Archive for March, 2014

March 30, 2014

Bishops’ Memorial Chapel

I had the honor of 30 free minutes to shoot at Bishops, one of the prestigious boys schools in all of South Africa. I spent the entire time photographing two chapels. This, the newer one, was named in memory of those students who fought and died in World War I – 110 of them. The place is simple and very beautiful. I hear the school has a pretty amazing rowing team, too.
Bishops' Memorial Chapel
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March 29, 2014

Recross way

Nabbed going 80 kmh through Cape Town, this man is climbing a staircase to a bridge that goes back over the highway. You can purchase naming rights of the bridge if you like, which seems very American to me, and I was surprised to see this sort of money-grab in South Africa.

When I returned to the USA I met a man from Togo at a wedding. Upon asking where he was from and explaining where I’d returned from, he was quick to point out while simultaneously gesturing to the beautiful room in which were were standing, “This business. America business.” He said it with a massive smile, with this calm body language that suggested it was why he was here. “Africa,” he said with an even bigger smile, “Africa, life.” He held his head cocked sideways to allow me to let it sink in, but I was already thinking the same way.
Recross way
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March 28, 2014

Bo Kaap color

From what I understand Cape Town’s Bo Kaap neighborhood was settled by freed slaves from Dutch colonial areas back in the 1600s. It’s been a vibrant home to the Cape Malays since shortly thereafter. One man came up to me while I was shooting these homes and asked from under a thin moustache, “Are you a professional photographer?” The answer is… yes… but I felt this was a trick question. “Why,” I asked, trying to be as abrupt as he was. He went after me again, “Are you local?”

“I’m from Jo’burg,” I said, twanging my accent as best I could to sound anything but American. The truth was I started my trip in Johannesburg and nine days later had worked my way here, for thankfully the only dispute with anyone on the trip. “Nobody makes a cent off of these professional photographers’ post cards, you know?” It felt like the brightly-colored walls were closing in around me, and I only had 10 minutes to shoot the neighborhood and book it – so I offered to fight the fight alongside my detractor rather than against him. “You know,” I started, “those photographers just don’t appreciate how long it takes to paint these walls.”

That got him. He offered up a slow and thoughtful crack-toothed smile. “OK,” he smiled, and headed up the hill.
Bo Kaap color
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March 27, 2014

A bridge to cross

I’ve become obsessively critical of my own photos. They’re never complete. Sometimes I love them for being unfinished, other times I worry that I’m content with imperfection. Previously, when it was all about getting one image on this page per day, I only worried about completing an image each day. Now it’s about crafting things in a way that I’m potentially not comfortable with. Am I here to refine or share – or is it something else? Should I just do one a day and get on with it?

Why I was taking photos and of what became topics of conversation in South Africa. Most of the time I had little reason other than there was a value to what I was seeing, and it was potentially translatable if I took a photo. I’m a very conscious photographer. My best work comes when I’m aware of things happening around me on all sides – even the people watching me shoot or having a conversation with me end up mattering. This comes from my background as a videographer. Shooting video for news is this maelstrom of what will happen next. You’re on edge, because the event is living and evolving without need for you, and anyone in the room can become a subject. Feeling it through is the way to anticipate what will become the story; overshooting with whatever you can get is the opposite of success. When this man popped up on the road in front of us we were discussing dinner, and I was hungry for anything.
A bridge to cross
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March 25, 2014

Like they’ve seen a ghost

Storms have this captivating power in them that simultaneously warns to flee and begs to watch. I remember as a kid during a potential tornado being unable to remove my face from the window as the tattered bottoms of the smokey clouds twisted like cotton candy around a stick. You half wondered if you’d waited too long; maybe the siren should’ve already sounded. What makes them beautiful is itself panic. Skies go awesome when you shouldn’t be there. This was shaping up that way.

The product on a beef farm knows better than to trust. I have to let you know this photo is taken whilst leaving their area. I was standing on the back of a pickup truck, or bucky as they’re called there, and shot this from over my shoulder. It might explain the mood better that way. Cows have this thing where they watch intently as you enter their grounds, and they continue to never take their eyes off of you even as you exit. I had to wonder if what drove us to leave remained there curling up over their heads all dark and purple as they considered whether we’d actually departed. It was a stare-down until the grass rose up to meet their eyes and cover them.

