The 2019 dozen

posted in: Events, Germany, Montana, Music, Theater 0

My choice of twelve pictures I took in 2019.

Thomas Höpker, one of the most famous German photojournalists and member of the MAGNUM photo agency, at the opening of his show ‘Strange Encounters’ at in focus Galerie. When I was a boy, his stories from around the world fascinated me and started my interest in photography.
Cologne, Germany.
A young student carrying his guitar to the classroom at the music school at the Centro de la Cultura San Agustín in La Orotava. The Centro is located in the building of an Augustinian monatery.
La Orotava, Tenerife, Spain.
Runner on the Flößerbrücke.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.
Flower seller.
Vienna, Austria.
At a shooting range in Montana, Laura Schultz shows off her new pink rifle she calls 'The Heartbreaker'.
Lothair, Montana, USA.
'Tough enough to wear pink' fundraiser at the rodeo. The 'freshly squeezed' T-shirt advertise mammograms.
Great Falls, Montana, USA.
Eileen Laskowski drawing at her house in Great Falls, MT. Eileen is an artist and also employed at the city's
C. M. Russell Museum as Education and Programs Manager. Sandy, one of her dogs, is lying at her feet.
Great Falls, Montana, USA.
At Mount Rushmore National Monument, visitors take pictures of the four presidents' illuminated faces.
Keystone, South Dakota, USA.
The Hi-Line Theatre in Rudyard, MT, a community of about 250. Willard 'Gus' Gustafson and his wife
Ophelia (née Rodriguez) have been running this movie theater since 2002.
Rudyard, Montana, USA.
Aischa-Lina Löbbert in the role of Gelsomina in the play ‘La Strada – Ein Landstreich’ on the bank of the river Rhine.
Cologne, Germany.
Interesting weather conditions at the Drachenfels (Dragon’s Rock).
Königswinter, Germany.
The last portrait I took of my black Labrador Alma. On the following day, Christmas Eve, she had to be put down.
Hennef, Germany.

2019 – On and behind the stage

posted in: Events, Music, Theater 0

My pictures have always been a means of telling stories, which puts them more or less in the genre of documentary photography. About three years ago, I started something different: I began taking pictures of performing artists on and behind the stage. Here’s a selection of these pictures taken in 2019.

Photographing the wonderful Tina Werzinger of the Zucchini Sistaz getting ready for the show in Philippsburg.
Marcus Schinkel playing the laser harp at Voyager IV’s concert ‘Pictures at an exhibition’ in Bonn.
Wim de Vries playing a drum solo at Voyager IV’s concert ‘Pictures at an exhibition’ in Bonn.
Alita Moses, lead singer of the band lohai, on the stage in Borken.
Frederike Berendsen of FRÉ at the band’s concert ‘We rise when we lift each other up’ in Borken.
Frederike Berendsen of FRÉ with her stepfather Jerry Danziger at the band’s concert ‘We rise when we lift each other up’ in Borken.
Jam session with Robert Goodenough (bass), Herb Berger (sax and harmonica), Thomas Zech (guitar), Tom Henkes (drums and vocals), Loredana Iadicicco (vocals) and Gandalf (being the dog) at Drakon Bar in Vienna.
Jonny Winters, who has been impersonating Elvis for more than four decades, performing on a miniature golf course in Kircheib.
Christine Per of N.N. Theater getting ready for her performance in the play ‘Luther – I fear nothing’ at the open-air stage in Heisterbacherrott.
Irene Schwarz of N.N. Theater in the play ‘Luther – I fear nothing’ at the open-air stage in Heisterbacherrott.
Did Jünemann in the one-person-play ‘Wir Kellerkinder’ (‘We cellar children’) in which he plays more than ten different characters.
Aischa-Lina Löbbert in the role of Gelsomina in ‘La Strada – Ein Landstreich’ on the bank of the river Rhine in Cologne.
Stella Tonon, lead singer of the German band Bröselmaschine, at the release concert of the band’s new album ‘Elegy’ in Duisburg.
Caris Hermes playing the bass at King Georg in Cologne.
An amazing performance by Aischa-Lina Löbbert at the chamber of the city council in Oberhausen.
The Zucchini Sistaz at their pre-Christmas concert in Hürth.
Aischa-Lina Löbbert playing Mephista (the female version of Mephisto) in Goethe’s play Faust in Hagen.

