Month: January 2014

Moved and Busy

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I guess my posts will be getting shorter now that I am back into the grind of being a student. It doesn’t mean I will be shooting less. I’ve watching various Youtube clips about different photographers and their styles; reading up while I have down time.

Still water reflections at sunset.
Still water reflections at sunset.

Now that initial shine of being in a foreign country has started to wear off, I am starting to get a little homesick. There are certainly some things that I took for granted back in the States: if you “have” internet access, that means you actually have it. Back home, food is processed (and probably more unhealthy) so that it lasts longer; buying groceries on a daily basis is nice because the produce and seafood is definitely fresh here. But I feel like I am spending more if I am spending at a more frequent rate, even though each payment isn’t as high as a bulk purchase like back at home.

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A man etches a chalk message on Shop Street as children watch. This is possibly one of my favourite street shots so far.

Another thing, which is a positive aspect, but it will still take me awhile to get use to; island culture. It’s true, Ireland is an island. I was moved to an apartment looking on the bay/docks. So now I find myself listening to Jack Johnson as I write this because when the sun shines, I feel like I’m at the beach. But with the island lifestyle comes this off-putting mentality of nonchalance and its subsequent disorganization. For someone that has lived in Philadelphia, certain things annoy me. (There, I said it). Cross walks, in the rare instance there are painted lines at a street intersection, don’t mean anything for a pedestrian. Galway City doesn’t have very straight roads either, or so it seems to me when I am trying to get from point A to point B. The “grid” on Mapquest is deceiving; there aren’t a lot of direct lines, which undoubtedly represents Irish life. But the upside of all this is no road rage. I don’t know how but there quite simply is nothing of the sort you see in the States. The long, snaking routes I take to my destinations are along the River Corrib and different canals. It’s quite a lovely commute. So I feel as if I need to detox from fuming Philadelphia and not only say that I like these differences, but actually embrace them as a part of daily life. I hope to internalize the daily grind not in some disgruntled (Philadelphian) mindset in which I have to do this. But I sincerely want to enjoy them. Once I get my iPhone up and running, those small things will be posted more frequently.

I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.
I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.

New Found Passion: The Street

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So despite having no way of processing images the way I would like to, I still went out to shoot. I admit that I have a long journey ahead in terms of fully learning photography; it’s a never ending process. Street photography is something I just do not understand. So it subsequently goes to the top of my to-do list. I’ve been looking at some books, magazines, websites -and I don’t get the medium. Lugging around a Canon 5D with a huge battery pack doesn’t really help me blend in either. There is a type of stage fright that you can get when you put the viewfinder to your eye; some people will glare back at you through the lens, other people will turn to look at what your photographic eye is seeing, and others just walk on by, oblivious to your presence.

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I went after the street performers. They were a clear subject, easy to shoot, and willing to be photographed. (Or, because they’re very hard core performers and don’t stop their music for anyone or anything, I was able to shoot and get away with it…)I made eye contact with majority of them from across the way, and they either nodded or smiled. I am shooting with a 50mm, which is close to what the eye sees (on its own). So I am challenged to get in close to the scene. But I am a people person, so I don’t mind it.

Well, like writing, you just need to put the pen to the paper in order to get the creative process started. That’s certainly easier said then done. I resorted back to my photography instincts; use the rule of thirds, aperture/shutter speed, ISO and white balance etc. But the most useful instinct that I fell back on, and is probably in the truest sense an “instinct,” was following the light. Sure, photographers don’t “need” light because of flash and camera technology. But I was thinking of this in more of an abstract manner; light will create a scene that I have to find and capture.

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I was excited when I realized that I got this shot framed so well. (None of these images have been modified-they’re just the JPEGs straight of the camera). This bassist was playing some really beautiful tunes that hummed throughout this intersection. As you can see, people stop to listen, but are usually preoccupied with something else, and look quite weird facing away from the performer.

As soon as I realized that truth, it became easier to put my camera to my eye and snap away. And then, once I started feeling the beat of Galway, which is hard not feel with a street performer on every corner, I got addicted. Very addicted, very quickly. I’ve been writing a lot about how the Irish and the Americans differ in culture and daily life. But I want(ed) to capture that. There are so many movements that create lines and temporary scenes that your eye only sees for a moment. Well, not even that for those of us that walk around with our heads in our phones…

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This performer was my favourite. He had a strong voice, which all performers seem to have by necessity, but his really rang out. I found myself utilizing a slower shutter speed to freeze movements. It was a good challenge to lock focus on my subjects with no one in front of me and then actually release the shutter when the scene is created.

