Saturday, December 19, 2009

Asia--The Next Generation

My first trip to Asia was in 1973/74 when I was 24 years old. The second trip was for our (Vivian and my) honeymoon in 1978/79. I've been posting some pictures from those early travels over the past few months.
Now, also at age 24, (he just turned 25 last week) our son, Caleb, has gone on his first extended journey through India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Burma and more. He's been blogging about it with more insight that I had at 24. Here's Caleb and his iPod in India photographed by the talented Michele Leaman who is traveling with him.
Check out Caleb and Michele's blog at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Light and Dust

Originally uploaded by culturalvisions

This picture of light filtering through an underground market in Afghanistan in 1979 began my obsession with shafts of light. My romance with light and dust has guided me on many trips across Asia.

Now, Vivian and I are planning for Central Asia 2010. I'm sorting through folders of images from 2008-9 to see what I missed photographing on earlier trips. I've missed a lot.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Photo Studio in Afghanistan

Afghan Photographer
Originally uploaded by culturalvisions

I've seen street side photo studios, like this one in Herat, all over the world. The shutter is a makeshift lens cap, the negative is made of paper, inside the camera box are trays with chemistry for processing, the negative is re-photographed to make a positive and the results are washed in the bucket on the ground. The client gets a beautiful 3X5 inch contact print after a few minutes wait.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Happy Days in Herat

Afghan Musician
Originally uploaded by culturalvisions

Kabul in the 70s was known as the Paris of Central Asia according to the NYT. For me Herat was the Northampton of Central Asia- good tea stalls (chai khannas), good bakeries (not as good as Hungry Ghost) and absolutely great music coming from every chai khanna.

Afghanistan had it all if you were a fan of life as it was lived in "Old Testament" times. Come to think of it, Northampton of the 70s had a lot more "Old Testament" feel about it. Let me clarify that Herat of the 70s was as interesting as Northampton of today. Although Afghanistan had lower prices, better shopping, cheaper hotels and fewer flush toilets. Oh, right, the toilets. I guess I prefer Northampton.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Research Group Triangle

Jura's Place, Herat, originally uploaded by culturalvisions.

This was our hang-out in Herat in 1973. Jura had the best tea and the best music. We called ourselves Research Group Triangle and we sat in this small, smokey room for hours talking about our expedition overland. There were four of us. That's an appropriate configuration for a Group Triangle of the early 70s. We traveled for a year. Sometimes together, sometimes alone, and always connected --even pre-internet. I had 100 rolls of film and stingily took just a few photos in Afghanistan. This remains one of my favorites, but it is because of the memories rather than the quality of the picture.

Northern Afghanistan, December 1978

Northern Afghanistan
Originally uploaded by culturalvisions

"Money is for whomans, not for things." That's what the Chief of Afghan Police kept repeating as he interrogated us about not paying for our hotel room. Unfortunately, it was the bulk of his English literacy. We paid for the hotel a second time to avoid jail time.

Also, Vivian complained about my previous post so I pledge to avoid potty stories in the future. For instance, I'm not going to tell of the night the Afghan authorities locked all the internationals passing through their village in a single room for safe keeping. There were 6 or 8 of us who were told that we might be killed if we were mistaken for Russians by the locals.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Honeymoon in Afghanistan

Originally uploaded by culturalvisions

That's right, Vivian and I spent a month of our year long honeymoon in 1978-1979 in Afghanistan. There are stories to tell of our adventure, but I'll start with pictures. This one is from a week long truck ride from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif. That's a mostly roadless ride through desert and dust. We would stop every few hours to get out and pee. The Afghan women wouldn't leave the truck. Vivian would barge her way through and squat in the sand with the men. I pissed standing up. I attracted a crowd. They were very impressed with my fly-- very modern and very western. Then one day I pissed toward Mecca and everybody yelled at me.

This recollection was initiated by a NYTs article on Afghanistan's Golden Age.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Central Asia Lite

Photographed while driving through a waterfall on the way out of the Pamirs. This is the perfect analogy for how I see my most recent project.
I've got to get back to Central Asia. I feel like I missed so much that was right before my eyes. I don't think I've got enough visual evidence about what life in the Countries in Between is really like.

Here are a few pictures that I've been thinking about. I haven't printed anything yet.

Vivian in her suite. Namangan, Uzbekistan.

Young worker at the silk factory, Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan Landscape.

Interior Landscape, Khujand, Tajikistan

Butcher Shop, Khujand, Tajikistan

Hotel of suspect activities, Tajikistan

Conference Attendee, Kazan, Tartarstan, Russia

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Khorog-- The capital of the Tajik Pamirs.

The Khorog Airport ticket office.
The next three pictures were made along a ridge parallel to the main road in Khorog.

This is the staircase in the Khorog State University where my wife, Vivian, was teaching.

Bags in the bazaar.

The entrance to the Khorog Hospital.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Wall

I've been getting email from friends in Uzbekistan and I am reminded that most of them don't have access to The Coruscating Camera. Here's a picture from the Pamirs to view while I get something together for my Asia Central readers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To Russia and Back

I've officially returned from Russia as of late last night. All of my most recent Russia posts are on The Coruscating Camera if you haven't been keeping up.
That's the site that was banned in Uzbekistan, but I'm in Uzbekistan no more. Go to my Wordpress site for more pictures from the trip.
Here's one from Elista in the Republic of Kalmykia.
I don't think I'll be posting much more on Asia Central. Blogspot simply is not as easy to use as Wordpress. I have not felt comfortable with the Blogger software.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tashkent Old City

