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OBSERVATIONS VOL 1. NO 1. 2016 OBSERVECOLLECTIVE.COM

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY FROM MEMBERS OF OBSERVE COLLECTIVE


02

MARCELO ARGOLO

12

DANIELLE HOUGHTON

22

OGUZ OZKAN

34

ILYA SHTUTSA

44

FADI BOUKARAM

56

GREG ALLIKAS

68

JASON REED

78

DAVID HORTON

90

MICHAEL MAY

100

CHRIS FARLING

112

TOM YOUNG

124

LARRY HALLEGUA

138

LARRY COHEN


LET’S GET PERSONAL

This past autumn, the members of Observe Collective challenged each other to reflect on the current state of their practice as individual photographers. We asked each other to dig into our own photography and reveal something about ourselves. What were we exploring that other members perhaps did not know about? What struggles or inspirations were we experiencing that might be shared? The intent was to tell stories to each other, with words and photographs, of who we were as photographers, as 2015 came to a close. As our projects came rolling in at the end of December, a number of common threads emerged. These projects reflect on where we’ve been, and where we might want to go next. In some cases we wonder whether we’ve hit the end of the road, in others we see new roads opening up. Some of us are trying new explorations of old themes, and some are looking back and finding longstanding ideas we haven’t stated aloud before. The results of our efforts are contained in the following pages. Sometimes the photography is the story, in others merely the illustration. But in every case, it gets personal.


RIO DE JANEIRO, BRASIL

MARCELO ARGOLO


3

It’s been five months since I got back home, after one year on the road. A “dream trip”, they call it. Dream trips may have multiple meanings depending on the traveler’s intentions. The one I had wished for was a journey both photographic and personal. No hedonistic escape, but rather a meaningful, self-discovery kind of thing. A transformative experience, one in which you lose yourself in deeper ways than were initially presumed, or even imagined. Be careful what you wish for, I’ve been told. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of coming back a different person but not being able to tell what, exactly, has changed in you. An awareness that a part of you is gone, an old self that has died so perhaps a new one could emerge. Easy to put into words, not so easy to realize it. In any transition, however, you must deal with an acceptance of things that must be left behind. Of whatever it is that does not belong anymore. As I write this, five months since my homecoming, the sensation of withdrawal remains. So I decided to lose myself some more. In fact, with a new year approaching, why not make it a resolution? Resolutions may have multiple meanings depending on the person’s willingness. The one I wish for is to jump into cold water. To search for new realms. Reinvention, they call it. To bring in new investigations, new belongings, new ground. My own. That kind of resolution. There is no transformation without turmoil, I’ve been told. I assume there’s still some on the way.


MARCELO ARGOLO

5


MARCELO ARGOLO

7


MARCELO ARGOLO

9


MARCELO ARGOLO

11


DUBLIN, IRELAND

DANIELLE HOUGHTON


13

I have always liked to stare.


As a kid I simply liked to look at people. This was only added to by my mother’s amazement that every single person in the world is different in some way, I mean, how is that even possible?


DANIELLE HOUGHTON

15


DANIELLE HOUGHTON

17

And so I continue to stare, but behind a camera. And so I try to capture what I see. And so I gather my butterfly collection.


While men can be beautiful and bullish and childish and interesting there is a natural visual pleasing aesthetic about females—a beauty, a wisdom, an innocence or a coldness that can draw you right in, a look that can sink ships or wither hearts.


DANIELLE HOUGHTON

19


DANIELLE HOUGHTON

21

But there is a twist. I am lucky to live in a free society where women have equality (at least on paper) and can do what they want and go where they please wearing whatever they like, but around the world many women cannot—brought up by regimes and cultures where control is a key word. Many may be happy and choose this way of life, but others are surely stuck without a way to escape. I am not a political person, but this is my small way of putting forth a quiet little nod to the sisterhood, to the free and the trapped.


ISTANBUL, TURKEY

OGUZ OZKAN


OGUZ OZKAN

23

This is not about shooting but editing... finding connected pictures, figuring out unconsciously repeating themes over years. “That Little Girl” was one of the most obvious repeating themes in my folders. Everytime I look at those folders, “Down By The Water,” the song by PJ Harvey, plays in my head. Who knows why.


OGUZ OZKAN

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OGUZ OZKAN

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OGUZ OZKAN

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OGUZ OZKAN

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OGUZ OZKAN

33


SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

ILYA SHTUTSA


35

It all started when I was interviewing Sergey Maximishin, a well-known Russian documentary photographer. I asked him what he thought about street photography and got quite an answer—“it’s a kind of meaningless gymnastics.” Such a strong statement might sound a bit strange coming from him, someone I consider one of the world’s most interesting modern street photographers. However, there is an easy explanation. He never speaks about himself as a street photographer, only as a documentary photographer, or perhaps more accurately, a visual storyteller. Sergey doesn’t usually spend hours chasing a single beautiful picture, but instead looks for pictures which tell interesting local stories from all the places he visits. Of course, as time passes, people start to remember only the best pictures, and these pictures we can, without doubt, call the real gems of street photography. But that’s another story.


