Intermission

In a few weeks I’ll be leaving Bulgaria for good in the first of three transcontinental moves that will eventually see me wash up in Guangzhou in China two years from now. The last month has been, and the next few weeks will be, hectic and there will be no time for blogging. So I’ve decided its time to put this blog to bed for now. I may restart it at a later date or I may reappear in a new guise somewhere else. Thanks for looking and thanks for the comments.

St. Florian – Sophienkirche

St Florian is the Roman Catholic parish church, Sophienkirche is the Lutheran church. While they have separate worship spaces they share the same complex – the Munich-Riem Church Centre. Some commentators dislike this building because of its simplicity and minimalist look, but I like it for precisely those reasons. The church complex was built to serve the needs of parishioners in the neighbourhood of Riem on the edge of Munich. The area was was the site of Munich’s old airport and following its closure in 1992 there was a multi-year redevelopment of the site with the church centre opening in 2005.

Fuji Superia Xtra 400

Here are a few more shots taken with the Fujifilm Superia Xtra film. I find the grain in the first shot particu;arly off-putting and it’s only marginally better in the fourth shot, which is my favourite from the roll. I believe this is one of the many films Fujifilm are pulling from the market. If so, it’s no great loss.

Fujifilm Superia Xtra 400

Disappointing. I expected more from this film. Partly because it is from Fujifilm. Partly because the results from the last colour 400 film I tried – Kodak Ultramax – were unexpectedly good. While images from this film taken in good light look well, once shadows appear so does the grain to a much greater extent than with the Kodak film. While it is small and relatively uniform this only makes it worse since it contributes to a kind of smudged appearance at times. Harder, more random grain would be better. So, a decent film on a bright day but a distant second to the Ultramax when shooting in the shade.

Here are a few archtectural shots taken mostly in the full light of the day.

21 Rolls

Less than ten weeks left and 21 rolls of film. I’ll be leaving Bulgaria for good in mid-August and while doing a little organising I opened the bag I keep my film in. Twenty-one rolls. I don’t recall buying that much since I prefer to pick up only a few rolls at a time, so I’m not at all sure where they all came from.

I probably thought I would have more time for photography while here, but then work came along and the hours disappeared. The COVID-19 restrictions didn’t help either – though I think that was more a matter of affecting my mental attitude rather than any legal or physical constraints.

So, back in Bulgaria but still off work after a long weekend in Munich, I dusted off my Minolta XD, loaded it up with Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400, and headed out for a leisurely walk through the city. I haven’t previously used this film and as far as I know Fujifilm are gradually withdrawing it from the market. So if it turns out to be wonderful, too bad.

I also decided to use my 135mm Rokkor MD f2.8 which I have had for a while but rarely used since I nearly always shoot somewhere between 35mm and 70 mm. Since Superia is an ISO400 film and it was a bright day most of the time I was shooting the lens at f11 or f16. At the end of the afternoon I dropped the film off at my local developers and I’m now in that period of anticipation, waiting to see if some of the shots that I think were quite good live up to my expectations, anf if some of the ones I’ve dismissed or forgotten turn out to be not too bad after all. I will, of course, post the best of them here when I get the scans.

Tomorrow is another day off and I’m hoping to shoot at least one more roll.

René Burri

I’ve always liked the photographs of René Burri. Burri came from Switzerland and was a longtime member of the Magnum Agency. His documentary work and his portraits appeared in many of the great news magazines. I picked up the major retrospective of his work, simply titled Photographs, a few year ago and recently acquired the two volume work, Mouvement.

I read a number of obituaries when he passed away in 2014 and was intrigued by a comment in the one which appeared in The Guardian. Amanda Hopkinson wrote:

A commission might provide him with the means to visit a new region, but then he would extend his stay, to ‘get beneath the surface’. It is almost possible to tell how long Burri stayed in a particular place by how close he got to his subjects: two monks performing deep bows to one another before a temple in Kyoto are in long shot; later shots are taken in close-up, inside the monastery.

I expect great photographers to be the sort of people who can land in a new situation and instinctively comprehend and record that world. The idea that a photographer of Burri’s calibre needed time to find his way under the surface of a new place came as quite a revelation, for this is my situation. For me it takes time, often a long time, to move beyond the general and the sweeping and begin to get closer, to understand a place and a people and try to represent that. It’s good to know I’m in good company. Of course for Burri it may have been not so much that he needed time, but that he took time. Either way, I find it an encouraging thought.

There is a great short video from PORT magazine of Burri discussing a number of his photographs on Vimeo.

Here is another short video from Phaidon Press shows Burri discussing his colour work at the time of the launch of Impossible Reminiscences.

Ragnar Axelsson – Fjallaland

On a visit to Reykjavik in 2018 I spent a morning at the Museum of Photography, one of five sites making up the Reykjavik City Museum. The Museum holds a collection of over 6 million images dating back to 1860 and around 35,000 of these are accessible online. The exhibition spaces are relatively small but the works on display when I was there were excellent – definitely a case of quality over quantity. The museum also has a library of photography books and while browsing these I came across several by Ragnar Axelsson. I was vaguely aware of Axelsson, but had never looked closely at his work, so this was still something of a new discovery.

