2019: What a Long, Strange Trip It Was

The year 2019 was a fairly active one for me, including visits to five countries that I had never been to before.  As promised in my final post of last year, here’s a recap of my photographic activity.
The year got off to a good start with not one but two publications of my work.  One of them was an issue of Model Society’s magazine dedicated to the English model Elle Beth, who I had photographed in London in 2017.  I had not intended for my photos to be in this initially, but the editor had seen my photos of Elle Beth after the layout for the issue had been completed, and he said that he liked them so much that he wanted them to be included in the issue. In the end, they were included in the opening story that introduced Elle, where the editor said that they fit perfectly.

Another publication success was with the French magazine PHOTO, which published its annual contest issue in January.  Finding out about this publication was, I admit, a bit of a surprise.  As it normally takes about two months for an issue of this magazine to reach newsstands in the United States, I asked a friend in France to take a look at the magazine to see if one of my photos was in it.  He wrote back to say that he had not seen any of my photos, so when the magazine did finally come to the U.S., I was taken aback to look through the issue to see one of my photos there, after all!  (Unfortunately, the magazine has stated that the release of this year’s issue has been delayed until February, so I may have to wait until April to find out.)

As for doing photography, that began in March with my first ever trip to Mexico, where I joined UTadvetures for a week of art nude photography in Yucatan, featuring the models Dasha U, Kate Snig and Sienna Hayes.  I really did have a great time there  and I loved the Mexican culture – and I think I made a lot of good photographs, too.

“Nude, Mexico, 2091” with Dasha U

 

“Nude, Mexico, 2019” with Kate Snig

 

“Nude, Mexico, 2019” with Sienna Hayes

Next in line was a trip back to Utah in early May, joining Monique on one of her Desert Adventures along with model Eva Luna.  I had attended this event the year before and I thought that going back again would be worthwhile, which it was.

“Nude, Utah, 2019” with Monique

Unfortunately, my Pentax 67 camera developed a problem, as the mirror kept getting stuck in the up position, so I was forced to go with my backup medium format camera, the Fuji GW670 rangefinder.  While not as versatile as an interchangeable lens camera like the Pentax, the Fuji, with its fixed lens, is nonetheless a very good camera and proved to be a capable alternative.

“Nude, Utah, 2019” with Eva Luna

However, this turn of events forced me to make a choice, as I would be heading out on my biggest trip of the year just a few weeks later:  do I try to get the camera repaired and hope that it will be ready before the next trip begins, or do I go out and buy a new one?   The answer that I settled on:  both.   Fortunately, I live in New York City, where finding a camera repair shop is not too difficult.  I brought the defective camera in and was told that it would probably be ready by the time I went away again, but “probably” is not “definitely,” so I was still concerned.  Just in case it would not be ready, I decided to look for another Pentax 67 body – and I found one in very good condition and at a very good price, so I bought it.
As it turned out, the original camera was fixed on time, so I now had two working Pentax 67 bodies.  While taking the rangefinder along as a backup did have the advantage of being a self-contained camera (and one which does not require a battery to operate), I decided to take the two Pentax bodies with me so that I could still use all of my lenses should one camera fail to operate properly.
Regarding that trip commencing in late May, it was one of the grandest travel adventures that I had gone on in some time, with three days in the ancient city of Istanbul, Turkey, followed by three weeks in the central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.  I had wanted to visit these former republics of the Soviet Union located on the old Silk Road for many years, so when I saw a good trip there with spaces available, I went for it – and it was not disappointing.  Seeing the mountains of Tajikistan, the great historic monuments of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva in Uzbekistan and the very modern city of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan were all things not be easily forgotten – and meeting the people there was a great experience, too.

“Corn Sellers in Front of the Aya Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey, 2019”

 

“Travel Office, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 2019”

 

“Second Hand Shop, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019”

 

“Dinosaur, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 2019”

While that trip may have been the biggest and most exotic highlight of the year, my photography was by no means completed for the year, as I decided to give Utah a second try by going back in late August with UTadventures for more art nude photography with models Anoush Anou, Muirina Fae and Viribus Femina.

