Wednesday, 9 November 2016

DECLINE AND FALL OF A GREAT COUNTRY


When I am writing this, at 3.30 pm, it has been snowing for all of 42 hours already. No way am I going out for dinner today. Better stay at home and warm up one of those Lidl bean cans. But it is not the cosyness of my home that leads me to take this decision. Rather, it is the sad truth that there has been NO PLOWING OF THE SIDEWALKS OUTSIDE MY HOUSE since it started snowing.

It is as if the snowplowing authorities woke up suddenly, when the first snow flakes appeared, complained half-asleep "Oh my, oh my!", only to go back to sleep again. If this is not a sign of decline, so say!

The title of this blog post does not allude to the recent Presidential election, even if I suspect that Trump may well ring in the "beginning of the end" of the Great Republic. No, it deals with a far more profound issue, the degradation of infrastructure in our own Great Kingdom.

Historians tend more and more to see the decline and fall of her much greater forerunner, the Roman Empire, in secular neglect and decline of infrastructure. In its heydays, the power of the Empire rested in its road-net, the greatest hitherto seen in the world, which permitted commerce and trade to flourish, but – in particular – legions upon legions to move rashly from one corner of the Empire to another, wherever there was a threat to counter on its borders, which stretched almost limitless along the "shining sea".

From the middle of the fourth century AD infrastructure started to become neglected in the Empire, letting roads decay and communications slow down ever more. Eventually, it became a necessity to divide the Empire into two, since no ruler could keep it all together against internal and external enemies. And finally, the weakened armies succumbed to barbarian invaders, bringing its Western half to a bitter end.

We are not quite there yet in our own Kingdom, even if foreign migrants have been streaming in already in their hundreds of thousands. But we are beginning to see signs of secular break-down of public service and infrastructure alright.

Take the railways, which used to go by the watch almost like the Schweizer Bundesbahn in olden days – that is, when I moved to Sweden in the 'sixties. Nowadays there is a distinct possibility of breakdown whenever you are planning at trip from Stockholm to, say, Malmö. Better take a plane nowadays. You think I am exaggerating? Of three trips to Malmö by train I took in the past five years, two had considerable delays of at least an hour. One of them had us blocked on the rails not far from Malmö for THREE HOURS, without possibility to leave the train!

Crime rate is drastically increasing in the suburbs of our big cities. The murder count has more than doubled in those hotbeds of gang criminality, but – what is worse – the clearance rate has skydived. And her I am not even speaking of lesser crimes, like home burglary, which hardly warrant any police investigation anymore.

School results are, to judge from international comparisons, among the worst in Western countries. Medical service in our great hospitals is ever getting more happenstance, with corridors crowding with needy people waiting, more or less patiently, for a doctor or at least a nurse to appear.

And now this! No snow cleaning outside my doors. This is not such a big deal for me, I have collected a substantial number of Lidl food cans to prepare for the worst. But what about mothers having to wade through the snow to deliver their doddlers to kindergarten? Or people doing their utmost to reach their working place, despite snow barriers, unplowed roads and the tram not even arriving due to snowed-over rails?

I think it is about time to take matters in our hands. I count four building co-operatives on our block of unplowed sidewalks. Surely we can afford to invest in a sturdy snow-blower – and the devil take the municipal services! This way we can be sure to make our way at least up to the tramway and the great throughway, which, thank God, is still being serviced by the municipal snow cleaners!


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

DELICATE COLORS


Yesterday morning, when I went out of bed at my usual time, at 7.30, I was greeted by the light of a new-born day! We are on wintertime now since Sunday last. Thus there is a grace period of about a week, when it is still light when I am waking up. Of course, I had to bear witness to this fine event by documenting it for you, dear readers.

The sun had just about crept above the horizon; the whole scenery was clad in mild pastel colors, just as to nudge me on my transition from drowsy to fully awake.