Everyone has eyes; (metaphysically) we have the ability to see our surroundings on many different levels. So it’s up to us what we want to perceive. (It is NO coincidence that I just walked away from a French Phenomenology class. That has everything to do with my language about perceiving and seeing; how we grasp the world around us).

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I thought this was going to be my favourite. But now that I am seeing it on a bigger screen, I don’t think so. There are so many things that occur in just one second. What I wanted to capture was the guy reaching for the girl’s hand with the sun lighting each of them. But I was a bit off and the focus wasn’t right.

Still Figuring Things Out

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I still need to get my computer situation together. I guess I assumed too much in thinking there would be Macs, running CC, readily available for university students. (Nice going St. Joe’s; having all the high tech stuff!) In terms of photos, I have scouted a lot of good areas to shoot when the weather permits. Since my workflow has been on hold, due to the computer situation, I haven’t been shooting as much. Unfortunately, I also think I am roughly three hours behind in terms of catching up on time zones.

Can't wait to edit these shots. I didn't have a tripod. But I love this area. It's perfect for me as a photographer; tight, winding streets and beautiful sceneries along the water.
Can’t wait to edit these shots. I didn’t have a tripod. But I love this area. It’s perfect for me as a photographer; tight, winding streets and beautiful sceneries along the water.

But in any case, I have been loving it here so far! I went to a gym a ways down the road from where I live with some room mates. So that allowed for me to see more possible areas to shoot. Eyre Square seems to be a good place to shoot street photography. But I won’t lie, Irish folk have a really intimidating demeanour. Coming from Philadelphia, that’s saying something. The major difference is, once you open your mouth to an Irishman, he’s likely to be personable and welcoming. Philadelphia –eh how do I put this gently? The City of Brotherly Love is more of a “f*** you” mentality; “What are you doing talking to me?” Sure it has a community feel to it, but that only exists between acquaintances, not random people. It’s odd that a lot of Irish immigrants moved to Philadelphia throughout the 18th century (and obviously later). The Irish hardened, outward appearance turned into something more while assimilating into the “blue-collar” American that resides now in Philadelphia. Galway is fascinating in terms of displaying the hierarchies of the Irish workforce. Obviously, it attracts a lot of commuters as any “city” might. But there are some observations I have made that certainly differ than the good ole American (Protestant) work ethic.

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River Corrib headed towards the Atlantic. My apartment is about 3 minutes to the left in this shot.

For starters, the hours on restaurants and shops don’t indicate a 40 hour work week. With the high prices for drinks, which is obviously a major factor in the Irish social sphere, it is odd that all the social classes seem to go out. I don’t know what minimum wage is here, or how the welfare system works, (though I am taking classes on that!) But the work week just strikes as me as unbalanced when compared to the degree people entertain a social life. Galway is the “big city.” So I guess to some degree, in comparison, people would go into Philadelphia, aware that they are going to pay more to socialize.

But on the other hand, the cost of living doesn’t seem to be incredibly high. In terms of housing and food, the prices are lower than back home. Not only that, there definitely seems to be missing classes on the social hierarchy ladder. To be clear, I think that Ireland’s scale ranges from low-working class to professionals (or a a lower end upper class) while America clearly has that 1% and sliding scale below it. I don’t know if I just haven’t seen the wealthier parts of Ireland, but I am assuming that an island cannot have as many huge estates as America’s 1% can have.

Yes, these are images from my first shoot. I have more on the card. I just can't get them off until I know I have a better workflow at hand.
Yes, these are images from my first shoot. I have more on the card. I just can’t get them off until I know I have a better workflow at hand.

It must have something to do with status. Irish people, at least in Galway, don’t measure status the same way we do. Sure, there is style, which is maybe more of a “thing” the urban community partakes in here. And yes, people spend a considerable amount at pubs. But it’s not really for show. In the back of my mind, I have large, multimillion dollar estates embedded in the category of non-utilitarian properties. Ugly, brick, six bedroom houses for a family of four. That can’t be for utility’s sake; that’s just status (i.e. gluttony). Cars are another example of this. There are nice European brands here. But why was there a Mercedes taxi on the street? Isn’t that what daddy’s little girl drives back in America?

Getting to know the architecture here, I can see that there are wealthier neighbourhoods outside of the city limits. Yet somehow, every class seems to enter the city for the pub scene. The fashion fads here are difficult to discern. There’s a lot of make up, which to me, makes the female population look a little monotonous. The male situation isn’t much better. Maybe a peacoat signals for classy? Who knows?

