Artists with a Sense of Humor

If humor is one of the highest forms of intelligence, then clearly these street artists are brilliant. I hope you are as bowled over as I was by these creative minds.

Photo of street art wall with straw

Photo of street art cheerleader

Photo of street art cigarette sewer

Photo of street art face and branches

Photo of street art shoe crosswalk

 

Photo of street art wall face

Photo of street art chalk tiger

Photo of street art kids chalk walk

Photo of street art eyes wall

Photo of street art more people climbing steps

Photo of street art scissors cutting street

Photo of street art sink hole with bicylist

Photo of street art steam roller

Photo of street art face on bombed building

Photo of street art love shadow

Photo of street art afro tree face

Photo of street art blue waterfall

Photo of street art guns and pencils

Photo of street art face skyscrapers

Photo of street art pastel steps

Photo of street art titanic building

Photo of street art treehouse building

Photo of street art zipper tree

Photo of street art subway steps

Photo of street art three friends

Unfortunately, I do not have the original source to properly credit the photographers or the curator of this delightful collection of images, but here’s a big shout out to Hensley Peterson for forwarding this piece to me via email. If anybody knows the original source, please let me know.

The Art of Faux-tography

A few weeks ago I was driving my daughter to school, and in between belting out Lady Gaga and talking about our busy day ahead, Olivia and I simultaneously had the air sucked right out of our lungs.

We’d just driven down our little stretch of Mission Canyon, and as we approached the Mission and looked out over the Rose Garden to the ocean in the distance, we witnessed the most spectacular morning light dancing on billowy periwinkle clouds, it made goosebumps rise on my arms.

The light’s reflection in the ocean below looked like a kaleidoscope shimmering on smooth gray glass.

In Santa Barbara beauty wraps its big, warm arms around us every day, so you’d think we’d be immune to it, but my daughter and I were so stunned, the only word to emerge from our mouths was a collective, “Woooowwwwww.”

My immediate reaction was to reach for my camera phone. It was instinctual, automatic—as if there were no other way to enjoy this moment without documenting it. I fumbled for my purse, but the logistics of driving prevented me from taking a picture. Instead I was forced to enjoy the moment during the moment, rather than snapping it for posterity. As a result, I was able to share it with the beautiful person in the backseat—something we could both store deep in our memory banks instead of somewhere on my camera’s memory card.

What happened next though, is what happens all too often.

After I dropped Olivia off at school, I got in my car again—this time to head to the gym. It was one of those mornings Mother Nature was clearly in the mood to show off. This time she sent a brilliant rainbow arching right over the mission. Its ROYGBIV perfectly framed the Spanish architecture, making it look like it belonged on the set of the Wizard of Oz.

It was spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, this is what I saw: the Range Rover in front of me blocking traffic in the intersection so the driver could poke his camera phone out his sunroof to take a picture. A woman walking along the Rose Garden pushing her double-stroller, digging in her diaper bag to get her camera out, missing the moment with her children. Two cars almost colliding as they both illegally pulled over into the bike lane so each driver could take a picture.

My IPhone was sitting in the passenger seat next to me so I could easily pick it up and take a picture out my car window. I was so dismayed by what I saw though, I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people. I also knew I wasn’t at the proper angle to create a memorable photograph, nor did I have a camera that would do it justice.

STILL, the compulsion to capture the moment consumed me like it consumed the others. In a matter of seconds I caved, illegally pulling into the bike lane like the other yahoos.

As I zipped down my window and snapped a few images, I knew the pictures were crap before I even looked at them. I spent so much time trying to zoom in and out to get a good composition, for which one did not exist from where I was sitting in my car, that I missed the peak of the color. By the time I’d shot off three frames, the light had faded.

Photo of a rainbow over the Mission in Santa Barbara, CA

My crappy picture of a rainbow over the Mission

I could only laugh at myself for representing the absurdity of what photography has become.

Technology has created such easy access to the medium that we are all now photographers, or more accurately, faux-tographers. Most of us do not know an F-stop from a truck stop. Nor do we know shutter speeds, proper lighting or good composition. Most of us never learned the art of photography. We just know we have the ability to take pictures and we love doing it (myself included).

It made me wonder, “What is it about photography that is so powerful that it makes us lose our common sense?” Why are we so compelled to take pictures?

