Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Campesino Cuba

These black and white photographs radiate something extremely powerful. The scenes they depict appear archaic. How come? It’s what black and white photographs tend to do, I suppose, for they weren’t taken in ancient times but in today’s world. It’s as though some mystical, time-less aura emanates from these images.

These photographs document scenes from rural Cuban life that one rarely gets to see. One does not need words to describe that these people live a hard life, one can see and feel it. For this is what photographs can do – they can make you feel. This is their magic.

Although I’m not unfamiliar with Cuba (I got married in Havana), these pictures introduce me to an island I do not know. They also make once again clear to me that there are not only as many Cubas as there are Cubans but that there are also the many different Cubas of the visitors. Differently put: These photographs show a personal, subjective view – and this is their strength for the more personal, honest, subjective, the greater the chance that others will sympathise, even identify, with what is revealed.

One sees people at work in the field, fishing, sleeping, preparing food, praying, children playing, and and and – pictures of daily life in rural Cuba. Nobody seems to pose for the camera, no fake smiles, quite some appear to live in their own private universe (we all do, of course, but these photographs make it visible to me). 

For the full review, go here

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Deanna Templeton: What She Said

When I first glanced through this book, I thought, well, I guess this is not for me. These youngsters live in a world that is surely totally foreign and very likely incomprehensible to me, a retired man living in Switzerland. Yet for reasons unbeknownst to me, I again and again turned to the pictures that Deanna Templeton had taken, and the more time I spent with them the more it felt that the youngsters portrayed weren’t that different from youngsters of previous times about to discover their identity, looking for their purpose in life, trying not to feel too akward in their skin as well as sometimes feeling self-confident and just perfect.

Reading Deanna Templeton’s introduction seemed to confirm my ponderings, although her focus is different – to my utter amazement, I hadn’t realised that I had been almost exclusively looking at young girls. “Young girls today are living in a much different world than I did, but the experience of growing up female is universal no matter which era. I see my own struggles, disappointments and bravery in these women. I decided to take these modern portraits and pair them with my own teenage journal entries from 1984 to 1988, along with some of my flyers collected from the shows I went to that reflect the bands I was into during that time. As someone who survived a turbulent transition into adulthood, I hope that this look into my teen-aged mindset and adolescent traumas, paired with these modern girls evolving into adulthood, will convey the sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will be able to look back at our own youth and smile, remembering how intense life feels at that age.” 

For the full review, go here

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Akzeptieren, was ist

Ich war kurz vor Mitternacht zu Bett gegangen, wachte dreimal in der Nacht durstig auf, wälzte mich ständig unruhig hin und her und als ich morgens um sieben aufstand, war mir unwohl, nahm ich eine diffuse Angst und Beklemmung wahr.

Tags zuvor hatte ich eine gelernte Psychologin gecoacht, der es schwer fiel, sich verbindlich zu entscheiden; hatte dreieinhalb Stunden Englisch unterrichtet, eine Einzelstunde mit einem Uni-Dozenten, dann eine mit einem Arzt und zuletzt eine Gruppe von Managern, die mich anschliessend, da es die letzte Unterrichtsstunde war, zum Essen einluden. Es war ein intensiver Austausch gewesen, doch war nichts dabei, das mir einen auch nur vagen Hinweis darauf hätte geben können, dass ich eine unruhige Nacht vor mir haben und in der Früh unter Übelkeit und Beklemmungsgefühlen leiden würde.

Automatisch suchte ich nach Erklärungen, betrieb die mir zur Gewohnheit gewordene Ursachenforschung und misstraute gleichzeitig meinen Einsichten – zu beliebig, zu sehr vom Bedürfnis nach Sinn und Zweck schienen sie mir diktiert. „Aber es wäre wahrlich ein Narr, wer annähme, dass irgendein Leben einer schlichten Folgerichtigkeit gehorcht, oder verdient wäre, oder selbstverständlich“, meint Robert Creeley in seiner Autobiographie.

Für meine Gefühle bin ich nicht verantwortlich, wohl aber dafür, wie ich mit ihnen umgehe. So sehr ich mich die meiste Zeit meines Lebens danach gesehnt habe, die unangenehmen, bedrückenden, verstörenden, mich oft lähmenden Gefühle endlich einmal hinter mir zu haben – sie tauchen immer wieder auf.

Sie nicht wahrhaben zu wollen, hat für mich nie funktioniert; immer wieder haben sie mich eingeholt. Ich musste und muss nach wie vor lernen, sie zu akzeptieren, sie als zum Leben gehörig zu begreifen. Denn erst, wenn ich das tue, habe ich eine Chance, nicht zum Sklaven meiner Stimmungen zu werden.

Hans Durrer: Wie geht das eigentlich, das Leben? neobooks 2017

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Hungarian Encounters

Szombathely, 26 October 2021

When approaching the shopping centre in Szombathely, a flock of birds takes off from a nearby roof and starts its rounds. These birds do it for me, of course, and I try to photograph them but they are too quick - I can't catch them. The same with life - it's mostly too quick for me. Only in hindsight do I know what I should have done.

I started my Hungarian week in Sopron, a place I know from previous visits (nobody in the hotel is wearing a mask despite the info to the contrary on the hotel's website - I feel uncomfortable and avoid contact as much as possible), and then proceeded to Debrecen, the second-largest city of the country, situated in the Northern Great Plain region - hailing from a mountainous country, I do love plains!

Only some elderly people and the occasional Asian are wearing masks - if ignorance were truly bliss, the Hungarians would look happier. In the stores, I put on a mask and from time to time get a hostile look.

The woman who tends the bar in my hotel is in her thirties and had worked in different locations, among them Dallas. She's fond of the American way of working - people care, she says, in Hungary, according to her, nobody gives a shit. And, while I'm in no position to judge that, the room cleaning lady is clearly a case in point - she pretends to not understand the 'please clean the room'-sign (in Hungarian).

Debrecen, 24 October 2021

The receptionist says she does not remember how she ended up in her hotel job but she's now been doing it for six years and loves it.

The old lady (older than me) on the train from Budapest to Szombathely tells me of her aunt who's 104 and wants to go but can't, and of Gershwin who died aged 39 because of a brain tumour.

Since the ride takes 2 1/2-hours and the lady happens to be a curious person, I let her know my theory of life (my strength is in theories not in practice) to which she eventually says: It's probably not easy to find people who go along with it. Well, experience in a psychiatric clinic certainly helps, I reply.

And, then there is of course also the occasional mutual physical attraction that I however did not mention while remembering the exchange of looks between the tall blonde and me at Debrecen train station a few hours ago.

Sopron, 22 October 2021

Travelling means to find yourself deprived of your usual routines. It is a way of freeing yourself up and while this is not always comfortable, it can be rewarding. The two major benefits that I experienced during my Hungarian week (away from my largely conditioned and safe life, that is) were the slowing down of time as well as a sense of vulnerability. The latter, I suppose, most people would probably not judge positively, to me, however, it felt enriching to become aware of how vulnerable I am, and we all are – a most necessary lesson that can teach us how precious life is.