You can't find another city that is a better backdrop for street photography than exactly the city where street photography was born.
When I decided to move to Paris in 2012, all my then colleagues felt I was crazy. I was working at the leading company of the industry, with a good salary and access to all the opportunities in the Silicon Valley. However, it's not entirely exaggerating to say that I made the decision partly because I owned a Leica. The truth is when the headhunter rang me and the word "Paris" slipped off his tongue, a lightbulb somewhere deep in my brain went off immediately. It was just a matter of figuring out the optimal path.
As exasperating as it sometimes could be when it comes to living a daily life, Paris has exceeded all my expectation in terms of street photography.
I quickly got used to taking long walks during the weekends, from the quarter of Vavin where I live, through Jardin du Luxembourg, past either St. Sulpice or Odéon, via Rue de Seine which leads to the (once) gorgeous Pont des Arts, then upstream along the Seine River, till Île de la Cité, hurling a look over Hôtel de Ville where Robert Doisneau took that famous photo of the kiss, swirling through the tiny alleys of Île Saint-Louis, past Pont Saint-Louis and then watching the sun fall behind Notre Dame de Paris...
Paris is not only a moveable feast. It's also the decisive moment. It's in Paris that I gradually got rid off all my other photography gears and shooting habits, reducing my creative tool in a minimalistic way to only my faithful Leica M9 and the enviable Noctilux f/0.95 50mm ASPH.
Even if you don't speak Japanese, Tokyo will still be one of the most awe-inspiring cities you're ever gonna visit: the metro, the crowd, the food, the sky-scrappers, the sickly clean streets and the toilettes.
But if you speak the language and find a way to blend in, this gigantic metropolitan of almost 38M people connected by the metro system gives you entirely different layers of sensation, which is what I have been working to capture when I do have my Leica with me during business trips to Tokyo.
Here are some of the keywords to keep in mind when appreciating this city (and this country):
#contradiction : #矛盾
#suppression : #抑圧
#sensual : #官能
#night : #夜
#perversion : #変質
After years of longing to visit Puglia, I finally had the chance to spend my 2-week summer vacation by myself in this astoundingly beautiful region, which together with some areas of the nearby was culturally referred to as Apuglia.
Most tourists come here for its beautiful coastal line, innumerable breathtaking beaches, instagram-perfect small towns and heavenly seafood. I’ve longed to come, though, for a different reason: Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. Known as Federico II in Italian, this incredibly intelligent and amazingly modern — probably more modern than some of the US and UK politicians today that occupy key positions in these two nominal democracies — he was actually born in Puglia and grew up in Sicilia. I was a big fan of Sicilia and visited it multiple times. Through my study of its history I became an instant fan of Frederick II.
Despite spending his childhood alone in the streets of Palermo, mingling with all the Sicilians and therefore being recognized intimately by Sicilians as their king, he eventually spent a lot more of his life in Apuglia and Napoli, eventually died on 13 December 1250 in Castel Fiorentino, in Apulia, after an attack of dysentery.
This two-week trip to Puglia took me through Lecce, Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca, Galatina, Corigliano d’Otranto, Otranto, Santa Cesarea Terme, Monopoli, Matera and inevitably the tourist-plagued Bari, Alberobello and Polignano a Mare. I was able to visit many castles built or reinforced by Federico II himself and historical sites related to him. Even finishing (yet) another book about his life along the way which I picked up at my visit to Castello Normanno-Svevo di Bari. I took home full of memory of this great emperor figure that we might never see in our modern world again.
Regarding photography, this was also the trip where I tested out the idea of having a Q (in my case, a Q2) as the companion of M9 and Noctilux. For years I shot only the latter pair and was never disappointed. However, M9/Noctilux on vacation is at best a controversial idea. It takes a lot of brain power and feels almost like working. I’ve been contemplating a complimentary camera for a long time but my failed and brief relationships with the likes of Sony and Fujifilm mirrorless and APS digicams really put me off regarding giving another camera a shot.
With all the praises heaped on Q over the past couple years, plus the usual pre-vacation gear-buying urge, I eventually acquired a Q2 shortly before the trip — with some help from my favorite local shop in Paris Photo Suffren — and took both with me to Puglia.