When the rains hit that night – hard enough to shake apples off the trees and slam them like dull rocks against the tin roof – I imagined the cows still standing out there facing the gate, cold and slicked with wet, knowing rain never slows a ghost.
Like they've seen a ghost
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March 24, 2014

Road to the valley

I’ve been called a music snob more than once. It’s probably that I rarely like one-off songs, preferring instead to digest several or an entire album from an artist. If they can’t keep my attention for more than a few songs it falls apart for me. I mention this because I’ve been listening to Beck’s new album, Morning Phase, and it’s really good. At first I worried he simply made a companion piece for decade-old Sea Change. Then I realized this was the album Sea Change might’ve been if he weren’t so depressed at the time. It ebbs and flows; it’s not stuck on something. The repetition is gone. Sea Change was really, really good with a handful of great songs. This one is potentially that much better.

Why do I bring this up? I’ve been editing photos almost exclusively to these two albums, back to back. It’s really relaxing and probably affected my mood on this photo. This was taken on a fairly bright morning in the KwaZulu-Natal countryside, but the hint of rain left its presence felt by blanketing the mountain tops in the distance. I made this over listening to Morning Phase, and I wonder if it’s a little bit more light in feel due to not being made during Sea Change. I could’ve gone the heavier, brooding direction and produced thick – like the first album – but decided against it in the end. Music affects everything I do, and I almost always edit with headphones in my ears.
Road to the valley
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March 23, 2014

Congo morning

In the last portion of the flight, as we crossed the southern region of Africa on our way to Johannesburg, the sun jumped up on the wing and sat there for a good half hour. I think I took about 150-175 photos as the light changed every couple of minutes. I brought the shade down and shielded the reflection in the window with my blanket (this is the only thing an airplane blanket is good for!) and managed to get a handful of shots I was happy with. People must’ve thought I was a little crazy.

Airplane windows distort images pretty badly. To me, this is good. I like the strange warping and I can bring back the sharpness later – or not at all. I’d been staring at the map, watching us wind our way down the Congo River for hours, but I can’t remember if this is taken over Congo, or potentially Zambia, or even Zimbabwe. Congo morning just sounded best to my ears.
Congo morning
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March 22, 2014

Almost in Estcourt

Sometimes what is wrong with a photograph is what is right with it. Normally, I obsess over angles and geometry. I’m the type of person who walks into a room and immediately dissects it for shape and line. This started as a kid – when bored in class I would try to think up different angles on the walls where I could bounce a fictitious ball and make it come back to me. Though I didn’t consider it then, I was simply triangulating my position to corners and anchor points around me, naturally composing structure of elements. To this day I constantly do this. Some people search for the exit when they walk into a room; I see patterns and lines that shape themselves to me, against me or between each other.

How does this apply to the photo I’m showing today? It doesn’t. Well, it always does, but most of that structure is lost on this particular photo. I was disappointed, because my shutter button didn’t fire at the moment I wanted. I missed the shot I saw in my mind. Passing, though, the man was still of central interest to me, so out the car window I went for him again and captured something disjointed, irregular and close to unappealing. It is still colorful, vibrant and full of life. The photo is simultaneously cluttered and blank. It is a passing moment and full of possibilities. All of the energy in frame flows to the left, but we are drifting right to a blank brick wall. It feels like the passing moment it is, entirely made up of almost.
Almost in Estcourt
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March 21, 2014

Nowhere’s edge

After rolling through the South African countryside for long enough you learn that your concept of “middle of nowhere” no longer applies. Where I’m from, when you’re in the countryside, everyone rolls around in cars and seemingly must be between places – on their way to somewhere else. Here, they belong. The people walk the country roads, the grasses, over mountains. Every time you come upon someone, which is constantly, they’re either comfortably strolling toward some kind of forever or waiting for it to arrive.
Nowhere's edge
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March 20, 2014

First light – toward Durban

We stayed at a little apartment for one night just northeast of Durban. At 5 a.m. the light from the sun and night blended perfectly. That little window of time where day and night are equals never lasts long enough. Within minutes day burned away the color and the light.
First light - toward Durban
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