Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Gift of Sight: A photographic stab into the darkness of the light

It's a bit like flying - upside down.

Timing is key, but it means next to nothing if you cannot anticipate. Not being a kite surfer I had to quickly learn enough about wind to know when big air happened to nail a shot.
As humans, social animals, we seem to gravitate toward storytelling - it is inescapable. The CEO narcisist, the obsessive athlete mastering wind or water or stone, and the selfless nun living among lepers - we at once internalize certain feelings to gain a bit of consonance with abilities we believe we lack or are incapable of nurturing en extremis.

Interesting that something that lacks dimension of sound, motion and depth - A static photo can deliver us there and so effectively. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally and I would argue physically.

As a photographer and editor and critic I am constantly analyzing, consciously or not, what the ingredients are that provide for an intense personal response when the "right" image is viewed. I have come up with a few debatable ideas...

Bennett's Visual Manifesto - a work in progress...

1. Filter: We are what we are not as we are not what we are, thus we are all. Perspective is King/Queen - Our internal dialogue with self, ego and our place in the world is the one constant that only dies with our physical beings. We may quiet the internal voices for a while but they are always there. Good, bad and all between. We are animals of blood and bone - and consciousness and so we give in or give up. By giving in we look at hundreds, sometimes thousands of images a day. With our eyes as they bounce through our "reality". But equally as "real" are the images on our phones, computer screens, the gallery,  magazines. How? Because we give them life and power with our reactions to them. They (can) create a physical response. Facebook and Instagram and emojis are the external proof. In this miasma of color, saturation, contrast, pixels we constantly shape and imagine and dream ourselves into reality. Without it we would cease to be, like the tree falling in an empty forest. If no one saw it happen, it did not happen. Thus it is important to save your emotional/physical response for the channels/feeds that nurture and inspire. What filters do I use for my camera? Usually none. I like it raw. But I am selective as to what I point it at - what I keep in the frame is less important as to what I keep out. I like the intimacy of getting very close to the subject and filtering out the noise of the rest of experience. Filtering for me is kind of like finding "flow", connecting... It is the zen of the photographic moment.
I spent the morning forcing myself to "see" in 14mm, not changing focal length... I hate having to crop in post, it means I am not seeing or anticipating correctly if I have to rely on the crop tool.

2. Focal Length: I recently rented a 14mm. It is crucial to have different "eyes" in your bag of visual tricks (50mm 85 and 70-300). I want the experience that my subject/athlete has so I think how can I create this reality? Take the shot from behind their ear, down the arm as it holds a piece of stone perhaps. For this I like to shoot wide. I need to create a story in one image. The eye (at roughly 50mm) filters out too much to allow this very effectively. Going wide I can get a greater sense of place, of the necessary geography. I see the wax on the surfboard but I am also getting a sense of being swallowed, of the blue chill created by the world of water in front of me.
I kept staring at the sun, knowing before too long an image would present itself. I thought it would be a surfer or kiteboarder... Then I saw him... 200 mm zoom waiting a few seconds for the harmony of subject and sky to align once I was where I needed to be.

3. Focus: When we tell our stories we generally have a point to get across, or perhaps like my blog, it might just be a seemingly senseless amalgam of detail that if we are lucky there are dots we might connect in our brain to reach a worthwhile pinnacle of comprehension. With an image, without the use of words it is a greater challenge. You must hit the viewer over the head, create enough awareness in a single second, to keep them transfixed. Where the hell is my eye going to? What did this author intend? If the details are interesting enough you will get there. Depth of field allows for this. This is one reason I really like to shoot shallow. In a world drowning in saturation, good and bad, we sometimes need to be directed to that pinpoint nexus where it all makes sense at 1.4 - this is a way to create depth, meaning. Instagram makes it easy with its post-thought vignette feature. I like anticipating, and then creating it, in the moment as I snap the shutter...
As a photographer we often end up "creating" moments. I choose not to most often wishing to be a ghost and capturing a more natural sense. But sometimes a stranger lets you get lens to eyeball with a 14mm and you dance with it - that split second of synergy, we communicate. This was a sober event, a paddle out in remembrance of 6 murdered students. But the sun, flowers and her smile tells a better story I think. When it works it works.