ILYA SHTUTSA

37


The main result of that interview was a bit surprising for me—I am now a student of Maximishin and am learning to tell visual stories. It’s very interesting, and a totally new world for me. But... there are two “buts,” actually. The first one is that if you are going to tell stories they should be interesting to yourself first of all. Otherwise, these stories will interest no one. Am I so strongly interested in people’s lives that I want to devote myself to telling their stories? It’s not an easy question. And, if I can’t answer “yes” without hesitation, the honest answer should be “no.” That’s the first obstacle that keeps me from immersing myself into visual storytelling. The second one is an earthly one—working on making a story suggests that eventually it should be published somewhere, and you also need money to work on it—to go to places, to get access to subjects and locations and so on. When you shoot street, you don’t need to care about such things, you just fly as a bird from one place to another, following the light and inspiration.


ILYA SHTUTSA

39

Still, after all of these moments of inspiration on the street, you come home and look at the pictures and don’t like any of them. It happens again and again. You go to the internet to look at new pictures from others—and you like nothing, with very rare exceptions. Finally you ask yourself—is there any meaning in this? And it’s another question without an answer. A few months ago I found myself in a cafe listening to a discussion between a philosopher from France and another from Saint Petersburg. The French professor said one thing that summed up my recent feelings about photography. He mentioned the series of paintings by a New York artist Barnett Newman entitled “Why have you forsaken me?” The philosopher declared that today, when the unity between existence and meaning is disappearing, the “you” in this statement might easily stand for meaning.


ILYA SHTUTSA

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I lived with this question in my mind for nearly a month. Okay, photography, as well as painting, can represent the absence of meaning, why not? And I will confess that I have always loved nonsense literature. But then another important thing happened. I was half dreaming in the bus from Saint Petersburg to Riga when a question came suddenly to my mind: who thinks my thoughts when I don’t think them? At that moment I realized that the puzzle was complete. I recalled the words of Merab Mamardashvili, who always said that life is an effort continued through time. So, there could be only one possible meaning in your photography (and in life itself): that which furthers your struggle to understand yourself. I will quote again the words of Sergey Maximishin. Photography, he said, is like a hole. If you dig an hour you get a hole one metre deep. And if you dig four hours, you get a hole two metres deep.


ILYA SHTUTSA

43


BEIRUT, LEBANON

FADI BOUKARAM


45

I’ve been shooting the streets of Beirut since 2012. This endeavor made me realize that I was still not at peace with the post-civil-war society I lived in, but I kept at it, figuring I needed to be more empathetic to my own people and what drives them to be who they are. One of the locations I frequent the most is the “Corniche,” the pedestrian walkway along the sea. Below it, at one tip of the rocky beach, is an area closed off to the public during the summer and accessible only to the students of the American University of Beirut. However, during the other seasons, rain or shine, the place would be filled with local men, playing beach paddle ball, or even backgammon. I have seen a few women there from time to time, but it is often men that fill the place. In the past, the Corniche was frequented by people from all aspects of life. But over the years, the visibly religious started outnumbering the secular ones. And in such subcultures where the unmarried are segregated along gender lines, the women are shielded away from the men’s lustful eyes. And these male youths’ sexual inhibition could often be seen expressed through homo-erotic behavior that they themselves consider as innocent play between friends. As such, playing with a dildo, Greco-Roman wrestling, discussing genital size, and rubbing tanning oil on each other are a way of bonding. The women watch from far way, but they rarely get to take part.


FADI BOUKARAM

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FADI BOUKARAM

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FADI BOUKARAM

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FADI BOUKARAM

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FADI BOUKARAM

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BREVARD, UNITED STATES

GREG ALLIKAS


57

They say that moving, along with marriage, divorce, major illness and the death of a loved one, is one of life’s big stress events. My move to western North Carolina in the autumn of this year has been sort of a coming home for me. Unlike in South Florida there are real seasons. I am back in the forests of the ancient Appalachians. I left my stress behind in Florida. I won’t say that I haven’t done any street photography but I am enjoying rediscovering the eastern forests of my youth through a mature photographic point of view. I am creating a photo journal of that rediscovery. I am hoping to come back to street photography in the spring feeling refreshed and with a new point of view.


GREG ALLIKAS

A totally unremarkable scene, but as I broke through the pine forest of the Pole Bridge Trail I was transfixed by the details of what was in front of me: the texture of the bark, the crinkled brown leaves rustling in the breeze, the streaks of cirrus clouds in the soft blue sky, the warm sun and cool breeze. And then it struck me... this is the job of a photographer—to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. As I stood there appreciating the simple beauty of the world before me, I realized that I could not do that.

