Monday, August 30, 2010

Stuttgart 21

"Mit einem lachenden Auge und einem weinenden Auge."
When the Germans are undecided about an issue or situation they often use the expression: with one smiling eye and one crying eye.
Well, there are not many people in Stuttgart these days who are on the theoretical fence about the multi-billion-euro project to bury the train station in the center of town and sell the expensive real estate where the tracks used to be. Continuous protests are being carried out around the clock, resulting in hundreds of Stuttgarters meeting at the very real fence at the train station to discuss their further strategy and to inform passers-by. Weekly protests have been drawing up to 50,000 citizens - even in the rain, Friday evenings, during the school holidays no less - to form human chains around the train station and parliament building. The protests have certainly brought some people together, but the issue is threatening to drive a spike through the heart of Stuttgart and many Stuttgarters.
One urgent issue is the cost of the project. It is, as this tree squatter will have us know, beyond our monetary means. We can't afford it at the cost the experts are now quoting. In Leipzig they dug a tunnel from the main train station to another one under ground this past decade and have already ended up spending twice what they had estimated. And it was not finished in the estimated seven years. It might be finished after 13 years of construction. Will it be any different here in Stuttgart? Will they finish here in Stuttgart - amid such protests - in the 10-year time-frame?

Just before
Just after
Fynn and I went on a tour of the train station before the demolition began. An architect explained to us how it had been constructed in the early 20th century and with what care many of the details had been handcrafted: the stones of the facade, the steps, the staircases, etc. I'm no particular lover of architecture, but I could certainly appreciate the highlights which he showed us. 

The day of the tour, the post office was being moved out of its offices in the north wing (first picture above). This past week, the the rooms we had been shown were no longer there (second picture above).

In the meantime, fences had been placed around the north wing because construction was to begin and equipment would be brought in which would have to be protected. In Germany you are not allowed to trespass beyond a construction fence. ("No trespassing" signs are not necessary; every German knows this rule.) However, this fence quickly became a notice board, with concerned citizens expressing their hopes and fears in delightfully artistic and clever ways. Many posters and signs also aimed below the belt.

The fence was soon compared to the Berlin Wall and probably even to the Iron Curtain. But those in charge of the construction feared it wasn't imposing or secure enough. They built it even higher so that there would be no chance of protesters getting over it. Watchmen oversaw the construction from the rooftops as protesters questioned the workers' motives and insulted their intelligence.

Some protesters did in fact get around the fence and climbed up to the roof after the demolition finally began. Calling the mayor an arsonist on their sign, they urged him to leave office. After a few hours, the brave yet sunburned seven were escorted back down by a specially trained unit of policemen. The mayor opened the wine festival in town that afternoon.
The point of these demonstrations is to get the politicians to talk to the people, to explain the real reasons why this project is being carried out. Many citizens believe that it is a matter of prestige and nothing more. In addition, the democratic process seems to be running amok here.
 The Mercedes Star on top of the tower can now be seen from the north side of the station.

Aside from the political shadiness, there is obviously big money to be made by many local companies in the areas of demolition, construction, tunnel building, etc. Taxpayers all over Germany fear that the project will divert their income tax to such "folly" instead of going into education. The poor advertising agency that has been trying to inform the public about the issues has pointed out that this allotment of money can be used only for this project. 
Now, you may be wondering how I can report on this project so neutrally. Where is my rage? Well, I've never been a fiercely political person and I'm not what most people would call a fighter. Perhaps I'm too afraid of losing. But there is another important reason why I refuse to let Stuttgart 21 upset me any more than it already has. And it has. Every time I walk past the protesters, I feel rage boil up inside of me. And I remember my first day ever in Germany back in June 1980. 
Thirty years ago, several houses in Freiburg that had been the home to squatters for months were suddenly cleared out by SWAT teams amid a sea of thousands of policemen. When my sister Susan and I arrived for a summer of fun and language learning at the Goethe Institut, what greeted us were not the idyllic pictures our German teacher had shown us during a slide show before we embarked on our trip. After a long journey, we were forced to get out of the streetcar  with our heavy suitcases that evening and walk through town out to the youth hostel because tens of thousands of students and several thousand policemen were fighting on the streets when we arrived. "Stacheldraht" (barbed wire) was one of the first new vocabulary words I learned that summer. I have never been able to forget it.
I don't want to see my present home town divided by this project. It was a bad enough thought to imagine their digging a tunnel under our house so the trains can get to Untert├╝rkheim where they will washed (!). I tried to imagine what it would be like to have hundreds of trucks transport hundreds of tons of dirt on the already busy street near our house. I joked with friends about being able to board the ICE train from my basement office. No laughing matter: The notion of traffic chaos in town until Fiona starts college was enough to make me want to move somewhere - anywhere - else.
If you are reading this, you know I like photo opportunities. Concerts, parties, parades, sporting events: if it promises to fill my frame with interesting motifs, I'll be there. So I've walked past the station a lot recently, and not only to the camera store on the opposite side of the street! But when I was there this past week, bitter memories were revived as I observed the changing of the guard when a tired and sweaty platoon of police officers marched away from the station past the adjoining LBBW bank building.
I followed the troop as far as the interesting walkway (the yellow structure in the reflection above) and then snapped some shots from the higher vantage point. As I was coming back down, two men right behind me made a point of saying loudly, "Tear it down! Up with Stuttgart 21!" They assumed that anyone with a camera within a mile of the train station must be a protester. Their aggressive tone was aimed at my back.
As I turned around and snapped a few pictures of the talking heads, my simmering rage actually caused me to say something to them. "Say that when you get up there in the crowd," I challenged them.
"Oh, we will. We will," they promised.

