Monday, 9 November 2015

URBEX ÜBER ALLES!!!

Chasing Shadows of the Past in Rüdersdorf Chemical Plant



We planned our entry down to the square meter. We analyzed drop zones and entry points and scrutinized satellite photos of the abandoned plant in Rüdersdorf to determine the best way to infiltrate the site undetected. This is urban exploration in Berlin. This is Urbex Über Alles.

My partner in crime was the Infamous Abandoned Berliner, the single most respected and hated member of the urban exploration subculture. His Abandoned Berlin blog has a gazillion hits, he has an urbex book of the same name, and the man can hold his beer well into the wee hours at any spaeti in Berlin (He's Irish, so that helps). The reason he is hated and respected in equal measure: He tells people where the abandoned places are. This angers the Holy Druids of the Urbex Circle Jerk, who gather in secrecy with their hand drawn maps and meet in basements to discuss their next conquest in whispers, while quietly jerking each other off in circles. Cliques piss me off. Therefore I respect anyone who will tell me how to get to an abandoned place, how hard it is to get in, and whether my lardy ass will fit in through the hole in the fucking fence. At 6 foot 5, 280 lbs, I ain't climbing no fucking walls.

Urbex was a regular thang with me until the Urbex Druids decided I wasn't worthy. They took me to a few places, laughed while I squirmed through holes in the fences, and took snaps of me stuck in windows. Then they stopped inviting me. That and all the good places have been bought by developers and earmarked for certain destruction or worse—yuppie condos for fuck's sake. There are now urbex tours of the most popular sites in Berlin and you pay a pretty penny for the privilege. This defeats all of the fun of trespass and most of the fun of skulking in the shadows.

After a year or two off from the urbex scene I found another reason to skulk. The street artist known as Plotbot KEN dropped an atomic paint bomb on this particular plant we were entering. Plotbot's work can be described as a post apocalyptic dreamscape wherein lonely figures in hazmat suits quietly test the radiation and chemical contamination levels of a bleak future. When I first saw these figures on walls in Berlin-Kreuzberg, Wedding and other districts—I was hooked. As a full time pessimist with no hope for the future of humanity, I simply had to add Plotbot to my collection of street artists for my documentary project.


Loud and Proud


The Irishman and I crept along the rail tracks leading to the plant. He was shushing and denouncing me for being the large, loud-and-proud American stereotype that I am. "JAYzus you are loud! Let's not alert security!" he slurred. He shambled through the hole in the fence and hiccupped, still reeling from the breakfast drinking (two can play the stereotype game, muchacho). I could see that he takes the whole illegal trespass thing seriously. After about five minutes walking toward the huge cement abandoned chemical plant leviathan, he suddenly cried 'SECURITY! DOWN!' and dropped like a sack of beer-soaked potatoes. I tried to drop as gracefully as a 280 lb man with a backpack full of camera gear could. In the end I could only cut the tragic figure of a fat man on his knees in the dirt with his camera backpack sticking up on his hunched back like a saddle on an elephant. A truck roared past on a dirt road just ahead of us. Nobody saw the fallen sack of beer-soaked potatoes or the fookin' elephant.

"Security? In a dump like this?" I wondered aloud (really loud). "Yeah, once when I was here, there was some kind of a film crew running around; security was tight," AB informed. We didn't know it at the time, but one of the things they were filming on this very site was an episode of the popular political spy thriller series 'Homeland.' The entire 2015 series was shot and filmed in Berlin—even the bits where they were not actually in Berlin (like the Middle East). A dirty, abandoned chemical plant doubling as a refugee camp? Why not. You really are in a different world when you stagger through this dusty desolation.


We then proceeded to explore proper. The concrete behemoth towered over us and sprawled over an area about 10 times the size of your average mall. I was shopping for street art and was not disappointed. After sloppily scurrying between doorways of buildings to avoid detection by nearby construction workers, we found it. The Acid Tanks paintings stood stoic under a 100-foot-high cement ceiling with broken windows, crumbling concrete columns and rusty pipes. I stood in awe of the amazing merger of
rust, spray paint and decay, both naturally and artificially introduced.