Review of the Oberwerth Harry & Sally camera bag

posted in: Reviews 0

Disclaimer: I am an Oberwerth Ambassador. This means they send me stuff to review (and actually seem to listen to what I have to say about it). However, I don't get any compensation for this. The words you read here reflect my own opinion.

As readers of my previous camera bag reviews know, I’m very much enamored with the Oberwerth Casual Line of camera bags. I have been using the largest bag of said line, the Richard, for about one and a half years. In fact it has become my almost-everyday-bag.

You noticed the ‘almost’, I’d think. The use of this word has nothing to do with any fault the Richard bag would have. It’s simply that there are days when I don’t need to carry a whole lot of equipment, so a much smaller bag would be sufficient to hold everything I need.

Enter Harry & Sally, the smallest bag of the Casual Line.

The Oberwerth Harry & Sally in front of Vienna's Hofburg.

I think the Oberwerth people came up with the name, which by the way is the German title of the movie ‘When Harry met Sally’, to indicate that this bag would be equally wearable for men and women. Which is probably true, although I certainly know women who carry Richard-sized photo bags if need be.

As a smaller member of the Casual Line family, Harry & Sally sticks to the same design principles. It’s made of the same gorgeous leather that is tanned using vegetable extracts with an environmentally friendly method, it sports the same LOXX fasteners which look great and operate easily, and it has my preferred layout of the straps that hold the bag closed: they are attached to the lower end of the bag and not to the closing flap, which makes one-handed operation a lot easier.

On the inside of the bag you will find the Oberwerth-typical insert that provides sufficient padding for your equipment and can easily be removed if you want to use your Harry & Sally just as a messenger bag. But then, the main purpose of this bag is to hold camera equipment, which leads us to the question: How much gear does it hold?

For me, the motivation for getting this bag was that I discovered that when I shoot casually, I use the focal lengths (full-frame equivalent) of 28 mm, 35 mm and 50 mm for 90 % of my pictures. Also, I like to carry two camera bodies so I don’t have to change lenses all the time and also to have a spare in case I drop one or something else goes wrong. My preferred combination to cover that range is two Fuji X100F cameras with the 28 mm and the 50 mm conversion lenses. And yes, they will easily fit the Harry & Sally.

I also like to use fill-flash from time to time, so I carry a small Metz M400 flash unit with a diffusor, color gels and spare batteries. Talking about spare batteries: the cameras also need them. As you can see from the following picture, the bag will hold all the gear I mentioned.

The Harry & Sally bag and what I typically carry in it.

One evening on a recent trip to Vienna I felt that I might need a somewhat longer lens, too, so instead of the X100F system I carried an X-Pro 2 with the XF 16 mm/2.8, XF 23 mm/2, XF 35 mm/1.4 and XF 50 mm/2 lenses, all of which nicely fit into the bag.

Is Harry & Sally the right companion for your equipment? I can’t tell, but to me it’s the perfect combination of the right size for a small system, practical operation (let me mention those LOXX fasteners again), phenomenal craftsmanship and plain good looks.

The 2018 dozen

posted in: Germany, Montana, Music, Switzerland 1

With the year 2018 ending soon, I browsed the pictures I took over its course and selected a dozen that are important to me.

Street scene.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Father and son watching robotic pole dancers at the Robodonien Festival.
Cologne, Germany.

Main Street.
Hot Springs, Montana.

Elvis on his way to work. Jonny Winters, who has been impersonating Elvis Presley for more than 40 years,
carries his guitar to his vehicle before driving to a performance.
Kircheib, Germany.

The outcast.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Rhoda (29) from Milford Colony and Cornelius (32) from Riverview Colony, getting away from a picnic of Milford Colony Hutterites celebrating the upcoming wedding of Rhoda’s sister.
She wants to get married («we’re getting too old»), but he isn‘t baptized yet. He worked on oil fields in ND and UT, drank and gambled. Last time he applied to be baptized, he was rejected.
Great Falls, Montana.