As the older one made a motion that reminded me of a cowboy drawing his revolver and the younger one finished his ice cream...
 ...I worked my way into the crowd and watched to see what they would do. As they walked past me, I said, "Say it now. Say it loud." And they did. "Tear it down! Rip it down!" the cowboy said. They were then barraged by shouts of protest from several people around them.
So they quickly turned and walked away.
I don't seek confrontation. I don't need this upheaval in my life. The Taoist in me is beginning to speak a bit louder than usual. Letting go and letting God is starting to sound good right now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Soccer camp
Fynn scores a penalty shot against his friend Fabian

Admittedly, it's been years - decades - since I took part in soccer camp, but visiting Fynn's camp last week brought back certain memories. First there were those from the days as a player at Culver, where we woke up to The Knack's "My Sharona" and Supertramp's "Breakfast in America". Then the memories of coaching at Benedictine High School returned, where we practiced at Byrd Park between the goose pond and the tennis courts. But one important thing was missing: the smell of grass.
The artificial turf was probably great to play on, especially after a rain or when it was really hot, and playing on an even field must be quite a nice feeling! But the olfactory sense was left out of the whole experience.

Fynn usually plays in goal at school. He likes the short-term challenge and perhaps the rush of adrenaline that goes along with being a goalie. The fact that he doesn't have to run as much and that he can tell us about the brilliant saves he made also factor into his decision.
However, when I was there, I saw that they needed not only someone with athletic prowess (they had a couple of big boys on their team) but also someone who could think and respond to the movement of the ball. My old coach, Mr. Chadwick, would always yell out at us in his British accent, "Who wants the ball!?"
So I was standing there on the sidelines taking pictures. No coach was telling them how to play because this was the final day (Fynn's birthday, by the way) and they were playing a little tournament. I saw Fynn standing in goal, but I wanted to see him play. I called him out of the goal and then coached him from the sidelines. He did very well.

And he realized that he also has a chance playing against the other boys his age.
It gave him a good feeling.
When the tournament was over, they played "Penalty Kick King" and he got back in goal. So did his friend Fabian.
They each scored goals against each other.
But neither one took it so seriously that they got upset. I saw some kids getting impatient with younger or smaller players on their team who didn't seem to be able to pull their own weight, but no one cried that whole afternoon, something that surprises me when I think about it now.
By the way, the penalty kick king ended up being a queen, one of two girls participating at the camp!

At the end of the three-day event, each participant received a certificate and a medal (sponsored by McDonald's) - as well as a high five from each of the coaches.

Fynn's group had two half-Americans in it. Can you find the other one?
I realized that this was the first time I had ever photographed a soccer game. I had always either played or coached, two experiences that helped me with my timing and placement when taking these pictures.
When I showed up with my camera the first day, they asked me to take their group picture. Can you find Fynn and the two girls?

Monday, August 23, 2010

 Of myths and macros

I'd like to dedicate this blog to two of my favorite teachers, Mr. John Hartley and Mr. Jim Coppens. 
Teaching me English in high school, Mr. Hartley gave me an appreciation for a clever and precise use of language. He also gave me a command of grammar that has served me to the present day. 
Mr. Coppens was my yearbook adviser the first two years I seriously worked on the Roll Call. He helped me learn how to research, report and write. He gave me my first opportunity at photojournalism and gave me a sense of how to crop a picture. 
I think the two of them provided me with 90% of the abilities I use today in my job as an editor and in my hobby as a photographer. They helped me maintain an eye for detail while keeping the big picture in mind.  These skills help when you are translating a text, writing a book or making a picture. I don't always succeed, but it's nice to have a goal to aim at.

