Pervomayskiy market (sequence I & II)

Murmansk (Russia), 16th March 2013. Temperature -25 C.

Oslo, end of February

Home sweet home: Tromsø

Home is where you heart is, they say. Heart or not, Tromsø is where I spent 7 years of my life and it’s the only place where, 2 years after my departure, every visit feels like coming home.

Tromsø is cold, windy and slippery, a not exactly clean architectural mess surrounded by some of the most stunning nature Norway has to offer.

Tromsø is perhaps not the pearl it could be, yet it’s impossible not to love.

Jonny, photo model

Oslo center, an evening about one month ago. I notice that a popular retail-clothing company is advertising their Christmas sales by using dummies wearing paper masks. The masks reproduce a man’s face, bearded, with dark sun glasses and a Santa Claus hat. Nothing special in fact, however I take a photo of the scene as a man stops to look at them (probably thinking “what the heck..?”).

An hour later I move to another part of town to see if I can get a shot or two there. As I walk by a pub, I notice a bearded man smoking a cigarette. He’s rather photogenic but I have no chance to take a photo of him while staying unnoticed. It’s so dark that I doubt I can get a sharp shot anyway, but I stop and ask if I may… Permission granted, a few shots taken. And it turns out he’s the model the retail-clothing company used for their mannequins!

A completely coincidental encounter in a city with over half a million inhabitants..

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Blissfully in love

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Milano, 17-12-2012

Only three or four days to the end of the world, some say. We’d better record as much of it as possible then.

Here are a few shots from the last couple of days shooting in Milan.

City scavenger

This is you, city scavenger, and your fate. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, garbage to garbage.

But I don’t laugh of your misery. I laugh of myself, for thinking that my fate is any better than yours.

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Harald

This is the short story of my encounter with Harald. It would never have happened if it wasn’t for the girl you see in this picture. She didn’t drop a coin by Harald’s feet, but stopped and gave him a few minutes of her time and attention. Only seconds before, I had passed by him giving him nothing but a smile. Seeing this girl do better made me return, after she had left.

I ask him first his name. “Harald, like our king”, he replies. Harald has sweet eyes and a warm smile. His face and hands bear all signs of years spent outside. Without me even asking, Harald tells me that he left his house many years ago, to see the world and experience life. He hasn’t slept inside since, he says. Houses are not meant for humans. Trees should be home. Pigeons know that. Houses and paper are bad, all paper: newspapers, documents, politics, bureaucracy.. nothing matters. Only trees, and pigeons.

I ask him if he’s cold (it’s 5 below freezing this evening) and if he eats enough. He’s used to the cold and every day manages to collect enough food, only vegetables though: animals should not be eaten. I ask if I can take a photo of him, to tell his story. He says he had a camera once, with film in it. He understands that I like to take photos, but photos are also paper and paper is bad. I respect that, no photo, Harald. I will remember you anyway.

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Rain

These are about the city in a rainy autumn evening, where just about everything resonates with your already low mood: All those strangers rushing home and bothering even less about you then they ever would, forced by their umbrellas to keep greater distances than ever from each other and from you. And all those drops..

Oslo, Oslo

This was supposed to be my street photography weekend in Oslo, but the photo mood wasn’t really there. I came home with a dozen pictures taken with a little compact camera, but at least am happy with a few of them. They may be examples of photos saying more about the photographer than the subjects, but here they are anyway.

Another stroll in Venice

A few “street” shots I got the last couple of days in Venice (where there are formally speaking no streets). I wasn’t there to take photos, but had a few hours for myself tried to get something out of them.

No awesome postcards, sorry. Having been in Venice over a hundred times I just can’t.

You may also want to see these others shot from a trip in Venice a year ago: Adagio, Allegro, Venezia

Kirovsk – Apatity

Another couple of hours by train and I’m in Apatity, named after the phosphate mineral the hills around the city are rich of. Needless to say, that’s the very reason why a city was founded here, back in 1935.  It’s a bit strange for an Italian to think that all these towns are only 50 – 80 years old (my parent’s house is way older than that, and it’s no renaissance palace..).

Kirovsk, located only 23 km from Apatity, is only a few years older and was built under the same rush to mineral exploitation as the other towns I visited. However, it’s surrounded by the Khibiny mountains which make this little city a popular ski resort. This gave a little burst to the local economy, which shows, at least in the very center..  They are even opening some trendy disco bars and hotels, in sharp contrast with the soviet blocks and the abandoned industrial areas nearby, but a clear indication of the little renaissance this place may be experiencing. That’s at least my hope and wish to the lovely people of Kirovsk.

Some street photos then. See also Part I and Part II of the trip.