I have tried to do these colors justice and am showing you a picture a bit unlike earlier ones, which were high of contrast and saturation due to the sunny season. Permit me to add that I begin to appreciate delicate details in nature and print, now since I am getting older, and my aesthetic taste is getting fully developed. Of course, when I put pictures on the blog here, most of the time I give them an extra boost of saturation; I know from my own experience that most of us react more actively to stronger motives and color, and I would not like you readers to become disappointed in me.

Surprisingly, whereas I more and more prefer delicate colors, which shows in the prints I prepare for sale, the opposite seems to be the case for many great artists. Picasso comes to mind; in photography one has to look no further than to my forbearer Ansel Adams. As a photographer, he produced picture after picture on demand from a few early negatives, so you can follow the development of his aesthetic taste over the decades. The prints from his later years shine in high contrast, whereas those of his youth are much more delicate in appearance.

To continue on another thread, I am rather pleased with this kitchen window blog and am grateful that I started it some six years ago. Whereas, at the beginning, I saw it a bit as a necessity – produced only grudgingly, since it kept me from my main mission, to produce my two books, I have begun to understand that it now has become a main outlet for my creative endeavors. It is an easy format to work in and I will be able to keep up the good work for many years yet.

I am dedicating this post to a great man, not only a great artist, but also a very brave person, who kept going with his creative verve until the edge of his demise. When he received the verdict that his death was imminent, he produced a musical dealing with the travails of his last days. He went on by producing an album with the songs from the musical, which was released only two days before his death.

Long live David Bowie – In memoria!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

NEW EXPECTATIONS


One of the pleasures remaining to us of a certain age is to have unplanned encounters with hitherto unknown fellow humans. I have to admit that this is a relatively new experience for me. When I was younger, I tended to avoid coming into contact with strangers for several reasons.

I am by nature a solitaire, quite clumsy in using the various modes of getting into and keeping social contacts. To that has to be added a slightly paranoid affliction – stemming from my early childhood experiences, no doubt – which shows itself in fearing my integrity being threatened or being manipulated by people I am not familiar with. Fortunately, age has whittled away most of these concerns.

This process of liberalization took off when I went on my quest to California, back in 2010 and thereafter. People in the US, especially in California, are very easy to address and I got a lot of interesting and warming contacts, whilst busy with documenting student life and city life in Berkeley and its surroundings.

Since then, I am trying to maintain the good habit of opening up to other human beings. I even have gone so far as to invite readers of my website to contact me and seek counsel, if they feel the need for it. To date, only one person has taken me up on that offer – in the four years the website has been on Internet – but I am glad to say that it was to mutual benefit. I could help the person carry his thesis project through, in view of difficulties to communicate with his thesis adviser – quite common – and we keep having pleasant lunch meetings ever since.

The other week, when I was on my way home along Lumagatan, I happened upon a vehicle that I first thought to be a movable office van. But inside was a woman doing housekeeping chores, so it was a camping car I saw. We came to chat about this and that and, gradually, it dawned on me that she must be from Californa, to judge from her pronounciation. So I decided on the spot to invite her home for a coffee. She graciously accepted but asked me, could her husband come along? He was at a repair shop in the surroundings to get his "drone" fixed – Yes! We have shops for even this in my neighborhood. 

Eventually the couple arrived at my doorsteps, but accompanied, to my surprise, by a young Norwegian friend of theirs and a lot of food they had thought to prepare for dinner and brought along to my place instead. A cosy evening followed, with chat, food and drink, and we had a great time. Especially since the view from my apartment was at its most generous, with a grand sunset as shown here in the two pictures.

An interesting topic came up during our conversation. The husband, although a lot younger than me, but apparently in the middle of a career make-over, told me of his plans to start giving seminars to people about to retire. He saw it as his duty to help the soon-to-be pensioners find their right path through the remaining 30 years of their life (as he expressed it). To my surprise he went on to say that it should be each person's duty to round up his life as if writing the most important, albeit final chapters of his book.

I was astounded! Had I not seen my life after work in exactly the same fashion? Had I not produced not only one, but two books as the final act before the curtain would fall? At the same time I was in a quandary: had it not taken me "only" seven years to accomplish this task, and now this new friend was talking about having to fill all of thirty years with meaningful activities?

