intimacy

Egoism, inspiration, and consumerism

Why do artists create?

- They want to change the world! (=inspiration)

How can they do that?

- By reaching the masses! (=consumerism)

Who do they want to change the world?

- Make it better! (=egoism)

For whom do they want to make the world better?

- For other?! For themselves?!

This was taking me into the territories of anthropology - because documentation of the human existence is rife with questions of fulfillment, of change, of inspiration and egoism, and of consumerism. From the early days of the human tribe, we have been exchanging goods, we have been looking for the things we need (and things we also want) and have given away things we had in excess, be it money, or food, or shelter, or one of the other Maslow layers. And all for the self-actualization, for finding peace with oneself. I look around and wonder why I want to get a deeper grasp of the systems we live in. Is it all just some misfiring (and mis-wiring) in my brain? What is the link between all of the beautiful things that one surrounds oneself with and the type of creative work one does? Isn't this where inspiration comes from? Isn't creativity like 5-grade physics: energy doesn't get lost, it just transforms?

Elizabeth Gilbert writes: "With all respect to the Buddha and to the early Christian celibates, I sometimes wonder if all this teaching about nonattachment and the spiritual importance of monastic solitude might be denying us something quite vital. Maybe all that renunciation of intimacy denies us the opportunity to ever experience that very earthbound, domesticated, dirt-under-the-fingernails gift of difficult, long-term, daily forgiveness." and this is the things about creativity - one has to lose all restraints from the wheel, and let the cart drive on its own. 

In photography, I often forget when I am taking pictures and when not. I do want to get my hands dirty, I want to be ignorant of what the person is saying and I want to be participating in what the person is telling me; I want to be there and yet to look from aside; I want to be one with the camera, and yet want to feel that it is a tool; I want to record intimacy; I want to record the moment that person sees only me and no one else in the conversation. And I want this for my own actualization - for my own satisfaction of fulfillment and peace. And I also know that I want them to feel satisfied and fulfilled from this exchange - of a service, really.

An exchange of a service - sounds..., what? "Cheap"? "Impersonal"? "Non-conversational"? It is all that perhaps. But that's the only way to get through, to learn to firgive, to learn to understand and to listen, to smile and frown, to tell the truth. 

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It's not the camera, stupid! It is the people that you love!

Already after my first post on the new website, I feel different about photography.

It used to be the case that most io my posts and photos would be taken during my morning or evening jogging and they would be of nature or of architectural quality or of animals (if anything animate at all). But all of a sudden after verbalizing what photography means to me, i.e. intimate communication, I cannot help but keep my finger off the shutter unless there are people in view. Street photos have become more contemplative, less sporadic, more measured. Sure, I love looking at the setting sun and the beautiful light it produces, the way it shines through the leaves, the way it warms up even the coldest of hearts (mine). But I keep wishing that person A and person B and everyone else and beyond the alphabet were here. They don't need to be aware of my presence - I'll be just taking pictures. Simple as that. From the distance (but not too far), right next to them (but not intrusive). And that will be my drug. I don't need more.

Does one need more to be happy? Expensive equipment? Fancy lenses? Fast shutter speed, mega- mega- pixels, complex flash systems, filters, photoshop, ... ?

No. 

And I even deleted those lenses from my eBay watch list and started saving: so I can go and meet each one of my alphabet people: those that I think of constantly. Don't save for equipment, save for vacation! There is no greater joy than photographing the people you love. Did you get lactose intolerance from all this cheesiness?

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At what point does a photograph become too intimate?

I think about photography as a most intimate form of communication. I do not refer to what we see in magazines or on billboards. Nor do I mean the street photographs that give the traveller tips about the world or its people. Nor do I mean the documentary photography which takes up a distant, detached angle on the intimacy of misery. And I do not mean the intimacy of love or nudity. What I mean is the intimacy of non-verbal, metaphoric, symbolic communication captured by the stillness of the shutter speed.

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Who is saying more: the photographer who captures that moment (having first provoked it with a question, a word, a glass of wine, hours and hours of chatting...), the subject of the photograph (having become comfortable with that bright reflective black eye made out of layers of glass), or the people who would look at the photograph (seeing, through the eye of the photographer, trying to do a Theory-of-mind exercise penetrating the boundary between their own reality and that of the person with the camera: they become the true photographer themselves?).