Hope no one was offended by my mental meanderings…All I can say is that Ireland is still frustratingly foreign. By that I simply mean that so much seems the same on the surface. But if you pay attention to some of the details, you can’t easily put your finger on the differences that you know that are there. So I just jot my observations and reflections with no intention but to try and make some sense of it all.

Get A Quicky Before Class

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There are so many differences between here and back home. I’ve been keeping track of a few oddities that my senses are drawn to; they’re mildly entertaining. Irish things first and their American counterparts follow:

Innocent Smoothies vs. Naked Smoothies (har har har)

Cashiers at grocery stores sit vs. stand

Gaelic next to English vs. Spanish next to English on signs

I have more to share. But those are some of the first that I saw when I was out on my own. Here are some more pictures I snapped. Again, no editing as of yet, so I apologize for a dirty lens filter.

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This is a really great walking area. I’m not sure what the place is called, but I was shooting with a smaller lens, so the background wasn’t in focus. There’s a lighthouse all the way at the end. I’m also unsure of what the land mass in the background is called. Looking to the sun to get a general sense of direction isn’t too helpful here. I know I am looking to the west because it’s the sunset. But earlier in the day, the sun rises incredibly late, and sets incredibly early. So I don’t think it’s as accurate to use…

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This is looking back at Galway City. Again, the lens wasn’t really for the city; it was more or less just to walk around. (I didn’t realize I’d be getting all this on my first outing). But you can make out the cathedral on the far left. NUIGalway (my university) is a little ways beyond that.

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That’s Salthill, looking in the other direction. It’s more of a residential area. It would be closer to what may look architecturally more “normal” in relation to America. But even that may be a stretch.

More will come but I got class now! Still looking for a computer to handle RAW files…that way I can make some good photographs great.

Photos! Finally…

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I finally stopped by the Camera Shop here in Galway to get a CF card reader…It was worth the wait because it was only 20 euro. (Even with conversion rates and all that, I think it was a pretty good deal).

Anyways! I am sitting here on my Google Chromebook, waiting for my files to go to various places. I have an external hard drive, so obviously, everything gets on there eventually. But I am also uploading JPEGs and RAW files to Dropbox and GoogleDrive. I haven’t really done any serious travel photography; or I should rephrase that and say I haven’t traveled for an extended period of time, away from my desktop. That being said, I will only be doing minor touch ups on the JPEGs for the time being. I might have access to some school computers that have the digital tools I need to make some great shots. But then again, I’ve always been about in-camera capture. So I just continue to challenge myself with this 5D I have been very excited about!

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So this is the first shot I took over here. I guess my time in Philadelphia has trained me to find a high point before meandering through the streets. That’s how I like to do things; open minded with a wanderer’s spirit. This was taken through a window on the fifth floor of the apartment I’m living in, Niland House, looking west towards the Atlantic.

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These are the docks that are in my backyard. I’m not sure what these two guys were working on, but it looked like solar panels on a buoy.

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(Here’s where some editing would go a long way. My shadows are a bit too dark, and my lens filter had some spray on it). This is the River Corrib, headed toward the Atlantic. This is still about a two minute walk from where I reside. The Irish folk seem to sit and wait for the sunset. Lots of people were coming and going to various seats facing the West.

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The water level is surprisingly high. Locals stop to look at the river occasionally. Apparently, there was some serious flooding and wind damage that occurred prior to my arrival. That wasn’t too apparent to me, but there is always rain water abundantly displaced throughout the streets.

I think that I am over-juicing this little Chromebook that has a spotty internet connection. So I am going to let it do its thing with uploading and copying my image files before I post more. These were nice shots, but just wait until you see the sunset I captured on the same day!

Ireland, Again, No Photos

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I wanted to post again, even though I don’t have a CF card reader, or the right plug for my camera to get my pictures up. Fear not, they will be great when I finally get to them! Day 3 here has flown by; I woke up fairly late after a good outing to the various pubs that are about thirty seconds from my apartment.

But before that, I was out walking through Galway City. I think going somewhere foreign (yes, Ireland is incredibly foreign, says me who has been to Japan) puts new challenges forward. Particularly as a photographer. There is not only a new, uniquely beautiful scenery I have to learn how to shoot, but the culture, movement, and personality of Galway is a great challenge.

