municipality decided to sterilize the street cats, and since that time their population is well under control.

One of these “resident” cats, has chosen as his base a passage under a high speed lane, which I take every day on my walks to and from the office. It’s a lovely dark grey siamese I greet every time I pass by.

Cat's domain
Cat’s domain