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Oct. 29th, 2009

serj, new

Why I photograph?

Pregunta que me he repetido mil veces, y que titula un articulo escrito por uno de mis fotógrafos favoritos y fuente principal de inspiración. Pero esta es una pregunta compleja, y no creo que una simple entrada en este blog pueda responderla en su totalidad. ¿Que me impulsa a tomar una cámara, cualquiera que estuviera a mano en ese momento? ¿Que sentimiento se empezó a formar dentro de mi cuando cargue mi primer rollo? ¿Como explicar lo que sentí cuando presione el obturador por primera vez, y capturar una escena que quería conservar para siempre? ¿Que me mueve a levantarme temprano casi todos los fines de semana y salir para el Vedado, Centro Habana o la Habana Vieja a tirar fotos; o a llevar mi cámara a todas partes y en todo momento?

No me importa el medio, ni el formato, ni la cámara. No me importa el clima, la hora o el lugar. Ya sea en las escaleras del Capitolio, en la Calle Obispo, en el Malecón, la Rampa o dentro de un P5... Siempre hay algo interesante. Ya sea una historia singular, un personaje llamativo, o un momento esperando ser capturado. Algunas veces la foto saldrá borrosa, sub o sobre expuesta... pero el contenido y su esencia estará presente en un cuadradito de 34x36 mm, o en un sensor electrónico, o en el formato o medio que use para capturarlo. Lo que importa es que esta ahí, que es tuyo, y lo sera para siempre. Es tu pequeño (o gran) recuerdo de un momento que no quieres perder, y que deseas revivir y compartirlo con el resto de las personas. Muchas veces no tiro fotos para mi, sino para personas que sé que apreciarán lo que queria capturar y preservar solo para ellas, y que me agradecerán en lo profundo de su corazon el haber compartido ese momento-imagen-sentimiento.

I don't care what it is: the perfect smile of a total stranger on the bus stop, a lovely stroke of light coming out of the semi open blinds in my bedroom's window, the nostalgic and gloomy mood of a rainy afternoon, the way the sun reflects off the hair of your loved one; the sad stare of an old man, wishing he could have done and said everything he had planned to in life, but never did; the first kiss of a couple after they promised to be together, no matter what, until death turn them apart... All those perfect moments you know you want to take it with you, and leave them to your loved ones when you are gone. Those moments you know you want to remember always, and if you forget them for some reason, you know you can go through your old photos and remember them like the very first time.

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Posted via email from Cuban Street Photography

Mar. 23rd, 2009

serj, new

New Facebook, and why you shouldn't always trust users

There's a big fuzz about Facebook's new design, and I personally don't understand why. The new user interface is more intuitive, easier to use, and all the old good features are still there. Is different? Hell yes! Is new? You betcha! Users like different and new? No if the change was on something they already know and use, even if its performance was mediocre. People hate weird changes on software they are comfortable with, especially final users.

This reminds me when we installed the new version of my college's on line shopping web app. Been completely developed by us, it was a huge leap from the old version. It featured a new and improved user interface, a new business model, faster response (God bless modperl!) and some extra features to boost "client satisfaction". We spend a whole week making support videos on how to use the new system, wrote a detailed user guide, and set up an email account for support... the whole package! We thought that everyone will fall in love with the new version, but the history was far from the truth.

The second day of the system been on line we started receiving angry calls/mails from the users. The subjects varied from: "Why the application is so different now?", "Why you changed the old one?",  and "I can find anything!!!" to cute stuff like "This new version is a LOAD OF SHIT!!!". When the initial hysteria dissipated, the users main concern was that they couldn't work with the new version, because they didn't knew how to. Of course that they didn't check out neither the user guide nor the video that why made. The users hate that. Users want an application that behaves exactly how they expect to. If something is different or weird, then you are screw. That was our case. Our users preferred the old, slow, ugly and buggy version rather that the new, fast, improved one. When we give some tutoring on how to use the new system, opinions began to change, especially with new users. But still some of the older users preferred the old version, just because they were accustomed to it. There was no win-win situation or a happy ending there. 

Resuming, users will always complain with major changes, even if the changes are made for the best. Fortunately in the end they generally will get used to it, especially if everyone continues to use the changed system/app/thingy. I think the Facebook team made a great work with the new face of the site, and uh-oh-oh... their user base is still growing!

Cheers to the loyal, the grumpy, and the new Facebook users. Tune out!
 