Gloire (21) and Fungai (19) at the skate park.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Jerry Thunstrom, a member of the Sun River Rangers Shooting Society.
Augusta, Montana.

These two ladies are waiting to visit a concert by Andreas Gabalier, an Austrian
musician who encourages his fans to appear in traditional garb.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

A the Beer Parlor in Hot Springs, bartender Wendy brought her pet rooster named Bitty to work. She saw him hatch and has had him for 2 1/2 years now. Pet roosters can live to about 20 years. He wears a diaper when she takes him out.
Hot Springs, Montana.

Among statues depicting a celtic chief, promoting visits to a local museum, I spotted an urban leopard.
Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Every year at Christmas time, little children in Zurich get to ride on the Märlitram ("fairy tale streetcar" in the local dialect).
Santa Claus drives the vintage streetcar while two angels read Christmas stories to the kids.
Zurich, Switzerland.

Review of the Oberwerth Richard camera bag

posted in: Reviews 0

Disclaimer: I am an Oberwerth Ambassador. This means they send me stuff to review (and actually seem to listen to what I have to say about it). However, I don't get any compensation for this. The words you read here reflect my own opinion.

A little over one and a half years ago, I posted a review of the Oberwerth München camera bag here. It was the first time I ever posted an equipment review on my blog, as I rather show and discuss pictures than gear. However, I’m also very much into camera bags, actually to an extent that makes some friends call me crazy, and felt the need to share the experience of using the München with my readers. Now, that feeling has returned after trying out another bag.

The Oberwerth Richard bag at the Forum Romanum in Rome, Italy.

As you can see from my previous review, I really liked the München, with the exception of the fasteners being attached to the lid of the bag, which makes you pull down the whole affair when you try to close it with one hand. I told the Oberwerth people and they promised to think about it.

And they did (at least that’s what I tell myself). They came up with a new line of bags, which they call the Casual Line, as opposed to the Classic Line, of which the München is a member. The Casual Line counterpart to the München bag in terms of size is the William. As I already have a few bags of exactly that size and sometimes carry a longer lens, I decided on the Richard model, which is about 2cm (four fifths of an inch for you antimetricands) larger in every dimension.

The surprise came when the bag arrived at my home. The Oberwerth company brags about the leather they use for their bags and honestly, they have every right to do so.  The smell of the leather, its look and its feel to the touch are in a class of their own. I realize this is not something one could objectively measure, but this is an item that exudes quality and craftsmanship. Also, the leather is tanned using an environmentally friendly process based on vegetable extracts.

Oberwerth Richard.

And yes, the Casual Line bags have the straps that hold the LOXX fasteners attached to the lower end of the bag, so you pull them upwards to close it. As I already stated in my München review, I like the LOXX fasteners not only for their design, which is beautiful and simple, but also for the ease of operation and the fact that they open and close silently, contrary to fasteners involving Velcro, which some other bags use.

The interior of the Richard bag consists of an insert that can be taken out easily if you want to use it as a messenger bag. The insert can be partitioned according to your needs with soft dividers. After talking to the Oberwerth people, describing what I wanted to pack and how, I eventually received a set of dividers that were just right. If you’re really interested in this bag, my advice is to look at the packing examples on the Oberwerth website and then call them to figure out what configuration would be right for you.

As I said before, the Richard is a little larger than my previous bags, including the München. The extra centimeters come in very handy when I carry the Fuji XF 50-140/2.8 zoom. Even mounted on a Fuji X-Pro2 or X-H1 with the additional 1.4x teleconverter, the lens fits easily in an upright position.

Packing the Oberwerth Richard.

Just like my other Oberwerth bag, this one is a pleasure to carry. This spring I visited Rome to photograph, among other things, an Elvis impersonator visit the Pope’s General Audience. One day I walked around town for 26km (a little over 16 miles), carrying two Fuji X-Pro2 bodies, six lenses, a small flash unit and some other stuff in it without problems.