This may sound like a funny question coming from somebody who has lived in the world of photography for more than two decades, but I’m not talking about professional photography. I’m talking about all of us with camera phones and PhD (Push Here Dummy) cameras.

This is what I surmised:

Photography is about sharing. Like everybody else at the Mission that morning, I wanted to share my view of the rainbow with others…with you…with my family…with my friends. I wanted everybody to experience the beautiful moment that I had just experienced. Words could not remotely come close to how striking it was.

• Photography is about capturing, stealing, owning a moment—holding onto a piece of time forever.

• Photography makes it real to us. It proves it happened.

• Photography allows us to remember, to look back and recall an exact moment in time. While our memories may fade, our photographs provide a powerful beacon of recognition.

Photography enables us to be sentimental, to linger, to celebrate events and people in our lives. Just think about all the family photo albums that adorn our coffee tables and bookshelves.

__________

Before digital cameras (in all their various forms), most people were careful and methodical about taking pictures. After all, it cost money to buy film and have it processed. And it took time and effort to drop the film off and pick it up once it was processed.

Now, after we purchase our cameras, it’s essentially free, and it’s effortless to shoot a bazillion photographs. And as we all know, if we take enough pictures, eventually we’re bound to at least get one good image.

While I may chuckle and sneer at what photography has turned into, I’m right there will all the rest of you, clicking away, sharing away and loving it. But I never forget there’s a big difference between photography and faux-tography.

__________

Because I hate to only share a crappy picture on my blog with you, allow me to end this post with a few classic images created by a real photographer (one, with whom you know by now, I’m quite smitten).

Photo of gondolas reflected in the Grand Canal of Venice, Italy

Gondolas reflected in Venice, Italy

Photo of a grandfather and grandson at a market in Xian, China

A Grandfather and his sleeping grandchild at a market in Xian, China

Photo of a South African Woman

A Christian Zionist woman holding the new flag of South Africa in Soweto during a rally for Nelson Mandela

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Belief in Motion

Photo of horses running in a snowstorm

This Thursday’s Picture of the Week has little to do with exotic locations or unusual circumstances. Rather, it has everything to do with what it represents: belief.

Behind the Scenes: Aspen 1981—Snow is falling in fat, heavy flakes. Jeffrey knows it’s a perfect morning to create a photograph he’s been envisioning since he took a photo workshop from renowned photographer, Ernst Haas, several months earlier.

Haas is considered one of the most important figures in 20th century photography and is lauded as a leader in the art of color imagery.

Jeffrey has only owned a camera for a few years and is awash in enthusiasm for the art form, and the unlimited possibilities it offers.

Portrait of Ernst HaasThe workshop Haas leads at Anderson Ranch Arts Center focuses on motion, a technique he pioneered when he photographed bullfighting and the Indianapolis 500 in the 1950′s. Instead of shooting a fast shutter speed and freezing the subjects, as was typical of the time, he shot them with a slow shutter speed to capture the beauty of the motion.

• • •

Photo of race cars by Ernst HaasPhoto of bullfighting by Ernst Haas

“To express dynamic motion through a static moment became for me limited and unsatisfactory. The basic idea was to liberate myself from this old concept and arrive at an image in which the spectator could feel the beauty of a fourth dimension, which lies much more between moments than within a moment. In music one remembers never one tone, but a melody, a theme, a movement. In dance, never a moment, but again the beauty of a movement in time and space.”

–Ernst Haas

The approach Haas teaches at his workshop resonates with Jeffrey, and he knows he wants to capture the beauty and fluidity of horses running in the snow.

• • •

On the morning of the snowstorm, while most people are loading up their skis or hunkering down with a hot cup of coffee and a good book in front of the fireplace, Jeffrey puts on his heavy Sorrel boots, gets in his car and drives up Red Mountain.

After navigating the steep, windy road overlooking town, he parks his car next to a small meadow where horses are being boarded for the winter. The wind is blowing, flakes are sailing, and the horses begin running as soon as Jeffrey gets out of his car.

Jeffrey raises his camera and captures poetry in motion.

• • •

What happens next is where belief comes into play…

A few years later, Jeffrey is asked to be a part of a group exhibition at Unicorn Gallery, an Aspen gallery owned by entrepreneur Randy Woods. Jeffrey is humbled to be in the company of abstract painter, Richard Carter (former assistant to renowned artist Herbert Bayer of the Bauhaus School), and print maker, Tom Benton, creator of the famous Hunter Thompson campaign posters of the 70s.

