Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end of the world as I know it

It has nothing to do with photography but I stumbled upon a comment to a blog which made me reconsider everything I knew about the world.

"Indiana Jones could die in the 5th part. A character's popularity can even grow after his death. Think about Jesus and Bobba Fett etc."

I've seen many things in my life but never expected to read Jesus and Bobba Fett in one and the same sentence, and in such a colloquial and natural way. It's not as if I were religious. It's the absurdity that made my shout OMG and slap my forehead. Obviously I'm getting too old for this world.

Still waiting to wake up from this. Or falling asleep would be even better.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The more I know about people, the more I prefer landscape photography.
Nah, just kidding. But sounds good anyway.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Which one?

It's always the question...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The most iconic photographers?

CNN's readers can vote for the most iconic photographer, with 20 great ones to choose from. The page is a bit bugged, which I realised when the caption belonging to Avedon appeared under Lawrence Beitler's photograph but apart from this grotesque trick by the web devil it's a great initiative.

Now... one thing I could never understand - or rather accept - is how much photographic history is centered around American photographers. OK, why being surprised when out of the 20 candidates 15 are American in a CNN feature (or 16 if we count cosmopolitan Capa too), but it's a bit like voting for the most iconic buildings of the world and 16 of 20 candidates were US landmarks. Where are the Japanese, Russian, British ? Typing all this I realise that the CNN audience is probably more acquainted with Weegee, Weston & Co and less so with Kertész or Saudek, just to mention two East Europeans... or so I guess.

Another interesting thing is that the featured German photographers - Gursky and the Bechers - are more on the abstract side while the others represent people photography, from PJ to fashion and documentary, making me think if the US audience had a problem understanding the visual language of non-American people photography. But they obviously can cope with Cartier-Bresson and Capa, so the explanation has probably more to do with the personal taste of the guys who compiled the list and there can't be any dispute over such subjective choices.

Anyway, it's clear that the US had the greatest magazines, the galleries with the best marketing and of course the most photographers, so it's not surprising that photographic history is often understood as the history of American photography.

Who would be my choice? I would be hard pressed to pick the 5 most iconic names, but in photojournalism it would be Weegee - he invented the genre after all and his photographs are as fresh now as they were in his time. HCB... well, some friends might kill me for such blasphemy but I believe his most iconic shots like this were staged. Joe Rosenthal and Capa ditto (sorry, I don't believe the loyalist's death was real - and even worse, I dare say it doesn't matter). I truly couldn't make a choice. It's after all the photographers one has to rank and not the photographs. If I valued cheerful Capa over aristocratic HCB or the compassionate Dorothea Lange over vulture-like Weegee, would that make any sense? How can you compare the Tienanmen shot (Stuart Franklin) with a fashion photograph (Man Ray) anyway?

Last but not least - how could any contest be taken seriously which doesn't feature Ken Rockwell?... :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A few pics from Rajasthan

Rajasthan is is great. First, it has the mood.

Second, it has mind-blowing colors.

And then it has all those incredible faces... so often seen in other photographs. Already back in 1999, when I presented my first Indian portfolio to Tamás Féner, a living legend among Hungarian photojournalists (he is so old-school that he hasn't even a webpage, but would be nonetheless on pair with the greatest ones had he not been born in Hungary) and I'll never forget the resignation in his voice: "oh yes, India, Pushkar camel fair and stuff like that, do you know how how many million photos we've already seen of that?". Even though my pictures at that time had nothing to do with Pushkar or Rajasthan, he had a point - Rajasthan is a people photographer's paradise and who could resist the temptation? I couldn't. To realize that I can't photograph every smart face and pretty peasant girl was a hard reckoning, but then at least I tried...

In most situations a polaroid, some charm and loads of humour suffice to create an open and honest relation between me and my subjects which is prerequisit to every good portrait. Sadly, it was in Rajasthan that I had my first and only conflict with people over taking their photographs. I noticed the beauty of this scene from the car - three women walking in the fields in their bright dresses under the overcast sky.

I let Soni pull over, ran up to them and took this shot, and seeing that it's not that remarkable I already wanted to return to the car, when the woman on the left noticed me. She came to me and asked for money. I hate giving them money, my polaroid was in the car and didn't want to pay them anyway because I didn't like the photo and took it from far away, without their faces visible. The woman got angry and shouted, "paisa, paisa" meaning "money, money". I calmly said, no. She then raised her hack (or is it called a hoe?) and threatened to trash me, to which I equally raised my Gitzo monopod and there we stood in a Rajasthani stalemate: she was ready to trash down on me with that hack and I assuming the same pose with the monopod. There was nothing funny in this situation but I almost laughed since the scene reminded me to a kendo fight. Not seeking trouble, I slowly moved backwards until she turned away.

Neither could I resist the temptation when we visited the Sham dunes (which should be rather called "scam" or "shame", for it's a tourist circus)...

