Monday, March 28, 2011

Julia's baptism

Julia's baptism

This past weekend we baptized Julia April in the Gaisburg Lutheran church, which is where Fiona was baptized as well. There were several well-equipped photographers in attendance, so these pictures are mostly theirs (M. Volz and B. Demmer). A wonderful collection of Jim Palik's photos can be viewed on his website.

A neighbor said to Bianca recently, "Oh, a younger third child! Third children are the ones you can really enjoy. You work so hard with the first one, then you struggle to juggle two. By the time you get to number three, you know how to do everything. Enjoy her!"

Julia responded to the first notes from the organ with keyboard-like arm movements. When Bianca's choir, Stimma Dizza, performed, she scooted right up front to help conduct.

Dear friends of our served as Julia's godparents. Barbara and Bianca sang in a church choir together when they were in their teens. Christine and I went to William and Mary together and have been in close contact ever since she moved to Germany in 1989, a year before me.

We had a wonderful brunch up in the woods behind our house at a Turkish-run retreat house, the Waldheim Raichberg (check it out!). There Julia was showered with gifts and attention.

Our friend Jim enjoyed giving Julia some special grandfatherly attention.

For once I was paying more attention to my daughter than to my Sony.

A power nap at two o'clock was enough to get her through the day just fine. I've never seen a baby enjoy a day as much as Julia did this one! And I think that helped everyone involved enjoy it that much more.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where do the children play?

Where do the children play?

Remember the song by Cat Stevens? All about rolling on roads over fresh green grass? This picture seems to capture the spirit of that song for me. Fiona and her friend Sarah were skating on our street the other day, always on the look-out for cars, even though we live at the end of a cul-de-sac. Well, this is where our children play.

The song continues: "Get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything." With today's advancements in technology, we can burn oil and make cars move and even split atoms to release energy. We can, but should we? As Yusuf Islam wrote just before the oil crisis of the 1970s, we can apparently get anything, but is it the responsible thing to do?

And yet when we think of an honest man doing an honest day's work, whom do we think of? You may be like me and picture the construction worker, who just does his job, laying brick on brick to build a house. Sometimes I think we're all a little bit like the main character in "Smallcreep's Day", a book about a man who works in a huge factory but doesn't know what the end product is. When he gets curious and sets out to find the answer, you can imagine what happens.
But shouldn't we all be a bit more like Pinquean Smallcreep, a bit more curious about what happens at the end of the line? Otherwise, our knowledge will remain veiled from us and from those around us.

Cat Stevens' song continues: "Well you've cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air, but will you keep on building higher 'til there's no more room up there?" That is a good question. Where is the limit? Aren't we at a point now where we're just cleaning up after ourselves? You know we've gotten to a scary point in civilization when young people are told that the most secure job they can aspire to is "nuclear waste management engineer". (I almost wrote "safest job"!) 

The gaps in our knowledge are not easy to fill, though scientist are making progress every day. 
"I know we've come a long way, we're changing day to day. But tell me, where do the children play."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Studio II

Studio II

Last year I rented the photo studio in the Werkstatthaus for a day and, with the help of Jim Palik, set up the lights and photographed several of my friends who were kind enough to come and pose for me. I remember it being hard work - not something I would like to do every day - but the rewards of the crisp pictures were great enough to make me want to do it again.

From April 2010
A year has passed, my knowledge of photography has improved, and this past weekend I was at it again. This time, however, I was leading a workshop for photographers who wanted to learn more about studio lighting. The participants were mostly members of an art group I belong to at the DAZ in Stuttgart. I had booked two models through a casting agent and a make-up artist through the Model-Kartei to help us out.

Kristina and Sönke

As you can well imagine, a photographer's job is made much easier when the subject in the picture is something or someone people want to look at anyway. The Alps at sunset taken from an airplane. The Great Wall of China. An attractive model. Well, we had two attractive young people there, and Alessandro had them looking good for the cameras. He also took some pictures, staying with us the during the entire shoot.

I decided against using the strobes because with even a half-dozen eager photographers wanting to snap pose after pose, you need continuous light. Everyone jockeyed into position to get a fair shot of the couple. We pretty much ignored the rule whereby you have one main light and one fill light and have the model look into the main light. I think we ignored lots of rules of studio photography, but part of the learning curve here was dealing with the pressure of having someone standing there in front of the lights who is waiting for you to do your work while they do theirs. It is hard work for those on both sides of the camera.

After an hour, Cihan (in the white cap above) designated himself the group's director and, together with Bärbel, started to make up little scenarios which allowed Kristina and Sönke to become involved with each other and ignore the cameras to some extent. The pictures improved greatly from that moment onward.

