But I don’t want to have my picture taken outside of the Louvre! Paris, France. 2009

When I was in high school I had a friend who came from Peru called Markus. One day, Markus was with me when I was taking some photos and he asked me, “why do you take photos of all these things without you in the shot?”

I asked Markus what he meant and he went on to explain, “you might as well just buy a post card”I countered with, “but that’s not the same as me actually taking the shot”.

Markus shot back with, “a post card would be a better shot, but isn’t the idea to take photos with you in them, to show were you were really there?”

Kids could not care less what their parents want to photograph them in front of

It was at this point that it became clear to me that there were different cultural approaches to photography. I was always trying make interesting images (at the age of about 14 or 15 I wasn’t too successful), whereas there was another large group of people out there that see the camera as a method of recording where they, or someone they care about has been and producing physical proof of the fact.

On the subject of people and how they relate to photography and landmarks; when I was in Paris I came across an outdoor exhibition called, “Small world” by Martin Parr. The images were of tourists at various landmarks all around the world and they show people and how they’re interacting with the famous place.

Parr’s work divides opinions and creates controversy. Some people see Parr’s images as being a fascist attack on the working class and others see it as just plain old misanthropy.

Me?

I love his stuff!

I really like the way how Parr has identified the things he doesn’t like in society, and then goes ahead and photographs them. No love, just savage ridicule. It’s not kind and doesn’t show any love, but it’s still valid in my mind.
 

Cycling in Amsterdam. The Netherlands. 2009

Anyone who does a little cycling has heard about Amsterdam being where the bicycle rules.

She is travelling faster than you think

Yep, it’s true there are cycle paths next to almost all of the roads and it looks like about at least half of the population is on their bikes. For those of you who have been living under a rock all their lives, Amsterdam is a very flat place. As a matter of fact the only place you will see a rise is when you go over one of the many little bridges that cross the ubiquitous canals.

Due to the flat nature of the city, most people in Amsterdam ride single speed bicycles with back-pedal brakes. Most of the bikes in

Amsterdam are clunky, heavy old fashioned heavy affairs.

There are even special traffic signals for bikes

It would seem that the Dutch aren’t caught up in the need to have the latest and greatest in cycling, unlike many of the clots back home that spent thousands of dollars to have top of the range mountain bikes that they ride once a month around the city. The Dutch bike is an everyday workhorse that is ridden in all weather and left chained up outside all the time. The Dutch actually ride as a method of transportation and not as some kind of shallow statement of consumption.

Interestingly, the bicycle paths are shared with motor-scooters.

Helmets just mess up your hair and try making a telephone call wearing one.

From what I could tell, the motor-scooters didn’t need to be registered and could be driven by children (who looked at least) as young as 12 or 13, without helmets.

On the whole, the Dutch are a tall healthy lot and when you come to think of it, they’ve managed to retain their culture and national identity over the centuries after being attacked by just about everybody in Europe. They ain’t no wimps. It’s easy to tell the difference between the locals and foreigners when they are on bikes. The Dutch lope along effortlessly at quite a clip, dodging the tourists wobbling down the road at half the speed. I guess riding single speed bikes for years toughens one up and makes you fit. 

Just loping along

 

It’s a good thing that the Dutch get so much exercise, as their food is high in carbohydrates ands saturated fats.

She is travelling faster than you think

One of the things that begins to pall when travelling to all these touristy places is that there is always someone with their camera out taking pictures blocking the way. At first, you wait for people to take their shot, but after a while it starts to get annoying, waiting for so many people as they hold up the traffic on the streets. It’s not surprising, and to me completely understandable, that many people in Amsterdam are totally over tourists clogging up their streets and make no effort to to cater to them and their need to be photographed next to everything.

What is it with some people and their need to be photographed in front of things?

It’s true, I’m one of those annoying people taking the photos, and in my defense, I try not to get in the way.

The Eiffel Tower at night. Paris, France. 2009

I think it would be safe to say that many non-French (myself in particular) might assume that the Eiffel Tower is something that only tourists would be interested in. In fact lots of locals turn up at late in early evening to hang out with their friends or family, to eat, drink and party on the nearby park lawns as the sun goes down.

The locals get ready for the show

 As we walked along a small crowd of youths with a boom box was belting out “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson until the crowd booed them into submission.

I’ve had never thought much of the Eiffel Tower until my recent visit a few days ago. I’d always thought that the tower was just another tacky tourist attraction. In fact, I still feel that way about the tower in the day time but the night changes everything.

