CUBA

CubaThe stories are true, Cuba is passion, heat, decay, music and vintage cars but so much more. After a regrettably short visit my mind and my mind’s eye are bursting with sounds and colours, people and sensations. I travelled with a small group of keen photographers in a coach over dusty pock-marked roads from Havana to CienFuego, to Trinidad and Santa Clara and finally back to Havana. My amigos also visited Vinales but a short interlude with the excellent Cuban health system prevented me from joining them. Frui runs holidays (with a photographic tutor) to Cuba and many other great destinations.

We flourished in the expert guidance of Giselle our Cuban chaperone and our driver Candito, who both went far beyond the call of duty to find us the perfect places and situations for our photographic purposes.

Cuba is not an easy country to understand, its history is complex and thrilling. Stuck as it is with the US trade embargo still in place, the Cubans are short of all sorts of modern and everyday products which are so familiar to us. Cuba is not short of welcome and rhythm. The salsa beat is with you day and night, sit down in a cafe and within moments a live band will be serenading you and musicians set up in the street in the most unlikely places. Tourism is Cuba ‘s money-maker, life there will change very quickly when the Castro dynasty ends, tourism will be the big draw for foreign entrepreneurs, who no doubt will suck away all the profits leaving the Cubans to make what they can with an infra-structure that has been starved of regeneration funds for more than 50 years.

Havana

Happy to be potographed for a small fee of 5 Cuban Pesos (c. 2p)
Happy to be photographed for a small fee of 5 Cuban Pesos (c. 2p)
There are not many new books to be had but there are good libraries and second-hand book stalls and shops abound.
There are not many new books to be had but there are good libraries and second-hand book stalls and shops abound.
Cuban life is lived on the streets, everyone has a chair or a box to sit on.
Cuban life is lived on the streets, everyone has a chair or a box to sit on.
Dusk
Dusk
Dawn
Dawn
1930's Bacardi building and vintage car
1930’s Bacardi building and vintage car
Spanish colonial style arcades provide welcome shelter from the sun as well as torrential rain. Tiny shops open at random selling hot drinks or cakes.
Spanish colonial style arcades provide welcome shelter from the sun as well as torrential rain. Tiny shops open at random selling hot drinks or cakes.
The heat and humidity slows you down, nothing is done in a rush, sit a while on a bench and enjoy the banter
The heat and humidity slows you down, nothing is done in a rush, sit a while on a bench and enjoy the banter
Education is free for everyone, school uniform included.
Education is free for everyone, school uniform included.
There is music playing everywhere, even outside this long-abandoned building supposedly being re-constructed.
There is music playing everywhere, even outside this long-abandoned building supposedly being re-constructed.

Berlin – Architecture, Streets and People

Thomas - Expert Guide
Thomas – Expert Guide, joining the coach in Potsdamer Platz

One day in Berlin is not enough – of course! I was there to visit the Bauhaus Archives, the most comprehensive representation of information about the mid 20th C design school. I also enjoyed a 3 hour coach tour with a certain Thomas who was the most informed and amusing guide I have ever met. He skilfully took us around or past every historic point, every breath-taking piece of modern architecture with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything Berlin has to offer the coach-bound traveller. Due to lack of time we could only leave the coach twice and for just a few moments, so many of  the photos are compromised by having been taken through the coach window as the coach was moving.

Jewish Museum - Daniel Libeskind
Jewish Museum – Daniel Libeskind’s radical, zigzag design

Just one photograph hardly does justice to this complex building, light and shadows dance across the angled facades and jagged chasms and take your breath away.  Daniel Libeskind

Berlin Hauptbahnhof - Meinhard von Gerkan

Berlin Hauptbahnhof – Meinhard von Gerkan

Meinhard von Gerkan The station looks particularly marvellous at night, streaks of light gliding through and out of the enormous glazed tube of a roof.

Topographie Des Terrors - Ursula Wilms (Heinle, Wischer and Partner) and the landscape architect Professor Heinz W. Hallmann
Topographie Des Terrors – Ursula Wilms (Heinle, Wischer and Partner) and the landscape architect Professor Heinz W. Hallmann

The external structure of steel rods or shafts catch the light and cast shadows giving the whole structure a nebulous appearance, quite the antithesis of the stern buildings that preceded it under the Third Reich. Ursula Wilm

The New Art Gallery - Mies Van de Rohe
The New Art Gallery – Mies Van de Rohe
Deutsches Technikmuseum - Helge Pitz and Hoh
Deutsches Technikmuseum – Helge Pitz and Hoh
IBA Housing - Zaha Hadid
IBA Housing – Zaha Hadid
Berlin Shell Haus – 1932 – designed by German architect Emil Fahrenkamp. Noted for its striking wave-like façade, and for being one of the first steel-framed high-rise buildings in Berlin.

Lots more building projects underway.
Judging by the number of cranes on the skyline, there are many more building projects underway.
bicycle and shed
Bicycle, tarpaulin and timber shed
Fluorescent jacket
Fluorescent Jacket

At first sight this appears to be a man with no head! Actually he is bending his scarf-covered head forward sharply in order to better read his phone.