Long after my guests had left me, I continued to ponder this issue. Austrian as I am, my life would not extend to fully 23 more years, I was sure; already an odd type of consolation. But wasn't it reasonable to count on living at least ten more active years? What to do with the remainder of my active life, since my life's project was already accomplished? 

But I should not have worried. Our brains work in mysterious ways, and circumstances contribute, to bring meaning to the life of even an old geezer like me. For instance, looking back only to the beginning of this year, I have since then already been amazingly busy with doing what I like to do most; to work with pictures and to design books. As a result, a good friend of mine received his book in excellent shape and could publish it this summer; and a new book is in the making, an anthology of articles written by my retirement association. 

Rounding it up, I got a new job, as Member of the Board of Fulbright Sweden. This makes me content: am I not a Fulbright grantee myself, and don't I have Fulbright to thank for my year in Berkeley in the 'seventies, which eventually gave rise to my first retirement project? Last, but not least, I am invited to make a guest appearance at the University of Stockholm next week, to get young students familiar with the dramatic financial crisis years in Sweden in the early 'nineties. 

To sum up, filling your life with a plethora of meaningful activities can bring as much pleasure and satisfaction towards its "blue hour" as laboring on big projects like "The Great American Novel" or the two books I have produced within the past seven years. Speaking of the "blue hour", just before my guests left me after a cosy evening, we made a last detour to my balcony to savor the views. You may glimpse my neighbors at the dinner table, enjoying the same view whilst eating. With autumn cool sneaking up on us, a jubilant bounce like that of June last was not in the air.  ;–)



Thursday, 4 August 2016

THOSE WERE THE DAYS ...


This morning I suddenly felt the urge to tell you about a wondrous experience I have had over the past six years.

It all started with an old friend, Per Wijkman – whom I have known since back in the early 'seventies – contacting me and asking me: "Could I help restore some old glass negatives from his family?". This was in 2010 and I had just begun my training in digital photo processing. I gladly agreed since the work would fit in nicely with my other schooling in the field.

It turned out to be a major piece of work, since the "some" negatives turned in fact out to be more than a hundred, all rather deteriorated by age and damage. These were pictures taken by Per's father in the 1910s. It took me about half a year to get to grips with all the pictures.

Father Per (Gustaf Adolf) and son Per (Magnus) Wijkman

With the work on-going I got, however, to know intimately – and appreciate – the people depicted in the negatives, as well as the town they lived in – Köping, west of Stockholm, at a distance of 120 km as the crow flies –, the property they owned, the great festivities in their family, their frolicking whilst on summer excursions, etc., etc.

When the work had been finished, I encouraged Per to publish this unique set of pictures, together with a short essay depicting the general background against which they had been taken. I envisaged this as an important presentation of the "Zeitgeist" in a bourgeois family, living their happy life unaffected by the Great War that devastated most of Europe.

A festive Wijkman family dinner in 1915.
The patriarch, Per Magnus Wijkman's grandfather, in the middle

Per did not quite follow my advice. He is a born scholar and thought it far too simplistic to take advantage of the pictures in this way. Instead he embarked on a loong journey of scholarly research, charting his family history as well as the history of the town, Köping, where the main part of family drama evolved. The result of his five years' venture into the past is astounding.

Whereas the pictures showed a happy family during a period of about five years, with the younger generation just beginning its journey through life, his research weaved a large and detailed tapestry of family, town and property history ranging over a period of more than a hundred years – a Swedish "Buddenbrooks", even in a shorter and more modest form!

One of the sisters Wijkman (second from right) in (still) joyful company. 

In Per Wijkman's own words: "The pictures are forward looking, full of youthful enthusiasm and faith in the future, whereas the text [in the book] is backward looking, written about 100 years later by someone who knows what happened thereafter. Set-backs and misfortunes later in life cast a dark shadow over the idyl that appears in the pictures." [My translation from the Swedish text].