Of the books by Axelsson available in the library Fjallaland was the most striking. The books subject is the annual autumn round up of sheep that have spent the summer grazing in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and are being brought down from this highland region for the winter. Axelsson has followied the farmers who take part in the round up for more than two decades, photographing them and the rugged volcanic landscape of the region. The result is a stunning collection, part documentary and part landscape.

I decided I wanted my own copy but a search on the usuals sources showed only a few new copies available which were selling for $300 and upwards, with used copies not much less and often more. So it seemed best to try to find it locally. One Icelandic retailer did claim to have it in stock on their website but when I visited the bricks and mortar outlet they had never heard of it. Another I tried turned out to a fashionable clothes store that also sold a few photobooks and CDs of Icelandic music on the side. When I asked the sales assistant she started wandering round the store searching on random shelves and bits of old furniture that served as display stands for the clothes but also had a few scattered books. So I joined in. And then I found it. The last copy in stock. Some negotiation on price and it was mine for an acceptable $80.

The book itself starts with a satellite image of the Fjallaland region, then a number of aerial shots that give a sense of the landscape, before bringing us to ground level with the farmers as they go about their work. Apart from the aerial images all the pictures are shot in a punchy monochrome. There is some descriptive text scattered throughout but since mine is the Icelandic version I have no idea what it says. No matter, the pictures are what counts.

What makes this project stand out, I think, from his other books I have seen is the concentrated focus on one community, one event, and one location. The project and the book have a coherence that is often lacking in photobooks of more broadly based projects. That Axelsson has been visiting the same community of farmers year after year for decades must create a sense of familiarity and ease with the photographer and his camera that facilitates great images. There is a certain timelessness to the pictures, as though they could have been taken anytime in the last hundred years. Only the ocasional presence of a Land Rover or a truck reminds you that this is a – more or less – contemporary event.

I would highly recommend this book if the images here appeal to you but you will need to have a sizeable book buying budget since it is out of print. I have not seen my Icelandic version on sale anywhere for some time and the English version, Behind the Mountains, goes for 800 – 900 dollars / pounds / euros when it occasionally comes up for sale.

LINKS
  • A selection of images from the book can be found on Axelsson’s website.
  • There are also interviews with Axelsson herehere and here.
  • There is an 80 minute documentary made by a Greek television company on YouTube. The video covers the subject of this book at around 50 minutes with some spectacular aerial views of the landscape. The documentary is mostly in English though the conversations in Icelandic are subtitled in Greek only.

Featured Collectives

Another day, another street photography book from New York, London, Paris (though perhaps not Paris so much these days given French privacy laws). There’a a big world out there and for all the growth of digital photography and online photo sharing much of it remains hidden. So from time to time it’s a treat to come across a photographer, or in this case a photographers’ collective, showing us someplace or something new or rarely seen. In this case the collective is simple called ‘Featured Collectives’ and the place is (mostly) Myanmar.

I was fortunate enough to visit Myanmar in 2015, at a time when the country was opening up after the years of military dictatorship, and before that same military siezed power again earlier this year. I didn’t take nearly enough photographs, since I was visiting with friends, but Yangon where I stayed was clearly a wonderful photographic subject.

© Aung Win

Back in Manila, where I was living at the time, I later came across ‘Featured Collectives’ and their book of street photography on the Invisible Photographer Asia website and eventually tracked down copies of the book at Riceball in Singapore. So on my next visit to the city I stopped by and picked up one of the two remaining copies.

© Min Zayer Oo

The driving force behind ‘Features Collectives’ is Chit Min Maung. Witnessing the growth of street photography across the region, but aware that Myanmar was getting left behind, he established ‘Featured Collectives’ to help drive the development of street photography by Myanmar photographers. The book was published in 2016 alongside an exhibition in Yangon of work by the collective.

The photographs are an interesting mix. Unlike some street photography groups there is no attempt to enforce a particular style or definition of what consitutes street photography, and the book is all the better for that. There are more than 200 photographs in the book, by at least 20 photographers (I didn’t try to count them all). Most of the images are from Myanmar and Yangon in particular but there are also pictures from Myanmar photographers based in Singapore, Bali and Bangladesh. There are many good pictures in here and plenty of great pictures.

© Yu Yu

The one let down is the quality of the printing, though whether that is a matter of cost or a lack of publishers able to print at sufficiently high quality is not clear. Despite that you can still appreciate the many great images in here and a number of them can also be seen online where they often look better.

© Soe Than Htike

‘Featured Collectives’ is still on the go and has a website where members of the group post regularly. Of late, as a result of the political upheavals in the country, the group has been shooting more documentary photography as members have joined the crowds protesting against the military coup. Both the website and their Facebook page are regularly updated with pictures from the protests, and the Facebook page has a strong statement of their opposition to the coup.

These more recent pictures are a reminder that photography is not just a matter of fun, or simply a creative outlet, but that it has an important role to play in revealing what is happening in our world for good or ill, often beyond the reach or interest of the professional media. I once thought I would like to get back to Yangon and spend more time phtographing. That seems like a distant prospect now, but this book is a great reminder of my brief time there and an insight into the big world beyond New York, London (and Paris).

LINKS

Where to buy: This might be a challenge, though the book is still listed for sale on Chit Min Maung’s website and the Featured Collectives website for $35.