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I often feel frustrted seeing the pictures in fashion magazines, on facebook photography pages, and blogs: if you were an alien to visit us from the future and look at our portrayal of ourselves, you've got to conclude that we are miserable, depressed, and in need of affection. Growing up in Easter Europe post '89, I've seen this sadness engraved in each pore of people's faces. Now, with camera in hand, I find it difficult to push the button without the presence of a smile. You know those cameras that can take a picture once they detect a smile in the frame? I am that kind of camera. And I am lucky to have people in my life who have the glow. The ability of people to shine through the lights of the city, or the setting sun, or the candle is what inspires me every time to look them in the eyes and carry on with the ritual. 

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In the process of putting a smile oneself, I take a picture of that shared moment - shared only between the two of us - that moment reveals who the person is, what she dreams of, where she travels, where she came from, what we talk about, what she thinks of me. In a sense, the process of taking such intimate portraits is a process of self-portraiture - gathering the pieces of the puzzle that make up the self: after all those people are part of my life for no casual reason. What is it that makes them a unique addition to my life? In these pictures, I no longer see the other person 'in that moment', nor do I see myself in that moment - I see a dynamic system that changes with every click of the mechanical clock, with every thunderbold and thunder, with every splash of the water. It is a system that minutes, hours, days, months, or years later will be stripping even more of its shields. And that's true intimacy.

It’s the people that make the place!?

“Perhaps it is all due to my elevated level of sleep-deprivation – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t sleep the entire night. Perhaps it is due to my overflowing social schedule – in fact, I can’t remember when I had spent so much quality time with people.”

That’s what I wrote as the start of this post more than 5 weeks ago. And as if I needed a reminder, but I kept coming back to this. Day after day, things reminded me back of Jacobs – a reference letter to draft, a personal feedback/advice to give, a letter from a friend to read through tears, a cushion with printed memories on it (memories that ring with crystal clarity of coco nut and sunshine), and every time I stared in the distance in contemplation (you know, like they do in the movies staring into the picture frames above the mantelpiece), I would see flashes of the past 3 years at Jacobs University (the electronic picture frame that I got from Mr. Laine-Naida – my satiric cynic). And those flashes will not have a logo on them, will not have a name on them, will not have numbers or grades or interview questions, or stats home works, … Those flashes are the theater performances, the laughter at the bar (I can’t hear the sound but I can feel it), the cooking contest, the wine tastings, the early rowing trainings, the presentation skills workshops, the tea evenings before physics home works, the paper studio dreams, … And i would remember all the people who have touched me – and who helped me realize: it is not the place that makes the people, and it is not the people that makes the place.

It is a fruitless endeavor to try to find the egg in the situation and i refuse to do so but I know this: those people are in my heart and that place with them is in my heart. And it could not have been better to have the better memories imprinted on the digital chip of the camera of the past year and a quarter. (if I look statistically, there was a constant increase in the number of pictures I’ll take per month – they call that “growth” in the business world which is an indication for success).

(Don’t you dare attach any meaning to the order)

Diana, Anika, Carin, Marja, Theresa, Anna L., Suna, Mareike, Jons, Venja, Anna L. (another one), Max, Iza, Dragos, Rebecca, Viki, Cornelia, Katja, Helmuth, Wiebke, Nora, Lea, Arvid, Margrit, Mina, Steffi, Carmen, Domnique, Nathalie, Romina, Cornelia, Lizzy, Marie, Alexander, Imke, Peter W., Tonia, Claudia, Warren, Kerstin, Ulf, Mitul, Gerry, Nik, Sophie, Esther, And the many many many many many many many many others who came for a career advice and who inspired me with their sparkle, their curiosity, their transparency, their honesty, their desires. I am at peace!

(no single photograph can summarize my bow to the people). (and no, this has nothing to do with this evil thing called “regrets” – I love my choice to take up the new job – in fact this ramble-of-a-realization is a confirmation that it was a great choice – because being out of the place, doesn’t make me out of place with the great people.)

This could be an ad. But it isn't. It is the great Naida-Laine family.
Marja - playing for me and the world, as if on stage
We are emotional creatures
"That color would look ugly on me"
The wedding of Carin and Roy!
Jons in the midst of his ferver
Plotting where to get the next tattoo ...
Cornelia and her warmth
Imke making a face for my benefit
The great Tonia channeling her nervousness before the PhD defense
Cooperation at hand
The peace of being with a friend
Dancing on the top of a parking lot after hours