“Nude, Utah, 2019” with Anoush Anou

 

“Nude, Utah, 2019” with Muirina Fae

 

“Nude, Utah, 2019” with Viribus Femina

Unfortunately, I had to deal with another equipment problem in Utah, but this time it was not my camera that was the problem, but the ball head on my tripod.  Somehow, a key piece had got shaken loose during my flight from New York to Salt Lake City, and while I was still able to use the ball head, it was a lot more difficult to handle and took more time to get in the position that I wanted.  (It still needs to be repaired.)
Next, another positive thing then happened in October, when not one but two of my photographs were awarded with Honorable Mentions in the annual Black & White Spider Awards.

Nude, Iceland, 2014

 

Untitled Nude, 2018

One of the reasons I went to Utah in late August was that I would be undergoing surgery to my left knee in early September and I wanted to get in some final days of photography in case my knee would keep me on the sideline for longer than planned.  It did keep me from photographing for a couple of months, but in early November I picked up my camera again and went back to photographing something that I had begun to do the year before but which I have not yet written about:  college football.  Here are some photos from the three games that I photographed, with a greater explanation for my choosing to photograph football coming in a later post.

“The Defense Rests, Yale Sideline, Yale vs. Columbia, Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT, 11/2/2019”

 

“Yale QB Kurt Rawlings Eludes a Defender, Yale vs. Princeton, Princeton Stadium, Princeton, NJ, 11/16/2019”

 

“Fans in the Stands, Yale vs. Harvard, Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT, 11/23/2019”

So, 2019 was a pretty busy year for me.  What’s next in 2020?   Well, as this new year will see the 25th anniversary of my first art nude photographs being made, I have already begun to make plans to make art nudes a highlight of the year.  As always, stay tuned.
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Winter Celebrations

Park in the Snow, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2004

So, I see that it has now been over two months since I last made a blog post.  That is not how I had planned it, but when you factor in how busy I’ve been at work, how I’ve been feeling less than 100% lately and how it becomes more difficult to do something the longer you’ve gone without doing it….well, stuff happens, and I am sorry for my absence.
Still, now that we have passed the winter solstice and the days will begin to get longer (even if it may get colder), I do want to write to wish everyone a joyful holiday season and a happy Chanukah, Christmas, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Festivus (“for the rest of us”) or any other festival that you may celebrate at this time of the year.  I hope that 2019 was a good year for you and that 2020 may be even better.
While I have not made any blog posts for a while, I have sometimes made a year end post to sum up my photographic activity for the year, and I hope to make one next week to perhaps make up a bit for my having been silent here for a while.
Until then, enjoy the season!
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More Spiders

Nude, Iceland, 2014

A few days ago, the annual announcement was made of the winners of the Black and White Spider Awards.  This was the sixth year that I’ve entered, and in the past five years, I have not won a first, second or third place award, but I had been awarded with two Honorable Mentions – one two years ago and the first one two years before that.
This year, I made a step forward – not by being in the top three, but by receiving two Honorable Mentions.  One of them, which is at the top of the list of Honorable Mentions on the contest’s website, is a photograph of Rebecca Tun in Iceland’s Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon on my trip there in 2014.  The other one (at the bottom of the list, ironically) is of Sienna Hayes made at a local beach last year when she was visiting New York.

