street photography

¡Madrid!

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(Had this post sitting as a draft. Thought I should go ahead and post it. Written on Monday, March 10th, 2014).
So I have to write this from my iPhone since Internet isn’t as easily accessible in Madrid as it is throughout Ireland–free wifi that is. But oh well, I have time to kill while I wait for my flight.
There is something to be said about traveling alone. I think there’s a bit of a stigma from a young American’s perspective, or at least I get the vibe that there is one. I don’t think that’s the case for other backpackers from Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Flying into Madrid was kind of like passing through the Pearly Gates. I had my face glued against the window as we flew over mountains and circled back to the city. Once inside the airport, it felt like I was going to the beach. The way people dressed was certainly geared for warm weather but there was a kind of touristy air to everyone’s arrival. And yet again, another European country outdoes America in terms of security and passport lines!
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There’s a bit of a constant theme in my posts lately about wanting to get lost. Well I didn’t have to get physically lost in Madrid (though at one point I did circle around one area). The language barrier was enough of a challenge. Though to my surprise, I could understand this Spanish accent well compared to Mexican, or my Venezuelan room mates’s, accents. And un/fortunately, everyone speaks English to some degree. But with the beard and carefully planned outfit, I wouldn’t attract any attention to myself so that on several occasions, I was addressed in Spanish and was able to get away with simple “si” or “no” responses. But then there were other instances where my background in French and Latin actually hindered my pronunciation with generic Romantic rooted words like “chocolate;” I sounded like an idiot at la creperie, ironically, in Spain, with a French accent. Oh well! In many instances, people were understanding and just spoke back in English.
I got into the city by a crowded bus. I was assuming Madrid would be the same size like Dublin and Amsterdam. I don’t know the populations of any of the cities, but Madrid was noticeably larger with high rises and extended city limits. The spotty internet can only take you so far when you’re in a foreign country. In trying to figure out where my hostel was in this astetically pleasing city, I just kind of winged it. A good sense of direction is better than reliance on the internet. So I wandered the streets with a general direction in my mind and eventually found where I was staying.
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The hostel was pretty cool. It had this open roof atrium, a rooftop bar, and a neat lock system that was better than anything I’ve seen so far. (I was so much happier with this than my time in Belfast. And write as I typed this, some survey person was asking me about my trip here in Madrid. “Uh yea overall definitely a 9 or 10 out of 10,” I just told her).
Anyways, I was in a small but nice room. I met some awkward Aussie that came across as though there was a language barrier between us. We went for Indian food at his recommendation. Luckily I was able to find some other people that wanted to more Spanish-esque things later that night. Two guys from LA were backpacking throughout Europe and were spending their last night out in the Spanish fashion. We went for some delicious sandwiches with some sort of toasted cheese ball. The Spanish, regardless of age, go out no earlier than 22:30. So at midnight, this little sandwich place was packed full with 30 year olds. Throughout the weekend I noticed that the lighting in most establishments was quite bright compared to Irish pubs. I thought that related to the pace of nightlife: Irish go out earlier and the pubs close at 2 am. Spaniards start late and go out longer but consume alcohol at a slower rate. That first night, I didn’t drink because Saturday was going to be a busy day. Plus the hostel room mates were catching an early train the next morning.
