Recently I saw the Paul Strand exhibition at the V&A in London. One of the first images, the famous “The White Fence”, came with a quote talking about the idea of a perfect black and white image according to traditional ideas (grey scale ranging from dark black to white including all mid tones). It’s amazing to read how thoughtful and mindful photographers like Strand crafted their images.
On my first trip to New York I captured four images that in my option are close to an ideal black and white image. Two are high contrast with almost only black or white values, two are very balanced. I am not too technical but reading about the early masters and their struggle to achieve perfection reminds me to appreciate the incredible effort and knowledge hidden in each photograph.
Just before Christmas 2004 was my first time to visit New York City. The impressions were overwhelming, the energy incredible and the amount of fast moving people surprising. Despite the fact that I had already moved to London it still felt like a more intense place.
Due to jet lag I was wide awake at 4am anyway so I decided to take my massive medium format camera and take long walks every morning. It’s such a beautiful and special situation when the city that never sleeps takes a short nap.
Because of the long exposures I needed to capture the dark environment, the photos turned out ghostly and mysterious – a deserted and calm New York City full of stars.
I’ve never seen the Twin Towers but the first image in this series gave me the shivers…. the two dark shadows of the pier almost formed a negative of the once towering symbols of New York.
In 2012 I worked for Concordia Romania for the first time when I visited my love Lena who volunteered back then. Currently I am planning the fourth trip which is very exciting – can’t wait to finally get back again. I had a look through my archive and what struck me was one repeating element – a touch.
Here is a simple collection of images I have taken over the last 4 years – seems random but the beauty of a a hand touching a face, a foot touching another foot, hugs and support is forming a frame. Something worthy to appreciate. Beautiful moments.
Nap after lunch.
I have always admired Costin’s direct and loving approach.
What a moment in the chapel.
Volunteers are an important part of the Concordia system. From the very beginning they are accepted by the children.
Always a helping, soothing or strong hand.
Most problems could be solved literally with a touch.
One day we visited the old man in Dorotcaia, Romania. Over 90 years and he still lived on his own, no family to look after him. A few times a week people from Concordia visit him, check if everything is all right and also help him with food.
But most importantly they spend time with him. Conversations, old stories, recent developments – everything is being discussed. And a good laugh every now and then. It’s unbelievable how very important a simple conversation can be. Something I personally have always underestimated being surrounded by amazing friends and family.
Tragic circumstances and events led to his lonesomeness but he still didn’t give up. He kept fighting, every day. The whole house and yard were spotless. Simple but very clean. It might sound a bit silly and cliché when a German mentions that but he was very proud of the fact.
A Concordia worker and a volunteer from Rumania visit him regularly and spend as much time as they can afford in their busy daily routines.
This is probably the most genius washbasin I have seen. In his house he didn’t have a water connection or a shower but there is always a way. A bucket with a lid and a valve, a wooden support and a little box for the soap – ready to go.
Surrounded by his memories he lives in a small house with two rooms. The portrait on the back wall shows himself quite a few years ago. Next to it his wedding photograph.
On the street we also visited the infamous area next to the central train station in Bucharest. It used to be the centre for all the homeless and drug addicts. A little hole in the earth in an adjacent park used to be the entrance to the underworld – the sewers of the city where thousands lived.
When I visited the canal was closed down, the entrance still visible but not accessible. Right next to the station a derelict building. A large group of heavily addicted people still lived there. It had a roof but no walls. It was summer and very hot. Carpets and blankets protected the community from the outside stares. But no one really cared. They were in the middle of everything but invisible.
The inside was hot, steamy and dark. Just a few slits let some daylight in. The worst imagination became reality. The rumours of kids taking drugs at a very early age, sniffing glue. That’s a sight one never forgets. To be robbed of probably the most valuable time in your life – your childhood. Young bodies with old eyes. Not even desperation, just bland indifference towards the outside world. No desire, no joy just pure nothingness. And still there were kids. With a life ahead of them.
The local community boss let me into his private chamber. He had his own little separated area and was very proud of it. Being very protective he kept always very close to me. Not in a mean way, not offending or threatening… just making sure everything was all right with his people.
It’s lunch time in one of the KangYun Foundation schools in rural China. All children are gathering in front of this tiny kitchen where the food is prepared and everyone is hungry. But before lunch is actually served the chef reads out what’s on the menu and asks them for discipline.
Finally everyone gets to queue up, impatiently waiting for their bowl.
Go! Equipped with a meal ticket they almost storm the kitchen – still in a very controlled manner. Closely watched by their teachers and the local staff.
When I was working for the Kang Yun Foundation in rural China in 2006 we passed the small remote village called Baifu where we stopped to visit the local market. I was told to expect some sort of reaction as I might be the first western person ever. Despite the fact that I didn’t believe that and still don’t, it was quite an experience.
People stared at me, paused talking, pointed their fingers and stopped their business for a little while. Obviously my appearance didn’t have such a great impact to stop people from trading, bargaining, buying, selling and gambling. Being alien even for a few minutes and in the centre of everyone’s attention happens quite rarely though.