4. Contrast: The darkness of the light, and the lightness in the dark... The picture box is a memory machine. Soul stealer. A thief of time. It is the captured expression of the Yin and the Yang that allows this contrast to best be delivered. Embrace it. It is the starkness, the resolute acceptance that brings us there. It happened... Without shadow, color shift we are lost. There is also the contrast of what makes an evocative image and what is a snapshot that Ollie the Octopus took to get a nugget of food... We, photographer or not, are critics and editors and with a galaxy glut of sad selfies we are becoming intimately aware of the ingredients that across the board, shake us awake...
We cannot create natural light. I like that.

5. Perfection: What is the perfect image? A witches brew of ego, honesty, timing, beauty, horror? Who cares. If it is fresh and good - it is good. I am pretty sure most of the "ingredients" are the same... And I like to cook - and try new recipes... And stare at the sun and make mistakes. If it inspires something and is giving those tired synapses a workout it's working.

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy May 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Climate Across the Globe: A Photo Essay

When I compress experiences from the last 6 months the only sensical reality is that in the 8th dimension some giant being decided to pick up a random stone (me) and skip it across some strange landscape...

8 months ago I was ready for a radical change. I decided to follow a near-totally blind path and I made the leap to another world - To the Old World - Europa. To marriage, to new work opportunities, new horizons... I was open to realizing what might be possible, and impossible. The pieces from this journey from winter and now back to summer are still circulating, realizing a shorter night and lengthening day as I do, but still in a fog and fighting for better clarity.

There was intense physical pain these last months, mental and emotional pain, screaming madness - and small spiritual epiphanies - perhaps. There was unconditional love. There was abused alcohol and drugs, an awareness that was far from free. A fallout of lessons and potential, a newly populated landscape of ghosts, broken promises and distant hope. I shook hands with people from at least two dozen countries, without a Euro to my name I slammed champagne and devoured opulent snacks at parties attended by hero activists and UN delegates, rubbed shoulders with next level storytellers, found and lost a dream job in Los Angeles, stumbled across worked and threatened landscapes of three continents... Spent long hours with jets, ferrys, buses, trains, cars, press boxes, on a bicycle, on foot - swimming through this quixotic miasma of wonder, fear, hope, realization, loss. I risked everything and nothing. I cried, a lot.

Perhaps the personal climate is a metaphor for global climate, micro within the macro. Perhaps. I may have zero left in my bank account but I have gained a pirate's treasure of experience. Stolen, collected moments... Now what will I do with all this new-found loot? Dream? Wish? Proselytize? Shrink?

Things happen, for a reason...

Perhaps this unfolding story, its deeper layers, are best told through the ocular eyes of inanimate objects, my albatross and ever-present companions - a Sony A7, a Nikon D700, an iPhone 5s.

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy

How long will it take the US to realize that this is the best vehicle - kid delivery, groceries, commuting, low emission...

With the energy used to create one meal with meat (from field to table) you could make 50 vegetarian meals... 
The Atlas mountains of Morocco, small subsistence farming, a woman's co-op with argan oil at its center...
Glimpses of the past and present. I traded a camera body for a trip to Morocco and the climbing guidebook for a rug
Sleeping outside, sunrise, the backyard - things that make me smile...
Did the world hit the two degree mark two months after the Accord was signed?
Sebastiao Salgado, the Paris Undergound, a whale...
The view from Les Mur Des Scorpion... this picture makes me think of palm oil plantations, big agriculture, GMOs...
The ancient Medina in Marrakech
Cheif Raoni accepts his award - is it true that two football fields of forest are lost every minute in the Amazon region?
Crazy amounts of knowlege right here... Has the world heard what was said here at this tribunal at Cop21?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Maroc - Night Train to Tangier Ramblings...

