Weekly Photo Challenge: Heritage

This week’s photo challenge is Heritage. To me, heritage is much about history and much about culture, – two things that growing up in St Petersburg, home of one of the world’s largest museums and a scene of many, well, interesting historical events, has deeply ingrained into my character. That made me put work aside for a moment and go through the pictures of my recent travels.

As you might have noticed, I like learning new things. A few weeks ago I discovered a new country for me – Tunisia. It’s capital, Tunis, has the world’s largest mosaics collection, Le Bardo. And that’s just breathtaking: hundreds and hundreds of square meters of history laid out in gorgeous rainbow colored tiles, floor to ceiling.

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Which museum have you recently discovered?

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

I have a moment to tune in to the Weekly Photo Challenge contests that brought me so many great impressions (and yet so many great friends). This week’s theme is Earth: and as you would understand if you have ever opened my blog, I just could not pass such a topic.

My love for outdoors was not inborn. I am coming from the heart of a 5 million city, and for many years nature was something I mostly saw in books and on TV, something very theoretical. For a long time, landscape beauty for me equaled city skyline and fine architecture. The only sunsets I saw were that over the cities. Apart from my summer time in a Southern city where my grandmother lived, I have never seen the stars.

And then I moved to Finland, to the capital city smaller than my hometown’s central island. Finland has taught me many things, for which I will be forever grateful. Appreciation of (and introduction to) nature was one of them.

I have traveled a lot since then, and have seen many amazing cities. I fell in love with New York, Berlin, Lisbon, Rome and Havana. I gave my heart to Paris. But when I think about all my travels, the images that come to mind first are that of nature: the sunset over Oia, the turquoise waters of Crete, Morocco desertIguazu Falls. Cities make imagination wander, nature captures hearts. Even for a die-hard urban person that I am.

And Rio, Rio has it all. ❤

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Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish

Looks like Weekly Photo Challenges are the main contribution I manage to make for this blog during this period of my exciting work life, but so it be. Something little often goes a long way, and the pictures I am usually using for these challenges are coming from my trips, – so one more memory knot is one more sip of happiness.

The topic of this week is Wish. Wishes and dreams are very important for me. There were certainly times in my life when wishes and dreams were all that I had. First steps in every of the nine countries I lived, the job searching period in the end of my MBA studies (with my European residence permit expiring), the first time I held a DSLR camera in my hands. Looking back, I don’t think about these experiences as challenging times but as happy moments, when the future I wanted was so crisp in my mind it seemed I could reach out to it and dissolve in this perfect picture. From these experiences I grew to appreciate wishes and dreams of the others.

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One of the reincarnations of Che’s photograph by Alberto Korda: probably, one of the most printed photos of all times

Such as the dream of Che, the Cuban Revolution hero of Argentinian origin, who toured the entire Latam continent, capturing romantically bitter images of his land and promoting his vision of “the new free man”. This “new free man” of Che would be free of any restraints of the government and the state, have access to land,education and medical care regardless of this origin and would possess many other freedoms most extensively captured by Marx and his followers (personally, I am allergic to communism and even socialism, so I won’t go there).

Despite the inclination of my own political views, I can’t help but admire Che’s dream: so passionate, so absolute, so pure. After Che’s meeting with Fidel it became the dream of the Cuban Revolution – and, later, after the regime of Batista had come to an end, – the dream of many other revolutionary movements, in Latin America and beyond, in Congo and Bolivia. And even if the economic success of the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent Castro’s regime poses some questions today, the spiritual leadership of the image that Che painted more than half a century ago remains undisputed.

Such is a power of a wish. Such is a power of a dream.

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken

Today’s photo challenge is about The Road Taken. Just as I was reading the description, one thought flashed through my mind: Cuba! This country has won me over – at once and, I have to say, unexpectedly, because I was not looking to coming to the Cuban countryside. At all.