Some street artists paint anywhere there is a blank wall. Others consider the space within the context of their works. In this respect, there is no better urban artist working in Berlin today than Plotbot KEN. In a world abandoned, rusting, seeping and dripping with chemicals, one man stands tall in the green muck to merge aerosol alchemy with the rotting ruins of yesteryear.




Thursday, 15 January 2015

Blackened Blu: 'Artists' Destroy Their Own Art


I See an Art Wall and I Want to Paint It Black

File under WTF WERE THEY THINKING?

Recently, under cover of night, vandals applied paint to the walls of an innocent building in Berlin.  Ironically, they weren’t blasting graffiti bombs all over the dump—they were painting OVER two of the most famous street art wall murals in Berlin.  Then they talked to the media.  Then they sounded like media-groomed art-tards with carefully-prepared sound bites like “We felt it was time for (the artwork) to vanish, along with the fading era in Berlin’s history that they represented” and “The white–well, in this case black–washing also signifies a rebirth: as a wake-up call to the city and its dwellers, a reminder of the necessity to preserve affordable and lively spaces of possibility, instead of producing undead taxidermies of art.”

 
                                    
Who asked you to do it?  The ACTUAL artist (Blu)?  I don’t think so.  You say you were ‘co-creator’ of the murals and yet your ‘credentials’ as a ‘cultural scientist and curator focusing on art in the public domain’ sound like happy horseshit prepared for you by the people who actually paid you to paint over the walls.  While the rest of Berlin is subject to hostile takeover from gentrification investment whores, you just decided to kill the art in a pre-emptive strike against yourselves.  Art suicide?  The problem with your reasoning is that art is a creative process, not a destructive one.  If we need any more proof of your collusion with sneaky developers, just look at the big fence around the property.  Somebody unlocked the gate for you and your crane.  Did the developers provide the crane as well, or is that a standard tool for scrappy street artists?  By working with the developers to blacken Blu’s art, you tar yourself with the same brush.



These particular murals had meaning.  They were not just tags left by random dogs spraying their turf.  These paintings were carefully thought out and executed by an internationally famous street artist from Italy named Blu.  While I am only beginning to understand the significance of the two upside down figures (I only recently learned they were flashing East and West Berlin gang signs), the headless figure of the business man with two gold watches chaining his arms was a work of brilliance.  It became one of the icons of Berlin—right there along with the East Side Gallery section of the Berlin Wall.  Hell, I even have a Hard Rock Café pin in the shape of a guitar with the damn mural on it.



A year ago I was walking by the now-deceased art on a similarly mild winter day.  The simple white wall figures loomed large over some squatters in a field. There were still a few shanties left in Camp Cuvry, the open-air squat beneath the graffiti giants.  I was able to walk in and drink beer with some of the remaining campers.  I did not envy them in their uphill struggle against the developers; nor did I envy them sleeping in a field in the winter.  I shared beer with them for the privilege of talking with them a while before their inevitable ousting.  Their eviction was imminent simply because they were sitting on a view of the river.  Riverfront developer Mediaspree’s policy up until now has been: 1) buy every dilapidated thing along the river (occupied or not), 2) drive out the ones who won’t be bought out.

While I was writing a story on Berlin's Beach Bars a few years ago, a few of the bar managers were packing their shit while they were speaking to me.  Others warned me that within a very short time there would be no places for ordinary people to have a drink with a view of water.  Only high rise condos and office buildings would remain.  High rise condos and office buildings seem perfectly reasonable in cities like Los Angeles or Tokyo, but in Berlin they are about as useful as an asshole on your elbow.



KIEZ STATT PROFITWAHN!

(Neighborhoods Instead of Profit Madness)



The majority of Berliners do not like what is happening to their city.  And this majority is not just a bunch of grungy slackers crying about change; all of them embrace the idea of Berlin as the constantly changing city—a city where anyone with an idea can take over a disused, dilapidated factory and make something of it.  But there are some changes that can only harm a city; changes which benefit a few wealthy investors at the expense of driving out the REAL movers and shakers of Berlin.  Once again, the artists are the unwilling shock troops of gentrification.