The Werkstatthaus is a beautiful old villa on a hill with picturesque staircases and interesting hallways. We took advantage of the windows and the stairways, using available light. When the golden sunlight shone in through the window in the studio, we were all in awe of the wonderfully strong highlights and shadows it produced.

Most of my favorite pictures were made possible by the beautiful light from the windows.

Some artistic pictures resulted from my keeping my eyes open. Here Kristina is reflected in the abstract painting on the wall.

I was trying out a new lens (f1.4/85mm by Walimex, a Korean manufacturer) to see how sharp it was at around f2 under good lighting conditions. It did fairly well. The couple pictures above were taken with it. When I shot into the light late in the afternoon, though, it flared even when I stopped it down to f8. But the result was artsy!

In two weeks our art group will meet to discuss workflow and post-processing of pictures. Please leave your comments here with any tips you have.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kölle Alaaf!

Kölle Alaaf! Karneval in Köln

After attending the small town parade with friends on Sunday in Forsbach, I took the train in to Köln for the largest Monday parade in Europe. I didn't want to catch candy or see the clever political parodies on the floats. I just wanted to take some pictures of the people who were there. What were the costume themes this year? How rowdy would it be? A sunny and rather warm day for such a parade - where the winter is supposed to be driven out - is a rarity, so I just had to go!

The light streamed into the train station through the high glass wall facing the cathedral. The guests arrived out of the dark tunnel into the sunlight, offering a wide range of delightful costumes.

Some people may have had second thoughts about being seen in public with their friends, but that problem is nothing that can't be solved by a shared bottle of something that warms from the inside.

Many people milled around the square between the station and the cathedral, waiting for friends or action or both.

Of course when you are expecting record numbers of visitors, the security must be tight. Even little leopards  were not allowed to mount the steps to the bleachers to see the parade. You need special permission for such luxury.

And for the big people there were big police officers who appeared to be prepared for anything.

As the afternoon progressed, the sunshine seemed to have helped this officer see the humor in being shot at by a clown's toy arrow. (Actually the clown was aiming at the bottles lined up next to the policeman.)
Remember how the Germans used to make fun of the big eyeglasses worn by Americans? Well, they are in fashion over here now. To what extent was Ingrid Michaelson responsible for that?

Ladybugs, princesses, smurfs, hippies, vampires and devils were all well represented this year. The cell phone appeared to be a necessary accessory for everyone.

I wanted a picture of a devil with the cathedral in the background. Katja, whom I met there, was nice enough to pose for me. (I tried to send the picture to you, but your e-mail inbox was full!)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Forsbach alaaf!

Forsbach alaaf!

For those of you who aren't acquainted with the intricacies of the Rhineland dialect, "D'r zoch kütt" means "Der Zug kommt" or "The parade is coming". The first tractor usually has a sign announcing this so that the people can start getting into position.

Position? What's the best position to watch a parade?, you ask. It depends on who you are and why you are there.

For the people who are lucky enough to live on the parade route, that means serving up glasses of Kölsch - the beloved regional brew - to friends who stop by to visit.

For traditionally dressed parade-goers, who have seen this procession 35 times already and have good connections to the people on the floats, it means downing another glass of golden and looking for a place in a clearing. You see, the special guests may have large boxes of assorted chocolates or soccer balls thrown to them from their friends on the passing floats. In Forsbach this year they were even throwing packages of cocktail tomatoes, eggplants and avocados!

For viewers, it means "Carry on as usual" because they've been preparing for this moment over the past two months, increasing their alcohol tolerance levels at parties every weekend since Christmas.

For fathers of little children, it means you make sure your kids are out on the curb in the front row where they'll be able to catch the most candy.

For Carnival Connoisseurs "D'r zoch kütt" means to start singing along with the first band you hear at the end of the street.
For those who are accompanying out-of-town, first-time Carnival guests, it means you had better give them a bit of reassurance that you are glad they are there and whatever you do in the course of the next hour or two is nothing more than a result of the effects the alcohol has had on you.

Even first-graders know what "D'r zoch kütt" means. They've been watching the parade from their father's shoulders for years and are happy to finally be able to stand up front on the street with their friends and fill their bags with candy.

What did you say? Huh? Oh, the bands are loud. Yes they are. Even the babies need to wear protection at the Kölner Karneval!

The Aftermath
When the parade has passed by, the clean-up crew is right there to sweep up and make the street passable once again. Children do a good job of picking up all the candy, but the wrappers and broken glass is the job for the men in orange.
The children each leave with a couple of bags full of candy which they will dump out on the living room floor (reminiscent of American Halloween rituals), sort the edible from the inedible and then commence to beg their parents if they can have "just one more".