Before my trip, I could understand the fascination of Havana, with its infamous gorgeous buildings in catastrophic conditions, its music and rum. But the countryside? I was not sure what to expect. To get there, we had to literally take the road, driving under the Cuban sun for hours with Juan Carlos, telling us (for hours as well) the history of his country. All we had to do was ask why Fidel and the Revolution had won.

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Vinales Valley in Cuba

Vinales was stunning. And so was the road to it. In fact, being on the road in Cuba is a lot like watching a movie: thrilling, ever-changing, fascinating, evolving. An experience of its own, compared to the joy of discovering the Old Havana.

Fuel is hard to find in Cuba, most gas stations you find are empty. That makes traffic, especially in this part of the island, virtually non existent. All is left is yourself, the sky, your thoughts, detailed history of the Cuban Revolution – and the endless road.

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

For this week’s photo challenge Against the Odds, I have chosen a picture of French Normandy: a place called Etretat.

I love how nature can speak volumes. I remember in school (I was 10 or so), the literature teacher asked us why an author introduces a description of a landscape to a novel. (Literature is huge in Russian schools and questions like this one are not uncommon.) Most of my classmates came up with straightforward answers that made sense (to describe a setting, i.e. where the scene is taking place, or to communicate a change that is coming, i.e. that it is going to rain). When I was (finally and to my delight) asked, I said that the key purpose of introducing a scene was to describe how a protagonist is feeling at this moment.

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The cliffs of Etretat, French Normandy

While the oddity of this (and several others) cliffs is quiet straightforward, this picture has another meaning to me. It is very personal – and very happy. Normandy is probably the gloomiest region of France. Its most popular place is a city Deauville with its main attraction, casino. Sunny days are very, very rare. Yet when we came there with my parents, the sun smiled at us. Etretat was spectacular for the entire day.

That’s another fact about Normandy: when the sun finally comes out, it suddenly becomes one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadow

My life between cities, countries and airports, with 2.5 flights per week on average (my normal life, that is), doesn’t leave me as much time as I would love to have to put my hands on the ton of fantastic shots of Cuba and Mexico. Well, luckily Weekly Photo Challenge is a much more manageable task than filtering through 2400+ shots.

This week’s topic is Shadow. There is a lot, in fact, I can write about shadow: every photographer can. If light is fundamental to a great photo, shadow is something much more elusive and far less controllable – yet sometimes even more important to capture the mood. You can measure the light and its sources in very precise units – but there is no scientific method to control shadow: its depth, color, its light (shadows also have light, what do you think)? Shadows are elusive, too. Shadows have character. They are like cats: you have them here and now, you half-press your shutter button – and off they go before you complete your work. That’s why shadows, to me, are much more magical than the light. I love them, I flirt with them, I constantly chase them with my camera.

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Havana, Cuba kissed by the first rays of light

Here is what I have on my first sunrise in Havana: shadows fill it with sheer magic. They hide the imperfections, help the mystery of the night prevail for yet another moment and set the stage to the first rays of sun. To me, Havana is most beautiful when the sun just rises (or starts setting down).

After all,

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

Remember?

🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitude

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is Solitude. Now, solitude is something that almost never happens to me (or to most people today, for that matter). Except for the time I spend in the air or when I am one on one with nature. One on one with nature is a special type of solitude: more profound, more spiritual, the one asking good questions and the one answering them. (Plus, it does not get ruined by empty time-killing airplane conversations thrown by people who just can’t tolerate being in their own company.)

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A teenage boy leading the caravan of camels in Morocco desert

Somehow being in the nature makes you feel alone even if you are surrounded by people – and think about things that really matter. That means, about 90% of your usual every day thoughts: work, getting from A to B, grocery list, to do list, goals list, any other task that list can be made of, – fade away. You understand what’s important and that important is few. Much fewer than we normally think. You finally hear “less is more”, and hear it in your heart.

I took this picture in Morocco desert, listening to the well-rhymed steps of the camel that was carrying me – so soft that they seemed to be sinking in the sand, – and the steps of all the camels behind it, in the caravan. There were at least ten people behind me, and I could neither hear them or feel their presence.

🙂