They came, they saw, they left their creative mark.  Then the developers conquered.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

One + One = Three: Berlin Family Portraits

Mother, Father and Baby Portraits in Berlin

  

My customers give me great ideas all the time.  As a professional photographer who specializes in portraits, I have photographed many couples and families over the years.  But this year I was pleasantly surprised when a mother in the U.S. hired me to take photos of her daughter Ashley and her daughter’s boyfriend, Alex, in Berlin—both before and after their baby was born.  I provided a portrait gift certificate, which she in turn presented to her daughter as a gift.  In a world of selfies and endless photos of newborns, it is really a special gift to take time out to hire a professional photographer to get some really classy shots.


The portrait shoot was to be divided into two sessions. Part one of this little family documentary began one warm day in May of this year.  We had the majestic beauty of Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, a mother great with child, an anxious father and some clothing props.  I like to take time to talk to my clients before, during and after the portrait shoot.  In order to get natural, relaxed portraits I find it is best to communicate as much as possible.

Sanssouci Park is the perfect place for portraits.  It is spread out over a monstrous amount of green space filled with little palaces, fountains, lakes and enchanted grottoes. As the former stomping grounds of Prussian royalty, the gardens and grounds were laid out in grand scale and style.

We had many natural and architectural backdrops to choose from, which is every photographer’s dream.  I am one of those photographers who has turned his back on traditional ‘stuffy’ studio shots with fake backgrounds in favor of location photography. I believe there is no artificial substitute for nature
and the great outdoors. I really enjoy choosing the right location for special portraits.

As is usually the case, I got too many good shots to share in one small blog space, so here are just a few highlights of our two portrait sessions.

And Baby Makes Three




As you can imagine, the arrival of a new baby makes life hectic, but in early July we managed to set up a time for part two of the portrait series.  I suggested we use the gardens around my little cottage in order not to tire out mom and her new baby with excessive walking.  When I mentioned our trees, grass, garden furniture props and a big silver bear statue, Ashley said ‘You had me at big silver bear statue.’

Babies seem to really like me—or are at least they are not afraid.  I am fortunate that I don’t have to wave toys, squeaky dolls or do any dances—babies just look at me with some sort of natural curiosity, as if to say ‘Who is this large, goofy man with the camera?’


After a brief bout with the bear, we took our time relaxing and taking shots in different places around the property. After an hour or so, we parted ways feeling that we had really done the ultimate before-and-after shots—with a big silver Berlin bear thrown in to boot.



Schedule your Berlin family portrait session today by contacting me here.  Or give the gift of photography by ordering a portrait gift certificate.  Your family will thank you!  ;)




Wednesday, 25 June 2014

3D Printers, Computer Tumbleweeds, Squishy Robots

Notes from a ‘Silicon Allee’ Event Photographer in Berlin

After finishing my third tech-related event in Berlin I have seen a glimpse of the future: 3D printers make lifelike human skulls, computerized tumbleweeds roll across vast deserts gathering data and robots are squishy.




The RE.WORK Tech Summit in Berlin on June 19-20 brought cutting edge creators to ‘Silicon AlleeBerlin to strut their stuff on the lighted stage.


I love technology.  Not in a nerdy, worship-the-algorithm sort of way.  Give me better tools, I say.  I remember the excitement of getting my first digital camera:  no more photo chemistry fouling my lungs and ruining rivers.  And no more hours spent in darkened rooms; ah, the joy!  And then there’s the instant digital gratification of fast results.

This puts me in perfect company at a tech summit.  I enjoy listening to the exhibitors enthusiastically explaining their inventions at the exhibition stands and on stage.  This last event got me thinking:  most of the people on stage are not polished speakers—they are real people, and as such I kept in mind my presence as a photographer.  I didn't want my snapping camera and firing flash to put them off their cues.  I took care to choose my moments and put a lot of space between shutter clicks.  I don’t want a young inventor geek guy full of coffee thinking of his marketing pitch to be thrown off his game by my firing flash.  I also strive to capture the most natural moments in any event, where the people look relaxed and natural.  I've seen other photographers' shots of speakers who look tired, strained or nervous because the photographer didn't wait for the right moment.