Untitled Nude, 2018

(Regarding the list of Honorable Mentions, as they are not listed on the contest’s website alphabetically by either image title or photographer name, perhaps they are ranked in order of votes or points given by the jurors, which would put my image in fourth place.  Of course, they could just be in random order, too.)
I was able to make the photograph of Rebecca as she was kind enough to arrange her schedule so that she would be in Iceland when I was there so that we could work together, and I thank her again for doing so.  I also thank her for volunteering to go in the freezing cold water, too.  I had envisioned photographing her on the shore of the lagoon with the icebergs in the background, and this I did, but then she told me that she wanted to go in the water, so I said that she could, but up to a point.  (She also told me that she wanted to swim out to one of the icebergs, but there was no way I was going to let that happen.)
The photograph of Sienna, by contrast, was made early one morning at a beach that’s not too far a drive from where I live.  Unfortunately, the beach is not very large and when the weather is nice (as it was that day), people tend to come out relatively early to run, walk their dogs or go fishing, etc.  This is what happened on that day, so although we were able to make some photos out in the open early on, eventually we had to retreat away from the water’s edge, where some people had gathered, to an area of tall grasses further back where we were hidden from view.   I guess you never know what you might get if you don’t keep trying.
That same sentiment holds true for competitions, as well.  This year, three of the photos that I entered in the Spider Awards were nominated for an award, with two of them being singled out for Honorable Mention.  In looking over my entries from years past, I saw that one of the photos that was nominated was entered before but did not get a nomination, and the photo of Rebecca had been nominated previously, but had not won anything – so again, you’ll never know what might happen if you don’t try.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that of the four photos that have gotten Honorable Mentions, three have been made in Iceland.   Is this a sign that I should go back for more???
You can see the winners and honorable mentions in my category (nude/amateur) by clicking here.  All of the nominated photos can be seen here, too.

 

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The Registan

The Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019

“The noblest public square in the world” – Lord George Curzon, 1888
Sometimes, when people decide to undertake a long journey to visit a country or region, they have in mind certain places or things in particular that they want to see, and perhaps even one place that is foremost of all.  In Rome, it might be the Colosseum or the Vatican.  In Paris, the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre.  In China, it might be the Great Wall and in Jerusalem, the Western Wall.
When I decided to finally go on a trip to central Asia – the old “Silk Road” – which I did in late spring of this year, I was interested in seeing the great architecture that was built by bygone empires of years past.  Foremost of these architectural gems was one place:  the Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Madrasah of Ulugh Beg, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019

The word “Registan” means ‘sandy place’ in Persian, and that describes the material that used to cover the area, but it later became the most important public square in Samarkand – the capital city of the empire founded by the great conqueror Amir Timur (aka Tamerlane) – and came to host major events ranging from royal proclamations to public executions.
The three magnificent buildings seen there now (all of them formerly madrasahs – Islamic schools of higher learning), with their wildly intricate designs and lavish tiles, began their lives after the time of Timur, beginning with his grandson – the great mathematician and astronomer Ulugh Beg.  The building named after him and where he is said to have taught mathematics is on the western side of the square (the building on the left in the photo at the top) and was built between 1417 and 1420.
The other two buildings were built over 200 years later, however, and were ordered by ruler of Samarkand at the time – a general by the name of Yalangtush Bakhodur.  The madrasah on the eastern side of the square and facing the first one, the Sher-Dar Madrasah, was built from 1619–1636.  Some years later, the building between them on the north side of the square, the Tilla-Kari Madrasah, was built between 1646 and 1660.

Madrasah of Ulugh Beg (detail), Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019

Of course, these great structures deteriorated and fell into ruin over the years and the magnificent buildings seen as they are today are the result of many years of restoration, much of it done by the Soviets when Uzbekistan was a part of the Soviet Union.  When Lord Curzon, the future viceroy of India, saw these building and made his comment quoted above, they were still in a state of disrepair, so even then these structures must have still possessed a great deal of power and presence.
Regarding the photographs here, the one at the top shows all three of the former madrasahs (which are now are home to shops, of course).  The other two photos show the exterior of the Madrasah of Ulugh Beg and one of its many architectural details.  So far, these are the only photographs from here that I’ve had a chance to scan (and are in fact the first three photos from the first roll made here), but more will follow as time permits.
To read a nicely written story about the Registan (which I admit to having consulted in writing this post), click here.
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Duet in the Desert

