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. If you are in the money, why not visit this site, where 156 of Ansel's pictures are being exhibited, of which 112 are for sale (I won't say at which price, though!)

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