Yesterday, I found myself wandering by the docks, which eventually led me to the bay, and then the ocean. Words cannot describe what the architecture, which enhances the natural beauty of Galway, looks like here. So it’s a pain that I write this and have no photos yet to depict the city. (Disclaimer: I want to say that the lighting was great yesterday, so there are some top notch photos to come)! In any case, I heard that Ireland has modernized and has lost some of its unique, archaic way of life. That may be more apparent to a native. But coming from Philadelphia, I cannot help but stare at the people here. Galway attracts many foreigners, though the Irish remain easy to spot. As the sun was setting, people took time to sit and watch the beautiful scene unfold. Not just two or three folks, but it seemed that the city put down what it was doing, paused, and witnessed a tremendous sunset. I don’t know if that’s intriguing to me because I have been living in Philadelphia, where the people are more self-oriented, heads-down, looking at their phones. In any case, that is certainly not the way of life here. Chatting with various Irish folk, I have gained that Galway City is considered a big city. High rises, expansive city limits, and a high population count constitute a large city. Galway is a large village. The Irish are more communal than any other culture or city I have been to. And that’s saying something for someone who has done a fair amount of travelling.

I also keep asking new acquaintances if I hadn’t opened my big mouth, could have I passed for an Irishman. I guess the brand names I am wearing (North Face, Patagonia), as well as denim jeans make me stand out. But with my grayer outfits on, I was told once or twice that I could pass. There’s really no benefit to “passing” in Galway. It’s a melting pot with different looking people. Yet somehow, the Irish culture is really preserved and celebrated with this level of diversity. (I hear Russian a lot; they’re the equivalent of Jersey folk in Philadelphia). I saw another photographer chasing the sunset and asked if he shot around these parts often. He nodded, and I asked something else, and he spoke some heavily French-accented English. I reassured him I wasn’t from Ireland in French. I also met a girl from the Midwest that had a thick accent. Apparently she passes for a Northern Irish speaker. I heard someone else from Marquette at a pub last night speaking. It is definitely not the same, but it made me laugh to think that two distinct places, known for their distinct accents, share some similarities.

After a day out and about, with only a muffin in my stomach, I was famished and ready to try some Irish cuisine. I had it in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be that different than the wide-spread category of “American cuisine.” While American dishes mooch from a variety of cultural recipes, the Irish definitely have a distinct flavor. I arbitrarily picked Riordan’s, a small place on Shop Street with green lattice outside. I had bacon and cabbage with mash -that is ham, with a really flavorful, warm cabbage salad with buttered carrots, and lightly mashed potatoes. But besides the actual dishes themselves being unique, the dinning style here is quite different than America. Individuals seem to eat out probably because dining doesn’t appear to be the social activity. All the places up and down Shop Street are locally owned. So you end up eating a home-cooked meal for dinner while chatting the friendly waitress who has stories to tell. Also, asking for a box results in weird looks. I’m 155 lbs, so I don’t consider myself large. But my mindset is no different than the general mindset of obese ridden America. There aren’t any fat Irish people (maybe some older men with rounded bellies). But that epidemic is uniquely American.

Obviously, drinking is the social activity; pubs are the saloons of Ireland. I didn’t frequent bars much in Philadelphia. But what is noticeably different is the age range of those attending pubs. That would definitely irk many college-aged students back in America. It’s not the equivalent of the cool professor showing up to the bar for a game of trivia. It would be more like your parents, teachers, aunts and uncles show up to your house party. Though any aged Irish person seems to consume a lot of alcohol, it still doesn’t equate to the same, rowdy binge drinking you find at American (college) bars. That element exists to some extent, maybe because there are more foreigners here in Galway City. But live music is always to be expected. Or, carrying on conversations is more of the primary objective while drinking goes along with it. Drinking goes along with anything. Pubs are spaces for “anything” to occur. Bars are places to get drunk and then toss the dice and maybe meet new people. Sports bars might be that one exception where you can go and watch a game while drinking. Wine bars might be another exception. But the word “pub” is definitely a larger umbrella term that incorporates all the dynamics of the Irish social scene.

Well, this has been a lot of words with no pictures. So I think I will stop here for today. I look forward to posting (hopefully) on a daily basis!

Finally! An Adventure

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Words cannot express how excited I am, writing this post in Galway, Ireland! I don’t think I have been in the country for more than six hours and I know that I belong here. I don’t mean that my generic outward appearance matches all the other white people and I somehow gain acceptance from that. No. I mean personality wise…

I haven’t posted in a long time because I was prepping for this departure. So any and everyone that is reading this, I hope you follow me throughout the next five months as I study abroad!

