Archive for the 'Photography' Category

Saigon Night and the Sea of Motorbikes

Christmas in Saigon is amazing, but not for the reasons you’d expect. Honestly, I thought the holidays there would be a non-event — a nice escape from the endless Christmas carols and Santa suits back home. Tropical climate, 85% Buddhist, no worries, right?

Or not. Vietnam does Christmas, and they do it huge. But the details are deeply different. Take, for example, the massive throngs of motorbikes that consume the night streets. It’s hard to convey just how surreal the scene is — a never ending, ever moving sea of bikers stretching as far as the eye can see. All celebrating, in all directions. Stunning.

And, while it appears to be a holiday tradition here, this year was different again. Because, in a country where the second leading cause of death is motorcycle accident, they just added a law that requires helmets. Glimmering domes for miles, each with their own style. I’ve never seen that level of compliance to any new law in the states. Wonder what that says.

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a group of kids showed up on bicycles, too young for the motored sort. The click-clack of those human-powered bikes provided a lovely organic counterpart to the endless rumble of their motorized brethren. Then they were gone — swept up into the energy of the night. Beautiful stuff.

Surprisingly, New Year’s was tame by comparison. But, then, the real New Year is Tet, isn’t it. I can’t imagine. And I can’t wait to see it.

See more of our Christmas Nights in Saigon on Flickr. We last wrote about Vietnam in Hanoi’s Hidden Graffiti.

Mexican Pictures and the Future of Photoblogs


I’ve been a fan of Raul Gutierrez’s photography for some time. His understated style has always gotten under my skin in that subtle way: the first time you see the image, you pause for a second and keep going. Only later do you realize it’s still with you and come back to it again, this time for longer. There’s an authenticity in his style that really makes you feel a connection with people and places far away. He captures the small things.

I became a devout follower of Raul’s photoblog, Mexican Pictures, a few years back — watching his travels from Tibet to Cambodia to China to Mexico to Vietnam to East Texas with increasing interest. Then, in late 2007, his posting suddenly stopped.

And the way it stopped was mysterious. Those last sets of photos were different than what went before. Instead of travels, we started seeing scenes from home; photos of his wife and kids. Why walk away when you’ve got such a good thing going? What happened?

Turns out life did. Raul puts it this way:

The easy answer is that two new babies entered my life in 2007, my second son, Gabriel, and the company I helped create, 20×200. I went from around 5 hours sleep to around 3 which is pretty much my breaking point.

From the way it ended, you certainly could have guessed. Just as fellow photoblogger Rion Nakaya’s blogging changed after her clever baby reveal, so did Raul’s. But somehow those home photos are no less magical for it. Take this shot that, for me, evokes Guiherme Marcondes’ dreamy Tyger:

But that’s only half the story. For Raul, the concept of the photoblog itself was failing:

The more complicated answer is that for over a year I’ve been noodling with the idea of a more refined form for the photoblog. I came to feel that simply posting pictures daily didn’t give them enough context. They became disposable visual junk food. Clicking through a linear site like mine becomes a somewhat random experience especially if you are a photographer who shoots in a variety of settings and has a diverse project set (it’s less problematic with photographers who are very focused and work around and around a singular idea or set of ideas or whose photographs are a linear part of their journey). Showing the work as portfolios is the obvious answer but most portfolio sites are boring and static (the content might not be boring, but the form is). You visit a portfolio site once and are done with it. So the problem is how to design an image based site that is dynamic with regular infusions of fresh content but is able to present those images in context. The other design goals are to be clutter free, and easily navigable by anyone and to present nice big images. I haven’t figured it out yet.

So the deeper question, then, is how do we help photographers show their work online in a meaningful way considering our ever accelerating bite sized info overload culture? It’s a tall order but, if you consider the richness of seeing a photography exhibit in a physical gallery, it’s tough to argue that we can’t do better. While sites like flickr have some of the trappings of galleries (community, dynamic content, custom albums), they’re also full of noise, random access, and just general ADD. Plus, any artist wants fine control over their presentation and flickr forces everything into one monolithic style.

Where to next? How do we give the web the meditative quality and context of a gallery visit? Is it a zooming UI? Some VR walkthrough? Perhaps one direction lies closer, in the fan’s experience with Mexican Pictures. While surely not everyone lingered at the site, I did. And I found myself getting sucked in again and again, looking up names of places I hadn’t known before and wondering about the people who live there, the people I was seeing in Raul’s photos. That extended and deepened my experience, even though it didn’t all happen in one shot; even though my first engagements were invariably short ones. The question then becomes how do we encourage this kind of behavior? How do we provide tranquil spots in a random access world?

