13 May 2013

Empty streets of noon with some sparkles of life

Sunday afternoon at the peak of the hot season; clear, bright, blue skies above, my tiny shadow below, my camera hanging from my neck and my forehead sweating. But I feel like walking the empty streets and see what there is to see around. With slow steps, I walk the silent alleys and take some simple pictures. There is no movement, just stillness. So I simply walk, stop, shoot, drink, and  resume my soothing walk.

Hibernating, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

 Unwelcome, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Color behind bars, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

At the end of a long, quiet soi there was a temple; I was expecting to find traces of saffron, glimpses of a robe hiding in the shades, novices defying the sun or sweeping fallen leaves from the floor, perhaps a dog, dozing in the cold marble of the shrine. But I did not. Again, all I found was silence, lethargy, peace: echoes of human activity, here and there, and a single human figure walking away from me.

Laundry, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Subtle steps, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

I reached the main road, and the noise of traffic reappeared. The smell of street food. The Seven Elevens. The pedestrian bridges. The BTS overhead line. And the homeless people waiting for a bit of charity along the long road.

Woman in a pink dress, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Big, busy roads make me feel uncomfortable, as I need to be aware of the traffic and the passing people more than of the scenery and surroundings, thus not being able to really concentrate on photographing. I guess it's a question of practice, and maybe with time I will become faster at multitasking in crowded environments, but as of today, I rather walk in a quieter environment, where I can focus all my senses just in walking, observing, and capturing light and moments. So I got on the first bus that passed by, and got off a few minutes later at a much more sedated area.

 Curious peek, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

 Duplicated cables, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Tools, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Lots of harsh shadows and plenty of unperturbed time to see, think, and capture. I walked slowly, watching the urban furniture, and most of the times I saw myself thinking in black and white, again, reinforcing my appreciation for this tonal universe. But there is so much color in this world, that sometimes it's just needed to catch the essence of some realities.

 Getting old, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Home, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

12 May 2013

Walking amidst city chaos: Pratunam

I had an appointment this morning at Central World, a shopping center in downtown Bangkok. It didn't take long and I had the camera in my backpack. The idea was to spend this warm, nice Saturday afternoon wandering the streets and taking pictures; I wanted to take a bus to some other area of the city less crowded and busy than this, but the traffic was specially congested today and so I found myself trapped in the hectic, always chaotic Pratunam area. The number of people and vehicles is always high here so walking is not easy, much less comfortable, but I had no choice, and my hands were anxious to start watching, so I grabbed the camera and got into the multitude.

Through the glass, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Repetitions, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

It was very hot, but in this bustling part of the city there is no time to rest, and everyone goes ahead with their tasks no matter the time of the day or the weather condition: the street chef patiently stands under a big umbrella waiting for hungry customers, the cobbler carefully polishes some worn-out leather sitting in a plastic stool, the fruit seller skilfully cuts the pineapple in curious shapes as he/she sweats under the sun, the buses roar along the streets... In short: a normal day in Pratunam.

Street tailor, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Work luggage, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Bus station I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Bus station II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

The light was so blinding and flat that I decided to try some monochrome captures, focusing my attention mostly in areas and subjects of big contrast rather than colors, and I soon realized how different is the process of "seeing" if you take color out of the question altogether and focus solely in luminosity and contrast. The brights were really too bright and the darks, in opposition, pitch black, so the sensor definitely could not cope with such massive dynamic range. But, in that scenario, all I tried to do is keep the main subject in a good exposure, and let the rest fall wherever it should.

Light frame, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Recess, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Dark corridor, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Arches, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

I'm really growing to like monochrome photography, it's a very different style that forces me to train my eyes to see differently, and I think I like some of the monochrome pictures the most. But I was feeling tired and dehydrated, and I decided to call it a day already to return home. But first I had a very unpleasant task to complete: waiting for the bus, as long as it would take, in the middle of the street.

 Waiting for the bus I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Waiting for the bus II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

2 May 2013

A detour that led into a discovery: Kacha

I was walking back home after lunch at the small shopping complex they have recently opened in my neighborhood, the camera in my hand, ready to shoot any interesting scene that I could catch on the familiar streets. There was nobody around, even the traffic felt distant and lazy at this time of day, so I walked, unperturbed, taking some pics in the lonely, bright lanes.