Feb. 26th, 2009

serj, new

Catching light

I haven't updated for a loooong time, mainly because I'm virtually living in deviantArt. I join a pretty awesome club there called The Yard Collective, focusing mainly in Industrial and Street photography. It has all the classic stuff about dA clubs: polls, contests, features from the admins, best photo of the month, etc. Another great thing about it is the admins, who are one of the greatest people I have met in dA. Seriously, if you are new in dA and street/industrial photography are you thing, please drop by and take a look.

I have been using both of my film cameras without any problem now, specially the Nikon S2. Is a wonderful tool for street photography! You can compose, focus and shoot quickly, without any hassles, and almost with no shutter noise at all. Its viewfinder, not as bright as the Leicas have, is bright and uncluttered; a plus for me because I won't be planning to use another lens rather than my Nikkor 50mm/f1.4 (also because I can't afford another one). Too bad this camera has no metering system, so I'm roughly estimating all my shots. On first roll I shot with it I got several underexposed frames because of wrong exposure estimation. Then I (luckily) learn that is better to overexpose than underexpose, so I'm shooting the current film taking this into consideration.

Jan. 8th, 2009

serj, new

Analog Disaster

This year's last Saturday occurred something that only can be call a catastrophe. There has been some time since something like that happened to me. The catastrophe: the camera I was using (the Zenit-E) had a light leak that I didn't notice, because when my brother gave it to me (with film included), and he didn't check the camera's condition. The light leak (as you can imagine) rendered the film in the camera useless. All the photos were ruined... The moment the photo shop attendant pulled the blank film out of the process machine, like a magician pulling a hankyshift out of his sleeve, looking at me saying: "This is completely blank!"... was horribly shocking. Thanks God that iDoux was with me. I didn't know that would affect me so much. It's not that I fucked up, because I didn't know about the camera's dreadful state; but I never should go out to take photographs ignoring the state of my equipment.

So many unique moments and subjects that I thought I captured on film... lost forever.

The first photos I took: Was a lovely asian girl, seated waiting for someone. She was focused on her city map. She looked beautiful, so I took a picture of her. Then I walk a few blocks and on my way back, I find her standing up, still reading the map. I decided to take another picture of her, but I wanted to capture her lovely face looking at the camera. So I gently shout at her direction to call her attention, and in the moment she looked at me I press my shutter, knowing I had her forever on that 35mm frame. She didn't mind been photographed, she even enjoyed it, letting me know with a smile.

Afterwards I was walking down some street and went across a place that looked like a hair dressing class was taking place. The teacher was dyeing some girl's hair to show the students the procedure. The scene was delightful to watch. Everyone seemed so focused on the teacher's doing, and the teacher was so methodical during the procedure, and she looked so beautiful while doing it. Another picture taken. A little bit difficult this time concerning light, because they were in a closed place, and I was outside on the street.

I keep on walking and reached the Capitolio, and took a few more pictures. One of a beggar taking the sun in a very unique pose (looked like a neoclassical statue), a red haired tourist drinking beer in the stairs on the Capitolio, a lovely Japanese girl also seating on those stairs, and a kid flying his kite.

Later on the Parque Central, a spotted three German tourists with their baggage piled up on the street, and they standing around it. They looked kind of lost. One was standing besides the pile of bags, looking to the distance, another was leaned forward looking a city map, and the other was seated besides the bags, with the classic "Where the hell are we" tourist face. I nailed them completely, because they were so focused on their orientation tragedy I didn't need to hide with the camera. Besides, the light condition was perfect.

On Obispo Street I photograph two interesting subjects. One dressing 'a la Hemingway', smoking a Cuban cigar and waiting for his order on a classical Cuban bar. The other reading (very focused) his menu at another cafeteria.

A took a bunch of other photographs, but the one I describe above were the most important ones. The ones I didn’t want to forget. The ones I want to remember twenty years form now.

Well, at least I learned my lesson. Never take things for granted regarding equipment, and always double check it PERSONALLY before loading film or hitting the streets. If this didn’t happened, I wouldn’t notice the tiny but still fatal hole on the shutter curtain on my Zenit 12, something I haven’t discovered until now. Mainly because I didn’t get all paranoid checking it. But now, with my lesson learned, I found that fatal flaw in that camera. When the shutter is cocked, and the curtain is loaded to a side, is when only you can see the hole. And it also had a light leak on the viewfinder! Nothing weird in old cameras, as I later found out doing research on the internet. Now the only thing left to do is taking the two cameras for servicing and hoping for the best.

