Thursday, July 2, 2009

Once Upon a Time in Granada...

Well, to start, Granada was the city by which the majority of the expedition activities took place, the city where we all perceived the majority of cultural workings in Spain. Madrid and Granada certainly foiled each other. Granada is a quiet place, with historic landmarks and structures easily accessed by foot. I stayed in a room on the fourth floor of the Costa Azul Hostal with the other boys, Robert took the far end and made use of cabinets, while I took the butt end of the row near the bathroom, which I found my own conveniences. The first objective for everyone was to acquire the password for the wifi, something we hungered for since being in Madrid. The connection was pathetic in our room, we would get minimum signal in only a few spots so, my solution was to move out to the rocking chair at the end of the hall to get signal, when I didnt need any charge. In the early mornings we would wake up at our own times, then eat our breakfast consisting of peanut butter, croissants, raisins, almonds, yogurt, cereal, pineapple juice, orange juice, milk, or rice cakes. I danced to my own tune in this case, I would bring down a can of tuna, goji berries, and take two cups of yogurt, so it didnt turn out too bad after all. 

On June 20th, Tino Soriano arrived; Tino was our National Geographic mentor, and true leader and spirit of the expedition, it is a shame that he had to stay for such a short time. At first, I was rather skeptical about Tino's merit and integrity, he shared concepts on the first night that were foreign to me. His style hit me harder than anybody else in the group, because I have been exposed to styles that merely subject the viewer to utter beauty, but his concepts threw that out the door, and recycled them into a different substance. For the past two years, I have done photographic documentation of the places I went, including France, Italy, and Sante Fe. At my workshop in Santa Fe, I will admit that the class was a bust, it attempted to explore the visual aspects of photographic perception in the real world contrary to a lense, basically shooting what we thought looked good. That kind of crap became boring, overdone, and simply ridiculous, and at that point, my opinion of photography began to shift to a negative spectrum. From France to Santa Fe, I had shot thousands of the same shot, I realized. Sitting in the garden patio below, with Tino at the wheel of the ship, I understood the wall I had hit with photography, and hence understood my expectations with my new teacher. Tino Soriano started shooting photographs at the age of 22, he worked his way up by publishing his own work in photojournalism, finding stories just as someone trying to catch the wind. As soon as he made money off of a story, he began traveling to foreign countries to broaden his palette for his stories and lenses. After some 4 years of his travels and documentation, he had sold a good set of travel related commercial photography, but Tino became dissatisfied with this work, he was bored at this point, because his work was all the same, he felt that photographers everywhere were taking the same shots. This realization is much the same as the dissatisfaction I now find in my work. Eventually, Tino was contacted by National Geographic to take on small assignments, such were situated in restaurants, not to Tino's surprise. He knew this was the kind of work to expect, being an amateur to the magazine. Tino would not take the traditionally composed photograph wherever he traveled, he would find ways to instill curiosity in the reader by capturing a different angle, one that makes you think more. His sense for color was strong, and he tended to favor color in his compositions. He taught me that if you can take shots of people, you can shoot anything else, such as architecture, because humans have sensibilities and conditions that a building doesnt. In short, his photographs utilized all aspects of composition, including silhouettes, repetitions, strong lighting, proper expositions for capturing motion, strong color scheme, and most importantly, capturing the special moment where emotions come out of hiding. Tino achieved such special photographs by doing what he called, "fishing"; Tino, like many of the great photographers of all time, would have a vision, or a concept, and sit for extended periods, just waiting for a unique shot which displayed the desired elements. I believe that this style of photography, can be achieved at any place or time, but sometimes it is not always about telling a story, but setting up your own story. In travel photography terms, this is impossible though, so I will stick with what needs to be done.

Yes, this is Tino.

On the last day with Tino, we visited a Flamenco studio, where dancers practiced their step, this was obviously new to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this traditional spanish dance. The Girls not only graceful, but full of vigor, and explosive, twirling tenacity. The dance was serene, yet shook the earth and shattered glass. The team of dancers would line up, and one dancer would step forward. The finesse and feminine hands began smashing together, as moments passed, the frequency of the claps picked up, as did the motion of the woman in focus. You wait in anticipation for the explosion as the thunder continues to roll, the expression on the woman's face tightens, and in one instant, she then dances in unison with the climax of the thunder. This was clearly an art of rythm, form, and even color; on that day, I understood the power of dance. One of the dancers stood out to me as the most beautiful, at the end of the session, I focused on her, and captured one of my favorite photos of the day, although it wasn't entirely spectacular. 

The 26th was an important day in the expedition, we set out without Tino, to watch matadors at work. The past day was a breathtaking view on the inside of the traditional culture, but bull fighting is more relevant to my image of definitive Spanish tradition. We did not just watch conventional bull fighting, we did not sit amongst thousands of cheering and jeering spaniards. We witnessed a more exclusive event within the world of bull fighting. The bus drive did not take more than 30 minutes, we arrived at a farm in the rolling countryside. That afternoon, the matadors were performing a test of natural selection, observing several young, fertile cow's traits for the sake of breeding vehement and powerful bulls for the official public bull fights. The process involved agitating the cow, and wearing it down, while watching how it fights, in order to determine which cow is superior, the cows that did not make the cut were to be eaten. The cows were entirely wild, build to fight, and formidable in the face of danger. To start, the cow is released into the ring, upon first sight of the matador wielding bright tapestry, the cow sprints out wildly, only to be dodged and manipulated by the crafty and confident matadors. After a few passes with the matadors on foot, the cow is led to a spear wielding matador on a kevlar shielded horse. The cow charges, slams into the side of the horse, then receives the tip of the lance in its back, this process is merely to draw blood. This entire dance is repeated several times, up until the finale with the tier 1 matador, where the bull and matador create a flurry of blood and dust. We watched this process until the sun set, the sky washed the landscape with vanilla and fire. 