When it dawned on me that a major tale was being weaved by Per, I was glad to help him design a book with the content he intended: a book, where family tale is intertwined with the old pictures and where text and images form each others' counterpoint. In this way the reader would get an enriched double view of the content; as if meeting a young love again for the first time after fifty years and viewing the mature person juxtaposed with the image still kept in your mind as forever young.

The elder Wijkman brother with his beautiful wife

I would love to explore in detail this surprisingly rich tale, but all but a short overview would breach the frame of this blog post. In the book we learn above all about the younger generation Wijkman, all five of them, born towards the end of the 19th century.

The eldest, Per's uncle, had the good fortune of marrying a woman of beauty and character, but lost all his wealth after the stock crash of 1929. He died shortly thereafter, followed within 10 weeks by his lovely wife, leaving six children parentless.

A budding scientist, still in Grammar School
A younger sister turned out to be a talented scholar, who went on to study mathematics and chemistry at Stockholms Högskola (the precursor of University of Stockholm). In her research she discovered already in the 1920s what later would be called penicillin, but without getting any recognition, in terms of academic honors, for her findings. Discouraged, she went to Germany to continue her research under the foremost chemists of their time. Alas, circumstances took a turn for the worse with the advent of the Nazis, and her research was usurped by colleges she had trusted. Disappointed and depressed she returned to Sweden never to retake her research, and lived the remainder of her days in desolation and poverty.

Our generation lives in a cocoon, where most of life's risks are being mitigated by the welfare state and is therefore lacking insights into what living was like in the old days; like treading on a knife's edge, where at any time a misstep to the left could mean sickness, sudden death or desolation, but a step to the right also could mean success and long life. This book is rich in examples of those turns of fate.

It is amazing that the author, at his advanced age, could gather his resources and produce such an impressive story. This leads me to an appeal: At our age, one of the few things left for us to enjoy is friendship. I am now addressing all of the readers of this blog who speak Swedish and know Per Magnus Wijkman personally. At his age, it would make him happy, if his friends and acquaintances were to appreciate the research he has done and the tale he has wrought during many lonely hours. Why not grant him his just reward and, at the same time provide pleasure to an old friend, by buying the book?

The book can be bought at BOKUS, where you can also look at sample pages, to get a first impression of this publication's quality.

Allow me to thank you in advance for your gallant support of an old friend with a tune that tallies nicely with the pictures of a happy family in the 1910s, I think. Please click on the picture to listen to the song!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1SIexPh3ic
Mary Hopkins: "Those were the days …"

Sunday, 31 July 2016

INTO DEEP SUMMER

Mauve early morning sheen over Hammarby Sound

I am writing this blog after the fact. The last three weeks have been alive with small activities that would take an ordinary man a day or two to settle. But I am retired now and – for some strange reason – am enticed to let even small tasks stretch out to last at least a week or two.

So, let us travel back in time to beginning of July! On the very day when the Swedes by tradition head off to a four weeks' leave, my sleep was interrupted at an early hour, at 3.30 am already. Whilst one eye was still firmly shut, the other was greeted by a strange mauve sheen, alighting the blinds. Intrigued, I stumbled out of bed and out to the balcony to investigate.

An otherwordly scene welcomed me out there. A broad but narrow band of intense light hovering just above the horizon, like neon above the entrance of an old-time movie theatre. It appears that the rising sun labored to outshine a thick cloud bank hovering just at the horizon and preventing it from breaking through. In desperation it spread its rays to enlighten a full 45° of the horizon with a completely even and strong shine, ranging from Northwest to straight West.

My watering hole – breakfast at "finefood"

This view got me wide awake, so I decided to work on the queue of small tasks I have been talking about above. By 8 am I had come a long way and felt quite satisfied with myself. Suddenly, I got the idea of enriching my usual morning walk, by taking a camera along and documenting some of its highlights for you, dear readers. Said and done: on with my shoes, a Nikon over my head, grasping two Nordic walking sticks to get me on my way with speed, and off I went to my usual breakfast place.