And catching the 'right moment' is what photographing people is all about.




For price quotes on event photography in Berlin and beyond please contact me today.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Kreuzberg Street Art Walkabout

The street art scene in Berlin is one of the best in the world.  And no neighborhood in Berlin packs more street art per square meter than Kreuzberg.  Just take a stroll in the area between Oberbaumbrücke and Schlesiches Tor U bahn station and you will become a believer.  Spray can statements writ large encompass entire sides of buildings.

On a rare clear January day in Berlin I hit the streets of Kreuzberg to add some more street art shots to my growing collection.  Last summer I began a personal project on street art and street artists in Berlin.  In pictures and words I aim to document the vibrant street art scene in Berlin and show the importance of street art as a form of communication, protest and/or city beautification.

As I was fixing my camera’s focus on a particularly colorful wall, I heard the familiar sound of the English language nearby—explaining the very street art I was about to photograph.  I stood my ground as a small group of a dozen tourists flowed past me pointing and snapping pictures.  The last words I heard from the tour guide was ‘and this piece is by ALIAS…’

I waited for the group to soak in the spray can scenery before I proceeded to take my own photos in my own time.  Just around the corner a table loaded with spray cans stood in front of a sleepy café.  A spray can artist popped up from behind the table and bombed the wall with blasts of colorful coffee cups and trees with oranges dripping juice.  I looked around and noted the neighborhood pride:  many cafes, shops, bistros and kebab joints were festooned with urban art and spray painted motifs.

  

On the river end of Cuvrystrasse is an abandoned field with three painted behemoths standing guard.  The entire sides of the two buildings behind the field were covered with five-storey tall figures by globally-famous urban artist BLU from Italy.  One of the iconic pieces—a headless businessman adjusting his tie while his hands are bound by twin gold watches and chains—is even featured on a Hard Rock Café Berlin collectors pin (among no doubt hundreds of other pieces of unofficial tourist tat).


 A wide open gap in the wall surrounding the field beckoned me inside.  As I walked further into the field, the random piles of rubbish began morphing into mounds of building materials crudely lashed together into the shape of shacks.  A large teepee stood to my left and I heard voices and laughter near some curling smoke.  Moments later I encountered a couple sitting around a fire amid piles of tastefully arranged skip furniture.  They asked me to join them with a warning not to take photos.  They pointed to a sign with the international symbol of a crudely drawn camera with a big red line through it.  I agreed to their reasonable terms and they invited me to join them by the fire.  After a quick run to the nearby market, I procured portable potables for us to drink around the fire in the field.  They told me the story of their community, their struggles and their commitment to sleeping outdoors in the winter.

We discussed the economic state of Berlin, the closing of almost every beach bar, jam space and artist community along the River Spree.  YAAM, the last of the Mohicans, is apparently on the chopping block as well.  I once interviewed the manager of YAAM for a story on Berlin’s beach bars.  He told me the outlook is grim for anyone who takes an abandoned space and makes a thriving community from it, because the developers are always poised to move in and smash dreams.

So once again gentrification rears its ugly head.  In Camp Cuvry’s case, the police haven’t yet applied the jackboot.  The young Argentinean man I was speaking to plucked the few remaining strings on his old guitar and informed me that a community isn't in danger until the original property owners decide they have the money (investors) to do something with the space.  I hope that they never will.  And on that note, I finished my drink, bade them farewell and wished them the very best of luck.



In the coming months I will update my website and blog with images from my Berlin Street Art documentary.  Please subscribe to this blog and/or check back periodically to follow my progress.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Startups and Upstarts in ‘Silicon Allee’

Notes of a Professional Event Photographer in Berlin


Berlin has been called multi-kulti, poor but sexy, the ever-changing city and most recently, Silicon Allee—due to the increasing number of tech startup companies moving into the Bear Pit.  Rents are relatively cheap—though steadily rising, as creative types and startup geeks continue to flock to Germany’s culture capital to stake their claims on the future.



Some of the more clever event planners have taken full advantage of Berlin’s ever changing city status to host tech events in art parks and open spaces in addition to the tried-and-true hotel conference halls.



