Johnnie stalker

Sharan pinhole camera, Kodak Tri-X.

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Minimalism

Snow.

” ? “

Tokyo, 23rd November 2013.

Trans-Siberian IV: Encounters

Fellow passengers, strangers met in the street, encounters that lasted minutes, hours, few days at the most. Regardless, encounters that made my day and my journey. Here are some of them.

Trans-Siberian III: Train of thoughts

Since I was a child, I’ve always had a tremendous fascination for trains and stations.

We used to travel between the south and the north of Italy a couple of times a year, usually on a night train that would take almost 12 hours. Each and every evening during the weeks prior to our travels, my brother and I spent hours fantasizing about the coming adventure. We could recall details of each station from our previous travels. The lights, the signs, the technical stuff along the tracks, everything had a mysterious charm. When the night of our train adventure came, we couldn’t sleep a minute. Instead, we stood in the aisle and admired the night passing by and becoming a new day. Even the thought of the typical smell of the stations still gives me the goosebumps.

I guess that has something to do with my love for trains. No train journey is too long. And the Trans-Siberian is surely worth repeating.

Trans-Siberian II: Slow motion

9289 km on a train are and definitely feel like a huge distance. Landscapes pass by like in slow motion. Repetitive and monotonous yet ever changing. Days become nights, and the nights days.

Trans-Siberian I: pinhole

First post of a coming series from my Trans-Siberian journey. This with a few pinhole shots.

Why I do this? It’s the closest I get to producing suggestive images from nothing. If I could draw, I’d use charcoal. But I can’t, so I use Tri-X.

See you

The geese and I share an inextinguishable, almost compulsory need to cover great distances, never settling down completely, commuting between opposite corners of the world.

These days they’re flying southwards. In 36 hours, I’ll be heading eastwards, leaving for THE train journey. See you.

Carousel

Copenhagen, 25.10.2013.

Grenoble 8.10.2013

08.10.2013

Fog (pinhole)

Norway, September 2013. Sharan pinhole camera & Kodak Tri-X.

Grave visit (pinhole)

Lom, Norway. Tri-X 400.

“Image saving error”

No pixels, no SD cards, no batteries, no auto-focus lenses, no manual focus lenses. No lenses and no focusing at all.

The camera: a cardboard box. The “lens”: a 0.16mm pinhole on the front of the box. The shutter: a removable piece of cardboard covering the pinhole. And off you go: pinhole photography, where each exposure needs seconds in bright light, minutes in low light. A pain in the ass, you may say.

The truth is there is little as rewarding as creating a photo literally from scratch, from building your camera, to judging your exposure times, to developing your film.

In pinhole photography, it’s just the technique’s weaknesses and even your mistakes that result in rewarding and fascinating images. This is a double exposure I got at the end of the last roll: film couldn’t advance enough for a regular new exposure and the very last one partly overlapped the previous. An image saving error, if you will.

Pinhole roll n.I – Trondheim

First roll of Tri-X 400 exposed through a paper-made pinhole camera bought in Tokyo.

All images were shot handheld, in some cases holding the camera against walls or so. Exposure times of 1 – 5 seconds.

Sofia’s love for pigeons

Bologna, Italy. T-Max 400 developed in Rodinal. Scanned, uncropped.

Mourn

Young owls. Kodak TMax 100.

The Tokyo post

My notes from a recent trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. Written on Kodak Tri-X.

(open the post for full-sized slideshow)

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A penny for your thoughts

Girl in a coffee shop, Kyoto, June 2013. Kodak Tri-X 400.

The blue of Afghanistan

A number of you, after seeing my previous series from Afghanistan, noticed (and commented on) the absence of women.

Well, with this post I focus exactly on the women of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, photographing women there is rather problematic. Just about everyone will strongly advise you against doing so: Photographing a woman (even one in a chador) out in the street may result in you being confronted by angry men or, worse, in her being beaten up. The sad reality is that there is barely worse place in the world to be born as a woman than Afghanistan, with the country’s rural areas being worst.

Here, a woman is a man’s property just like a donkey. Failing to accept a husband’s authority (even when imposed with violence) can result in jail, or in the worst case in a new, more terrible life begging in the street, stripped of all dignity.

Not many women in Afghanistan get married because they’re in love. Most of them are married off, meaning that at an age of 15 – 20 they are sold by their own parents to the best offeror, a man who not unusually is 20 or 30 years older. A more fortunate girl may stay home a little longer, study and even get herself a job, as long as each step is discussed with – read decided by – her parents. She may not exactly get married off, but will be engaged to and eventually marry the first man who proposed himself (to her parents) convincingly enough. Once engaged, she’ll even be allowed to date her fiancé, in her mother’s or aunt’s presence, of course.

Women here are generally not supposed to work, but I hear that an increasing number of men now allow their wives to do so, at least in the cities. However, a number of professions that require contact with male strangers or public exhibition (e.g. flight attendant or singer) may still give a woman a social status that’s barely better than a prostitute’s. Things are changing, however. Women condition is slowly improving, starting from the cities. But the process is slow, particularly in the most remote rural areas.

To foreign visitors, the women of Afghanistan are melancholic silhouettes of an intense blue moving along dusty road sides, alone or a few steps behind their husbands. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk to those women, to ask them about their lives and dreams or wish them a brighter future. I couldn’t. That chador of blue polyester, worn every single day from their puberty on, is an impenetrable barrier, and not only for the relieving breeze in the intense summer heat..

Fayzabad, Afghanistan (Tri-X 400)

Fayzabad, north-eastern province of Badakhshan, in president Karzai’s Afghanistan.

While men proudly walk the streets and pose for photographs, women hide behind their chador or stay confined to dedicated areas (like the women recreational park that I had the unique privilege to be admitted to).

More of my BW work in Afghanistan here: Streets and roads of Afghanistan

Dogs and owners..

Did anyone say that dogs and their owners often look alike? Anyway, Kodak TMax 400, just scanned.

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No photography (Karelian church)

Petrozavodsk, Russia, 20th March 2013.

Alas, photography is strictly forbidden in most Karelian churches. Well, here is a sin I made just in the eyes (and the house) of God. I just couldn’t help it. I like to believe that the fact no one realized I was photographing them means that all in all I wasn’t much of a disturb…

Karelia I

Rural district north of Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, 19th March 2013.

The window

Murmansk, Russia, 17th March 2013. View from the staircase to my flat.

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..

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.

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.

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.

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..

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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