Portrait of print maker Thomas BentonTom Benton Hunter Thompson PosterTom Benton Fat City PrintPortrait of artist, Dick CarterRichard Dick Carter Art

On the night of the opening, the gallery is abuzz with art enthusiasts, including internationally reputed photographer Ferenc (Franz) Berko.

Portrait of Franz BerkoBerko, a tall, slender, ascot-wearing European transplant, greets Jeffrey with a gentle smile and quiet hello.

Franz and his wife, Mirte, had come to Aspen in 1949 at the invitation of Walter Paepcke to photograph the Goethe Bicentennial. It was during the age of Aspen’s transformation from purely a silver mining town to a world-class ski resort and artist colony.

The Berkos were enamored with the mountains and town and ended up staying permanently. Below are a few images Franz shot over the years, when he not only turned his camera on the Goethe Bicentennial, but the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and numerous other subjects.

Rubinstein in Aspen, Colorado by Franz BerkoPhoto of Albert Schweitzer in Aspen, Colorado by Ferenc BerkoPhoto of Bayer Wall in Aspen, Colorado by Ferenc BerkoPhoto of ski touring Pearl Pass in Aspen, Colorado by Franz BerkoPhoto of kids walking up stairs by Franz BerkoPhoto of Ballet by Franz Berko

©Berko Photos: Top (L) Arthur Rubinstein, (R) Albert Schweitzer, Middle (L) Work on the Herbert Bayer wall, (R) Ski touring up Pearl Pass. Bottom (L) Children, (R) Overview of ballerina

• • •

Later during the opening Berko approaches Jeffrey once again. This time he simply says, “I would like to buy a print of your horses running for my daughter.”

Jeffrey is stunned.

He smiles and stammers for a minute, then replies, “Franz, I would like to give you a print.”

Franz will have nothing to do with it.

“No, I insist I pay you for it. Your art is worth much more than you are asking. Please make me a print and bring it to Mirte’s toy store next week.”

“There’s only one thing,” he continues, “you must sign it.”

At that moment, Jeffrey knows for certain he is headed in the right direction following his passion for photography.

• • •

Franz and Jeffrey soon become dear friends, and Franz stays deeply interested in Jeffrey’s career, often giving him quiet advice throughout the years, until his death in 2000.

This photograph of the horses running will always remain a special image to Jeffrey because it represents so many things to him: his love of photography, his inner drive and enthusiasm when he was just beginning his career, and most of all, somebody’s belief in him and his ability to see.

“When you’re just starting out and one of the most respected photographers in the art world appreciates your work enough to buy a print, there’s no greater approval,” Jeffrey says.

• • •

Berko Studio on Aspen's Main Street In a “small world” twist, the Berko Gallery, which is run by Franz’s granddaughter, Mirte Mallory, is now housed in a charming purple Victorian on Aspen’s Main Street—a home that Jeffrey and I owned and lived in for many years in the mid-1990’s.Yep, see that brick walkway? Jeffrey and I laid it with our own hands. “Our” purple Victorian will always hold sweet memories for us, and now it’s even more special because it holds the photographs of somebody who not only made a powerful impact on Jeffrey’s career, but also his life.

Now it’s your turn. Who has been the “Franz” of your life? Who has believed in you and given you the confidence to reach your potential? I’d love to hear all about this wonderful person!

Gong Xi Fa Cai — Happy Chinese New Year!

Photo of a dragon tile in Beijing's Forbidden City

Today kicks off the year 4710 in China, and it’s cause for much celebration and optimism. It’s the Year of the Dragon, after all, the most auspicious and powerful of the twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac.

Where did the “Year of a particular animal” idea originate? I wondered that myself. Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality.

In Eastern philosophy, the dragon is regarded as a divine beast – the opposite of the malicious monster that Westerners have felt necessary to find and slay. It is said to be a deliverer of good fortune and a master of authority.

Those born in dragon years are innovative, brave, and driven. They’re unafraid of challenges, willing to take risks and passionate about all they do. They are free spirits. Think of John Lennon, Joan of Arc, Mae West, and Salvador Dali.

Photo of girls during Chinese New Year in Beijing, ChinaA baby boom is expected in China this year as many couples believe it is lucky to have a child born during The Year of the Dragon.