The Tech Growth Summit in Berlin was one such event.  Innovators, inventors and investors all met in Berlin recently to throw their hats in the Silicon Allee ring.  The opening dinner reception was held at Urban Spree Gallery in the East Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain—a popular art/club colony sculpted out of some of the industrial rubble and rust of the former DDR East Berlin.  Urban Spree Gallery often hosts the latest work by up and coming Berlin street artists and urban sprayers.

The group team building exercise for the evening:  spray can graffiti competition. It was a nice change of pace from the typical event meeting to watch executives don overalls and masks, shake their spray cans and go to town on some blank walls in the open air garden.

The Big Day of the Tech Growth Summit commenced the day after in two equally exciting venues:  a refurbished, former electrical power plant in Berlin-Kreuzberg and the closed historical airport Berlin Tempelhof.  If nothing else, Berlin is the master of pulling trends out of detritus:  a swanky, modern interior with leather lounge couches filled the floors under the vaulted brick heights of an open former factory hall and wrought iron stairs ascended over fountains spewing bubbling jets of red-lit water.

Later in the day after the convention adjourned, we traveled to the former site of the Berlin Airlift, Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport, Berlin). Conventioneers consumed cocktails in the massive open space of the departure hall. Cocktail waitresses in vintage airline stewardess outfits shook their shakers at check in counters under the signage of various living-and-dead airlines, while suave barmen shoved crates of booze and glasses through the luggage conveyor belts to the waiting bar staff.


Cornelia Barbara Yzer, Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, Berlin, addressed the crowd of visiting foreign e movers and tech shakers.  Her message was clear: come to Berlin.  The doors are wide open and the forecast was mostly sunny—though I managed to pick out a parenthetical warning from one of the other speakers: let’s not make another bubble economy like Ireland or others who are still reeling from the fish-and-cut-bait methods of less-than-scrupulous investors in the last decade. Working together, they said, we could all build an economy that works for everyone involved.


And on that note, I grabbed a drink from the check in counter and raised it.


Contact Berlin event photographer Craig Robinson today to cover your Berlin event.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Berliner Brains Buffet

The Berlin Zombie Walk 2013




A flash mob of dozens of costumed 'zombies' shambled through the streets of Berlin on Saturday, October 26, 2013.  This was the latest outbreak in a growing global 'infection' of Zombie Walks in various cities all over the earth.

Everyone loves a big, juicy zombie.  With a plethora of zombie films and television shows topping the entertainment charts, the undead may one day knock King Vampire out of the horror throne.  I've personally loved zombies as long as I can remember; the first zombie film I recall watching was the 1979 Italian made ‘Zombie.’   I was around 14 when I saw the film and I gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the blood, rot, gore and bouncing breasts displayed throughout the film.  I was probably too young to see the bouncing breasts as an American.  The blood and guts?  No problem.  Americans are weaned from milk to blood.


One of the first zombie walks ever recorded was put on by my Sacramento hometown pals at TrashFilm Orgy in 2001.  I’m from Sacramento, grew up there, and worked with my horror film friends on 8mm black and white home movies.  So when the first Sacramento zombie walk began—sadly, I wasn’t there to see it.  I lived in Prague at the time.  So this year I was extremely thrilled that a zombie walk was finally taking place in a city where I actually reside:  Berlin.

On a clear night at dusk, the Berliner zombies met outside the Gothic ruins of Klosterkirche and shambled through the streets to finally invade Alexanderplatz and strike terror and joy in equal parts to anyone who happened to be in their path. At various intervals in the terror schedule, several zombies danced a choreographed routine to the music of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’



The range of costume creativity was as diverse as the zombie figure itself:  some of the zombie walkers had white faces with yellow eyes and bloody mouths; others had gray faces with black circles around the eyes.  One tech geek zombie had a bloody hole in his shirt and a mass of wriggling worms moving within.  I looked at my photographer friend and said ‘That’s probably a smart phone app of some kind.’


These are only a few of the many photos I took while stumbling, shuffling and shambling along with the Berliner zombie horde on Saturday night.  Please feel free to click here to see the full horror.  And don’t hesitate to visit my website and contact me for your next photography or zombography project in BerlinPrague or beyond…