Saturday was spent in Retiro Park and El Prado Museo. I saw a lot of famous artwork-I get carried away in some of those galleries, particularly the rooms with Romanticism and Naturalism. The prior seemed to be dominated by Spanish painters. I spent somewhere near four hours in there until my feet ached and I had seen ever room.
I was tired and feeling quite lonely while walking through the park. I had no idea Madrid was the new Paris: everyone was kissing, embracing, sitting on each other. All age groups too, which was just  a matter of culture rather than teenage hormones. Tapas was the cure! I wanted to find a good place to experience this cuisine. I parked it at some restaurant where the young bartender gave me some free plate of jamon y queso. I think the Irish came out in me as I drained another beer; the alcohol isn’t the main attraction at what would seem like an equivalent to America’s happy hour. It’s not like more beer meant more tapas as you might find with America and wings. But as I was sitting there, I was able to figure this all out. Europeans  definitely use their smartphones more reservedly than Americans. Like the Irish, Spanish people noticeably enjoy physical companionship in social settings. It’s no surprise that me as the American happen to be sitting alone ad writing this on my smartphone…The smartphone epidemic really doesn’t pervade into cultures that are rooted in such a way, much to my delight.
Saturday night, I had two new roommates who were teaching English in northern Spain. One was a Texan, the other an Irishman. We went for those crepes I mentioned earlier at around midnight. They proceeded to invite me to their friends apartment somewhere outside of the city center. It may sound really wild for me to go out with random people. But if you’re thinking that, you’re coming at it from your biased American perspective. People aren’t dangerous in Europe as they might be back in the States. Backpacking kids in the similar position as I was aren’t some how predisposed to my prejudice that they’re going to pose a threat. Plus, there were more Americans teaching English in Madrid who were at the apartment and locals who were getting degrees in higher education. So I had a blast meeting new faces aside from how crazy you might think I am 😛
The night somehow continued until the sun started to rise at 7:30. My day didn’t start until I was figuring out how to get to a Real Madrid futbol match with one of my new Japanese room mates. I’m glad I got to experience that. Again, probably against the American train of thought, I found it pretty cool to see a sport that is played throughout the world exhibited at the highest level. Cristiano Ronaldo-no idea how much he makes but the fans were about to murder the poor bum that tripped him-scored right in front of me. The fans were wild to no one’s surprise but the coordinate cheers and chants were really cool to listen to; there was only one or two that were repeated but for the most part, it was a symphony that went along with the match. The kid coordinating it all down near the goal was very much the maestro as he waved his hands around as he sang into the microphone. It was all in good taste until a lot of tripping occurred and no calls were made. I know there’s that American view of soccer players as a bunch of pretty boy actors, and there was a degree of that, but this particular game saw I think somewhere near 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, a fight almost break out after some slapped another player, and the security guards number double as a result of it all. It was definitely more entertaining than watching it on TV and though I’m no a huge fan of the sport in America, it was clear that there was a well executed style of play by Real Madrid as they won 3-0. One of those points was scored accidentally by one Levante’s players and good lord, the fans had to let him know he messed up!
(I don’t feel like typing any more since my flight is leaving. Sorry for only two panoramas. Looking to post some more normal photo-posts!)
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Dust Spots, Self-Portraits, and More Posts