As I've already admitted, I am a collector, a gatherer of images. This is different from an Annie Leibovitz, for example, who makes pictures to fit the preconceived image she has in her mind. If I tried to do that in my photography all the time, I'd make five pictures a month and try to imagine pictures and find the resources to make them the rest of the time. (Perhaps that should be my goal and perhaps I'll make it there one day, but for now, the way - the gathering - is part of the fun.) As it is, I sort through thousands of pictures each month, looking for a dozen good ones that are worth showing.
And yet I have learned that it is important to ask yourself not only what a picture is of but what it is for and why are you taking it. In other words, what is the story behind the picture?

Last summer when we were in Richmond, we went to a butterfly exhibit at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. It was 100° outside and 98% humidity. Inside the butterfly house it was even hotter, plus they misted the air every five minutes, just what a photographer wants! 100% humidity. I think I empathized with this butterfly which was  trying to get out of the greenhouse so bad that it was beating its wings to the point of destroying them.
Of course butterflies are a macro photographer's dream, especially when they are in your front yard sucking on echinacea blossoms all day. This image is all I could pull out of my old 90mm macro lens. Looking at professional photographers' macro shots is a humbling experience.
When taking pictures of flowers, you often have to contend with the wind, unattractive backgrounds and bad lighting conditions. Sometimes, however, you are lucky and everything works out. This pretty little picture is one of my favorites. The contrasting colors appeal to me.
In this shot the single blossom seems to be conversing with the green cloud hovering nearby. As static as the composition is, it seems to me to have some hidden motion in it.
Right outside our kitchen window the week after Julia was born, a mother spider laid her eggs. This picture was taken through the window, which lessened the clarity. Other visitors to our home have been dragonflies, frogs and spiders. Contrary to what I would have thought, they proved to be very patient models.
In this one you can see the "red eye" effect the flash had on the spider's six eyes!
And speaking of eyes, I had two flashes provide the catch light in this amphibian's eye. Don't worry, animal lovers out there: he didn't even blink!

I'll end this tale with an odd combination. Curiosity seemed to get the better of this slug. I have to think of the children's book "Are you my mother?" when I look at this.
Christopher Street Day in Stuttgart

Years ago when my mother visited me in Germany and saw a very colorful, rainbow-like umbrella standing in the corner, she made a comment about the Rainbow Coalition (Jesse Jackson was running for president) and about gay pride. Having taught American studies, I was aware of the former association, though why she should think that I would be supporting Jackson was beyond me. But the reference to gay pride had me puzzled. She explained it to me, saying that rainbow umbrellas and bumper stickers are often seen at the gay pride parades in Richmond.
Well, now I can say the same holds true for German Christopher Street Day parades as well. They are a real spectacle.

It was the weekend after our Worldwide Photo Walk, the weather was great, and the parade was a feast for the eyes. I was not the only photographer there.
 This man marched in the parade and took pictures of the onlookers.

Now call me naive or innocent or whatever, but after photographing dozens of transvestites, I was relieved to see a nice looking woman walk by. Friends made me have a closer look at this golden girl and convinced me that too many features were masculine to be a woman.

"What about this one?" I asked.

Same thing, Jim. It didn't look like s/he was having a good time, but you never can tell.
Having become aware of the importance of lighting and background to taking good pictures, I positioned myself for the afternoon. It wasn't until I got home and had a look at the pictures, though, that I saw how lucky I had been on a couple of shots.

See the beautician's shop in the background?
It promises permanent make-up, eyebrow plucking and permanent hair removal!
And it is for him and her. This guy looks like he's going in there now.

This is one of my favorite images from that afternoon. The simple lines and elegance of the hat make me think of a Grace Kelly movie.
A month ago Fynn and I went to an American football game here in Stuttgart. We didn't see any cheerleaders like these in their mini Lederhosen.
As I said, it was a very colorful parade. Even the Gay Goths seemed to get away from the plain black for one day.
Across the street from me a float went by with this poster on it. The young men in front look like they might have just walked right out of it and onto the street.
And these young women walked into a wonderful patch of sunlight as they left the Schillerplatz, where the open-air disco was about to start. My mother was right about the umbrella. See it?
My mentor Jim Palik joined Christian and me for an afternoon of picture taking at the junkyard one day. There he gave us the task of trying to take a picture of a pile or mass of things yet still have something stick out and catch the viewer's eye. There must be something dominant in every picture, he says. How's this, Jim?
And don't forget to go for a detail shot as well. This seems to say it all.
After several hours and many hundreds of shots, I had found my favorite subject. I would guess that this person was over two meters tall (6' 6") in high-heels and looked fantastic in the purple wings and perfect make-up. During the disco, she patiently posed with young and old, reminding me of the ritual photo with Santa at Christmastime.
Maybe this blog entry has too many pictures, but I couldn't narrow the selection down any more. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.