I am a lucky man, having access to at least two cafés at 5 minutes' walk from my apartment. The one pictured above (fine food) is my favorite and I have had breakfast there (almost) every morning since 2009! Although the girls serving customers here have changed over the years, the owner couple is still going strong and has adapted the place to changing times and circumstances. It started out as a shop for gourmet food (thereof the name) with just one table squeezed in for people like me to have coffee and a sandwich. Nowadays, it is a fully fledged café and restaurant with still some "fine foods" for sale.

Sjöstadsparterren, a Park with award ---

Refreshed from fine breakfast in a fine café, my feet got wings and I hastened to my morning trail. Its first part lies along a nice town park, called Sjöstadsparterren. This is a beautiful piece of greenery and sculptures that is laid out, in between townhouses, for almost a kilometer towards the East. I can tell you that it is very pleasurable to perambulate, due to its humane proportions and delicate features.

About halfway through there is a nice water sculpture greeting you. Since it is still early in the morning, we are missing the small toddlers that just LOVE to stumble around among these "geysers" of ever changing shape and intensity. So we have to do without the delighted giggles and screams of children getting a surprising splurge of water on their faces and feet.

... and "geysers"


I am not the only one being in love with this place. It was even awarded a cherished architectural prize back in 2005, the Kasper Salin Prize. I am not surprised since I count this park among the most pleasurable in Stockholm. A pity that more recent building frenzy is preventing its continuation beyond the old Luma factory, which divides this part of Hammarby Sjöstad into two.

My apartment lies towards the West, beyond the factory, where town planners have left it to the building companies to plan our part of the district. As a result, the counterpart of Sjöstadsparterren on our side is a plain street, with cars driving along and a rather drab mid-section trying in vain to be pleasant. Shame on you, you Stockholm City planners, for a abandoning us when we needed you the most!

True love – being active together in the morning!

But back to my walk. As I enjoyed the nice greenery along Sjöstadsparterren, my eyes caught a lonely couple who exercised their young bodies in camaraderie. Did the mirrorlike symmetry in their movement indicate a happy meeting of body and mind, I wondered? I couldn't tell, of course, but could still wish them all the best for their relationship.

By then, I approached the Eastern end of the park. There lies a cosy little daycare centre, which is pretty busy on ordinary working days. In Sweden, children can be delivered there as early as 7 am, so I am usually greeted with the steady buzz of children rushing in and out of doors and happily doodling around the various playthings adorning the outside. But this was July and holiday season, so the centre was closed and I was the only person ambling around those children's delights.

Rare view of playground without kids 

From this juvenile paradise, there is just a small set of stairs to navigate before arriving at the pleasant oak glade already mentioned in an earlier blog post (Young Virgins' Summer). But what a difference in apparition! Where there was, at that earlier occasion, a sunny glade with eloquent light shining through budding leaves, I was now greeted with sincerely green trees, rendering the scene a somber dark.The deep green of deep summer appears – to the photographer – rather drab and boring, but to the hiker i provides welcoming shade after a stretch of sunny walking!

The oak glade again – this time in deep summer green

Continuing along the road through the glade, I soon arrived at the lock that leads boats from the Baltic Sea up to the bucolic lake region lying on a plateau to the South-East. Whenever I am in a vigorous mood – which happens less and less these days – I will deviate to the right and have a prolonged hike of two hours or more into that rejuvenating region of forest, lake and moor.

But this was not the right occasion; instead, I just crossed the small bridge above the lock to get access to the cosy boardwalk along Sickla Peninsula, Sjöstaden's nucleus (where the building of it all started 15 years ago). I can tell you that this boardwalk, with its slightly bouncing wooden planks, lends your feet wings and is pure pleasure to hike along. It stretches for a mile along the waters and I can be seen there prancing with my sticks every morning!

A boardwalk for eager Nordic Prancers

With the picture below we are at the usual endpoint of my board hike. It was taken whilst standing with my back against the railing, catching breath before stretching, with eyes resting on the buildings in front of me, which lie in the Fredriksdal block of our district. At this early hour, I am usually alone with my thoughts but, "Look!", wasn't there a fellow resident taking it easy on the pier?