The one thing that is indeed less practical about the Richard bag is that it doesn’t have a handle like their Classic Line bags do. The soft leather doesn’t lend itself to have one attached to the lid, and I also think it would look odd on bag with such a clean and simple design. That is bad news. The good news is that the company’s product managers actually listen to what customers say, and they came up with a very practical solution. They now offer an accessory handle that securely attaches to two metal rings hidden under the shoulder strap. It’s made of the same leather as the bag itself and can be flapped to the back side or quickly taken off if you don’t need it.

Unfortunately the handle adds a bit to the price of the bag, which isn’t exactly cheap to begin with. You will have to decide for yourself if owning a bag that looks and feels great, is very functional and definitely made to last is worth its price.

Singles: Brazilian Street Festival, New York City

posted in: New York, Singles 0

Back in the early and mid-1990s, I traveled to New York City a number of times to photograph on the streets of this vibrant metropolis that was so much more interesting than the cities in my native Germany. Apart from the action and its phenomenally diverse and interesting inhabitants, what sets the city apart from others is that special quality of light that comes from the interplay of bright areas and shadows.

As long as the sun is shining, that is. On the day I ran into a Brazilian street festival in 1994, this was not quite the case.

Dancers at a Brazilian street festival, NYC.

In fact, the light on the streets between the tall buildings was pretty poor. As I was shooting ISO 100 slide film at the time, this meant I'd have to use a very slow shutter speed, probably 1/8 of a second. Consequently, the people dancing to the music would get blurred.

The only way of getting some more light onto the scene was to use a little bit of flash. Mixing the flash with the ambient light, I could overlay the motion blur with a sharp, colorful rendition, making the action more prominent and conveying a stronger sense of the dynamics of the scene than mere sunlight would have allowed me to.

 

Elvis meets the Pope

posted in: Events, Italy, Music 2

No, I’m not crazy. And no, this is not about photoshopping images of situations that never happened. The fact of the matter is that while the Pope in this story is the real thing, Elvis is, ahem, not so much.

Last summer I saw quite a few homemade-looking billboards next to country roads in my area, advertising an Elvis Museum (https://www.elvismuseum.de/). Of course I was curious, and on the next of the museum’s monthly open-house dates, I drove there.

At the Elvis Museum.

As it turned out, the place is run by Jonny Winters and his wife, Irma Stanton. It is full of Elvis paraphernalia. Concert tickets, LPs, pictures, guitars, posters and even the barber’s chair from the shop where Elvis had his hair cut while he was stationed in Friedberg, Germany. Apart from showcasing items that in one way or another have to do with the life and achievements of Elvis Presley, Jonny has also been an Elvis impersonator for almost 40 years. He jokes that being Elvis keeps him from aging, as the singer never got older than 42.

Back in 1979 he was announced as Jonny Winter at a concert in Germany, as the presenter didn’t like his real name that much. He took on that name and later added the s at the end, so as not to be confused with Johnny Winter, the blues musician.

Jonny Winters dressed as Elvis.

Back in 2010, Jonny had to stay in a local catholic hospital. He liked the way the doctors and the nuns treated him and proposed to show his gratitude by performing gospel songs at the hospital’s Christmas celebration. The real Elvis had been very successful in this genre. The nuns liked the idea, but eventually the Mother Superior intervened, saying she wasn’t certain if that kind of music was truly up to Christian standards. Irma, Jonny’s wife, got a little upset. She offered to record a few songs on CD and send them to the Vatican for examination.

And that's what they did. A few weeks passed, then the Vatican replied. They liked the idea, liked the music and suggested that Jonny come and play at the Pope’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square. And that’s what he did for the first time in 2011.

Since then, Jonny and Irma have organized annual trips to Rome for fellow Elvis fans and Gospel singers. I accompanied them in mid-March of 2018.

The group consisted of 20 people, including Jonny and Irma. Most of them were friends and regular visitors to the Elvis Museum, and almost all were excellent singers.

The first day was spent seeing some of the sights Rome has to offer in abundance. Walking around the city with Elvis a.k.a. Jonny, I noticed how many people looked at him curiously or even took his picture, more or less unnoticed.

