Kamen Bryag, Bulgarian Black Sea coast, 2014. Fuji X100 with +1.4 tele-adapter. Click on image to enlarge.
A road left unpaved in a village in the process of gentrification …
The photo above is one of a several I took last month to supplement a series I shot a decade or so ago in 6x9cm format on black/white negative film using a tripod-mounted technical camera. The subject of the original series: Village roads receding into the horizon on a seaside plateau. The series was shot using small aperture settings so as to achieve maximum depth of focus. The supplemental photos taken this summer were taken with my Fuji X100 fitted with the recently released +1.4x “50mm equivalent” tele-adapter. I took them at an aperture of f5.6, thereby throwing roads sufficiently out of focus to achieve abstraction but maintaining sufficient focus to keep road, vegetation, and farm houses recognizable. I was pleased with the combination of sharpness and soft-focus the X100 plus adapter was able to achieve. Over the next months I hope to scan, post, and print several of the original black/white images.
Roadside bench, village of Kamen Bryag, Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, 2014. Fuji X100 with +1.4 tele adapter. Click on image to enlarge.
Decades ago, when the village of Kamen Bryag was still an agricultural settlement, homes looked outwards and, in the hours before twilight, villagers sat on roadside benches to greet and gossip with passersby. Today, as the old agricultural generation dies off and the vacation villas of urbanites take their place, homes look inward and their inhabitants relax and socialize in the privacy of backyards and walled compounds.
Collapsed shed and unpruned tree, Village of Kamen Bryag, 2014. Details per photo above.
Lateral view of an abandoned early-20th-century mineral bath pavilion, Ovcha Kupel quarter, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2014. Canon G10 pocket camera. Click on image to enlarge.
Ovcha Kupel, a suburb at the very edge of Sofia, Bulgaria. For centuries, natural mineral water springs made Ovcha Kupel an ideal place for the washing of sheep prior to shearing — and thus its name in Bulgarian. It the late-19th and early-20th centuries, as Bulgarian’s self-consciously attempted to adopt a central-European rather than “oriental” identity, Ovcha Kupel became a spa location and later, as until today, a center for rehabilitation medicine. The old spa pavilion at Ovcha Kupel is derelict and crumbling, an irony as Sofia attempts to market itself as a “European Capital of Culture.” But — and please don’t spread the word too far! — one of “my” places in Sofia is a walled-in plazh (“beach”) adjacent to Ovcha Kupel’s rehabilitation hospital. Behind the wall of the plazh: mineral water showers (five plastic spigots actually), a mineral-water-filled pool big enough for a score of people to paddle and wade in, a “beach” of raked sand somewhat admixed with sin-bleached cigarette-butts and paper scraps, and a shaded lunch counter offering quite passable salads and delightfully cold beer. New York’s Hamptons, the French and Turkish rivieras, and the island archipelagos of Greece are fine for those who can afford them. For now, I settle for Ovcha Kupel.
The photo above was taken with a Canon G10, a camera that I’ve relegated to the shelf but still occasionally blow the dust off of and take for a walk. I still like the color palette that RAW files from the G10 renders but the poor dynamic range of the camera’s tiny sensor cameras can be seen in the blown-out sunlit areas at the right of the photo, which I’ve either enhanced or compromised further through a couple of quick attempts at remedial adjustment in Lightroom.
Musician playing tambur, Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, 2012. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.
Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul. An iconic urban promenade through which millions of pedestrians pass each week. Street musicians huddle along its edges, polished and amateur, youthful and worn. The music of some causes passersby to break stride, that of others attracts small crowds and elicits donations of coins and even banknotes.
Who are the musicians? The business card of the man portrayed in the photo below contained but a phone number and a single word: Kemanci, player of the Keman — a statement of identity and essence clearer and more revealing than any given or family name.
Two Photographic Moods
The photo above is a literal rendering, with strong blacks and whites. The photo below emphasizes grays and was shaped using the digital equivalents of what in the days of physical darkrooms was called dodging and burning, the channeling and blocking of light between negative and paper. Black/white digital processing is both a blessing and a curse: the absence of the physical properties of film and paper and of the effects of chemical processing, broadens possibilities but also eliminates worthy constraints and renders mute a valuable language of expression.
Keman player, istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, 2012. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.
Street Vendor, Vicinity of Egyptian Spice Market, Eminönü, Istanbul; +/-2000; Rolleiflex Xenotar ƒ2.8, black/white negative. Click on image to enlarge.
In a late-day moment of exuberance — or might it have been desperation? — a teen-aged street vendor of shmattes (forgive me the Yiddish-ism) suddenly punctuates his sales shpiel by tossing part of his stock of clothing into the air. I caught the moment while working with a manually focusing twin-lens Rolleiflex and a handheld light meter — no mean feat if I might say so myself.
I took the photo almost 15 years ago. Where is the the street vendor today? I have no idea, although another generation of vendors still line the narrow street running behind the Misr Çarş (Egyptian Spice Market) in Eminönü, Istanbul. I do know, however, where his photo can be seen: Large prints thereof hang on the walls of (my only two!) “collectors” (close friends, actually) in Istanbul, one, in Çukurcuma, a talented emerging cinematographer, and the other, in Kuzguncuk, a corporate executive with an uncanny eye for photographic composition and emotionality. Both of these friends also share a visceral feeling for the pressures, uncertainties, and seeming absurdities of commerce at the street level. Both also know that — in our age of urban gentrification, rising income disparities, and hegemony of “big-box” retailing — the roles and presences of urban street vendors and the people they serve are being made increasingly marginal and becoming fated to near or full extinction.