Relaxing on the pier, as I am on the boardwalk!

But soon I got the urge to take up the sticks and start my quick march home. Just a bit along the way, a nice view opened up to me, with Sofia kyrka throning on the Southern Island, as if to encourage me to put on some extra speed. I had admired this view many a time, but always without camera, so I was glad to get it documented this time, with nice sunshine and all!

Get on with it! – the loong return

Whenever I return along the sidewalk, there is this beautiful detour, with wooden paths that lead exactly nowhere but are nonetheless inviting me to tread them. I had taken them up on their invitation many times before, but this once I contented myself with taking a picture of the delightful mix of boardwalk, water and reeds.

Swans and ducks are finding this a convenient place to hatch in. There are even beaver hiding in the thickets but I did not see them this time. Instead, the ducks rose to the task and formed a line for me to photograph, as if showing me the right way to the quay opposite the peninsula. Unfortunately, I could not follow them, since I needed a means to gap the waters in between without wetting my shoes.

Ducks urging me on

Fortunately, there is a bridge just 50 meters from there, where I soon arrived by taking vigorous steps, aided by the sticks. The span looks a bit peculiar but there is a reason for it. It is constructed completely in steel, said to be among the first bridges built with this material.

Bridge of steel. Architect Erik Andersson

Having passed this bridge of steel and looking back, it appears even more peculiar. From two concrete bastions on its left and right, thick steel cables emerge that project towards, and are anchored in, the bottom of the span. I used to wonder about the reason for this strange arrangement, until I happened upon a small plaque hanging rather discreetly on the left railing. It turned out that this bridge, called Apatê, is famous for its construction; it even received a prize for it. The cables have the task of easing the weight of the span, where it rests on the marches at the fringe of Sickla Peninsula.

I sometimes get visitors who have a training in engineering. The above explanation causes consternation to some of them, since they doubt that cables placed underneath a bridge can give it a boost upwards. Others of the same inclination point out that the bridge is formed like a bow; the cables anchored underneath it keep it under tension and thereby prevent it from sinking into the marches. I think we are forced to accept the latter interpretation, especially since it tallies with the official explanation given by the architect. ;-)

Steel cables – to prevent the span from drowning in the marches

This about finishes the tale. We are back on my side of Hammarby Canal and have just another kilometer to go. A last picture of the track should suffice, before arriving at the Harbour Crane, the great marker of having arrived back home.

Almost back home!

It would be a pity to leave it at that, though! Even if the remainder of the day was rather eventless, as is often the case for us retirees, there is another treat in store for you dear readers! Late in the evening, at 10 pm to be precise, we were able to admire this beautiful sunset, rarely seen even in Summer time. The more rarely since the sun will not set again as far North as this until July 9 next year!

Sunset at 10 pm – at North-North-West!

I would be a bad blogger, if I did not have yet another story to fill out this post with. This as a reward for you, the most hardened and patient of readers, who have staid with me until now.

After having admired the gorgeous sunset I spent the remaining hours to midnight in front of the television screen, since an engaging movie was being played that evening. After that, I was tired enough to go to bed, or so I thought! Instead, the television having been shut off, I started to notice quite loud singing and laughing from below the balcony. Hoping that it would soon stop, being midnight and all, I kept reading for a while in bed. But, by 1 am, there was still a lot of commotion outside.

Enraged, I rushed down to the quay in pajamas, to admonish the malfeasants. What I saw was four young girls acting out, by singing and dancing, popular songs from musicals, such as, Mamma Mia, Grease and Sound of Music. As reaction to my angry words, they apologized profusely, telling me they did not realize that their happy go-together had disturbed the neighborhood. I almost felt sorry for having interrupted such girly-girly ebullience, but again, there is a limit even to female artistry. They were gracious enough to desist and leave, so we parted as friends and I could get a good night's sleep – or what remained of it – at long last.

Let me now round up this blog post about deep summer with some music in the same vein. A lazy season needs great artists to get us engaged: George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

MR. ADAMS, I PRESUME?