Olenegorsk

Olenegorsk. Gray weather, 10 degrees Celsius. My first thought as I looked through the curtains of my hotel window: “oh gosh, what am I going to do here for two days alone?”.

So I went out with my cameras and a short while later it was time to leave. Funny how time flies sometimes, when you meet people who aren’t afraid to smile to a stranger, who bother to hear his story and are curios as to why an Italian would ever be there, even alone, where they never see a tourist. Time flies when you go out to take street photos that are supposed to be candid, but end up speaking with half the village and then eating dinner with a Russian family (thank you again Olga!).

I admit some temptation to depict this town as other than.. gray, to repay its people’s kindness. But hey, all of this was built in a hurry from 1949 on, and those who did valued more the vast mineral resources of its underground than the pristine beauty of nature. So, no, should you visit Olenegorsk, don’t expect this town to end up on your list of the word’s most beautiful sites. Even the amusement park is rather depressing. However, this place will charm you as it charmed me and you won’t forget it for sure. And, if you take time to speak to its people and value hospitality, generosity and friendliness, you’ll also discover a treasure here.

You may also see the first and third part of my trip here: Part I and Part III.

Back to Russia

I just came back from yet another fantastic journey through a remote region of Russia. Remote because it lies almost 2 days by train from Moscow or St. Petersburg, but in fact it’s pretty much around the corner if you enter it from northern Scandinavia. Yet, the landscapes and especially the cultural landscapes that meet you as you travel the Kola region of Russia are very far away from those of the Scandinavian countries.

For this trip, I chose to use trains, and this series is about exactly that. Outside the dirty windows, in the cold autumn air, endless forests only interrupted by industrial settlements; towns having the extraction of minerals as their only reason of being; low, timber houses with their Siberian mood. Inside, in a overheated train car, many human stories I got the privilege of sharing a few hours of. When language was a problem (my Russian is still rudimentary), concepts as complicated as the social situation in the country could be illustrated by means of countless pieces of paper scattered on the seat, representing the government, the police, the rich business men, the poor people, the mafia.

So this one is about the train. You may also see the first and third part of my trip here: Part II and Part III.

Il corso

“Il corso”, in Italian the main pedestrian street, is where it all happens and where nothing happens.

It’s where we take aperitivo or read the newspaper and discuss politics, gesticulating the way only we can.

Il corso is where you find la dolce vita. As long as you’re a tourist, that is.

A few shots to give you the idea..

What to do with critique

I’ve been active on street photography forums and critique groups lately. Photographers seem to have different opinions on pretty much, but they all seem to agree that we learn from critique. Both from giving and receiving critique.

Sometimes critique makes us think about aspects of our photos that we hadn’t thought about, or makes us aware of distracting elements we hadn’t seen or technical aspects that the viewer feels make our photo week. That’s supposed to teach us to take better photographs. Surely true.

But how about negative critique of photos that we like just as they are? What do we do with that?

Example: Last night, in a rather poorly lit street, I saw this couple hugging, I reacted quick and, without stopping to frame precisely, got the two photos below. I bet most people will say they are too dark, too blurred, not perfectly composed and that the burned highlights behind are distracting. I very much appreciate all of this and the time you spent looking at my work but, honestly, there are times where I just don’t care about critique: I love these shots just like that.

It’s possible that I’m the only one liking my stuff, or that only one of ten viewers does. But should I change my photos (or even worse, my photography) to please as many viewers as possible? I won’t.

Feel free to share your thoughts, or to keep them for yourself..

The guide

Brunico, in the Italian Alps, early afternoon of a summer day. A little but noisy group of tourists walk along the main pedestrian street. Their guide, a man so elegant that he seems jumped out of a movie, captures my attention. He must be a very charming guide, as none of his clients seem bored or distracted and at times he works hard to moderate questions and comments from the most “interactive” ladies…

Streets and roads of Afghanistan

What defines street photography? And what defines a street? Asphalt? Shiny skyscrapers? Street lights? Busy people rushing in or out of a subway?

In this case, doing street photography in Afghanistan (and much of the world) might be hard, as you find none of that.

Whether they qualify as street photography or not, the pictures below are all taken on the streets and roads of Afghanistan.

You may also want to check the color gallery with more images:

Steep lives of the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan

The bill

This post, the last one before my trip to Afghanistan, is about being old and alone, about loneliness.

You figure out a story behind this shot.

No more trains

Very different human stories, the same destiny: a subway station. Not as a short, noisy interlude between home and work or between family life and friends, but itself home, family, friend and only daily occupation.

Some of these people just kept missing the train of their life, the train that could have taken them to a regular office job or to the joys of a happy family. Some others jumped on many trains but were thrown off each and every one of them, humiliated like ticketless passengers.