Economic forecasts are also strong as new ventures are expected to benefit from the outstanding luck of the dragon.

_____________________________________

Chinese traditions are so rich that I thought it would be fun to share a few more tidbits I’ve learned about this holiday–both from Jeffrey who has been to China well over sixty times, and from research.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festival in Chinese culture, lasting fifteen days. It’s celebrated on the new moon of the first month according to the lunar calendar, and is a time for family reunions and massive feasts.

It is also a time when every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes of making way for good incoming luck.

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear new red clothes, decorate with red paper, and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck.

Photo of red envelopesThe money given in the red envelopes must be in new bills, and the total amount must be an even number. Certain numbers are bad luck, so the total amount should not be one of these unlucky numbers. Four, for example, is a homonym for “death,” so a red envelope should never contain $4, $40, or $400. Children put their red envelopes under their pillows at night so they can have sweet dreams and become richer in the next year.

Photo of Chinese New Year Fireworks in Beijing, ChinaThe fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits. Now at midnight on New Year’s Eve, fireworks and firecrackers light up the sky and greet the coming of the new year, driving away evil spirits.

The lantern festival, held on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year celebration, is considered the highlight by many. People hang lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

Photo of a Dragon ParadeIn many areas the centerpiece of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets.

_____________________________

I’m always optimistic at the start of each new year. 2012 is no exception–especially now that I know the Dragon is leading the way.

Gong Xi Fa Cai - Happy New Year!

Graphic of Happy Chinese New Year i

sources: infoplease.com, about.com, chinesezodiac.com, chiff.com, wikipedia.com

Photos of America from Another Perspective

I don’t need to tell you smart readers what globalization looks like, but clearly it can be amusing at times to see what parts of American culture get transplanted into other countries around the world (at least when it isn’t sad).

Here is a peek at a few images Jeffrey has created over the years showing what happens when American taste lands in other parts of the world.

Photo of the Hard Yak Cafe in Lhasa, Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet (selling yak burgers on the roof of the world).

Photo of McDonald's in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of Denny's in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Superman in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of a knock-off Chicago Bulls sweatshirt in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

M & M Billboard in Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Photo of a Visa sign in Vietnam

Saigon, Vietnam

Photo of a Marlboro billboard in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

If you had one wish, what aspect of American culture would you want to share most around the world (if any)? My guess is that it wouldn’t be the Marlboro Man.

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: North Korea

Photo of Kim Jong Il Banner in Pyongyang, North Korea

Behind the Scenes: It’s 1991 and Jeffrey is working on assignment for Time Magazine in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Excerpt from my upcoming book, The Art of an Improbable Life

The stadium is brimming with over 100,000 people, all here to celebrate his birthday. It’s not exactly Jeffrey’s style, being the low-key-birthday-kind-of-guy that he is, but he indulges on this particular April day. First comes music, followed by a parade of synchronized dancers and gymnasts, then flags swirl and paper cards flash into vibrant scenes as they’re turned over by participants. Jeffrey is stunned by the scale of it all.

It’s the most surreal birthday of his thirty-six years.

As luck would have it, not only is it Jeffrey’s birthday, but it’s also Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, which means it’s North Korea’s most important national holiday. The preparations for this grand event have been under way for months and its participants are worked up into a frenzy as they celebrate the birth of their “Great Leader.”

Photo of North Korean Kids during Kim Il Sung birthday celebrationAs Jeffrey stands at the top of the stadium stairs, looking out at the sea of North Korean humanity and trying to absorb the magnitude of this patriotic extravaganza, he obediently asks his guide, Mr. Kim, if he can take a picture of the children. He has been told that he must ask permission to take any photograph while in North Korea. When Mr. Kim nods at his request, Jeffrey lifts his camera to his eye and begins capturing the exuberance of Young Pioneers as they shake bright pink pom-pom flowers in rhythm to the booming music.

Photo of North Korea, Kim Il Sung birthday celebration in PyongyangThen he asks if he can photograph the dancers twirling flags and the workers marching with Communist banners. As he does, a thunderous applause suddenly erupts and Jeffrey turns to see what’s happening. Two 1940’s Russian convertible cars emerge onto the stadium track carrying a larger-than-life banner of Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. Jeffrey instinctively lifts his camera and starts shooting again.