Langkofel and Plattkofel seen from Seiser Alm, Val Gardena
Picture based on photos courtesy Beatrice Sommerfeld 

Actually not. Neither does this picture provide a view from my kitchen window. Nor did I take this photo myself. So why do I bother to put it on top of this blog post?

The week before last I spent some days hiking with a nice group of friends in the Dolomites region, in Val Gardena (Grödner Tal in German, Gherdëina in Ladin). Since I considered this a holiday, I decided not to take any camera with me, which proved, in retrospect, to be A BIG MISTAKE. You can easily see why, by looking at the title picture. Here I was, standing on Seiser Alm with the most spectacular mountain panorama in sight, in a glorious light as made for grand photography; and my hands were empty! To put acid into the wound, the scenery triggered the memory of an outstanding print by a master photographer, Ansel Adams. Thereof the title to this post.

Even if the scenery in that print differs in many respects from the one I witnessed on Seiser Alm, its general mood, as I kept it in memory, seemed to me rather similar. Once back home, I rushed to the computer to refresh my memory. You see a small version of this masterpiece on screen. But make no mistake! This is but a bleak reflection of the real thing, which I had the good luck of admiring in a museum: a large sized print ranging from darkest black to delicate white, shining with its exquisite display of greys on grey.

Adams, A., Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park
Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art 

If you appreciate this picture as much as I do, I would encourage you to buy a print. You may not afford an original printed by the Master himself, but his gallery (The Ansel Adams Gallery) is still in business and printing Special Edition Photographs from his negatives on silver paper. The prints are being made by his former assistant (a master photographer in his own right by now) and can be obtained at a modest price of 300 USD.

My enthusiasm for the Master is not only grounded in admiration for his prints. Adams was also a great teacher and author of introductory courses in photography. In fact, having studied his introductory books, page by page and word by word, I learned from him everything I know about photography. There is one central theme in his teaching that I have kept in mind all these years: he considered the taking of a photo only as the beginning of a long and laborious voyage. The silver negative that photographers used to obtain after developing the film was for him as if the score for a musician. The crucial part of the work was the INTERPRETATION, in Adam's case the way the negative was enlarged onto silver paper.

We are not talking here about simply putting the negative into the enlarger, pushing the button and putting the paper into the developer. Each fine print of a negative took days of testing, trying and retrying to prepare, until, finally, a master print emerged. In his introductory book The Print, Adams lets us look behind the curtains, by publishing his exposure guides for the above print. Certain parts of the negative had to be exposed longer than average, others had to be exposed less, in an intricate sequence of partial exposures. In this way, a somewhat bleak original was being transformed into the rich master print we can admire in the museums.

Compilation of exposure guides prepared by Ansel Adams
Based on notes from Adams, A., The Print, p 108

I read the corresponding passages in this book for the first time in 1983, two years after I had bought my trusted Linhof Technica, a technical camera with negative format 9x12 cm. By then, I had already produced a sizable amount of negatives and was eager to learn how to render them into fine silver prints. But after having studied Adams' method of interpretation, it dawned on me that I could never master his techniques in my lifetime, not to speak of the sizable investment in enlargement machinery needed, too expensive for my meager income. So I gave up the idea of ever producing fine silver prints. But the urge to take pictures got the better of me and I continued clicking away with my cameras. At retirement, I had about a thousand large format silver negatives hibernating, like sleeping beauties, in my cupboards.

Digitalization to the rescue! After retirement there was suddenly time to spend on photographic experiments. So I decided to study digital photo processing. And am glad I did. After just a year of daily exercise I began to understand that I could replicate Adams' technique for the first time! Furthermore, what took the Master days and weeks I could do in hours! All the steps involved in partial exposure of negatives, as demonstrated in Adam's notes, could easily be executed by the computer and the result observed on screen IMMEDIATELY. This greatly speeded up my process of learning and I am now confident that I can do the necessary to produce prints that live up to the utmost of my exigencies.