The second day was the day of the Papal General Audience. Being in St. Peter’s Square in perfect weather, absolutely clear skies and a temperature around 17C (that’s about 63F for you antimetricands), surrounded by thousands from all over the world, was an experience in itself. Singing gospel songs while waiting for the Holy Father made it special. As a matter of fact, the announcer called out the group as The Gospel Singers from Kircheib, Germany. As luck would have it, Pope Francis decided to have his popemobile drive around where the group was standing, so we got very close to him.

Now carrying his guitar, Jonny was approached by people wherever we went. Quite a few wanted to have their picture taken with him or asked for an autograph. Playing outside at a local bar delighted the patrons as well as the occasional nun passing by.

Playing outside at a bar near the Vatican.

At a coffee place at the Mercato Trionfale we ran into a waiter who was overjoyed of seeing Jonny. He had his colleagues take picture of him with Jonny on their phones and was truly happy to get an autograph.

Waiter Giuliano at La Casina del Caffè is delighted to see Elvis/Jonny.

Two icons: Elvis and a poster of Anita Ekberg in a bar at the Fontana di Trevi.

We spent the rest of the day seeing some more sights and visiting the Hard Rock Cafe, which has a vest on display that belonged to the real Elvis.

Returning to the hotel in the evening, we met a group from Messina, Sicily, by pure coincidence. They, too, were all over Elvis/Jonny, had their pictures taken and asked for specific songs. And yes, most of them sang along. When Jonny played Jailhouse Rock, nobody stayed in their seat.

The next morning saw a few gospel songs being sung in the hotel’s lobby while waiting for transportation to the airport. It had been an exciting and exhausting week for everybody, but mainly for Jonny.

Gospel songs in the hotel's lobby.

An exhausted Jonny on the flight home.

I find it incredible that Elvis Presley is still so amazingly popular more than 40 years after his death. He must have done something right.

The 2017 dozen

posted in: Germany, Montana, Spain 0

With the year 2017 being almost over, I browsed the pictures I took over the last 12 months and selected a dozen pictures that are important to me.

Walking through the rain in front of the lobby of the Taunusturm high-rise. Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

View of the Pico del Teide, Spain's tallest peak and dominant feature of the island of Tenerife. La Orotava, Tenerife, Spain.

A photographer takes a picture of a young girl for her communion. Tenerife, Spain.

Reflection of the headframe of an abandoned coal mine. Herten, Germany.

Elvis with a duck at the Sip ' Dip Lounge at the O'Haire Motor Inn. Great Falls, Montana.

Mona Lisa in the window of a luxury goods store. Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Abby Coleman dancing with Nick Barber to the music of Craig Barton at their bar, the Beer Parlor. Hot Springs, Montana.

Turbo the dog at the cattle roundup on the ranch of Wayne Cross. Camas Prairie, Montana.

Elvis Presley impersonator Jonny Winters taking a break from his performance at a music store. Cologne, Germany.

Skip, a veteran of the Vietnam war, at his favorite bar. Dillon, Montana.

Cheryl Burt, horse trainer. Camas Prairie, Montana.

Hat at the Beer Parlor. Hor Springs, Montana.

Another case of serendipity

posted in: Montana 3

For a people photographer, planning photographic opportunities is not an easy thing. Even more so when he’s traveling and wants to convey the mood of a place. You can’t really plan whom you’re going to meet and what the situation will be like unless you start with a preconceived notion, which is exactly the opposite of what I want to do when I explore a new location. So what can be done? Let serendipity come to the rescue.

What exactly is serendipity? Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Serendipity means a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to a friend Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he told his correspondent, were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of”.

