Trip to Iceland: Day 4

Day 4 presented the opportunity to visit Iceland's "Golden Circle"—Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss—three places of natural and historical interest in close proximity to one another and not too far from Reykjavik. The great advantage of having a car is that you can visit sites at your own pace, rather than being hustled around places of great mystery and beauty at a clip.

Visiting Geysir, from which all other geysers are named, is like walking across the earthen cover of a pot of water on the boil: a novel experience. It's fascinating to see Strokkur spout and the constant hint of sulphurous odours reminds you that you are indeed standing over a subterranean kettle that has bubbled day and night for millennia.

Seeing and photographing Gullfoss had been high on my list of things to do in Iceland since I first became aware of the beautiful waterfall with the optical illusion right-angled drop. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to get any decent light on the falls. It's a fantastic sight but it was never going to translate into anything memorable on my sensor without the all-important late-afternoon sunlight.

And why were we late in getting to Gullfoss? Because we couldn't tear ourselves away from Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. I have never visited a more magical setting. Where else on earth can you stand with one foot on the American tectonic plate and the other on the Eurasian—remembering all the while that the two are separating? Where else can you gaze into crystal waters and see deep into cracks in the earth's surface? Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the people who established the world's first parliament on the site—over 1,000 years ago?

I don't believe in elves and trolls, but I can see why Iceland's earliest inhabitants did: they lived in a land of legendary scale and wild beauty.

Þingvellir 1

Þingvellir 1

Þingvellir 2

Þingvellir 2

Þingvellir 3

Þingvellir 3

Þingvellir 4

Þingvellir 4

Þingvellir 5

Þingvellir 5

Þingvellir 6

Þingvellir 6

Þingvellir 7

Þingvellir 7

Þingvellir 8

Þingvellir 8

Þingvellir 9

Þingvellir 9

End of the season

I started my last post by saying that I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. And I ended my last post with a commitment to shoot whatever was in front of me.

What was in front of me this morning was a forlorn harbour for pleasure craft, now closed for the season. I had about 45 minutes to kill while waiting to pick up my son, so I decided to spend it at the Aylmer Marina. With the temperature below freezing and a brisk breeze coming off the Ottawa River, it was not a day for shooting postcards. Still, my commitment in mind, I decided that I'd work with what I had. Besides, I hadn't taken my X-E1 out of the bag for a few weeks so it was high time to give the little guy some exercise, along with my 14mm f/2.8 and 56mm f/1.2 Fujinon lenses.

Given the surroundings and the weather, I thought I might as well emphasize the bleakness of the setting by shooting BW-R JPEGs in square format. I was happy with the results I got and was able to get back to the car before I lost the sensation in my fingers. (My photo gloves are great on cold, dry days, but the damp wind seemed to get the better of them -- and me).

All told, off to a good start on my "imagine globally, shoot locally" mission.

Les Rencontres d'Arles

For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.

With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.

A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...

First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.

I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance.  In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.

It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach. 

David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.

A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh,"  the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.

The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated. 

The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company. 

Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!

 

All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad. 

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Getting medieval

One of the advantages of historical sites in some parts of France is that they escaped the heavy bombardments of the First and Second World Wars. In many parts of Europe it can be hard to find a site that isn't a total reconstruction. The beautiful Cloth Hall in Ypres, for example, was entirely rebuilt from rubble. And the buildings in many "medieval" town centres in Germany are often, for obvious reasons, no more than 60 or 70 years old.

So it was particularly refreshing to come across the beautifully-preserved medieval town of Pérouges in the Rhônes-Alpes region of France. Although a centre of the linen trade for centuries, the walled town was progressively abandoned as the Industrial Revolution favoured larger cities, such as Lyon. No bombardment, no war (at least not since a siege in the 15th Century, I believe), just a wave of economic and societal change.