59


As I climbed the hill and arrived at the rock, it appeared as if half of it had been eaten away, but only by the encroaching mosses and grasses. As most everything else here, the rock was dotted with patches of green-grey lichen. There was a curious plant at the rock/grass margin that had hairs on its purple leaves. I wanted to examine it and take a photo, so I got down on the rock. That was a mistake, because after several days of rain, the warm, curved rock surface felt truly inviting on such a glorious day. The tree rattled in the breeze as I lay there looking up at the sky.


GREG ALLIKAS

61


Walking back from the Pole Bridge Trail I nearly had a collision. A collision with a levitating bug, or so it seemed. The pale green caterpillar was merely floating in the air, at least at first glance. After watching its aerial act for a moment or two, I noticed the thin strand of silk tethering the inchworm to a branch several feet above. I wanted to capture the scene in a soft watercolor wash with the bug sharp. Trying to focus wide open on a writhing caterpillar swaying in the breeze amused me enough to laugh out loud.


GREG ALLIKAS

63


It’s all in the details. I am continuing with the experiment of slow shutter speeds I began incorporating into my street photography last spring. I like the impressionist quality of the images. They are photographs but with a sketchlike quality that, to me, makes them somewhat like a painting done with a camera. Coming to photography from painting in my early years, this is not so unusual. Shot hand-held at 1/20 second, the reflections of the branches are diffused like india ink dropped into a glass of water, or like the dendrites in a slab of moss agate. Welcoming the “happy accident” brings back some of the excitement of taking a reel of developed film out of the tank and anxiously inspecting the negatives.


GREG ALLIKAS

65


GREG ALLIKAS

I have been studying this stand of trees as long as I have been here in North Carolina. I knew there had to be a picture there. After a prolonged rainy spell, the grove, which is adjacent to the French Broad River, was flooded. Seemed like a good time to drive down to the grove of tall trees. I took a tripod, something I never take. Although I felt it should have, a straight black and white rendering did nothing for me. So with camera on tripod, I set the shutter speed slow and began making several exposures while tilting the tripod head up and down to accentuate the linear quality of the trees.

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GREAT KIMBLE, ENGLAND

JASON REED


69

The few shots that follow were taken last summer. They are fairly representative of an entire summer’s shooting at various fairs, shows, fetes and one pavement shot during a trip to London where I went back to my “street” roots. I don’t make actual notes on my work but they are visual representations of my mental reactions to most of my work recently. The reality is that the last photograph that I can say I’m actually proud of is over a year old. The last year has really been a struggle for me. The Observe exhibition in Iserlohn was an incredible event. I met friends for that first time in the flesh and the entire experience was a whirlwind of camaraderie and hospitality. It did, however, force me to see my work alongside that of my colleagues and placed my simplistic and somewhat unsophisticated work in a very stark (and to my eyes) unflattering light. Since then, notwithstanding my innate lack of confidence, I have questioned my ability and struggled to “right size” what I am doing within the ambit of a massive yet phenomenally accessible photographic community. I pay a heartfelt tribute to my friends in the collective. They have put up with my raging insecurity for a very long time and I apologise to them for what on occasion may have appeared to be obstinacy and self-serving posturing. It was not and thank you all for being gentle. With reference to the token images that I have included—underneath the slightly lighthearted scribblings attached to the somewhat eclectic selection lies a darker reality, which is that I am absolutely nowhere. Mumblings of “it’s just Reed being melodramatic again” aside, I am deeply unhappy about where I “am.” Until a few days ago I hadn’t picked up a camera in nearly four months and have no urge whatsoever to do so again any time soon.


JASON REED

71

Last weekend I drove to a local town in order to try and put something together for this project. I stood, I walked, I looked around and, somewhere in between, I raised the camera listlessly to my eye and snapped a few desultory images (or so they seemed at the time). Photography is not like putting a hammer to a nail. There has to be some love or care invested in it; there was none of either, nor was there the urge to find some or the presence of the worry and frustration that usually accompanies their absence on a bad day; there was just the sad resignation that what I was doing was futile. Having rushed the rolls through my local lab I saw (with no great surprise or disappointment) confirmation that they were indeed utterly awful. So awful in fact that, even though this project is supposed to be a true representation of my current state of play, I could not bring myself to make them public. What little pride I still retain for my work would not permit it.

I have tried to maintain contact with photography through books and my online friends but I wonder whether this is the end of the line. All good things come to an end. I have only resisted selling my gear due to the tiniest nagging doubt that I might, just might, regret it at some point, but the eBay images of my camera bodies and lenses are sitting in a folder on my desktop. Those who know me realise that it is in my nature to howl at the moon on occasion and I am deeply, irritatingly insecure about my work even on the sunniest of days, but a four-month hiatus with absolutely no urge to reconnect with the pastime that has been such a huge part of my life smacks of something much more profound.