It is an amazing tour de force in steel

At 9pm a series of strobe lights flash all over the tower for 5 minutes. A cheer goes up as the light show starts up and there is clapping when it ends. It’s pretty obvious that the French a proud of the tower and I’d say they have a right to be. The Eiffel Tower was the herald of the new age of modernity and it amazes me that it was ever built. It’s even more amazing that it’s still around.

A huge metal quadraped

As the night wore on, people milled around under the tower, either queuing up to go up the tower of to buy fast food. The mood was mellow and I enjoyed being around so many happy people who’d travelled so far to be there.  So many people just wandered around, looking up without watching where they were going, and they all had big grins on their faces.

Right under the center of the tower is a metal plate that marks the very center of the tower and people place their cameras on the disc and use self timers to take photos straight up.

I could have looked at it for hours

Here’s a video of the music played in the park to provide background music as you look at the images above to give a better feel of the ambience of the night.

[youtube En-cHBv7UpA]

Belgians at the beach. Knokke-Heist, Belgium. 2009

My wife, Engogirl was interested to see the coast near Brugge so we looked at our map and saw that the coastal town Knokke was marked with a blue star which indicated that it was “nice”. We asked the landlady of the B&B we were staying at, about Knokke and she said it was very chic and then went on to suggest that nearby Damme was nicer. To me the word “chic”, when applied to a town, means a place with expensive stores with overly coiffed peopled wearing sunglasses with large vulgar golden logos showing how much money they’ve spent.

We took our landlady’s advice and went to Damme. I was O.K. but no big deal, but while we were there we saw a poster for a sculpture exhibition by the sea at Knokke, so we set aside our feelings about “chic” and went to check it out.

We were both expecting something like the “Sculpture by the Sea” that is held in Sydney each year but we were disappointed to see that there were only a few brightly decorated statues, all of a similar type. Sure enough, Knokke was what I had imagined chic to be, but it was also fascinating to see how the Belgians relate to the beach.

The beach of Knokke is lined with a promenade where the well heeled stroll up and down checking out each other and the shop windows of stores like Yves Saint Laurent. The beach itself is entirely covered with little shacks that served as storage and changing rooms.

there will be no great danes on this beach

I’m not sure what the deal with the booths was but they weren’t uniform in construction so I suppose they were privately owned. The little shacks were like little holiday homes. People would lay and play near them and the sea seemed to merely provide a backdrop for their activities.

The sea was dead flat and it looked like it was the sand that the Belgians were more interested in.

Lets get a shed on the beach and dig holes near it

What also seemed odd to me as an Australian, who grew up at the beach, is that the Belgians don’t face the sea, they face inland and ignore it.

It is such a challenge to make a call at the beach and not get ones phone covered in sand

There were lots of places where those who didn’t have a shed of their own could go and feel like they had staked a claim of a small part of the beach for themselves.

One wouldn't want to mix with others

The whole beach had been compartmentalised into different functions. There were areas for kids to play in.

When I was a child we were so poor we had to play in the sea

There was even a place that had an inflatable pool with heated water to swim in (it was too ugly to photograph).

The whole town of Knokke may be chic but I have to admit, as interesting as it was, it wasn’t our cup of tea, even if its first aid station had wind socks which looked like old fashioned bathing suits.

nice togs

The man with the yellow shoes. Paris, France. 2009

Over the years I’ve given a lot of thought to how I feel about taking photos of strangers.

When I first started taking photos I was very attracted to the type of photography practiced by people like Cartier Bresson. I used to love the whole capturing the moment thing. Photos of people were to be stalked in the streets with stealth as though they were frightened creatures. “The moment” is a skittish thing and if it senses you are sneaking up on it, it will bolt, or so I thought.

As I got a little older I came across the writings of Hunter S Thompson. Hunter was a practitioner of what has become known as “Gonzo” journalism. Hunter didn’t just report about his subjects, he engaged with them to such an extent that he included himself into the story. Truth be known, Hunter was always the story.

It has long been known in physics that the act of observation, effects the observed.

So now that I’m older, I’ve discarded, for the main part, the idea that taking photos of people unawares is somehow more pure and therefore better. One of the by-products of taking photos of people from a distance so they don’t notice you, is that telephoto lenses tend to be used and by their very nature, such lenses, due to their reduced depth of field, isolate subjects from their context by blurring the background.

I’m starting to see people photography as a sort of visual historical record of my interactions with people. I say historical record because I try to include information in my photos that will speak to people in the distant future and tell them about this age I live in. My photos will be like an archaeological dig that can be read by those attuned to such things.