Rolling still, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Siesta, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

It feels strange, in a city as humongous as this, to walk completely in silence in the middle of the day, with only some birds (and dogs) giving a bit of life to a scenery that otherwise remains totally sedated and still. It is somehow a curious feeling, walking at a slow pace, taking time to observe every small detail without hurry, not needing to be in sync with the moving people or traffic, as it usually happens in street photography. All I could do today was just walk leisurely, looking around with observant eyes, trying to find nice, static subjects to shoot.

Light and shadows, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Ornaments, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

But, as calm and peaceful as this walk was, it was very sunny, my stomach was too full, and I started feeling a bit dozy, so I backtracked to the main road and the return to a normal, busy street suddenly felt like a steep hill ahead. At the moment when I started wondering if I should just take a bus to go home and resume the photowalk later, I saw the small stairs descending from the bridge I was crossing, leading into a narrow, winding and tempting shaded path along a small canal I never knew it was there. And so my small detour started. Welcome to Kacha.

The vessel, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

I'm used to Khlong San Saep, the busy, wide canal that crosses Bangkok carrying around countless things, alive and dead, so Kacha seemed at first little more than a small and dark stream of filthy waters. However, there is never such a thing as "narrow" in Bangkok, for you will always find a house, a shop, even a garden in the tiniest of spaces. So, seeing that the tight alleyway went straight into what looked like a very packed, interesting community of little houses perched along the canal, I knew that that meant photographic opportunities, so I ventured myself inside.

Umbrellas, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

I could not see many faces, for this is the time of day when most Thais stay indoors, well protected from the fierce rays of tropical afternoon sun, but I could feel the presence of hundreds of people living in those tiny and precarious huts, on both sides of the canal. I just walked along, curious to see all things around me, surprised at how a place like that could be just meters away from the big stadium and luxurious hotels that spread along the main road.

Clothes, helmets & antenna, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

There were also totally ruined little huts, no doubt, where not so long ago, families used to live and go ahead with their lives the same way the rest of the neighbor houses still do today. At first glance, they don't look that dissimilar to the huts that are still inhabited (most of them), but a closer look soon reveals subtle and mayor differences, the main one for me being the absence of clothes hanging outside. That is an instant sign of abandonement.

Decay, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

But, once again, the complexity of this city struck me right in the face: just next to these shacks, wall to wall, as close as it can be, there were some bigger houses as well, which, in comparison, looked like mansions from yester years. There was no clear barrier or separation between them, just a not very thick hedge that let me peak inside through its big, numerous gaps. A fine example of adaptation and cohabitation: the house looking in another direction, giving its back to the community that surrounds it, but with a cart at the back door, ready for evening business at the neighborhood.

The mansion, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Another cart that overnights just around the corner, but outside the protection of the big house, has aged much worse. 

Stray cart, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

The lane that advances through Kacha is very narrow and it only exists in one side of the canal, so there are frequent footbridges to cross from one side to the other, some of them being simply a few unstable planks that ask for extreme caution. Not that the fall is big, but the water underneath is definitely not salubrious in any conceivable way.

Private footbridge, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

These corridors are definitely not suited for vehicles, due to its narrowness and the insecurity of many of its stretches, yet I could see some motorcycles parked here and there along my walk. However, as I continued walking, afternoon gave way to early evening, schools closed and kids started to appear from every door, their screams breaking the calm, and the once quiet neighborhood became, suddenly, more lively and dynamic. 

The race, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Pure joy, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

All the signs that I had been watching from the beginning of my detour finally came to life, as more people awoke and started populating the tight alleyway in search of some evening breeze. I walked past them, and all I found were smiles and kindness, people enjoying their lives in their own way, content with the way they live, and making the best out of it. If only we could all learn how to be happy with the things that we have at our disposal, instead of always longing for the ones we don't have!

Rehearsal, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Eating time!, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

What a wonderful little discovery I made by chance today. So, my little piece of advice from this experience: embrace detours! They can be extremely surprising!