Jan. 3rd, 2009

serj, new

New Hobby

I started learning photography a couple of months ago. I always liked it, but never took it as a real hobby. But since the end of this summer vacations, and in the preceding months, important personal experiences has lead me to reconsider it. Not as a temporal phase, not as an empiric thing, but as a permanent practice. So since beginnings of October I have been reading and studying photography concepts and principles as a serious subject. Not having an available photo course until next year's summer I started studying on my own; gatering all the information I could get my hands on, online and offline.

And I'm not talking about digital photography...

I'm talking about film.

Must sound crazy, in the era of digital photography, me taking the "analog way". I still don't know if it is because of the final result, waiting for the film's processing, the prints, or the equipment. I just know that I'm taking on analogue photography because it will make me understand better photography's concepts, and it will gave me good learning habits. Another (practical) reason is because I don't own any digital camera. I could borrow one, (like I normally do), but won't be my own camera.

And by the way, I have bad luck with borrowed stuff. :p

Dec. 23rd, 2008

serj, new

Carpe Diem

 I was walking back home, and in front of me, in a bus line, there was a young couple. They were standing one besides the other, and were about to take the bus. They were walking slowly because the bus line was long and they were almost at the end of it. Then I carefully look at them, and I realise that he was touching her neck. Well, he was caressing her nape, diving his fingers through her dark blond hair, slowly and gently. It was very beautiful to watch, lovely. I love that kind of affection demonstrations: discrete, quiet, silent... sincere.
 
 I could stand there and watch them for hours.

Dec. 12th, 2008

serj, new

On Fridays

 I always liked Fridays. You see, when I get out the office, I always take the campus's bus. I always have a few minutes to spare, because the bus leaves at 5 o'clock, and I aboard it usually 10 or 15 minutes early. So, I can got up the bus, sat on my favorite spot, put on my headphones and listen to whatever I had on my player.
 
 And the afternoon scenes you can contemplate from my seat...
 
 The sun floods everything with a warm golden caramel light, and the same light reflects on the green grass, making it shine like it was a golden meadow.  The weather is cold yet sunny. The people working at the campus hurry up to get in the other available buses, according to their destination. You can hear the buses engines starting one by one, purring quietly. And in caravan fashion, the buses begin to leave. This week's last ride home from work has started.

Nov. 23rd, 2008

serj, new

My best and worst time of the year

November, by Tom Waits.

No shadows, no stars
There's no moon and no cars, November
It only believes in a pile of dead leaves
And a moon that's the color of bone

No prayers for November to linger longer
Stick your spoon in the wall and we'll slaughter them all
November has tied me to an old dead tree
Get word to April to rescue me
November's cold chain made of wet boots and rain
Shiny black ravens on chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd, you're my firing squad, November

With my hair slicked back with carrion shellac
With the blood from a pheasant and the bone from a hare
Tied to the branches of a roebuck stag
Left to wave in the timber like a buck shot flag

Go away you rainsnout
Go away, blow your brains out, November

Nov. 21st, 2008

serj, new

First 10K race.

This past Sunday I ran my first 10K race. Everything started with a simple encouragement by my work's boss, at only 4 days for the race. Thanks God I had several months of running under my belt, and I normally run five/six times a week distances of 5,6 or 7Km runs, depending of the mood I'm in that day. I stood and think about it for a minute. I could do the run, without any problems. I only needed a new pair of shoes, because mine were at the end of their service life. But in everything else I was ready. The next day (Friday) I did a 7km run to test different paces and train some hills runs, by far my main difficulty after a few km. My body performed great, only with a slight shoulder and upper back discomfort; mainly because of my shoe’s poor condition. That was gonna be a problem, but I could endure the pain until the end of the run.

 

 When I got home after the test run, I carefully inspected my old loyal running shoes. Man, I liked those shoes. I began to run with them almost 11 month ago, and are almost falling apart. And touching the soles I realize that my poor shoes were doomed. Good bye old trainers, you were from the begging of my running experiments, when I had almost 20 pounds of overweight. I'm a little stupid with material things, and it made me a bit sad saying goodbye to that shoes. Well, such is life.