This photo was one of the first photos I took after I landed at the airport in Paris.

Yellow shoes make people happy

Much to my jet lagged wife’s horror; I went up to the man in the photo above and asked him in my broken French if I could take his photo. I explained that I liked the way how his shoes and the way how he was dressed complimented the colours of the shuttle train we were in. I told him that he looked great and I took about five photos of him. I then showed the man with the yellow shoes the images in the LCD viewer on the back of the camera and shook his hand to thank him.

Over the years I’ve come to realise that people like to be noticed and appreciate being sincerely complimented on how they look.

As I was taking the photos my subject started to beam, and that’s what I like capturing nowadays. By the standards of photographers like Bresson, my photos are no longer pure. Many of my photos are now “gonzo”. I’ve interfered with the subject and that interaction has become a part of what has been recorded in the photo. The photo is no longer pure in the old sense, but it has become something new.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I couldn’t use the Photoshop CS I loaded onto our laptop so I bought a copy of Photoshop Elements in Lille (northern France) the other day. My experience with my courrupted version of CS is almost like being around an bright, lively, intelligent, dear old friend that has been struck down with an illness and amidst my sorrows, I have to deal with his drooling dimwit relative that only gibbers in French. So I hope that my images look OK because I’m not used to using a laptop and such a dumbed down program.

Ideological stance or ironical post modern fashion statement? Singapore. 2009

Before I left on this current trip I had hopes of posting every day, but of course reality popped its ugly head into my world and messed with me.

Our flight was in two legs. The first leg was Sydney to Singapore and it was an eight hour flight with a five hour stop over. Instead of waiting around in the airport we went into town, had dinner and took a few photos.

Singapore is a fairly affluent place and to be honest for us, as Australians who live in a city with a large Asian population, Singapore didn’t have much to offer that wasn’t available at home. In short we didn’t find the city all that appealing. Poor old Singapore, in its headlong rush into the future and prosperity, it has transformed itself into just other bland city.

For my money, Bangkok is much more interesting.

One of the things that westerners will notice about Asia and Asians in general is that “cute” is in.

I don't know whether to pout or giggle

The girl in the shot is dressed like a person that might a student or someone who is into the art or music scene, but the T-shirt is jarringly at odds with such a look. Sure, I bet that an arty type with post modernist leanings, wanting to make an ironical statement might wear such a shirt, but the girl in the photo was also holding a “Hello Kitty” type of clutch.

She is into “cute”

As a piece of visual communication this girl is a walking contradiction. On one hand, there is the darker clothing that is the uniform of the disaffected with the jaded countenance that goes with the look. On the other hand is the cute little logo on the T-shirt that speaks of childlike simplicity and desire to giggle.

It’s interesting to see western culture being interpreted through Asian eyes. Various ideological stances expressed through dress have be reduced to mere fashion that can be mixed and matched. All of which is one of the reasons why I like to travel so I can see how other people live and think.

I was hoping to write this article and edit my Singapore photos on the next leg of the flight which was twelve hours, on the way to Paris but two things got in my way.

Air Singapore provide power in it’s armrests but unfortunately, the distance between the seats in cattle class doesn’t allow one to work on their laptop. The other issue that stopped my effort to get a post out was the fact that the dodgy copy of Photoshop I put on the laptop didn’t have the camera RAW plug-in and I couldn’t open my shots.

The flight started off on Friday morning and finished on Saturday morning. Twenty four hours of flying with a five hour gap in the middle.

What a grind! No wonder comedians always harp on about flying, it’s a drag.

On arrival in Paris we went straight to our hotel near the airport, checked in, had a shower and went into the city.

More about that in my next post.

Cascade Saddle walk. Mt Aspiring National Park, South Island, N.Z. 1997

Tomorrow morning, Engogirl and I fly to Singapore and then onto Paris for three months of travel in Europe. We will be leasing a car for the whole time we are over there and we are also taking our folding bicycles with us to. I’m looking forward to posting about our trip as it will the first time I ever done any travelling with enough money to do it comfortably and in style. No hitch hiking and sleeping in parks this time!

I’m pretty sure my posts over the next couple of months will be full of lovely images of beautiful old towns etc, so I thought I post this about my wife and I’s first trip overseas together, about six months after we met. This was back in the days when I used to rock climb and did a lot more hard-core outdoor activities.