While I’m unfortunately not a prince, what is described here happens to me on my travels all the time. Let me give you an example: recently, I traveled throughout Montana again in pursuit of capturing the wonderful spirit of this state (hint: there is more than one spirit…). I spent several days in Hot Springs, a quaint little town in the western part of the state which is full of interesting people. One day I tried to visit a friend who lives in the hills about 20 miles from the town. I wanted my visit to be a surprise, so I didn’t call her in advance. On the gravel road that leads to her cabin, only about 300 ft. from her gate, the right front tire of my rental car had a blowout. I walked up to her place, only to discover she was not home. Changing the tire with a whimsical scissor jack at 37°F in the rain on a muddy road was no fun. Using what is commonly called ‘the donut’, I slowly drove all the way to Polson and got new rubber on that front wheel. When all was done, it was 6 p.m. and I was back at my motel without a photograph worth talking about.

As the previous weeks of travel had been quite exhausting and I didn’t feel too energetic, I decided to give up searching for the day. I retreated to my room, started up the computer and worked on the pictures of the previous day. At some point I realized it was getting pretty cold (we’re in Montana…) and the electric heater in my room, not much bigger than a deck of cards (I am not kidding) just didn’t cut it. The solution would be to get a second blanket, so I walked over to the motel’s office. And yes, I did take my cameras because, after all, this is Hot Springs and in Hot Springs you never know.

The office was deserted, a weathered sign informing me that there would be somebody around the next morning at 8 a.m., which was no good news at all. But there was something in the air, a sound, a sound that resembled a guitar, yet it was strangely different. Following the direction of my ears, much like a dog follows its nose, led me to the porch on the motel’s street side. A gentleman was sitting there, smoking a cigar and playing what I soon would learn to be a Dobro guitar. He replied to my introduction in a strong southern drawl. As I had lived in South Carolina for a year back in the 1990s, I recognized his way of speech and told him how great it was to finally meet someone without an accent in Montana. This immediately broke the ice, of which I think there was very little to begin with, and within 30 seconds I found myself in his room, where he introduced me to his wife. It turned out they were from North Carolina (OK, slight accent) and had been travelling the American West for a few weeks. His name is Donnie ‘Dobro’ Scott, his wife’s is Barbara. He explained about the Dobro guitar (look it up on Wikipedia if you’re not familiar with it) and then the two of them performed a very romantic love song in that motel room:

Donnie 'Dobro' Scott and his wife Barbara performing a love song in their room at Alameda's in Hot Springs, MT.

After some more conversation and some tasting of the whisky Donnie always carries on his travels, he felt it was time to return to the pleasures of smoking a cigar. That’s when I took the second photo.

Donnie 'Dobro' Scott playing the guitar on the porch of Alameda's in Hot Springs, MT.

As happens so often, serendipity presented an opportunity that wouldn’t have come up in my dreams, let alone in any kind of planning. An open mind, an open heart and some familiarity with the tools at hand were all it took to capture this marvelous situation.

And, by the way, Barbara knew where the motel’s laundry room was, so I did eventually get that second blanket I had come for in the first place.

The 2016 dozen

posted in: Germany, Montana, Singles 0

With 2016 just behind me, I went through the pictures I took over the course of the year and selected 12 of my favorites. Not necessarily the 'best' ones (I find the concept of ranking each and everything a little odd, anyway), but 12 photographs that I will certainly remember.

Thunderstorm passing through Dunkirk, MT.

A musician friend relaxing before a concert.

Banker pausing on the steps of the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Reflection of the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) in the window of a fashion store.

On the street in Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

While her soon-to-be husband takes care of their baby son, Angelica dives headfirst into the Flathead River in Paradise, MT. The day had brought temperatures in the upper 90s.

Main Street in Rudyard, MT.

Judith getting her makeup done at the Kustom Kulture Forever 2016 event at Zeche Ewald in Herten, Germany.

The cross-country team of the Hobson High School in Hobson, MT, consisting only of Rachel and Reba, practices on the football field . The school has about 100 students in K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade), down from 180 ten years ago. The graduation class of 2016 had only three students. All over the Missouri Breaks student numbers are in decline and schools have to pool sports teams.

On the street in Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

My friend Uli watching a model of the Earth in an exhibition in Oberhausen, Germany.

Justus Becker a.k.a. COR, a well-known graffiti artist from Frankfurt/Main, Germany, creating a new masterpiece under the Friedensbrücke.
1 2 3