 

 Now the main task was to find a new pair of shoes... and in this time of the year I'm sooooo broke, so a new pair of decent trainers will be impossible. And I couldn’t ask to my stepdad or brother for a pair of theirs, because they are a couple of sizes bigger than mine. So, I was pretty much screw. Then Saturday came with the good news of a pair of shoes! A friend of mine was going to live in Japan, and he gave me his shoes. Luckily for me we were the same size, and the shoes were almost new. I felt so relieved and happy… Now I can finally hit the asphalt on Sunday.

 

The day of the race I woke up at 4:30 am, because the race started at 7:00 am and the starting place was a little far of my house. I arrive there with 40 minutes to spare. I did a thorough warm up, stretch like hell, urinated like a horse, and did a couple of warming jogs around the starting place. About 10 minutes before the race started I meet a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. He was accompanying another guy who was going to make the 10K run too, so I join them. 5 minutes after the race started I entered in the running group… well, to say better, mass. There were almost 1300 runners gathered in that place, all pushed up against each other, all eager to hear the starting shot. We placed ourselves in the front part of that compact group and stood waiting. Besides the local runners, there were a lot of Swedish, Norwegians, Germans and Japanese runners too.  With only 3 minutes to go, the crowd began to jump and bounce of excitement. You could feel the low constant beating of hundreds of feet, impatient to eat miles of pavement. The gun was raised, all the heads pointed at the hand that held it, and my heart pounded with an ultimate exhilaration.

 

 The shot sounded… The race has started.

 

 Now, imagine a solid mass of people at your back, trying to break free from each other. A genuine force that pushes you, drives you forward, and moves you from side to side. I felt that I weighted nothing. I felt an urge to run like the wind. I felt a sensation of been flying, of been weightless… I was in an unknown state of happiness. I felt happy. I felt really happy, like I haven’t felt in a long time. I remember that in the begging of the race, when I was taking speed to reach my usual rhythm, I was also smiling with sincere joy. That was a feeling I will treasure for the rest of my life.

 

The race was on. The weather was nice: cool, cloudy, and a little windy. But when I reached the Malecón I realized something I didn’t think of. The sea was choppy, so the air was salty, and it felt like I was breathing sand paper… Beside that, the race conditions were phenomenal. The 5 km mark even took me completely by surprise. The worst part of the tour was a moderate climb of almost 1Km in the very end of the race. When I reached the 10K mark I was tired, but not exhausted. My nose airways hurt like hell, but neither my shoulders nor back hurt. Not even discomfort. I had some minor blisters on the side of each feet due to the fact when I run I tend to over-pronate, and was my first time with that shoes (btw it performed great).

 

I was the 96th runner to arrive out of 1300. Not bad since it’s my first time running that distance. That number took me by surprise, because I wasn’t running for a position; just for the sake of the run. Maybe next year I could be in the first 50… or even 30. Well, I don’t even care about it. I did my first 10K race. I felt like I haven’t felt in years. And I did it alone. It was something I had and needed to do by myself. The final feeling of accomplishment…? Priceless.

Oct. 26th, 2008

serj, new

Nice Saturday morning, I'm gonna take it with me when I'm gone.

This Sunday I was waiting for my Muay Thai instructor in the park when we usually do our training. Nobody wasn't there yet (usually I'm always the first one arriving), so I sat down and waited for the people to show up. There were two kids and an old man playing baseball. The two kids were playing, and the old man, who was the grandfather of one of the kids, was staring at them, coaching their game. It was a relaxing scene to watch. Then suddenly the old man got up and began to pitch for the kids, and later on he even bat a couple of balls for the kids, so they could practice their fielding skills. I mean, the guy was probably in his mid seventies, but could pitch and bat for the kids like a young man! And for the look on his face you could tell that he had experience, and he was enjoying every moment of been able to play ball with his grandson and grandson's friend. It was so relaxing and tender to watch. It reminded me when I was a child. I was not very fond of outdoor activities. I can tell if it's because my dad never took me to do sporty stuff because I was too little (He pass away when I was four years old), or if it because my stepfather ( who appear in my life when I was almost six) didn't try that harder to take me out to do dad-son activities. He played baseball with me a few times, but it didn't evolve.

And there I was, waiting for the Thai coach to arrive (he didn't show up in the end), listening to Tom Waits (song: Take It With Me), and enjoying the innocent game. I didn't feel bad, or sad, or bitter because I wasn't able to play in the park with my dad or grandpa. I felt at ease, enjoying the moment, watching them have a nice Sunday morning, building the foundations that will sustain their grandfather-grandson relationship through the upcoming years. Was a nice Sunday morning after all.

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