It was also refreshing to see new life in the little town, which now enjoys the benefit of a small museum and the presence of some 80 inhabitants, many of whom seem to be involved in running restaurants, galleries and workshops. All of this has been done without resorting to the plague of Disneyfication: parking is a mere 2 Euros, there is no fee to enter the town and access to the museum is reasonably-priced. You can explore Pérouges to your heart's content for pocket change.

And explore I did. Un gros merci aux citoyens de Pérouges !

(All images are JPEGs from a Fujifilm X-E1, processed with Snapseed on an iPad.)

 

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A walk in Wakefield

Some weeks back my wife and I had the chance to spend a couple of hours walking around Wakefield, a small village on the Gatineau River about 30 or 40 minutes from our place. It was a lazy afternoon so we had no particular plan for our time... and I think the pictures I took reflect that.

Top down. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/3,500 sec at f/1.4.

Cast critters. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/70 sec at f/1.4.

Post pre-modern. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 400, 1/34 sec at f/1.4.

Wakefield Inn. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/40 sec at f/22.

Wakefield Inn 2. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/110 sec at f/8.

Deck. Chair. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/420 sec at f/2.8.

Life springs forth in monochrome

After a longer- and colder-than-usual winter in the Ottawa Valley, spring has finally been making itself felt over the last week. Although most Canadians get a little misty at the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow, this year's blanket overstayed its welcome and left us itchy for a change of season. Enough!

With the melting of a winter's-worth of snow comes the chance to see a powerful display of nature in rivers and creeks swollen many times their normal size. The creek in our yard is one such place, but I decided to wander a little farther afield to take in the impressive sights of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers in full spate. The images that appear below were taken on two successive days on the Rideau River at Hog's Back Falls in Ottawa, Ontario and on the Ottawa River near the Deschênes Rapids in Aylmer, Quebec.

Spring is the season of new life and colour that bursts forth from wet soil. And those pictures will come. But the first pictures of spring can ably show in shades of grey the sheer power of water and land as they stretch and shake off the death of the old.

Where there is life, there is hope.

Vancouver Deco — The Marine Building

Every so often on my travels I stumble across a building whose design is so striking that I have to stop and spend time with it. Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in NYC had that effect on me last July—I think I spent as much time photographing the exterior from every angle as I did inside looking at the art on display inside. Visually exploring such a subject becomes a way of appropriating it and coming to know it more intimately. For me, it's also an expression of appreciation and a joy.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in Vancouver when I happened upon The Marine Building near the city's waterfront. The beautiful structure opened in October 1930 and I'm sure its Art Deco details have been delighting tenants, visitors and passers-by ever since. And Vancouver being a film town, the office building has often served as a location for period film and TV productions.

I'll be going back someday. And when I do, I'll be looking for ways to move beyond the details and explore the interior.

Rockefeller Center (with the Fujinon 14mm)

Radio City (Tony Bennett) -- Fuji X-E1 - 14mm - f/2.8 - 1/60 sec - ISO 800I recently had the chance to spend a week in New York City on my own. It's rare that I take a trip without the family, so I decided to make the most of it and drew up a list of places I wanted to visit and photograph. Photography is always a part of any travelling we do, but it's freeing when you have only yourself to plHalal food -- Fuji X-E1 - 14mm - f/2.8 - 1/60 sec - ISO 800ease.

Just before taking the trip I decided to give my Fuji X-E1 a present: a new lens. I wavered back and forth between the Fujinon 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 and the 14mm f/2.8 before finally settling on the wide angle. The optical stabilization of the longer lens sounded interesting, but the wider lens has received rave reviews and better suits the kind of shooting I like to do.

These shots were all taken around the Rockefeller Center complex and the 14mm did not disappoint. It is a fantastic lens.Bags and shoes -- Fuji X-E1 - 14mm - f/2.8 - 1/220 sec - ISO 800

Anthropologie -- Fuji X-E1 - 14mm - f/2.8 - 1/85 sec - ISO 800