It took me several days to get used to using Q2 and starting to unlock its technical prowess. It’s a bit like what audiophiles call “break-in period”. Eventually I was able to create some nice scenery and travel shots, which was the sole purpose of my getting Q2. For the three main cities that I stayed in, there were a few laid-back days where I pulled out M9/Noctilux and did street photography.
Conclusion: Q2 is a worthy companion to my war-horse M9/Noctilux. As of now I still shoot Q2 with my fingers and not my eyes-brain-heart triage which I naturally incur when using M9/Noctilux. I doubt if I’d ever build that connection with Q2 — this camera simply too automatic. However, it’d no doubt accompany me on vacations as well as business trips, where the last thing I want is to “work” on photography everyday!
No words could capture the beauty of this once city-state, despite being frequently inundated by tourists these days, despite that fewer and fewer shops and restaurants are actually owned by locals, despite that acqua alta seems to get worse every year, despite the tradition of carnevale being lost in the seas of cheap China-made replicas of the once exquisite hand-made masks...
A bit like Sicilia, what's fascinating to me about Venezia is not those seen by the eyes or captured in phots, but rather its long history the led to this current state. I got as much vibe reading Roger Crowley's "City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas" as trotting down the ancient streets of Giudecca. Only through decent understand of the root of the first country built purely on trading without land production could one agree with the inner spirit of this city.
I don't know how long Venezia could last against the tides and the exploding tourists. I do know I will keep returning to it, if only to cherish its waning grandeur...
Paris to the Japanese is exactly like Kyoto to the French. In the west there might not be another country whose citizens appreciate Kyoto as much.
Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto is still foreign even if you do speak Japanese - heck! Even to Japanese outside of Kyoto, this old city of more than a 1000 years of history is also more or less foreign.
However, don't get me wrong. The city is very nice to tourists. The problem is it's also very closed to tourists. Majority of people from the outside could only scratch the surface such as taking a walk at Kiyomizu-dera or sitting down for a cup of traditionally made Maccha. One can rent an exquisite set of Kimono, dress oneself up take some selfies on the ancient streets. Etc...
But no one, I repeat, no non-Kyoto people could really go beyond the surface.
Yet, such is the amazing depth of this city that even the surface is intoxicating enough. If you've never visited Kyoto, don't say you've been to Japan before.
Having lived in Paris for 7 years, I sometimes feel ashamed that I actually have never been to some of the well-known regions in this beautiful country, such as Bordeaux (ouch!) and Pays basque (less ouch?). But my worst offender would probably be Normandie, which is considered by many Parisians as their backyard, where owning a second home was a dream of many middle class families during the 70’s~90’s.
But my offender lies not in “never been to Normandie”, but actually I have been there once in the previous 7 years, but to Deauville, which was a favorite of many Parisians seeking a weekend break but hated by many locals. I’ve heard about this before but did not feel so strongly until I visited Normadie in July 2019 at the invitation of an investor friend, whose family has a long history in the region and who owns a villa in St-Pierre-en-Port.
And amid the fury of this otherwise extremely amicable human being when I mentioned that I’ve been to Deauville, my eyes were wide opened during the 48hrs of stay including visits to Fécamp and the jaw-droopingly gorgeous Étretat.
Now I finally know why Normandie people hate the Deauville-Paris combo so much!
I was invited to Porto to speak at a startup workshop and a VC conference. It was my first time not only to the city, but also to the mariner country that centuries ago gave my homeland the beautiful name of "Formosa".
Though it's predominantly a business trip, I still have my Leica with me as I extended my stay to include the weekend so that I have a chance to see the city. I've been to too many beautiful medieval towns in Italy and France that I didn't expect much before the trip, despite several friends told me otherwise. I have to say that I was genuinely and surprisingly charmed.
The city is kind of large but the old town maintained its historical look very well. What separates it from other medieval cities in Europe, though, is its affinity to the main river Douro. The hilly town descends gorgeously to the river banks, where lines of bars and coffee shops provide lots of happy hours.
Across the river is an even more pleasant promenade, where warehouses of the famed port wines line up. One could enjoy a tasting menu of 5 or 6 different port wines with only 5€ or so. As the afternoon sun warmly pours over the banks, life could not be more pleasant.