The next thing Jeffrey knows, two powerful hands grip his shoulders and launch him down the concrete steps of the stadium. He sees and feels a cascading swirl of music, pom-poms, faces, sky, and cement. His knee hits first, then his elbow and shoulder, followed by his head, as he tries to cradle his camera to protect it from the fall.

Pain engulfs him. As he looks up, dazed, all he sees are two shiny black shoes standing next to his face like sentinels. After shaking off his confusion, fury rips through him, especially when he realizes his 80-200mm zoom lens is damaged. Knowing he must keep his composure in this Orwellian-like country though, he asks Mr. Kim without an ounce of expression, “Why did you just do that?”

Two black marble eyes blaze through Jeffrey. “You didn’t ask permission.”

__________

…After wrapping up one of the strangest and most stressful projects of his life, Jeffrey boards a rickety train heading back to Beijing. His guide, Mr. Kim, looks at him with a cardboard smile and says, “Mr. Jeffrey, I hope to warmly welcome you back to Korea.” Then without blinking, he says, “If the pictures you took are ever used for negative propaganda, you will regret this for the rest of your life. Have a safe journey, my friend.”

Photo of children saluting Kim Il Sung Statue in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a Kim Jong Il billboard in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a North Korean maternity ward in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a typical North Korean home with portraits of Kim il Sung and Kim Jong IlPhoto of a North Korean highway with a propaganda billboard

The cult surrounding North Korea’s leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, is like other place in the world. Every person wears a Kim pin over his or her chest, and every family has portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader in their home. Statues, billboards and paintings are everywhere–from the airport to stores, factories, metros, schools, kareoke clubs and amusement parks. And every child is born under the watchful eye of the Kims, as seen in the photo above of a North Korean maternity ward.

Jeffrey is one of only a handful of American photojournalists to have gained access into North Korea. Not only did he go for Time, but several years later, he manged to get back in for Vanity Fair, a story I will share another time. It only gets more bizarre!

Photo of a North Korean amusement Park in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a North Korean beauty salon in Pyongyang

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Champagne

Photo of Champagne, France

Behind the scenes: It’s 1994 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Travel Holiday in the Champagne Region of France. His job is to capture the essence of this region with its renowned vineyards and charming, old world towns.

Jeffrey speaks only a little French, but after landing in Paris he loads up a rental car, negotiates his way through the city’s chaotic roundabouts, then finally hits the open road heading toward Epernay, about eighty miles away. His nerves take a beating during the drive, especially without any English signage to guide him, but the beauty of the region creates a soothing natural salve.

The following day several men from the Champagne Chamber of Commerce warmly welcome him with a lavish, three-hour lunch, complete with six different types of champagne.

Vineyard in Reims, FranceJeffrey, who likes to hit the ground running, tries to quell the impatient feeling needling him while the men laugh and linger, making sure the champagne keeps pace with their stories. Eventually the bubbles begin to travel to Jeffrey’s head, forcing him to lose his natural, high-energy need-for-speed, and relax and fully appreciate the lifestyle of this region.

He can already tell that it’s going to be one the cushiest stories he’s photographed in a long time, even if he will have to work hard to photograph everything on his long shoot list.

Haut Viller, FranceDuring the next week he plows through more than 70 rolls of film in the visually rich towns of Reims, Damery, Troyes, Epernay and Haut Viller. He photographs everything from vineyards and chalk cellars to wine bars, restaurants, and galleries to people, architecture, and landscapes. He also shoots details like the street sign honoring Dom Perignon, the monk who discovered bubbly.

After spending a morning photographing the interior of Castellene du Champagne winery in Epernay, Jeffrey heads to his car. Just as he’s about to load up his equipment and move on to the next location on his list, he sees two workers carrying a giant champagne bottle along the road in front of the winery.

Jeffrey knows what he sees before him must be included in the story so he quickly takes out his camera again and begins photographing. He works hard to get the angle which will include both the Avenue du Champagne sign and the shadow. After capturing this quirky moment, curiosity inspires him to find out what they’re doing with the giant bottle.

“Once a week we have tastings in the garden and we bring these large bottles out for ambiance. People enjoy sipping champagne beneath these big bottles,” a worker laughs as he explains in his thick French accent.

Though dozens of photographs from this shoot have been published around the world, this giant champagne bottle has captured peoples’ imaginations the most. It has been published in magazines, on cards, and inside Communication Arts where Jeffrey received an award for it.

This image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikor 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia Film.