Back in 1997, I was a much fitter person than what I am now and my wife (to be, but we didn’t know it at the time) and I went walking (the Kiwis call it “tramping”) in the South Island of New Zealand. We spent a week walking up the Rees River to Snowy Creek

Razzbuffnik and Engogirl back in the days before my hair started to abandon me and it still had its colour

 and then up the Dart glacier to Cascade Saddle and then down to the Matukituki Valley.

The better-known hiking tracks of New Zealand get very heavy traffic and can be crowded so we decided to take a little lesser known path. A short drive from Queenstown, the Rees, Dart walk is close to the famous Routeburn track but it isn’t as frequented by so many people. Most people walk up the Rees River to Snowy Creek and then downstream on the Dart River.

up the Dart

There are well-maintained huts along the main track so you don’t have to bring a tent. When we got to Snowy Creek we turned upstream on the Dart River and went up to the Dart Glacier. When you’re walking in the valleys it feels hemmed in and it is quite the contrast as you gain some altitude as the scenery is spectacular up there. One can see for miles and miles over the mountains in every direction.

We did our walk in January and the weather was surprisingly hot. The Dart Glacier is another glacier that is receding and for about two or three kilometers as you approach it, the glacier has melted and left moraine. It looks like a giant gravel pit. The track up the side of the glacier is very narrow with very steep drop offs and it is slippery due to all the loose flat stone. One wrong step and you’re gone. Definitely not to be attempted in bad weather.

The Dart glacier

The track goes up above the glacier to Cascade Saddle, which is in my top five best scenic spots I’ve ever been to.

Before I went to New Zealand, many people had warned me about the sand flies but I forgot to take insect repellant. For the whole of our trip there were no sand flies but when we got to Cascade Saddle in the late afternoon, the air was thick with them and it was unbearable. I quickly set up our tent and got inside. There were so many sand flies between the tent fly and the tent inner that it sounded like rain as the bugs crashed into the nylon. Despite the bugs I still went out to enjoy the views as best I could but I didn’t take many pictures. From Cascade Saddle you can see back down the Dart Glacier on one side and on the other side you can look across the Matukituki Valley to Mount Aspiring. Near the saddle itself is the very spectacular Cascade Creek Falls, which drop about 200m (about 600ft).

Cascade Creek Falls

It’s almost too beautiful.

The walk down to Aspiring hut in the valley is a steep bone crunching slog through rough rockslide prone forest.

When we got to the hut there were two mountaineers who were waiting for transportation to a hospital.  They had been climbing Mt. Aspiring and apparently one of them was deaf and he didn’t hear the warning when some rock fell, and his leg had been broken. It would have been an extremely steep and painful walk to the hut from the mountain. He certainly didn’t look happy.

Idiocy mechanically manifested. Seven Hills, NSW, Australia.

I saw this intensely stupid demonstration of cluelessness the other morning.

The product of a sad tiny brain

I photographed it so I could have a little rant about one of the things that has mystified me for years.

Why do some guys have to do such dumb things to their vehicles?

The monstrosity in the photo would be good for no task. It has huge wheels to increase clearance for very rough terrain, which by necessity needs to be traversed slowly, and a souped up engine to make it go quickly when it wouldn’t be able to make any corner hardly any faster than walking speed. What we see in the photo above is a deadly combination of modifications that is the product of a tiny brain that probably had a conversation with itself while at a smash up derby.

Tiny Brain:

“Ooooo will ya lookit tha monsta truck!”

“Ooooo it’s so kewel!”

“I’m gunna make me one juss like it!”

There would’ve been no thought of handling characteristics or fuel economy in this age of rising fuel prices and the shrinking of unrenewable energy resources. No thought would’ve gone into the fact that “bull bars” decrease passenger safety in collisions and also endanger pedestrians that are run over.

Here’s a few videos of moronic meatheads and their dumb trucks.

[youtube VWNAzIC41gk]

[youtube koP4FzCy_Rs]

The really sad thing is that they will probably breed, and that brings me to one of my favourite movies, Idiocracy

[youtube y0O7_3o3BrI]

THIS, is a lemon! Roast lemon chicken with Sicilian olivies recipe.

When we first moved into our house, my wife Engogirl, declared that we MUST get a lemon tree. I said I didn’t want one because I thought it would take up too much room and I wouldn’t have that much use for the fruit. Engogirl insisted, so her mother bought us a Meyer lemon tree. Since my mother in law isn’t someone you want to get on the wrong side of and it pleases me to see my wife happy, I did as I was told and planted the tree.