Daimler Chrysler  - Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Steps at Daimler Chrysler – Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

I was too close to be able to capture much of the facade but I love the steps. Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

CyclistCyclist

Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights – including the expert installer
Berliners 2
Two smart Berliners going about their business
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Berlin woman
IMG_6649
Hemispherical concrete bollards – what a lovely curve
IMG_6617
Replica of Checkpoint Charlie, complete with actor/soldiers – watched over by Albert Einstein
IMG_6540
An ingenious and space-saving bicycle rack, German bikes seem to be characterised by a curved crossbar making them look very decorative in pairs.
IMG_6510
The Colour Pillar in the garden of  the Bauhaus Archive – Walter Gropius

Bauhaus Archive

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon

For the first time I braved the challenge of walking down Snowdon, I had taken the train up but walked down via the Pyg track. It was a scorching day in late July, I was with four friends, all probably fitter than I. It started off well enough, the views were spectacular, I had plenty of water and the route was well known to our leader, I was enjoying it immensely. But after a long tiring struggle – downwards walking is so hard on the knees – I was enjoying it a lot less.  Using the last of my energy I pushed on a bit faster, to end the seemingly interminable descent a little quicker. I lost sight of the others but sensibly stopped and waited. The sun was behind Snowdon and the light was falling across the ridge, I hoped I might just be able to take a good photograph as one or other of them appeared over the intermediate horizon.

I was pleased when the first one to appear was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, silhouetted against the light. Just seconds later the composition might have been spoiled by the appearance of two other walkers following behind, in fact the tops of their heads are just visible, catching the sunlight to the right.

The rest of the descent took another hour, nearly five in all but well worth it for the exhilaration, the views and that one photograph.

A Woman in Contemplation

On the upper level of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul you can look out through windows, guarded by a fine mesh to keep out the birds, towards a gilded spire. It is pretty dark inside with inky shadows set against the intensely blue sky outside. Photographically it was a challenge to get the balance of light right so that one can see into the shadows without losing sight of the spire.

I took many photos on different settings trying to replicate what I could actually see by just looking at the scene. Whilst peering through the tiny viewfinder, I was not fully aware of the figure who had stopped in front of me, I didn’t see her properly until I reviewed the photos later on a computer. She appears to be a serene figure in contemplation of this great spiritual place, head bowed as though in prayer, the sun lighting up  the top of her red scarf and her right hand. The scene has something of the Caravaggio Chiaroscuro style of painting about it.Hagia Sophia dark

I liked the image so much I began to adjust it slightly for exposure and began to see a very different scenario developing from the shadows. The atmosphere and mood changes utterly once the shadows are lightened, only then you can see the Smurf toy attached to the woman’s backpack. It changes from a study of spiritual contemplation into  just another one of the thousands of mildly curious tourists who pass through the Hagia Sophia every day, perhaps just stepping back off a bench and looking down for her foothold, after trying to peer out of the window. Nothing is as it first seemed.Hagia Sophia

Where Light Falls – Exhibition at Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop

Diane and Geoff of Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop are mounting the third year of their annual open submission photography exhibition, opening on Saturday 19th October in Machynlleth, Powys until 27th November 2013.

There are 47 exhibitors altogether, Diane and Geoff chose to include “Blue Room” from the group of six photographs I submitted.

Blue Room
Blue Room

These are the others. It is a small gallery, so only one image per exhibitor is displayed on the walls but all the rest can be seen in a browser in the gallery.

The theme they proposed “Where Light Falls” could apply to any photograph in some way, it was an interesting opportunity to explore the effects of light in its own right rather than the objects or people being photographed, although the two can’t really be separated. Some of these photos were taken deliberately with the theme in mind, others simply seemed to fit, serendipity stepping in as in “That Look”.

Last Rays
Last Rays
Desk Lamp
Desk Lamp
Thames Embankment
Thames Embankment
32ºC in the Shade
32ºC in the Shade
Where Shadows Fall
Where Shadows Fall

That Look That Look

More from the Old House

There are so many corners of this perfectly marvellous house, here are just a few more that particularly caught my eye. A large white feather, from whose tail I know not, looks very fine resting on this old treasure box, decorated with nail-heads.
box
What dainty feet – the owner of these these faux? snakeskin shoes has left them here to make sure the ancient oak treads are not harmed by their metal heel studs, they sit here waiting patiently for her to return so that they may resume some marvellous adventure whilst protecting her feet.
shoes
The current inhabitants of this great house are slowly discovering the depths of its history, painted designs on the window reveal, buried beneath more modern plasters and a unique example of painted oak panelling recorded as having been painted in the late 16th century. Standing in the great hall feels like a walk back in time, can I hear sounds from the early days or is it all in my head?
Wall painting

Wall painting

IMG_3912-1
IMG_3910-1

Lastly a glimpse into a more recent past, a cousin of the Thermos vacuum flask of my youth, which my mother filled with homemade ice-cream in summer or french onion soup in winter to take on picnics at the beach.
vacuum flask

Filtered Light and Shade

A visit to the sculpture park at Chateau Chaumont brought about an unexpected delight, part installation, part sculpture, by a Japanese artist, sending misty vapour into the landscape and providing a mystical medium for visitors to explore. The carefully arranged square of water/mist jets, set high up in the trees, emits a continuous cloud of vapour for around 5 minutes at 5 minute intervals. Meanwhile the mist responds to whatever windy eddies may prevail and wanders off over the adjacent lake or hangs about making the unwary visitor damp and soggy but inspired by the soft light filtered by the mist.

http://www.domaine-chaumont.fr/en_can_can-artistes?scat=4b&expandable=1

In the mist

In the mist 2

We visited another much smaller chateau at St Aignan, where the sweeping steps leading from the church below to the chateau courtyard above provided a delightful opportunity to play with shadows and light. The balustrade of sandstone, or is it limestone, worn away by rain, catches and disperses the early evening light.
balustrade

evening sun

Chateau steps

Later in the evening during a stroll through the village, we spied on people’s windows, shrouded in gaudy lace or masked by dimpled glass. We couldn’t make out whether this was a perfectly ordinary desk with its own desk-lamp in silhouette, or a more sinister creature biding its time before taking over the world.

desk-lamp