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy April 2016

 Call to prayer at 4.53 AM drifts over the blackness like a spell. Amazing voice from this Imam. I had dreamed of The cat with neatly unraveled intestine resting just outside his stomach with opened skull that greeted us in the parking lot late last night. But presently Our car is Locked away in an ancient garage in a tiny mountain town whose name I cannot pronounce and have forgotten, passport surrendered to the French and Arabic speaking hotel keeper. Time to see if we can get them back without too dear of a ransom.

Yet Currently locked in until 7 am. Ryan, the Scotsman who speaks some French, forgot to tell me this detail that they wouldn't be in the lobby until then. Found Front door is locked by a key, as is our car across and down the block in an unmarked garage behind a huge metal padlocked door. Ryan's passport is eclipsed somewhere in the dark office as well.

Forced to Enjoy the birds music at dawn and the company of an ancient cat that has decided to visit us that can only manage a whispery meow. He is happily clawing apart the center bed. Now joining me in mine, this rumpled and mangy but purring beast with dandruff flakes on his Holstein specked coat. At least someone is enjoying this place.

10 minutes to 7 now. We will see if the employees turn up. Heard a raspy cough echo through the marble hallways just now. Suppose that is a sign of something. So much for the hoped-for sunrise photos atop the Atlas pass today... More phlegmy coughs from behind closed doors. I am heavily congested this morning too, sneezing and woke after midnight with a headache and rushed to open the sealed window. The room is passably clean but the pillows are permanently stained from greasy heads resting upon them. Realizing Some of the more intriguing pieces of travel that would be difficult to dream up unaided by the realities of cultural and income differences.

Still it seems only tiny birds, distant crowing roosters and barking dogs and this hotel cat are the only things truly awake on this sedate morning. Chilled air pushed through the ornate bars as the sun and the new days warmth will soon be here.

 Remembering the sharp vertical limestone, tottering death-blocks, nearly 300 meters of exposure of yesterday, tea with a head-swaddled swarthy Berber and haggling over carpets with no money but a used climbing guide book, the heightened state required to drive these Moroccan roads where laws seem to be fantasy especially when applied by the baksheesh seeking cop, highways busy with top heavy semis taller then long that are passed by taxis and other anxious semi drivers. Dust flies as we dive into the dirt shoulder when big rigs impossibly long for the hairpins have swung wide blindly over the center line, puttering motorcycles and mopeds are passed often holding three people and 50 meters of irrigation tubing wound around the body or a bushel of mint and three people on them that share the narrow two lanes with totally oblivious pedestrians and bicyclists in wind flapping robes connoting what Islamic sect the men belong to, or the vivid color splashes of completely covered women that seem to always travel in groups of two or more. (Spain had 1700 traffic fatalities in 2013, Morocco had 6900) Men thrust their arms deep into the traffic that are draped with heart-shaped rose garlands for sale and old men sit sidesaddle on donkeys and talk on cellphones in a world where ancient dark mud-baked ruins sit connected to new cinder blocked apartments beneath blue cloudless skies and swirling sand and clay dust. Dentistry seem to be a totally unrealized profession here. when locals are engaged and the mouth opens it is quite a sight. But the food has been great at the cafes, sizzling and well spiced veggies and curried sauces - tagine that comes in blackened terra cotta bowls put directly over fire that retains incredible heat indefinitely. the tea is also amazing, fragrant mint leaves on the stem crammed into a metal pot and sometimes rosemary and thyme are inside as well.

At 7.24 we manage our escape, walking past the over-stuffed garbage bin that has a paw sticking just past the lid. The garage keeper demands 20 dirham but Ryan manages to pay him just 7.

 I will always remember Rashid whom we met in the gateway town to Todra Gorge, the server that deftly maneuvered his way into our Hyundai rental to get the commission for binging us to the idyllic Etoile des Gorges Hotel who's mouth screamed a nightmare from missing and long abused and discolored broken teeth but his actual words were often golden. He could speak Berber, Arabic, English and French. He said to me while moving his hand to cover part of his face "speaking one language is like seeing with only one eye."

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy 2016