Source: Jury is Always Right. Sort of …
Let me proudly announce that I discovered a new area of photography. Which is called … black and white photography 🙂 . Indeed, until recently the predominant majority of my images were in color, but black and white were almost nonexistent. And while some people are color blind, one could say that I was black and white blind.
This has changed lately and now I often feel (sometimes subconsciously) when an image is better in BW then in color. So maybe it is not an accident that a couple of awards that I was lucky to win recently were for black and white works. The first of them was Best in Show for the picture “Twisted” in the annual juried exhibition at Gallery 14 in Hopewell. The original image was taken in 2010, obviously in color, and was pretty pathetic. It had been sitting in the remote corner of my computer since then, but a few months ago I began to play with Nik Silver Effex Pro and chose this image for the first exercise. One click and the image suddenly became interesting:
The second award was First Place in Photography at the Mercer County Senior Art Show 2017 (sounds great except for the word “senior”, don’t you think?) for the picture “Hoboken Waterfront”:
This image was initially made in HDR by combining several exposures. As often with HDR, the resulting colors were a bit over the edge, distracting from the essence of the image. But what was distracting in color became captivating and maybe even a bit mysterious in BW.
As usual, all comments are welcome.
Recommendation 1: If you go to China for the first time, do not go on your own. And not because of safety concerns (the country is very safe), but because of a huge and deep cultural differences.
The second reason for taking that tour was that it was crazy cheap. No, it was even cheaper than that. It included 11 nights in 4-5 star hotels, three intra-country flights between different cities, all breakfasts and lunches, guided tours every day, admission to all sites, and several other goodies. And the price of all this was under $1250 per person. My initial reaction was that you get what you pay for, and first of all I independently researched all of our hotels. The reviews were definitely positive, and this essentially sealed the deal. After all, what can we lose? The hotels, breakfasts, all flights and transportation are guaranteed, but if we don’t like something else, we will simply leave the tour for a couple of hours and explore on our own. It turned out, however, that it was not so simple.
Our tour started in Beijing, and the first site, as one can guess, was Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. I say “one can guess” because it seems that EVERY tour in China starts from this place (that’s how it is done in an authoritarian country!). The square is huge, surrounded by several monumental buildings linked to the Communist Party of China, but by itself is pretty boring. The adjacent Forbidden City is a vast complex of old Emperor’s palaces. It is interesting enough, but those who saw, say, the complex of King’s palaces in Bangkok, would not be very impressed. Plus most of the palaces are closed for the public and can be observed only from outside. But the worst thing was the crowds of tourists.
It seemed that all 1.5 billion of Chinese decided to visit the Forbidden City on that particular day, not even mentioning a few hundred thousands of foreigners! In this situation the main goal was not to enjoy the scenery but not to lose your group and not to get creamed by the crowd. At some moment I tripped, fell and broke my camera, so that all subsequent photos were made by my smartphone (sorry for the quality of these pictures).
In my long and eventful life I saw tons of pictures of the wall in books, posters, TV and online, and somehow there was never a single person there ! It is a mystery how the photographers managed to accomplish this.
Recommendation 3: The Great Chinese Wall should not be missed, but try to go to a remote and least touristy section (if such still exists).
The next city on our itinerary was Xian. The first thing that our guide cheerfully told us was: “You know, Xian is not a very big city. It has only about 9 million people”. (A nice small city with population of London and Paris combined?? Only in China…). In fact, nobody knew about Xian until recently. But some years ago a local farmer was digging on his lot and hit some strange things with his shovel. He called archeologists and … Xian was put on the world tourist map. Now people come here in droves to see Terracotta Warriors, one of the main tourist attractions of China. It is not one, two, or a hundred sculptures, it is a complete army buried underground:
In addition to Terracotta Warriors, there are two more interesting things to do in Xian. The first is a bike ride on the City Wall. This wall surrounds the older part of the city and is about 9 miles long. You can rent a bike there and make the whole loop with stops and site seeing in under 2 hours. Great exercise, interesting experience, lots of fun.