It took about 3 years before we got any lemons but when we finally did, I was stunned at how good they were. The lemons are almost sweet enough to eat without any sugar added and the skins are fairly thin and a deep yellow.

This is a lemon

Our little tree (it’s only about 180cm or about 6ft) now produces about 60 to 80 lemons a year, all year round. The great thing about lemons is that you can leave them on the tree for about three months after they are ready to eat and you just pick them as you need them. That way they are always fresh and I don’t have to worry about them going off. Any lemons that I can’t use, I juice and make ice cubes with to cook with later. I usually cook something with lemon at least once a week.

There ain’t going to be any scurvy on my watch!

Here’s one of my favourite recipes (I’ve made this so many times) that I cooked for some friends last Friday night. The recipe originally comes from “Delicious” magazine (this magazine is fantastic has totally changed, for the better,  the way I cook) and it’s by Belinda Jeffery.

Roast lemon chicken with Sicilian olives.
Serves 4

Ingredients

Olive oil
4 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves
1 heaped tablespoon of thyme leaves and 8 sprigs
8 skinless chicken thigh cutlets (I use fillets)
Plain flour to dust
2 lemons, scrubbed, seeds removed and thinly sliced
1 and a half cups (375ml) of chicken stock
1 table spoon of chopped preserved lemon rind (you can get this from food stores catering to Arabs)
24 Sicilian olives or any other large green olive.

 Method

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F).

Fry the sliced onion, garlic and thyme in the olive oil over medium-low heat until the onion is a light golden colour (about 20 minutes). In the meantime dust the chicken in flour. When the onion is cooked turn up the heat to medium high and fry the chicken on both sides in the same pan for about four minutes a side until it’s golden.

Lay the cooked onion in a casserole dish and arrange the chicken on top. Then overlap the sliced lemon over top of the chicken. Heat up the chicken stock and chopped preserved lemon rind until it boils and then pour it into the pan the chicken was cooked in to deglaze the pan. Pour the contents of the deglazed pan around the chicken and place the dish in the oven for 50 minutes uncovered. Baste with the stock a few times while it’s cooking. After cooking for 50 minutes spread the olives over the lemon and cook for another 30 minutes (don’t think you can toss the olives in earlier to take a short cut, because they will burn and go black).

I serve this dish on a bed of cous cous that I mix lightly steamed asparagus into. For wine to go with this meal I recommend a lightly chilled soave.

By the way I didn’t adjust this shot to make the lemon look more saturated (as you can tell by my pasty winter complexion).  

Racin’ for Jaysuss! Seven Hills, NSW, Australia.

Not far from where I live is the biggest Pentecostal church in Australia, called Hillsong.

Hillsong is all about prosperity preaching. Pray, put money into the basket and you will be rewarded. Why are so many people sucked in by their money grubbing conniving? Then again, I guess the real question is, why are some people so naive? Hillsong have got their fingers into all sort of pies. They have strong political clout and varied business interests (like the Gloria Jeans coffee shop franchises seen in the background of the photo below). The church should be known as Hillsong Inc.

One of Hillsong’s founders was the self confessed paedophile, Frank Houston. What is it with these bible thumping religious wing-nuts and their perverse sexual predilections, anyway?

Frank was asked to leave the church by his son Brian after his confession to his congregation. I can imagine how the conversation went.

Frank: “Look I know it looks bad, and nobody reported anything to the police like thet should’ve, but I confessed, and that should make everything all right with god and therefore the rest of you.”

Brian: “That’s not the main issue. It’s about our revenue stream. Most people, even the gullible marks that come to our meetings don’t like kiddie-fiddlers. Our revenues have been starting to go down. We need to raise more capital for our next business venture and it’s going to cruel the sweet little deal we’ve got going if you stick around. It’s just plain bad for business. You’ve got to go.”

Hillsong also operates in ways that can seem like a cult. They don’t brook any questioning of their hierarchy and can make life very difficult for people in their ministry who challenge them or the way how they do things. 

Yep, you guessed it, I don’t have much time for such goings on.

I was doing some shopping today for a dinner I’m having for some friends tonight, and I came across this strange sight (which I don’t know if it’s connected to Hillsong, although it seemed too close to Gloria Jean’s to be a coincidence).

Oh lord give us a righteous victory over the unbelievers

I wonder if the racing team prays for victory?

I wonder what they think about the idea of an interventionist god when they don’t win?

If they don’t win, does that mean that god doesn’t approve of their engine tuning or their moral conduct?

What does it all mean when some godless athiest beats them when they’re racing for Jesus?

I wonder about such things.