Would you agree that this picture begs for a creative caption? I’d love to hear your ideas. Send me your best!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Indonesia

Photo of a Hindu ceremony in Bali, Indonesia

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Newsweek in Bali, Indonesia. The king’s wife has died, and an auspicious day has finally arrived for her funeral ceremony.

For Hindus, the days between death and ceremony are spent in intense preparation as they organize the myriad details involved in rituals leading up to the cremation. It’s believed the soul of the dead can only leave the body once the body’s five elements of air, earth, fire, water and space have been returned to the cosmos. Once this happens then the soul can depart and find its new life through reincarnation. Mishandling of any small detail can prevent the soul from reincarnating.

Photo of a Hindu funeral floatThe Balinese have spared no detail in this elaborate three-day event, which is taking place in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.

Jeffrey has been working in Asia non-stop for over a month, and can feel the weight of the pace he’s been keeping—photographing everything from a story on rice in Japan to a feature on the Yangtze River in China to yet another on Beijing’s lively outdoor markets—but he’s also energized by this visually compelling and culturally important event.

As Jeffrey stands photographing next to his friend, Robin Moyer, who is working on assignment for Time Magazine, the two men can’t help but laugh at themselves. Every person in attendance is required to wear traditional dress during this formal ceremony. Photographers are no exception. Not only are both men sporting batik sarongs over their Levis but also Indonesian udengs (wraps) on their heads. While Indonesian men look handsome, the two of them look absurd.

Photo of a Balinese dancer in IndonesiaIt is over 100 degrees with humidity equally as brutal, but Jeffrey pays little attention to the heat. Everywhere he looks he sees a blaze of color. High priestesses carry out blessings and holy water ceremonies, musicians and dancers perform traditional movements, women adorned in vibrant dresses carry offerings atop their heads, and others lead a procession which eventually arrives at the funeral pyre.

When the elaborate pyre is finally lit, it quickly catches on fire and bursts into hot flames. It is this moment the Rajah’s wife’s soul is released into the cosmos to seek its karma and reincarnation.

What Jeffrey witnesses is an awe-inspiring celebration of Balinese culture. Gratitude brews beneath his sweat-drenched udeng as he knows once again that his camera has opened a door to a place and time that he otherwise never would have experienced. 

Photo of Balinese MusiciansThis image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, Nikon 80-200mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more images from this ceremony in Bali, click here or on the photo of the musicians to the left.

What cultural ceremony or event has stirred your soul? I’d love to hear your most memorable moments!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Vietnam

Photo of Muslims praying at the Central Mosque in Saigon, Vietnam

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is on his way from Thailand to Cambodia to photograph a story about Angkor Wat Temple Complex. In order to enter Cambodia though, he must first stop in Vietnam to get his visa processed. The U.S. still has not re-established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s Killing Fields so he’s forced to take a circuitous route.

Map of VietnamIt’s early morning in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and as Jeffrey sits on the rooftop restaurant of his hotel, sipping orange juice and reading his Herald Tribune, he begins mentally planning his day.

Below, the streets teem with motor scooter drivers and vendors as they begin their daily frenetic ritual of eeking out a living. In the midst of the city’s cacophony, Jeffrey also hears another sound warbling in the distance. He knows he’s heard it before in other regions of the world, but never in Vietnam.

An Islamic call to prayer wafts through a loudspeaker, a muezzin’s sing-songy voice summoning Muslims to prayer.

Curiosity instantly changes the course of Jeffrey’s day. Instead of heading to the Dan Sinh Market like he had planned, or photographing the Apocalypse Now Bar or the city’s wide boulevards and French colonial architecture, Jeffrey begins his search for the mosque.

Photo of traffic in Saigon, VietnamFirst he must maneuver through the certifiably insane, always-rush-hour-traffic, then he must get on the back of a motorcycle taxi before he is eventually dropped off in front of the Saigon Central Mosque in the Dong Khoi area.

A sea of motor scooters dots the sidewalk in front of the light blue and white building. Its cool, immaculate structure exudes calm, floating like an island of serenity in the midst of the churning streets outside where sensory overload is the norm.

Jeffrey removes his shoes, and like other men, washes his feet before stepping onto the cool stone floors. The city’s heat, humidity and noise instantly fade away.

Though he isn’t sure what kind of reception he will receive, Jeffrey is warmly welcomed into the mosque and is even encouraged to photograph during Friday prayer.