It took us several days to find the old city of Tashkent. We discovered the old market, but the narrow walled streets of Chorsu were elusive. There were some enticing alleys with children playing, but they seemed inadequate for the "old" quarter of a 2200+ year old city of 3-5,000,000 people. We had read about the earthquake that killed as many as 500,000 inhabitants in 1966. The book said that many old neighborhoods survived because they had few windows or doors, just mud and straw flexible walled dwellings.
A couple of days ago we were walking along what looked like a construction site and I noticed a door cut into the green metal fence. Instead of a construction project, behind the green wall was the walled city of Tashkent. Alleys lined with clay led off in every direction.
There were a few larger holes in the green wall to accommodate driving a car into the neighborhood.
Some entered through simple, handle-less closed doors.The green wall began at a bakery that had a marvelous, if understated, bread display along the road.The wall continued to a mosque at the other end of the neighborhood.
I don't know the "why" of the green metal jacket protecting the earthen walkways of this ancient part of town. Maybe the green wall looks better to the outside neighbors than what preceded it. Or maybe the old district chose to erect it to keep people like me from sticking my head in and bothering them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Tashkent Challenge

Tashkent is one helluva tough town. I thought it was going to be my kind of photography scene-- filled with ugly beauty. Early indications seemed promising when Vivian and I walked by this cafe near our hotel.
"Dadu" is what Tobey and Caleb call me. Vivian took this as I proudly stood out front.

Before I start complaining, here's a list of things I like about Tashkent:
1. The hotel, with live harp music every morning at a good buffet breakfast, plus free in-room wireless.
2. The American Embassy and their outstanding operatives. I really think these guys are altruistically contributing to Uzbekistan's overall well-being.
3. Food that, even when it was bad, was good enough to eat. This includes coffee that wasn't instant and J Smoker's local draft dark beer, which was real good.
4. Taxi anywhere in the city for less that $3. Almost any vehicle is a taxi. You just stick your hand out wherever you are. Someone will stop within about a half dozen cars. You do a quick negotiation and if they aren't interested, there is another car that has moved in behind the first.

The city seems to not be user friendly. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1966 by an earthquake. The Soviet Union rebuilt it with the participation of every Soviet state. This meant that a potpourri of oversized structures, built by a variety of people, created a city of big, bulbous, (mostly) empty interiors and large grass, or cement, filled spaces in between. It's an unenviable experience to be staggering around in 100 degree heat between these buildings. Each guarded proletarian fortress seems to be spaced about a half mile apart. It's kind of like the architecture of UMass except you can't walk anywhere, there is no place to go on foot. The sidewalks are fenced-in so you can barely even get across the street. The roads include around 5 traffic lanes in each direction, plus trolleys. Crossing the street requires the tenacity of a demolition derby driver (without a car).

Nobody in town knows anything about where they are or where you may want to be going. They will give you directions unhesitatingly even though they have no idea what you are asking about. We have never received accurate directions from a person on the street, unless he was driving you there. In that case, it was his gas that he was wasting so he'd figure it out.

That said, the people of Tashkent are very nice. My attempts to make portraits are usually met with one of two responses.
An undesirable smile.... or a, "talk to the hand!"
So, now you know why the 1000 words. I would rather show you a picture.

I did make one picture that I like.
In lieu of posting more good pictures (that I didn't make), here's the illustrated story of our carpet.
The carpet shop was behind a signless doorway in one of those huge buildings I was talking about. The dealer invited us in off the street, led us through a room where a few old guys were drinking tea, then through a very small room with a metal desk and a piano.

Next, through a slightly bigger cement walled chamber-- the showroom.
and finally into a couple of connected closets lined with folded carpets.
That's Nadira behind Vivian. Here she is in the showroom.The long process of looking at too many carpets is more fun than choosing tile and superior to watching paint dry. Vivian is checking the color of this carpet with her toenail polish.We finally pick the best combination of the usual factors and end up with this Bukhara design on an Afghan made beauty.
Vivian's name is up in the corner because we are doing the paperwork to get it out of the country. That's a post for another time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Silk and Clay

We made several amazing stops on our way out of Ferghana and back to Tashkent. Like our previous visit to the 8th century paper mill in Samarkand, these visits were about living history and artisan survival in the 21st century. There is a down side to practicing ancient techniques. They are labor intensive and not financially rewarding. Basically, I wasn't happy to see people who have worked boiling silk worms to death for the past 30 years. This is not a pro silk worm manifesto, I just felt bad for the crafts people who did such grueling work daily. I was also not pleased to see very young young people apprenticing in these trades. I won't go into a "how to" on silk production. I think Stan Sherer and Marjorie Senechal have already written a book or two about it.

These ladies are boiling the silk worms and extracting the silk from the cocoons.
From what I understood, this is the only "traditionally produced" silk factory in Central Asia.
This man is making (or doing) ikat, a kind of tying and dyeing of the silk.
Here's a young person weaving the ikat threads.
Every release of the shutter is an affirmation-- yes, yes, yes (Henri Cartier-Bresson paraphrase). Each camera exposure is an acknowledgement of the present moment. It seems to be cheating to embrace the present moment for the extended period of a print or a blog. And to have each shutter release lead to the next.

Here's a market picture from the Tashkent Old City while I go to meet the US Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Ambassador Richard Norland is a personable guy who asked me to encourage you to come and visit. I don't think he'll put you up at the Dedeman Hotel, but you can easily ride the elevator.
Now for ceramic arts. This series is for Chuck and Patty. I know I don't have to say much about clay production, so here's some studio pictures from Uzbekistan's greatest living potter.

As I was looking at the beautiful patterns on the plates, I was reminded of my favorite Uzbek popular art form-- bread making. OK, so I haven't had much to eat for the past 10 hours. I do have a squeeze bottle of mayonez (Uzbek spelling) resting on the hotel air conditioner. I think I'll take it with me to market to get a bread snack.