Invisible border

A couple of centimeters of glass can keep two worlds completely apart. It happens in prisons. It happens in the streets. I took this picture in a busy shopping street of Quartier Latin in Paris, in 2005. On the one side of the window of a fashion store, while their parents do some shopping, two children look at the unaware homeless man sitting just on the other side of the window.

A thin glass plate is the invisible border between young and old, rich and poor, symbolically separating innocent childhood and adult life at its hardest.

(Image awarded the 1st price in the category “snapshot of the month” by National Geographic and published on issue 8/2012 for the Scandinavian countries)

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Dummies

I’ve always been searching for new ways to make my life meaningful, to fill it with something worthy. And I’ve always felt little and insignificant comparing myself with those I admire, famous or completely unknown people who really make the difference for others as well as filling their own lives with things worth living for.

I believe that having a brain and a normally functioning body and living under the most fortunate conditions almost forbids us to just stand and watch, like headless, armless dummies. I have always dreamt of getting my chance to act, well knowing that my definition of acting requires either a particularly smart brain or guts, if not both.

Now, I have a chance. Engineers Without Borders need a geologist with landslide / avalanche experience in a remote province of north-eastern Afghanistan, where entire villages have been buried and hundreds of people killed by major avalanches the last two winters.

One of the dummies is tired of standing there and watching, and in a few weeks will not only try to help those people stay safe against avalanches, but hopefully also tell their stories in pictures. Stay tuned.

Turid

I was taking street photos, when I came across a nursing home that I didn’t even know was there. Just outside it, on a wheel chair, an elegant old lady seems to be enjoying some fresh air as she whaves me hallo. Then she tells me to be careful not to slip on the ice, how nice of her!

I stop to exchange a few words, and she promptly introduces herself as Turid. Without asking too much, I find myself knowing a bit of her life: a life long job at a hospital in Sweden, many years going fast, a move back to Norway after retirement, and now her new life, receiving that care that she used to give others.

I hope Turid is happy as she receives a couple of prints I sent her of these photos. She was so amused and flattered by being photographed!

The perfect machine

Few things fit to the definition of “the perfect machine” better than an orchestra. To agree on this, you just need to commit yourself to learning an instrument. It will take you many years of devotion (and frustration) and most likely you’ll never get close to the skills it takes to perform in a real orchestra.

Some years ago I was asked to take a few photos of the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra during a rehearsal. Here are some shots.

Am I a criminal?

Two days ago, once again in Oslo, I got slightly in trouble with a hotel receptionist for taking one of the photos in the series below. She meant I was not allowed to photograph the hotel window from the public street. I protested that even though it was a private property, it’s perfectly visible from the public street and there’s no sign forbidding photography.

After I got back to my hotel, I did some research to find out what the Norwegian law says about street photography. Am I only doing this now after 10 years of street photography? Yes in fact.

What I found out is that the Norwegian law is very strict in protecting personal rights. It’s perfectly legal to photograph anyone (maybe except children) without asking for a permission, but it’s not allowed to publish photographs of identifiable persons without their permission. Exceptions are photos where the identifiable persons are taking part in street protests, parades or similar, photos that have a public usefulness (whatever that is), and photos the main content of which isn’t the person – although identifiable – but the situation, the context this person is involved in. Hopefully, most of my pictures will fall within this last category for the judge who gets my case the day someone sues me for doing street photography and sharing it. The alternative is photos like the ones below, without a face or a soul. Feel free to leave a thought on this, if you like.

A trip to Milan

Milan, Italy, December 2011.

Cruising at 80°N

I just rediscovered a series of negatives I shot a few years ago, while on a photo assignment onboard the research vessel “Lance” around Spitzbergen. Thought of sharing a few of them..

Majorstuen (Oslo)

No more meetings, no more schedules, no more everything. Only my thoughts and my camera, at least for an hour or two.

København

Just back from a week end in wonderful Copenhagen, here are a few street shots…

Adagio, Allegro, Venezia

What strikes you most when visiting in Venice? Magnificent palaces, timeless atmospheres? No, people, lots of people. Visitors from all over the world crowd Venice at any time of the year, bringing money to some and stress to the rest of the city’s residents. Yet even back in its gold days, “la Serenissima” used to be crowded, the number of its inhabitants at that time being triple than today’s. But things change when the night or the rain comes.

Frøya

Frøya is an island off the coast of mid Norway. Its outermost settlement, Titran, is nowadays permanently inhabited by no more than 60 people. It was a strategic site during the 2nd World War and it still bears signs of its past, with several bunkers, a fort and defense structures.

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