The men pray on one side and the women on another. Jeffrey’s eye is immediately drawn to the clean lines and undulating pattern of the women praying before him. In no time he raises his camera and begins photographing. After shooting a handful of frames, he  lowers it back down and puts it away, hoping to avoid disturbing this sacred time of worship. Instead he watches and listens, enjoying his unexpected discovery in Vietnam.

What Jeffrey likes most about this photograph is that most people think it was created in Africa or the Middle East rather than Vietnam.  He likes the surprise element, and also the anonymity of the image, which allows viewers to imagine what the faces look like behind the traditional robes.

“It’s also a good reminder that curiosity is often my most powerful tool. If I hadn’t been curious, I never would have discovered this part of Vietnam,” Jeffrey says.

This photograph was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia film. It was awarded a PATA Gold Award.

Now I’m curious! What is the most interesting or unusual place you have discovered while traveling, simply by following your curiosity?

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Russia

Photo or restoring Russian church in Moscow

Behind the scenes: It’s 1991 and Jeffrey is working on assignment for Travel Holiday in Moscow. Preeminent writer, Orville Schell, has written an in-depth piece about the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox church, and Jeffrey has been hired to photograph the story.

It’s a mind-numbingly cold January day when Jeffrey walks through Red Square with his interpreter, Alexi. People all around are dressed in heavy wool coats and classic fur caps. Jeffrey wears his American version of warmth—expedition weight Patagonia gear—but he still cannot feel his fingers or toes.

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, RussaOnce he enters St. Basil’s Cathedral though, Moscow’s iconic nine-domed masterpiece, and he’s lead through a series of dim, narrow chambers, he is instantly warmed by what he sees transpiring behind closed doors. A small group of artists is painstakingly restoring the frescoes and woodwork of this magnificent16th century structure.

Jeffrey and his interpreter see a dark-haired woman perched high atop scaffolding, restoring the face of an angel on one of the domed ceilings. When the woman sees the two, she immediately stops what she’s doing and looks down from above.

Jeffrey simply smiles and says in his best Russian, “ZDRAST-vwee-tye” (hello). “KAK VAS za-VOOT” (what is your name)? “Menya zavut Jeffrey” (my name is Jeffrey).

She can tell by his clothing that he’s not Russian. A broad smile crosses her face when he continues with every Russian phrase he has learned. Even though his grammar is nowhere near perfect, his accent is strikingly authentic, and in a matter of minutes he has endeared himself to the artists around him.

Restoration of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, RussiaIn no time they are all laughing and showing him into other back rooms, speaking to him in Russian as if he should understand every Cyrillic word. Jeffrey doesn’t need to comprehend a thing; their pride in what they are doing says everything.

It is a new era in Russia. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership and policy of Glasnost (openness and freer discussion of issues), the Russian Orthodox Church is slowly coming back to life.

Prior to Gorbachev, the Soviet regime was committed to the complete annihilation of religion. Based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, atheism was the official doctrine of the Soviet Union and it became a high priority for all Soviet leaders in the Communist Party.

Not only did the state destroy churches, mosques and temples, but it ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept. And just like all private property, any Church-owned property that wasn’t destroyed, was confiscated and put into public use.

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When Jeffrey arrives in Moscow, he senses the delicate dance of the new political and social freedoms unfolding around him. Russians are clearly embracing change, but they’re also cautiously optimistic, knowing things could change again quickly during this turbulent political time.

Russian woman praying at a Russian Orthodox chuch in Moscow, RussiaDuring this assignment, Jeffrey photographs nearly a dozen churches—previously confiscated religious buildings that have been returned to the church–some still surrounded by barbed wire, some with gilded onion domes shimmering in all their glory, and some even holding  elaborate services once again.

As Jeffrey climbs up the rickety scaffolding inside St. Basil’s Cathedral to photograph the artist painstakingly restoring the frescoed ceiling, he knows he’s about to create an image that perfectly symbolizes the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church. One person at a time, one brush stroke at a time.

Russian Orthodox Church ceremony in Moscow, RussiaEleven months later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the government of Russia begins to openly embrace the Russian Orthodox Church, and the number of the faithful rises once again in Russia.

The photograph above was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 24mm lens, SB-16 flash, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more of Jeffrey’s photographs of Russian Orthodox Churches, click on this link:  See More Churches