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Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn’t translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn’t have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That’s nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive.

Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity…I know for a fact the dust wasn’t from my lenses. So even after today’s cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don’t have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I’d use on my lens.

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I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn’t bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I’ve become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I’d have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.

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Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.

With that being said, I’m looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!

Amsterdam

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I know I said I’d have a part two for my hike last week, but time is really flying by over here. (Ask me in person if you were dying to hear the end of that story).

I’ll just start by saying that it’s interesting to compare the sharp contrast between the advertised facade of a city and its actual likeness. There’s no point of me delving into what Amsterdam is depicted as, especially when targeted to a younger population. But I will say a few things on those topics; legal prostitution and legal drugs. One thing is done more casually (or subtly) than the other. From what I could tell after eating in a local cafe outside of the tourist traps, marijuana is a part of the Dutch lifestyle. It’s hard for an American (maybe not so much now with Colorado’s legalization) to see drug use aside from fringe behaviour.  But try, if you can, imagining yourself as Dutch. You’re fairly well-educated, multi-lingual, and have an awareness that your Amsterdam home attracts a large tourist population because certain activities are legal. You don’t live near any of the touristy spots of town. You don’t binge on substances (like other cultures typically do without hesitation).

Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC's Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.
Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC’s Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.

While eating in a crammed sandwich shop, my friend and I listened to the outgoing owner going back and forth between English and Dutch. His shop was tiny, but within the 30 minutes I was there, you could get a sense of a more genuine Dutch culture from his interactions with his patrons. He knew everyone that was in his shop, except for me and my friend. But that didn’t stop him from joking with us in his well-polished English. As well as being outwardly educated, Holland is noticeably ethnic;  “Asians” and “blacks” gathered in this luncheonette and were also regularly interchanging between Dutch and English.  One of the younger patrons asked what the owner was doing later to which he replied, “Smoking some weed and staying in.” I wasn’t surprised at this, but the scene certainly presented me with a foreign culture that was different from Ireland and America. Lax laws and small, intercity businesses make for a brighter population.

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This is the National Monument that was built in 1956 to commemorate the dead of WW2. The street to the right (behind the tree) is where our hostel was. To the left is Dam Square.

But Amsterdam didn’t end up like that by chance. I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Holland through its historically rich art. For anyone that doesn’t remember their European history, the Netherlands dominated the trade scene throughout the colonial period. As a result of being progressive then, combined with struggles with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, the country continues to be forward-thinking. Yes, this means legal drugs and prostitution, but the locals in Amsterdam were really into venerating the art. The museum was beautiful and packed full of Dutch and foreigners. (Dutch is distinctly audible; something like a cross between French and German. So I could quickly tell who I was standing next to, if their height or garb didn’t give them away. There were some tall individuals in that town…)

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One of the three, earlier canals of Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan. The Herengracht is the nicest; literally means “patrician’s canal.” (Gracht=canal, lake). Initially, depending on what inner loop of canals you lived between was associated with your social status. The further outside of the city centre you lived, the poorer you were.

But that still brings us to the fact that prostitution exists there. I feel like there is a bit of yin yang thing going on. If Holland is able to thrive so well culturally, it has to be fueled by something. I think that any town would benefit from tourism’s added spending. So combine that generic business mentality with the aforementioned, distinctly Dutch progressivism, and you end up with legal prostitution. However, whilst walking through the Red Light District, you can quickly tell that the whole prostitution shtick is a tourist trap. The way things are advertised and presented in those couple of blocks was very different than a couple streets away.  As amoral as it may sound, my hat is off to Amsterdam in the strictest economic sense. There was visibly a huge population of males, ages 16-30 that walked through that section and Holland prospers from it. (But not exclusively). The last thing I’ll say about this is that it was odd to see locals living above or across from the rooms with “red lights” over them. I guess I didn’t personally internalize how that would work out on a daily basis. But for the most part, that area was a tourist destination, not a residential area. I still think the local Dutch were distanced from that.

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From Central Station looking at the Church of St. Nicholas.

I went on a canal tour and saw the city from a unique perspective. The Dutch really dominate water; traversing it, controlling it, utilizing it. The Dutch East/West Indies Companies traversed oceans for trade. Amsterdam was built by damming and dredging the Amstel River (hence the city’s name). And to this day, there are certain parts of the city that are below sea level, which is an incredible feat considering the IJ Lake, canals, and river all have to be monitored to avoid flooding. The IJ (pronounced kind of like ‘ay’) was originally a bay. I can’t remember how much of the city now sits on dammed, artificial land but it’s more than half. Another fun fact is that there is an estimated 1.6 million bikes in the city. That’s more bikes than people. (I don’t know how that compares to Portland, Oregon, but there are separate road/paths for bikes and mopeds. It was wild to cross a street because you never remember to check for bikes, only for cars).

Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!
Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!

If anyone wants to hear more about my time here (or in Ireland), please feel free to comment below. I can email anyone if they’re interested. I would also love to hear any travel suggestions or photo destinations as Cork, Ireland is on my itinerary for this upcoming weekend.

Pano’s and a Long Rant

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Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).

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The Docks-This might be one of my favourite images I’ve taken so far. My apartment is behind the large, green boat. This was actually the first time I’ve been walking around this side of the Docks, just because there isn’t too much activity over here. Or so I thought. There might be more areas to explore, but it’s fairly “industrial.”

Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.

Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It's the city centre (for the most part).
Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It’s the city centre (for the most part).

I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will  surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.

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Again, part of my daily commute along the River Corrib.

I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos…If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.

I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.
I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.

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.