Thursday, 2 August 2018

Digital Disruption!


or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Binary Bomb.





Recently I heard the term 'digital disruption' while shooting a marketing event in Berlin. Marketing professionals expressed concern over the digital wave which is sweeping old business and marketing methods under a binary tidal wave of ones and zeroes. The only thing to fear about inevitable change is the ability to run with it. Rather than being afraid of some robot taking your job, just think of technology as providing you with cooler tools and toys to play with.

The Ages


I live the Information Age, which is preferable to living in the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, or the Dark Ages. I'm a photographer, so in a different age I suppose I would have been the cave painter, the sword engraver, or the sketch artist at the village fair. But I love the digital disruption happening in photography equipment. I'm a right proper Old School Photographer who once rolled celluloid into metal cameras and spent too many hours breathing dangerous chemicals in dark rooms just to get a few black-and-white images onto the pages of the weekly hometown newspapers. Now I can breathe easy knowing I'm not polluting my lungs or the water table with my photo chemicals, and I can see and share the instant results of my work with clients, friends, and the world. Nowadays only hipsters shoot with film.

Kodachrome


That sweet slide film Paul Simon sang about was the best photography product of the analogue age. No better image could be acquired on any medium at the time. Film negatives yielded grainy results, the higher the ISO, the worse they looked in print. But those incredible positive dyes in Kodachrome required incredibly negative chemical nastiness and mess to process. One of my early college photography professors once said: “My students ask me when I will teach another Kodachrome processing class. I answer: Have you heard of the second coming of Christ? Well, the semester after that.” Kodachrome looks fantastic, but nobody wants to deal with the ugly chemical process. It was eventually phased out completely in the U.S. I remember sending my last roll of Kodachrome to be processed in a lab in Texas. There's even a film 'Kodachrome' with Ed Harris as an old school photographer.

“We're preservationists, by nature.
We take pictures to stop time...to commit moments to eternity.
Human nature made tangible.”


 - Ben, 'Kodachrome' 2017


The digital age of photography hit like a monsoon in the new millennium. Before that, only fools would pick up those cheesy, pixelated brick cameras and try to work with them. It wasn't until 2005 that I bought my first digital camera. I was still shooting negs at that time, and one day I had just come to the Prague photo lab to collect my payload of negatives from a week-long photojournalism assignment for a Portuguese magazine called Visao.

Czechs are not known for their friendly customer service, which at the best of times is like trying to tickle a smile out of a badger. But when the photo lab monkey said they hadn't processed my film yet (they only had a week to do it), I showed them his manager's signature on a receipt promising Friday delivery. “Oh” said the lab monkey, “He's in the cottage.” So I wrested my unprocessed photo negatives from his lethargic hands, handed them to the Portuguese reporter, who returned to Lisbon with them. I never saw my negatives again. I got paid for the job and got a copy of the magazine, but a photographer would rather lose a kidney than his negatives. The very week after I bought my first digital camera and never looked back. No more dirty chemicals, no more waiting on monkeys, and no more losing my negatives. Technology solved many problems in one fell swoop.

Disrupt This


While the tools of the trade got better, they also paved the way for a new generation of posers to enter the arena. With increasingly impressive digital cameras being made every year, the technical skills required to make an image became meaningless. Now seemingly any chump with a credit card and a website could throw up their best 10 shots and call themselves a photographer. This type of disruption diluted the pool of real photographers, and many of us were rightly pissed off. But this wasn't just about how the new cameras made it possible for a greater number of people to take better pics. It was about the digital disruption of professional photographers' marketing and networking.


With so many thousands of photographers out there floating in the cyber-sea, old school shooters now had to master social media, SEO key wording, and blogging just to keep from drowning in a sea of amateurs with a few pretty pics and a mastery of narcissistic self promotion. And as always, the professional photographer needs to stay aware of the changing trends in photography. How does a photographer trained in photojournalism get work when newspapers are falling faster than the trees needed to print them? I once shot mainly weddings in Prague in a documentary style. Now, fashion weddings are popular again, the field is flooded with fashion photographers, and the destination wedding industry has moved to other cities.

Now I mainly shoot commercial events. My skills in photographing people have shifted focus, as it were. And as one city loses its charm as a destination for commercial events, I am happy to trot around Europe with my camera to see new cities hosting corporate events. I do sometimes miss the days of black-and-white films and the rich, silvery tones in archival prints. Even then, I was trotting around Europe rolling my own film and processing it in portable tanks. Only the joy of travel remained constant.

Some things never change.



Wednesday, 7 February 2018

New Year, New Website

I just finished my new website!  Please feel free to give it a test spin, and contact me with any feedback.  Last year I was fortunate enough to cover events in Berlin, Prague, Ljubljana, and Lisbon (twice!).  I'm available to cover your event or wedding anywhere in Europe.

Check out my new website!



Monday, 5 September 2016

Game On!

Another Tech Event Photo Shoot in Berlin


 

One of the best things about photographing events in Berlin is the unique variety of venues in which I get to work. One week I'll be on the deck of a boat plowing slowly down the Spree, and the next I'll be in a open courtyard photographing men in business suits spraying graffiti on walls as a team building exercise.

  
 


I recently photographed another tech event in the riverside event hall Arena Berlin, a massive 1920s bus depot-turned-armory-turned-refugee-camp-turned abandoned Berlin building. The huge urban space of Berlin is littered with hundreds of such buildings, which have withstood the tests of time and wars to be reclaimed for modern use.




Brick walls and vaulted, cantilevered ceilings held thousands of convention delegates playing a new game: advertising and providing online gaming software, servers and safe havens for the multi-billion dollar online gaming industry. A space which once smelled of bus exhaust fumes is now home to the smell of hot waffles being made fresh and handed out to hungry attendees to munch on during breaks. At the other end of the sprawling space is a gaming bar with baristas brewing up vitamin J in ample networking spaces.

 


I must photograph all speakers and audiences at each stage, but I am also interested in the fine details unique to each event: the brick figures pushing out of the exterior of the hall, the soft light beaming through skylights over iron beams, and a Berliner's bicycle chained to a drain pipe. A friendly fussball table competition between attendees is always a good photo op.



After the work day, a walk between buildings leads you to the Badeschiff, a floating swimming pool forged out of the hull of an old river barge, and a stroll down a graffiti-blasted alleyway leads to the new location of White Trash Fast Food, a mainstay of the Berlin music and food with 'tude scene. Just beyond is one of my favorite river bars in Berlin: Club der Visionaere, where you can test your balance while drinking cocktails on floating decks.


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For more information on event photography in Berlin, Prague and the rest of Europe,

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.