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Events in Marid within a nutshell

 Several days ago, I explained the arrival in madrid; how being thrown into an new environment, and having my mind-scape and thoughts disrupted,  forced me to find a way to adapt and conjure a positive attitude for my stay in the big city. On the first day, I met my expedition guides, whom I discovered became the dominant leaders, rather than the teachers. Davin, the male guide, stands 6 feet, with a relaxed posture, bowed legs, and typical spaniard features (burnt umber hair, and a patch of fur centered between his bottom lip and chin). He hails from Wyoming, grew up in Colorado, and taught Spanish at Boulder University, looking to achieve a PHD in Literature, he is rather intense from the information I gathered about him; he coached track, and is no stranger to skiing and rock climbing, unsurprisingly. I hope to share a road run with him at some point in the trip. Megan, stands about the same height as Davin, wears eyeglasses, has long brown curls on her head, and vaguely reminds me of a softer version of an Amazonian of the myths. She is big into cleaner eating, but still doesnt understand the ultimate dieting essentials, anyway, time for me to shut up about food. Thursday and Friday of the first week were the essence of the city for me, Thursday brought me to the Reina Sophia museum, while friday brought me to the world famous Prado and the Royal Palace of Madrid. I had lugged a gratuitous amount of gear with me upon the visit to the Reina Sophia, including my D40, tripod, 200mm telephoto lense, wide-angle lense, and my good old 70mm zoom lense. I made sure to pin my zippers shut, so my wallet couldn't be accessed by anybody but me. The Reina Sophia turned out to be a modern art museum, with nothing in the collection dating before Picasso I assumed, this museum was a fresh breath for my eyes; I remember my eyes watering with anticipation about seeing my first work of Picasso, coupled with a room of Dali's I hadnt seen. The structure if seen from the top would remind you of a picture frame, the entire establishment was a neat square. My favorite masterpiece in the collection was Dali's "The Great Masturbator", as usual, the painting depicts a single subject with several symbols, crawling over each other, or alienated from the main body of the painting, on Dali's landscape. Friday was possibly more important, the Prado held a collection of the Spanish and Flemish Masters I hadn't been familiar with, such as: Bosch, Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco. I was most excited about seeing Velasquez, a figure whom Dali himself had mentioned as being far more talented than himself, in a humorous interview. Dali can often make ridiculous and outlandish statements about himself, such as titling  himself as "too intelligent to be a good painter". You always wonder what he definitely thought of himself or others around him, we do know that life was a big party to him. It was interesting to discover that Velazquez did not paint with a sketch or plan underneath, he corrected as he went, which is evident when you take a close look at "The Portrait of Phillip IV"; you can clearly see the outline of a third leg pointed outward, presumably where Velazquez changed his mind. The idea of painting over mistakes is something I had tried recently with acrylics, and something I deal with in Ink as well. The Spanish painters of this era were more impressionistic in their approaches than those of the Italian school. Goya displayed this clearly if you look closely at his work, details are only evident when you stand far away from the paintings. This idea of fast painting became very unattractive to me after a while. Of the small portion of the Prado's collection that I saw, Goya was most provocative to me, for his time, his paintings seemed like they would have bought him a death sentence. His work is vibrant, surreal, and chaotic, his juxtapositions in his tryptic work kept my attention longer than the works of the previous artists. Overall, Madrid, by its culture, was not a surprise for me, but it had plenty of jewels to offer.

"The Great Masturbator" by Dali

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Bosch

"The Forge of Vulcan" by Velazquez

Friday, June 26, 2009

Arrival in Madrid

 At the point that we hopped off the bus, my fatigue due to "jet lag" and lack of proper nutritional maintenance heightened my frustration. Our Hostal was what I expected it to be, the atmosphere reminded me of a cheap nail salon, don't ask me how I can make that comparison. My living environment had just enough space to perform some resistance exercises, like floor sweepers, V sit ups, draw bridge sit ups, incline pushups, and curls with bags. Anyway, the treks we endured through the city reminded me of my experience with Italy and France. the architecture was a division between urban trash and beautifully carved and railed spanish relics, but this would be the standard throughout the cities. I was hit with boredom, uncertainty and anxiety about being in this city, with these 15 new people.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My first impressions and feelings about the departure.

 I don't plan on making things short in this blog space, because I have unlimited space to work with, just like any canvas or parchment for paint, ink or graphite. My expectations for the trip were to capture views of Spain, and maybe the more abstract essences of the country, things that are merely provocative, and exist in the space. Other than that, I am living with 15 unfamiliar peers, people I normally would not situate myself with, based on my preferences and tastes. I don't know how fond of the others I will become, but I don't doubt that there will be some eccentricities within the minds of my peers. For the time preceding the trip, I forged my body to a higher quality in an effort to brace myself for the shift in my lifestyle when I arrived in Spain. I knew I would not be eating my regular foods, and forced to litter my temple with the local delicacies; not that it would destroy what I have achieved, but It is a downgrade nonetheless. The plane flight was the beginning of this lifestyle shift, it felt as if I was experiencing drug withdrawal, those 7 hours were a shift in my body's balance. 

This is me before the flight...

 after the flight...