Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nukus--Last Day in Uzbekistan 2010

My last day in Uzbekistan was in the far west of the country. The KyrgyzUzbek conflict was on the far eastern Uzbekistan/Kyrgyzstan border. Later, I felt I was letting ZUMA, my press agency, down by not photographing the conflict. I'm not much of a war photographer. Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s challenged my tolerance for photographing suffering. I'm an "ordinary life" kind of photographer. For instance, in Nukus, I was fascinated by the metal snakes in a neighborhood playground. I like a fake snake.
As for signs of danger, be it snake or man, a missing manhole cover makes me nervous enough.
I am interested in survival in the aftermath of difficult circumstances. That's why I'm attracted to the former Soviet Union (FSU). I photograph how people are getting along more than how people are not getting along. For example, I'm happy for this high-end street musician who is all amped-up and ready for karaoke on an empty Nukus street.
I was warned not to eat ice cream in Nukus. I did want to support his ice cream seller, though.
Now, I am in southern France near where many people died a couple of days ago in flash flooding. Again, I am not being a good ZUMA Press member. I'm in Aix-en-Provence teaching photography for 6 weeks.
I think this Asia Central blog will again switch back to The Coruscating Camera on Wordpress. I don't like the way Blogger/Blogspot functions. I recently posted France pictures at The Coruscating Camera and will continue to look back at recent FSU work there. So please check it out and subscribe.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Silence and Symbiosis

The first thing that struck me about Khiva was the absence. It's like a great civilization just moved out of town. The next impression was of the presence. The spirit of the place, as well as the fact of its survival over time, is all encompassing. The street vendors don't shout out at you. The children whisper hellos. There is no loud music playing. I've seen a few internationals, but there seems to be more tour buses than tourists. It is hot, so maybe everybody is ensconced in their air conditioned hotels. The picture below is basically the view from our hotel window.
This picture is actually taken from the street. Our hotel is closer to the minaret with a view onto the plaza in front of it. I look down at a row of merchants tables offering carpets, hairy hats and orange soda. This is an incredible place to be. We are inside an old walled city.

These are photos I took yesterday. Our day started at 4:30 AM with a rush to the airport in Tashkent. During our hour and a half flight to Urgench we sat on the airplane watching half the plane (not our half) get served breakfast. We got Fanta and a piece of bread. We think that half the plane was on a package tour that included food.
We finally got a delicious lunch at the sanatorium of the University in Urgench.

I got a great tour of the facilities of the sanatorium. Students can calm down from the stress of college life by accessing several therapeutic devices including the above headache reliever.

Oh, I'm getting notices about how my connection is intermittent. Bad blogability has been a problem throughout the whole trip. I'll simply throw on a couple of more pictures from yesterday and hope I can upload this post.

More later...

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Siberia of the Mind

Siberia has a presence in the imaginations of people all over the world. This is a picture from the City Museum of Irkutsk where they have clear plexi people floating in various rooms. Plexi people are a great addition to my imaginings of Siberia. In this museum, the guide opened old wooden drawers and carefully unfolded lacy cotton undergarments for me. My private collection of 18th and 19th century underwear photographs is expanding. I think Tanya Marcuse has the ancient underwear art photography market covered. I'll just have to be satisfied with my own silky portfolio. No, I'm not going to show them. Here's the Irkutsk Chinese Market just to get you back to the 21st century.

More to come.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Last Days in Siberia

Our arrival in Irkutsk over a week ago was a homecoming of the most delightful kind. People seemed really happy to see us, our old apartment was waiting for us, and we even found our old toilet seat. On the down side, the toilet seat had seen better days, and better bottoms. The apartment had been depleted of Vivian's kitchen utensils from 2 years ago and the beautiful banks of the Angara were blighted with a new, and expanding, parking lot (seen above). Adding insult to insult, I was accosted by a guard when I entered the parking lot with my camera. While repeating, "I love you", he made me erase any of the pictures that showed the destruction of the formerly beautiful coast line. Here are a few that he missed.
This one was too dark to show all the garbage that was strewn around.
The pictures that looked directly out onto the river were less offensive to the guard. Therefore, he let me keep this one. He missed the one below which shows the offensive bulldozers.
I could go on, but I'll cut right to Lake Baikal, the source of the Angara. Below is Alexey washing something in the lake. If you want to see more pictures from Angarsk and Archan, check out The Coruscating Camera. I've mostly been blogging from Wordpress, but as of the first Wednesday in June we'll be in Uzbekistan where Wordpress is banned. All my blogging will then be from Asia Central.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cental Asia Return

Vivian and I are on the verge of our spring 2010 trip to Central Asia. We leave in two and a half weeks. We don't have any visas, yet, but we've got tickets. The problem is that the airline won't let you on the plane unless you have a visa for where you are landing. No problem, maybe.

The above picture of a classroom in the Tajikistan Pamirs is from 2009. What kind of pictures will I be looking for on this trip? Because Vivian spends time almost every day teaching teachers, I'll continue to picture education. It is consistently amazing to see the intelligence and grace of the teachers and students in Central Asia. They are teaching and learning in the midst of often broke down conditions.

Ultimately, my photography is about whatever happens to be in front of me. I know it is not a very sophisticated approach to documenting the world. It is really a way of documenting my own state of well being. Years of listening to jazz is a possible inspiration for this approach. In jazz, the song, or head, is the starting point for the musician to work around. S/He usually plays the tune once through and then lets inspiration flow. For me, the city or town offers the basic structure for possible visual riffs or explorations.

I've been a meditator since my early 20s. My kind of photography relates to the experience of sitting. I start with whatever watchfulness I can muster. It is similar to walking out onto the street, or into a space. While sitting, I observe whatever is going on in my mind and body. It's just like being a photo eye on the world. I never know what is about to envelope me. I only know what I am seeing at the moment. Just like meditation, there are times when I come back to the present moment and realize I've just spent a nonspecific stretch of time lost in thought, or, as in photography, engrossed in a fleeting situation in the world. It's all OK.

Well, maybe it isn't. Meditating is not a results oriented experience. I let go of achieving something with sitting practice awhile ago. I realize that, at the very least, meditating keeps me out of trouble for the time I am just sitting.

Photography is results oriented. Our attic is filled with my pictures. On this trip I want to let go of the impulse to collect a little pile of picture treasures. I'll let my camera simply note the world as it passes by. The pictures can be the residue of my experience of the world. Dodrup Chen Rimpoche, a Tibetan teacher who has been very important to me, once said, "the archer doesn't have to proclaim that he has hit the target. Everyone can see that he has hit the target."

Pass me another arrow, please.

Gymnasium floor, Russia, 2009