Fortunately, we may not have to wait until the problem is fully solved to see the return of Mexican Pictures. Raul tells me that he’s got some new projects in the works that will likely make it onto the web. Here’s hoping.

For more, see the Mexican Pictures archives, Raul’s text blog Heading East, and his flickr stream. Liz Kuball has an interview and his new business venture 20×200 has seen some nice writeups, too. Raul last showed offline at the Nelson Hancock Gallery.

Soulful African Photos Tell Stories

The past few weeks have brought a flood of amazing photos from all corners of Africa: South Africa to Kenya, Burkino Faso to Morocco, and more. Such diversity, such beauty, such joy, such hardship.

People Of The Klein Karoo – stunning black & white shots of children and families on the Red River Farm, Western Cape, South Africa

Moroccan Road Trip – Stefan Rohner’s luminous candid photos capture daily life in Morocco (via raul)

Learning in Burkino – the Times had lovely, colorful photos from Burkina Faso for its cover story on aid problems in Africa

Kings of Africa – a three year journey produces wonderfully diverse photos of over 70 descendants of the great African dynasties

Born in Nairobi – capturing the moments after birth in Kenya. Four more amazing shots (one, two, three, four) from the same photographer appear as part of Japan’s Uneo Hikoma Awards.

See also War and Weddings, Mark Brecke’s work documenting genocide in Darfur and elsewhere (previously) and Unphotographable, a meditation on photos lost.

Riverside Fall

Riverside Fall

Manhattan’s Riverside Park is fabulous pretty much year round but Fall is particularly special. And with the cold weather kicking in late (okay, that might be a little ominous but we’re trying to see the bright side), we’ve been able to enjoy it longer than usual.

I bought an SLR (bit the bullet) and this photo test came out well enough that I figured I’d share. There’s a larger version if you like.

Africa, India, Far East Photos Tell Stories

This week we were overwhelmed by inspiring photos and video from around the world, and each one tells a story that made us want to learn more.

Hell From Heaven – stunning colors in this photo amidst the chaos of the Nigerian pipeline disaster

Twilight Zone – night glows in these luminous photos of Tokyo taken from an emergency staircase. Also love these in-the-trenches night photos of the streets of Tokyo and Osaka by the same photographer

Max Density – culture and technology overlap in an amazing train meets market video out of Bangkok

Real Toy Story – heartfelt portraits from the heart of China’s toy central: Guangdong province. See also Mike Wolf’s shots of Chinese-made toys alongside their makers

Colorful Crumbling India – lovely multilayered shot of weathered posters on the back streets of Mumbai leaves us with more questions than answers

Graffiti By Bike in Brooklyn

Recently, three well known NYC photobloggers headed up a bike tour of some of the best graffiti and street art spots in Brooklyn. It was a good time. Threats of bad weather scared off the masses and left us with a nice manageable group that wound its way from Williamsburg through Greenpoint and into Long Island City, ending at well known graffiti mecca 5 Pointz.

While that finale was certainly fitting (and tough to top for volume), what struck me throughout was the sheer diversity of styles: from iron work to paste-up to spraypaint to yarn.

Stories told during the tour revealed some interesting cultural tensions just beneath the surface. After all, looking back on classic graffiti documentaries like Style Wars, the scene then was once very different. Back in the day, most writers were inner city kids who, lacking the opportunities many of us take for granted, made their name by painting it on walls and trains that traveled further than they felt they could. Now that graffiti has become hip beyond those communities, though, formally trained artists from wealthier backgrounds have joined the fray. But it’s less clear how welcome they are. Tension 1: schooled vs. self-taught.

The second tension lies between established graffiti artists and the lesser known. Once you sell your first piece for big money, it changes things (and that’s happening more and more now). Some say you made it, others say you sold out. Graffiti artists expect artists to paint over with work of their own and that leads to much of the multilayered beauty of street art. But just straight up defacement is different. And we saw some of that when it came to the more famous artists. Sounds like jealousy. Tension 2: fame vs. underground.

Don’t get me wrong: the graffiti world is not drama-ridden so far as I’ve seen. The artists I’ve met have all been extremely cool and largely selfless. But I do find the fact that haves and have-nots mix so readily in this world fascinating. It changes how you think about art when you know a little more about the world the artist lives in. And the world they don’t.

Thanks to Jake, Mike, and Will for the great tour.

For more, see all our graffiti tour photos, check Jake’s shot of 5ptz, and visit Will’s tour info page.

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