Nude, Utah, 2019

I’ve posted some photos recently from my art nude photo trip to Utah last month, but so far, I have not yet posted any from my first art nude trip there this year with The Desert Adventure back in May.
Here then is a photo from that visit to the Beehive State (yes, I had to look it up), featuring models Monique and Eva Luna in a vertical panorama.  When most people think of panoramic photographs, I think they tend to think of horizontals that take in the grand sweep of scene.  Vertical panoramas seem to be more of a rarity, though I think that they can work, too.
As it is, though, I was actually forced to crop this photo from a 6 x 7 cm negative into the vertical panorama by circumstance.  The floor of the large rocky enclosure where this photo was made was very wet and muddy, and the only place where we could put down our belongings (including my camera backpack) without them getting covered by the slimy stuff was on a large rock just to the left of where the models were standing.
I admit that I would like to have had the option to show more of the scene horizontally to perhaps allow the image to “breathe” a bit more, but as it is, I am not unhappy with the final result seen here, and if anything, it emphasizes the vertical nature of the scene.  (Monique, who is standing in the alcove above, actually had to be given a boost so she could reach it.)  While I had to crop the image like this to avoid showing the rock, I am just glad that the rock was not any closer to the two models than where it actually was.
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To Capture, or to Create???

Nude, Utah, 2019

“It used to be the fun was in the capture and kill                                                                                                                                       In another place and time, I did it all for thrills”  –  The Go-Go’s (“Lust to Love”)
There have been a number of words used over the years to describe the action of exposing a photograph. “Snapping a photo” is one example.  “Tripping the shutter” is another.
Still, the most commonplace phrase is to “take a picture” or “take a photo’ – for example, “He is taking photos of the soccer team,” or “She took a beautiful photo of the sunset.”
When you think of it, “take” is a bit of an odd word to describe the action of exposing a photograph, as the word generally means to physically grab hold of something and perhaps even remove it from where it is to move it someplace else, as in “I took my glove to the ball game” or “The police took his gun away.”
However, another meaning of “take” is to engage in some kind of action, as in “take a break,” “take a bath” or even “take something into consideration.”  As exposing a photograph is a type of action, I guess it can fit into this category.  Heck, the word has even been nominalized in the film industry, as the filming of a scene can be called “take one” or “take two.”
The word that I’m writing about, though, is one that seems to have become prevalent to describe the action of exposing a photo since the advent of digital photography: “capture.”
I have wondered how and why this word came into the photographic lexicon, why it began with digital photography and what it is really meant to mean.  Certainly, one can say that it’s related to the word “take,” in that both refer to taking physical possession of something.  There is to me a difference, though, as “capture” refers to taking something by force – sometimes for an ignoble purpose – and does not really refer to engaging in an action.  (I for one have never heard of anyone talk of “capturing a break” or “capturing a bath.”  Have you?)
Basically, “capture” is not a word that truly represents the action of exposing a photographic image – at least, not a fine art photograph as I do mine.  I do not think of my images as being “captives” (as are things that are captured).  The notion of taking possession of something by force does not give an indication of the thought that I put into an image, nor to the respect that I give to the photographic process.  It does not indicate how I try to compose an image. It does not indicate how I try to light an image.  In a way, the word “capture” applied to my photos (and to those of other creative photographers) almost makes me feel resentful that someone would even think that I make my images in a way that the word means (though I do understand that “nice capture” applied to my images is meant to be something positive).
Instead, I prefer to think of my images as “creations” rather than “captures” (just as I sometimes say that I “make photographs” rather than “take” them).  To me, that succeeds much more at conveying all of the things that go into my images.
Of course, one can say that “capture” refers to “capturing the light.”  Perhaps some people think that way.  I do not.  The word “photograph” itself means “writing with light,” so yes, we may write with light, we may record it – but we can never truly “capture” it, nor should we try to.  After all, the light is our friend.  Without light, there would be nothing but darkness – and then, we who call ourselves photographers would have nothing left to write with.
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At the top is a photo of the lovely and wonderful Anoush Anou from my photographic sojourn last month in Utah with UTadventures.
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Faces of Central Asia

Boy Wearing Traditional Outfit, Turkmenistan, 2019

This year has been a busy year for me as far as traveling goes.  I’ve made one photo trip to Mexico, two photo trips to Utah, plus another one to Las Vegas to visit family, too.  Nonetheless, my biggest trip of the year – just about equaling in length the times of all the other trips put together – was my three and a half-week trip to Istanbul and central Asia in late May and June.
The trip to Istanbul was a residual of the trip to central Asia.  My layover in Istanbul at the beginning of the trip would have been around eight or nine hours, so the woman I spoke with at the tour company when I booked the central Asia trip recommended that I spend a few days in Istanbul.  As I had never been there before and had wanted to do so, spending a few days there seemed to be a good idea – and so it was.