The second attraction is the Muslim Quarter. Surprisingly, there is such thing in Xian! And it is much more interesting than what most tourist guidebooks are recommending (and where your guides will probably take you). It is hard to properly describe it here but trust me: it is something that must be experienced.
Recommendation 4: If you are in Xian, go to see Terracotta Warriors (a must), make a bike ride on the city wall, and spend an evening in the city center near Bell Tower and in the Muslim Quarter. Two nights and one full day in the city should be enough. Do NOT allow your guide to drag you to Xian Historic Museum or to various stores for stupid foreign tourists.
After Xian we flew to Guilin. This is an area of extreme natural beauty, particularly because of thousands of unique cone-shape hills. Most of the tourists take a boat tour on Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. The views from the boat are great even when it is cloudy (as it was during our tour), but in good weather they are simply fantastic. Alas, there are too many boats (we are in China after all !), but even this cannot spoil the impression.
Here is a story that might entertain you. A couple of months ago I submitted a series of pictures to the Phillips’ Mill Photography Exhibition . I love and respect this show very much but, alas, this time none of my entries were accepted. Since they were submitted “physically” (what they call framed), the next Saturday I had to pick them up. And while driving over there, I remembered that on the same day the submission to Ellarslie Open 33 in Trenton City Museum was taking place. Ellarslie Open is a well known annual show where various visual art forms are presented. I am not a big fan of such mixed shows: our modest photo-masterpieces often get overwhelmed by huge canvases, sculptures and other creations of human imagination. But this time I decided: why not? After all, the pictures were already in my trunk, plus the museum was almost on my way home. And so, from the 4 phill-mill-rejected photos I rather randomly selected 2 (which is a limit for Ellarslie) and in half an hour they were submitted. A couple of weeks later I learned that both were accepted, and on the opening day one of them got the Best in Show Award for Photography.
Now the question: which of the two juries made the “right” decision? The correct answer is: they both did. Even more correct answer: there is no right or wrong here. Each jury has their own preferences and visions and make their selections accordingly. And that’s it.
I am writing this because some of my friends photographers are still getting verrrry-verrrry upset when their images are not accepted to this or that juried show. Please don’t! Hope this story is a good illustration why.
And in conclusion here are the two pictures in question. I am leaving for you to guess which one got the award (in my opinion the other one is not worse 🙂 ).
A juried photography exhibition Americana recently opened at the Pennsylvania Center for Photography in Doylestown, PA. The general level of this show is pretty high and I am pleased to inform that three of my pictures have been accepted, one of which “Devastation” won the Second Prize.
It gives me a great pleasure to report that the memoir of my grandmother Ella Vovsi “A Document of Holocaust Survival” was finally published and is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017USI2HM. Here is the story of this memoir.
Before the World War Two, my grandmother’s family lived in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils), the second largest city in Latvia, which at that time was part of the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and within the next few days occupied most of the Baltic States, including Latvia. My grandmother spent almost four years in various ghettos and concentration camps, the last of them being the infamous death camp Stutthof in Poland. Death and destruction surrounded her every day throughout these years; she almost lost her life numerous times, but each time somehow managed to escape death due to luck or a miracle. She was a very strong person, both physically and mentally. Because of this she was able to survive and not to lose her sanity.
Right after the war, when the Soviet Union began to recover from the terrible destruction and the loss of about 20 million people, and the memories were still fresh, a Latvian Jewish journalist began to work on a book about Nazi atrocities. Having learned of my grandmother, he asked her to write about her experiences during the war, which she did. Although my grandmother was not a writer, reading it leaves a powerful and horrific impression. Unfortunately, very soon Soviet policies began to change, the anti-Semitic attitudes in the country began to increase, and the topic became unpopular. Because some Latvians had collaborated with the Nazis and actively participated in extermination of Jews, it was not a politically correct subject at the time. The project never materialized.
In 1989 my family moved to the United States and brought the manuscript here. My intention was to have it published to honor the memory of my grandmother, and because I did not want her story (and other similar stories of Holocaust survivors) to simply disappear. As with many other good intentions, it took much longer than expected, but finally the project came to a conclusion and the memoir is available to everybody at the link above.