The city gave birth to three architects of world fame: Alvaro Siza, Pritzker winners Souto de Moura and Rem Koolhaas. As an architecture fan I paid my dues to visit Koolhaas' Casa da Música and Siza's Museu Serralves, both easily reachable in the city, and came away in awe and fully inspired. If you're going to Porto, don't miss out either.
Believe it or not, having been living in Europe for 6 years, this was actually the first time I went to Barcelona.
Maybe it's because all those TV coverages on young bodies in search of the 3S (Sun, Sea & Sex) during summertime, or it's because the notoriously meaningless Mobile World Congress in the winter. One way or the other I just never found the reason to visit this Catalonia city that so many hold dear to their hearts.
However, after 36 hrs in Barcelona before heading toward the country side for the wedding of my MBA buddy, I have to say that Barcelona impressed me more than I had imagined but fell short of moving me. Unlike Venezia, where each visit plants the seed of returning, Barcelona, as comfortable and arguably beautiful as it is, did not register such feeling in me.
I guess overall the city just lacked some sort of rigor and tension that I like. It’s too relaxing but not relaxing enough. A bit of neither here nor there for my taste.
The food is great though. Other than one misguided dinner at a tourist spot, all other meals were awesome. Still, I don’t see myself returning to the city other than for business, especially that I’m not really a beach guy.
As a result, don’t be surprised if these photos are not the last batch from me about the capital of Catalonia…
It’s been 5 years since I was last in Stockholm. Unlike the previous time when I visited at the start of the winter, this time I arrived at the tail of the summer. Absolutely gorgeous weather, coupled with the always beautiful and nice people, as well as the beautiful old town. I almost wanted to move there.
Until I remember that summer is rather short.
Anyway, this time I had the chance to venture beyond the old town Gamla Stan. For a sunny afternoon I walked all the way through Slussen, past Katarina Kyrka, via the lovely residential Nytorget, and eventually arrived at the Vita Bergen, where young Swedish hippies from the 70’s traveled through time to picnic on the grass while listening to « Can’t fight this feeling » by REO Speedwagon…etc. All good for 20,000+ steps.
Can’t get a more complete experience than this!
I have been to Hong Kong many times but it's always short and dense business trips coupled with back-and-forth visits to Shenzhen. For this reason I had never brought Leica with me, until this past business trip where I was invited to speak at a conference where they insisted that I stay till Saturday as well. As my flight is midnight, this gave me ample time on Saturday to troll around for some shots.
This also means that unlike most other cities where my Leica went into an exploration like myself for the first time in the city, together we're approaching Hong Kong like an old acquaintance. For example. I kind of knew where to find shots and what time in the day would give me certain effects. This felt like my landscape days where things were more or less planned and there was rarely positive surprises, only negative ones such as an unexpected cloud blocking the sunset, etc.
Nevertheless, this old friend that never sleeps brought me tons of joy shooting around. Its hilly roads and cramped maze are already well known among street photographers. This time around the relaxing Saturday atmosphere added tons of colors to the expressions of the people on the streets.
That said, I do not feel that I had gotten any master shot during this trip. Rest assure I'll be back again in search of that definitive look of mine in Hong Kong.
Shonan is not a city. But for many Tokyo residents, this costal area a bit more than an hour away by train from the metropolitan is a mirror image of their crowded and pressurized life.
Surfers come here in search of high tides. Young girls come here to show off their bikinis and tanned skin. Young couples come here for the cafés and the temples. Families come here for the famed tourist sites such as Enoshima (江ノ島), the aquarium and the Great Buddha (鎌倉大仏). Across ages and sexes, people find their own escapes here during those day trips, before they return to the city to continue the daily grinds.
Shonan is also famous for pop rock bands associated strongly with the region, both in terms of music and concerts, such as Southern All Stars (サザンオールスターズ) and TUBE (チューブ). Their music have been flowing out of the cassette players in the cars stuffed in traffic along the tiny two-lane coastal road of Shonan for the past 30 years.
Personally I've been to Shonan twice, once in winter and once in full summer. Both charming trips but winter definitely is much more pleasant if one does not plan to go into the sea. Summer in Shonan is just too hot and difficult to focus on photography - one keeps getting distracted by the next group of raucous young ladies in bikinis storming by. On the other hand, the true essence of Shonan, both the term and the scent it elicits, could only be found during the hot, humid summer times.
My suggestion? Go in summer, leave your Leica at home and just enjoy it!