Two Women, Istaravshan, Tajikistan, 2019

Still, the main focus of the journey was to finally see some of the former Soviet republics that had made up the legendary Silk Road of days past, when caravans of merchants traveling between Europe and China would meet in the middle to trade their goods.
Such places are marked by the great architecture of the region, from magnificent madrassas, minarets and mausoleums of the past to beautiful modern design, but it has been people – like the great conqueror Tamerlane and his grandson, the great astronomer Ulugbeg – who have left the greatest mark.
So, in keeping with that, my first post of photos from central Asia will be portraits of people, with one photo from each country that I visited there:  Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Master Knife Maker, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019

Don’t worry, however.  I also have lots of architecture photos, too, so stay tuned for those, more portraits and other things in the future.
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An Adventure in Utah

Nude, Utah, 2019 (with Anoush Anou)

I was away the week before last to travel to Utah with the people from UTadventure, who had organized the trip I took down to Yucatan, Mexico, back in March.  As in Mexico, this was a group trip to photograph art nudes for about a week, though this time in the natural landscape, rather than in mostly man-made landscapes as in Mexico.

“Nude, Utah, 2019” (with Muirina Fae)

Things got off to a shaky start, I have to say, as the ball head on my tripod had someone gotten damaged on my flight over, and I had to constantly struggle with it to get it to lock and unlock, especially when composing vertical compositions or if I wanted to tilt the camera up or down significanty.

“Nude,, Utah, 2019: (with Viribus Femina)

Still, I got it to work most of the time, and the three beautiful, accomplished models we worked with – Anoush Anou, Muirina Fae and Viribus Femina – certainly went a long way to help me in getting some good images.
Here, then, is a photo of each of them.  Stay tuned for more.
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Mexican Standoff

Nude, Mexico, 2019

Yes, it has happened again – another long stretch of time between blog posts.  All I can say is “mea culpa,” though perhaps “guilty with an explanation” may be more appropriate, as the reason for my absence is that I’ve been feverishly scanning the photos from my trip to Mexico in March in order to put together a video to show at an upcoming photography event that I’ll be attending.
So, the good news from this is that I now have quite a few more photographs to post here.

As the reason for my being away from the blog has been the photos from my trip to Mexico with UTadventure, I guess I should show some of those photos.  I’ve posted some photos from the beginning of the trip before, so here are some photos from late in trip, made at a funky hotel in the Yucatan region.  The models featured are (from the top down) are Kate Snig, Dasha U and Sienna Hayes.

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Ride a Rock Lion

Nude, Iceland, 2014

I see that it has been quite some time since I posted any photos from my trip to Iceland in 2014.  Yes, believe it or not, I have more photos from that grand adventure – and I think there are still some good photos from it that I have yet to scan.
My last post from the trip (here) showed Nadine and Zoe at a waterfall on Iceland’s south coast.  At that point, we were heading back west toward the capital, Reykjavik, and we then passed through the city to continue further west and north toward Iceland’s Snaefellsnes peninsula.
There, on that peninsula, is an amazing lava field that I had been to the year before.  A narrow, twisting dirt road winds its way through it – so narrow that one cannot even pull one’s car over to stop as you’d block the road – but I did find a spot where I could pull over, and near this spot was the lava formation seen here.
To me, it resembles an animal, perhaps a lion.  When I said I’d like to get a photograph of it, Nadine ran right over and clambered all the way up on top of to ride the rock lion – doing so, of course, in true bareback fashion.
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