Getting out of the East Coast was a nightmare this past week. My original flight was cancelled and then booked three days later. Once I finally returned to Dulles Airport, my father, girlfriend, and I were attacked by the luggage Nazi; (yes, just like the Seinfeld soup Nazi). We had to do the luggage shuffle for no apparent reason. Maybe it was to appease this woman’s weird obsession with luggage weight and size. But in the heat of my passive-aggressiveness, I hastily pushed various items to random areas of my three bags. The result was me stuck in Dulles (2 hrs), a transatlantic flight (6 hrs) and then Heathrow (4 hrs) with no phone, a laptop with a dead battery and no charger, and a pen and a fresh, empty journal.

To summarize the more personal journal’s theme that I was left to write, I’d say that I have my work cut out for me these next five months. I need to do some serious soul searching; be my own version of Alexander Supertramp. It’s by no coincidence that the country I am staying at is the motherland of my maternal ancestry.

While waiting in Heathrow, my stomach growled as it digested British Airway’s delicious dinner from hours ago consisting of chicken curry, white wine, and apple-cinnamon cake. I guess I can sit for four hours in a hungered daze, staring at the same people, waiting for a flight. The shoe shiner was really interesting to watch; do Brits generally not have a shoe shiner in public transport hubs? People were walking by the elevated chairs, gawking as if it was some obscene novelty. Three other side notes I picked up on while waiting. First, British guys are better looking than girls. Second, this is because British guys do way too much to look like David Beckham. Call me gay, call me crazy, call me whatever–but it was simply a matter of fact as I witnessed the 6-11 am shift at Heathrow. Third, Americans, you suck. You are easily the loudest, poorly dressed, and consequently, easiest to spot in a large crowd of travelers. That is all.

Anyways, I didn’t eat anything at all because I was too hungry to ask someone if the euro is accepted in a British airport. Obviously it is. But I didn’t feel like spending big bucks for some crummy food.

So maybe it was my stomach, or my light-headedness, but my heart was pounding as we flew over the Irish countryside. I have said that there is something ancient about the Blue Ridge Mountains; they’re full of lore. But me oh my was there something about flying over the patchwork-quilted plains of Ireland! Words like majestic and awe-inspiring now come to mind, but while sitting in a window seat, I experienced something existential.

Miniature chapels, which were most-likely cathedrals or large churches, littered the various shades of green. With clean, white clouds scattered below me, there was an incredible amount of saturated colors throughout the scenery. I cannot help but think about the past few weeks in Charlottesville where I was thinking how tainted and drained the colors are in this sub-freezing winter. My eyes watered at the burst of solid, full range of colors. Dark blues and greens contrasted against the limestone buildings and stone fences; I couldn’t help but think of all the opportunities I would have to shoot some great photographs.

By the time I touched down at Shannon, I felt a never-before-experienced high. I thought that Ireland had been built up; ruined by modernization. At this international airport, I thought I had landed in someone’s cow farm! It was dainty; I can’t help but think of the odd Led Zeppelin IV album cover when trying to describe what it looked like. It wasn’t what I expected.

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I was told to move to the side at the immigration checkpoint when I said I’d be there for five months. Obviously I wasn’t the only one to have arrived to study abroad. One quick aside on airport employers who are outside of the US: they are incredibly friendly, sweet, and genuinely nice people. Whatever the UK’s equivalent of our awful TSA was enjoyable; the agent was cracking jokes as he did a full on frisk search on me! Frisk away British man! I don’t understand your accent…hahahaaa (true story).

So I skipped over to a bench and waited my turn. If I cannot hear a British accent, I most definitely cannot understand anything that comes out of an Irishman. I keep telling myself, “No, that’s not Gaelic you’re hearing. See? They just said an English word!” To no avail, I openly admit to hearing maybe 1 out of 6 words they say. That improves when they realize I don’t have a similar accent, but when a conversation between two Irishmen takes place around me, I wince.

The gentleman at the immigration desk asked a few general questions, to which I strained my neck in order to comprehend. At one instance, I was nodding my head “yes” when he casually asked, “Why did you choose Ireland?” When he repeated himself (maybe twice) I answered that I’m being picked up by my relatives, a major part of my experience to come. If the guy wasn’t friendly before, at that point, we became friends. Blood runs deep in Ireland. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

(I apologize for not posting any photos just yet. And I have so much more to write. But I must go!)