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Marfa Prada — Playing with Long Exposures

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Marfa, TX is a pretty magical place. It is probably my favorite little town in the U.S. And it is one of the few places that gives me hope for the U.S. at the heart of it, it is a farm town, a place where cowboys rule. but it is also a place where really cool art is at home, a tiny place that has a hipster hotel. and of all the places the bar at this hipster hotel is where you can find yourself talk to a local cowboy, a local farmer, and a local NPR reporter, and a East Coast art collector, two private airplane pilots who are delivering some customers, and you all chat about what is going on this country without fights breaking out, without arguments. It truly is a magical place.

I was there last week, spending three days there at the tail end of a road trip that started in Brownsville (more or less where the Rio Bravo empties out into the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the photos I took on the trip where to document that various border towns, but once I made it to Marfa the local art vibe I guess took hold of me and I experimented a bit more, and what better subject to experiment on than the Marfa Prada.

summer evening at the rodeo

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Summer nights have their own magic and during the time between the 4th of July and Labor Day, when it gets hot and humid (at least in most places across the East Coast), there is probably no better place than a rodeo. And when it comes to rodeos there are few better than the Battle of the Beasts at the J Bar W Ranch in Maryland. Ok, I bet there are rodeos out in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Oregon … out west which are just as good, but what makes them special is that they feel like a family is running them — these are not some large corporate events. you can mingle with the cowboys, things only go 100% smoothly (sometimes it will take 10 or more minutes for a bull to be caught but that just adds to the experience. At the end of the day this is a small town get together (with a few city folks like me thrown in), people are having fun, they are being entertained and enjoy the beauty of a summer night with barely a cloud on the sky, the sunset turning redder and redder as the evening turns to night.

 

Memorial Day

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Memorial Day I usually spend at Arlington National Cemetery. While I go to take photos I have found that I now want to go as much for the people as for the photos. I had a chat with one of the photographers for one of the newsoutlets and he had the same thought. When you start to reach out to the families and friends of those that are there to remembers those that gave their lives for this country you can hear the stories of both. There is the son who died in Afghanistan while saving two of his buddies and who served in the same unit as did his had who sat next to his son’s grave. There is the buddy of a fallen soldier who came back with a stray dog he found in Afghanistan the very day his friend died — and who then wrote about this. and there is the former soldier who served together with his high school buddy, and only one came back from the war. There are tons of stories like these — but what all of these individuals have in common is that they are just happy when they can talk about their lost ones, when there is someone who will listen and who helps them remember their lost ones. Memorial Day is too often unfortunately tagged as the “Official Start of Summer” with people getting out on their boat, kicking off the bbq season, but all along too many of us forget the real reason for this day.

A Day at the Salton Sea

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Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea is one of those little treasures that once you watch it open up a whole new world. and once you have watched the movie you really want to see place. Two years ago was my first visit (a stop on my way to Joshua Tree National Park). Two weeks ago while spending two days in Palm Springs I visited again. It is a surreal place. It is the kind of place that makes you think of movies like Mad Max or The Road and realize that reality can sometimes be stranger or at least pretty close to fiction. The Salton Sea was supposed to be the next Palm Springs. A desert oasis with a lake, a place where the upper middle class and the upper class could hang out, go water skiing, and build beautiful houses. And then nature (with a helping hand of humans) turned on this dream. And now you can buy a lot of land for $4999 (cash). Now it is the place where Breaking Bad is not a TV show but reality.

A day at Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Even compared to the Vatican the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe feels very different. It is not only the Basilica, but there is the Expiatory Temple to Christ The King, there is the Cerrito Chapel, the Basilica Baptistry, and a bunch of other churches and chapels, and between all of those places there are hundreds of people from all over the country coming to see the Lady of Guadalupe. It feels more like a fiesta than going to a church service, but then every now and then there is a pilgrim who is completely focused on his or her journey, or a group of people that brought their statue of the Lady of Guadalupe to have the statue blessed in the church. And then on the opposite end of the big plaza in-front of the Basilica there is a market that connects the basilica space with the surrounding neighborhood. The market seems to be a regular market for people living in the neighborhood but also provides food and snacks for visitors and then it is also the place you can buy all and any items to remember your visit of the Lady of Guadalupe.