... and all those desert gypsy girls pestered me to have their photo taken for five, ten, twenty dollars - depending on how they assessed my finances by my look. I admit I booked a model for five, so to say, with her daddy doing me the extra favor of standing in the background on a camel, just to experience how low one can get in photography... although probably the lowest thing one could do were to show such a photograph anywhere else than in a photoblog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A few pics from Almora

One must love Almora. Easier to discover than Simla, more charming than Mussoorie and definitely less crowded than Mussoorie, it seems to be the most liveable of the hill stations I know. It's as relaxed as an Indian town can be and the pedestrians-only bazaar still has some old houses with delicate woodcarvings on their facade. It was the only place where I got even remotely close to street photography in India.

Two days later, already in Rajasthan, we were having a coffee&cigarette break in a dhaba when Soni looked up from his newspaper and said, "very bad rain in Almora, road we came is blocked now, dozen people dead". We were on our way to Jaisalmer and upon hearing this, I started having serious concerns about the safety of that town. Wherever we went, disaster followed. I actually wanted to spend one or two more days in Almora but heavy rains were exactly what I was afraid of and voila, it happened. The only thing worse than leaving a good place in the anticipation of something bad is to be eventually proven right.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let's build a new site (or die trying) - update

An old friend stumbled upon my post written after the meltdown at 1X and asked if there's any news. Maybe it's about time to give an up-date of the situation, just for the record.

First, when the new .co domains were made available in July-August I obtained lots of catchy domain names for the future site. My personal favorites are:, and
Or maybe it will be something more trivial like,,,,, or just - who knows :)

Or maybe it will be something totally different, because apart from my own project (the developers are in the demo phase) other friends are also building something big; I'm not sure if they liked their name displayed at this stage, hence I prefer not to tell. (As a matter of fact: because almost anyone involved in either project is still on 1X I really better keep my mouth shut). I absolutely loved their demo version but in the end it depends on the overall concept; I hope they will not narrow down the scope of their site to street photography. It's the queen of non-conceptual photographic arts but only for the chosen few, and nobody designing a site wants to have few members.

Bottomline: the project is in its Rubber Duck phase, looking smooth and quiet on the surface but paddling like the devil underneath...


Message from Flickr: "You've been invited to add this photo to the group Kids' Asylum - Eradicate SOCIAL Poverty."
I hardly think I will.
Nice group, nice shots, nice kids. I wonder how many of them are really poor by their own standards. This girl wasn't, by Indian standards anyway. Neither is this shot about poverty. Even if it were, I guess she wouldn't like the idea of becoming a face of poverty.

Likewise, Zoltan Huszti once took a decent portrait of me. I wouldn't like him to add it to the group "Self-righteous arrogant bastards" if such a group existed on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Exorcism in India

"Balaji temple at Mehandipur in Rajasthan is very Powerful place. It is believed that the deity in this temple has divine power to cure a person possessed with evil spirit. Hundreds of 'Sankatwalas', as the possessed people are refereed to in local lingo, throng to the temple everyday to offer prayers and have 'darshan'. The temple has also become a home and the last respite for the victims. The 'Mahant' of the temple, Shri Kishor Puri Ji, prescribes the treatment. It can include reading holy texts, following a strict vegetarian and simple diet, and even afflicts physical pain to one's body. One can witness people going through various physical therapies like keeping heavy stones on their body , on arms, legs and chest , to ease their pain. There are others who inhale the smoke that fumes out of the sweet Patasa's kept on smoldering cowpats. The ones with serious case of spirit possession, who tends to get violent, are even shackled in chains within the temple premises. This may appear a bit anachronistic at the first glance, but thousands of people are believed to have been cured in this way. Festival time (Holi, Hanuman Jayanti and Dusshera etc) are regarded as the most auspicious time to emancipate from the evil spirit" - says the website. (It warns: "Ladies, insane and evil spirited person must be accompanied by a attendant", among else).
Dausa itself could compete for the title of dirtiest town in Rajasthan because the stench and filth, in which stray pigs seemed to be more in their natural habitat than the schoolgirls with their tidy blue-white school uniform, was overwhelming.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple but curiosity always prevails, and the demon inside my head told me to photograph. I had my camera with the 17-40/4 hanging from my neck on its strap, attached a release cord and hid the release button in my pocket. Amidst all the noise and chanting no one could hear the clicking of the shutter. ISO @1600, F=11 and go.

The possessed patiently wait for treatment in the temple's courtyard...
...while the devotees throng inside through a narrow corridor.

Inside one can see the sankatwallahs in their various stages of possession; some just sitting and waiting as if on a railway station, others lurching on the marble floor in the state of total despair.

I found a video on YouTube that catches the temple atmosphere very well, taken by an Argentinian traveler. The creepy part starts at 4.10.

The main altar.

I don't believe in demons but the more I live, the less I know. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.