This new ability is especially useful for those pictures, where extremes in contrast are needed to convey my special vision. Even Adams may have had difficulty to come to grips with motives like the one I am showing here.

Horses and Södertorn. Source: Ems, E., Stockholm/Brussels: a retrospective in fine prints

I see that my enthusiasm for photographic techniques has taken over this blog. Haven't I been in Val Gardena, one of the most beautiful regions in the world, and haven't I something to tell about my stay there? "Yes!", indeed, but I feel somewhat handicapped by the lack of pictures to accompany any possible tale.

Suffice it to say that I highly recommend this region for an extended hiking trip. The mountains are simply gorgeous to look at and hike between. A feast for the eye and the mind! Not to speak of the people of this valley. For ages they had to eke out a meager existence, isolated as they were between the mountains, ever since the demise of the Roman Empire. Still, they managed to cling to the memory of a realm long gone, by preserving a version of the old language, which is spoken to this very day in the valley, as well as in four other isolated Alpine valleys.

In the past two centuries, the poor valley farmers discovered that their traditional wood carvings of saints and animals could be traded outside the valley. This led to a moderate increase in income for those poor farmers. Gradually, rumor spread about the fine wooden art being produced in Val Gardena and, by the end of the 19th century, their products were well known and appreciated all over Europe. One sideline was the production of wooden toys, of which they were exclusive producers throughout that century.

What more is there to say? Actually, a lot more! But why not go there yourself and experience the real thing? Why not let yourself be inspired to go by a couple more pictures, showing the valley in all its splendour?

St Jakob Pilgrim Church, Val Gardena
Picture based on photo courtesy Hans Ekdahl


Sass Rigais and Furcheta mountains
Picture based on photo courtesy Barbara Godlewski


The author in good company of fellow hikers








Saturday, 18 June 2016

ALPENGLOW AT 10 PM?


Yesterday evening I witnessed a peculiar spectacle, which I hasten to share with you, dear readers! Around 9.45 pm, when returning from the movies, I took the subway instead of walking home as usual. And I am glad I did. When the train passed the high bridge at Skanstull, where you get a marvelous view of Lake Mälar on the one side and Hammarby Sound on the other, the sky provided an eye opener instead.

It was unusually dark for June, since the sky was overlaid with dark brownish clouds, which completely covered the evening sun. But in a strange way, the sun must have fought its way through indirectly, like using the clouds as a mirror. Over Hammarby Sound towards the East, an unusual rainbow suddenly jumped out of the dark, but only intermittently, partitioned as it was by heavy brown laces. I had no camera with me, so you have to take my words for this. Whilst the train continued its journey, it seemed to creep at snail pace, so full of longing was I to get home immediately and catch this miracle of nature on film.

Unfortunately, the rainbow was long gone, when I arrived at home, 10 minutes later. Instead, the hitherto dark clouds towards the East started to glow, like embers of coal left in the oven after the evening fire. It almost looked as if sunrise would be imminent, even if I knew that the sun was actually setting on the opposite side of the horizon. 

Once again I was lucky to witness an Alpenglow over Hammarby Sound. It was not the first time (see earlier blog post), but never had I observed this phenomenon as late as 10.15 in the evening! To show you the difference between Alpenglow and a sunset lit horizon, have a look at the picture below. This was also taken around 10.15 PM, but in the North Western direction, instead of the direction clear East for the title picture. The date was 6 June. Just a week later, I could observe the sun itself, shining like a low spotlight through the trees just to the left of Katarina church, the dome of which is peeping up over the horizon. 


Whilst I was busy documenting this sunset for you readers, a glad "Hellow" was heard from the balcony opposite mine. The distance between houses here in Hammarby Sjöstad is rather small, so we can easily chat from outpost to outpost. The family you can see here is following my blog with interest and always are complimenting me for it. Thank you kindly, dear neighbors! This time they wanted their own picture taken, which I was happy to oblige. If you click on the first of these photos, you get it enlarged. Moving quickly to the next one, the family will come alive, to delight your juvenile side – I hope – as well as mine. Enjoy!