San Pedro Atocpan

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Santuario del Señor de las Misericordias, San Pedro Atocpan

When one thinks about mole, the amazing Mexican dish, usually the first place that comes to mind is Oaxaca. That is because probably the most famous version of mole, the mole negro, is from Oaxaca. Oaxacan mole being seen as the home of mole is I assume also the reason why a lot of people think that chocolate is the key ingredient in this dish — which it isn’t. But then you get to San Pedro Atocpan, a smaller town at the southern edges of Mexico City, and you realize that mole is much more than Oaxaca. This town lives mole. Yes, they have an annual mole festival and mole competition, but you only need walk down the main street of the town, Avenida Miguel Hidalgo, to understand the importance of mole to this town — Av. Miguel Hidalgo is lined with store after store not only selling the ingredients of mole from a vast range of chiles to onions, garlic and a range of herbs and nuts, but you will also find canisters of pre-made moles from darker ones, to red moles, to green mole. As you taste them you can understand the different styles, the more fruity ones, the spicier ones, the nuttier ones … each store creating their own version of a range of different moles.

then on top of the mountain overlooking the city there is the imposing church, Santuario del Señor de las Misericordias (see photo).

the obligatory tourist photo

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taking the obligatory tourist photo is always a bit of a doubled edged sword. on the one side you know the same photo exists a million times. but then I don’t just take photos for others. and some of these obligatory photos are obligatory for a reason — they are photos of what is actually beautiful. one way to approach those kind of photos is to maybe try to take them in a different way (and I certainly didn’t do that with the above photo of the painted ladies) but in one way the obligatory tourist photo can, especially for the still learning amateur (a category I would place myself in), be quite interesting. because it provides a situation where you know how a shot should look like and you can then play around to create it. it is in a way like using a recipe of a great chef and cooking it at home. you might have eaten at the chef’s restaurant and know how it should taste, the cookbook might have a photo, so you know how it should look like. but you still have to cook it yourself, and in the process you will likely learn a lot. and I think in a way it is the same with the obligatory tourist photo. look at how some of the better photographers have taken it (what time of day, what angle, what did they include, what did they exclude …) and then practice.

when life gives you lemons …

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taking a longer vacation trip rarely results in me not bringing the right photo equipment. usually there is time to pack and plan. but this summer i had two back to back work trips coming back from the second of those just 24 hours before leaving for a two week vacation trip to Argentina. on top of this i  spent the last three days in bed sick while on the second of those business trips so i didn’t use the camera i brought on that trip at all. packing for the vacation trip, still feeling a bit weak from the stomach bug i just packed my camera, planning to have my 35mm (XCD 3,5/45mm) with me, pretty much the one lens i travel with. i raced to the airport, arrived in Buenos Aires (at the amazing Home Hotel), unpacked, grabbed my camera and went for a walk. as i took the first photo i thought something was off. and on closer inspection, i realized (and at the same time remembered) that i did not have the 35mm lens on the camera body, but rather the much longer XCD 3,2/90mm — which would be an equivalent of 71mm, compared to the 35mm. ok. first i was bummed. then 71mm just didn’t feel right. way to close, not enough in the frame. and so the first day was more or less just lost because of my attitude. over a great dinner at Cucina Paradiso just around the corner from the hotel i recognized there wasn’t any chance to change things, i was stuck with the 71mm lens and better make the most out of it. so starting with the next day i just changed the way i usually approach a new city. usually i look for people and try to capture daily scenes (like this set that i took in Oaxaca at the market), instead now i wanted to focus on little things — capture the parts of the city. while the 71mm is great for portraiture i don’t like it to capture people on the street with it. so i looked for other things — i took at ton of photos of buildings, but then once i got to the La Recoleta cemetery that i where i really started to enjoy the 71mm, actually i was really happy i  had this lens rather than the 35mm. and so in the end i didn’t come back with the photos i thought i would take but came back with an appreciation for a whole different way to look at a place.

venice beach skatepark

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no trip to LA is really complete for me without a visit of the Venice Beach Skatepark. Venice Beach can be a pain i will admit, but spending time at the Skatepark quickly makes up for it. seeing the talent and the dedication is always inspiring.

during my last trip i headed there directly from the airport, trying to catch the sunset. i was way too early for the sunset, but i did get there to get a lower sun than usually, having softer light and also nice long shadows. i just posted a bunch of the photos from that trip on my portfolio site here: venice beach skatepark.

long beach harbor

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photos from two days in Long Beach and San Pedro. As you drive down the highway from Los Angeles to San Diego you pass mountains of containers, see huge ships in the distance, and likely curse the endless trucks. once you get off the highway you enter a labyrinth of streets where it can be hard to stop to take a shot and you will drive by so many scenes you would have loved to stop the car, but no parking spot in sight and walking in this area is likely close to a death sentence. but once you find areas that you can walk a bit, get close this is a fantastic space. you will see the small widgets of the global economy (the containers) and all the things that make them move.