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JASON REED

75

Shallow as it seems, popularity also plays a huge part in my attitude to my work. There comes a point when, just as an actor realises for the first time that he will never play the Dane, a photographer comes to acknowledge that the delusion is over and he will never trade punches with the heavy hitters in the contemporary photographic world. Colleagues and friends gain accolades and kudos which (although it’s a dirty secret and shameful to relate) leads to jealousy and a little resentment—which I find ugly in myself and I reject that part of me. I do not subscribe to the oft-advised mantra that I should not worry about what other people think and ought to just shoot for myself. I think it’s nonsense in this day and age to ask a relatively inexperienced photographer to do that. I also have found that such advice is usually bestowed by those who have achieved success in some measure, which makes it slightly hard to swallow.

When I do go out to make some photographs, I don’t press the shutter with a view to pleasing anyone other than myself. However, once the day is over, the film is processed and the scans are sitting on my screen, I am acutely aware of what others will think and how the images will objectively be received. I doubt that I am alone in that and I don’t know any photographers who are not affected by others’ view of their work. Nor do I know where this all leads and what the end game is—if the fun has gone, what is the point? I once had a wistful notion that I might make a book someday—but that was rejected as a viable option quite a while ago. I’m actually chuckling wryly at the thought that such an absurd possibility even entered my mind. I hope things change. Whilst I don’t miss photographing things, I do feel the absence of something that once provided me so much joy.


JASON REED

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BOSTON, UNITED STATES

DAVID HORTON


79

For the past two years, I’ve been working almost exclusively on a documentary project in black and white. I love black and white. If I were still shooting film, 9 times out of 10, I’d be loading my camera with Tri-X. I’m seduced by the romantic, emotional quality of seeing the world in shades of grey. However, my alter ego basks in saturated, vibrant color. When I’ve been working in black and white for too long, I’ll inevitably yearn for some quality time with my more colorful self. For a change of pace, I’ve decided to share color work here. One thing I discovered about myself over the past couple years is that I prefer to work on projects. I think in terms of stories and sequencing. I don’t know why I was so surprised when this occurred to me given my background in graphic design but it certainly offers clarity going forward. There’s so much emphasis on the single image in street photography—and it’s really challenging and fun to chase the perfect frame—but after a while, it wasn’t fulfilling for me. Regardless of how talented you are at constructing single images, there’s only so much narrative you can fill four edges of a frame with. That realization and a desire to get emotionally closer to my subjects led me to my first long-term documentary project, which has been an extremely rewarding experience and something I will continue. There were a handful of events that occurred in 2015 that inspired a potentially new photographic direction for me. All of them happened at night. Since I don’t like using flash, they required long, handheld exposures. I’m fascinated with the surreal, painterly quality that occurs in these conditions. This series of pictures incorporate this effect. They were taken on a very special summer evening on a full moon, in a field in Vermont. I’ve sequenced them to create a mini narrative—a short story of five pictures. For me, the long exposures and blurred lines enhance the dreamlike, ethereal quality of the evening.


DAVID HORTON

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DAVID HORTON

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DAVID HORTON

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DAVID HORTON

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DAVID HORTON

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ISERLOHN, GERMANY

MICHAEL MAY


91

As a member of a street photography collective, I have done a lot of street shots during the last four years. Working professionally as a staff photographer at a German newspaper, my daily job deals with different types of photography: sport, sex, crime and whatever other newsworthy absurdities human society can come up with. In other words, it’s mostly all about documentary photography and a bit of layout now and then. Obviously, I am not a pure-blooded street shooter, more a cross between a street and documentary photographer with the focus on social documentation, beauty and art. I would even claim that documentary and street photography are actually very similar genres. Sometimes, when I feel really bored of shooting street or newspaper sensations, I take my mobile phone to enter the fabulous “Hipstamatic” world. It’s refreshingly different to my daily routine, though admittedly often not suitable for street photography. It’s more about art and fun. For those who have never heard about Hipstamatic, it is an application, one which only runs on iPhones.


MICHAEL MAY

93


The initial idea of Hipstamatic was to shoot little square pictures in a sort of retro style with colour casts, filters and a sort of analogue film touch. Comparable to that moment when you wait for a polaroid picture to develop, the Hipstamatic result is a surprise bag for those who shoot in random shuffle mode. Getting more and more popular by “Hipsta” followers, the application has just recently been relaunched. Users are now able to adjust lighting, ISO and range. These features become increasingly interesting for those fans (like me) who felt “hip to be square” from the very beginning. As the optical qualities of the new generations of iPhone have been improved, the quality is even suitable for printing up to 40 x 40 cm. There is no special need to do any post-processing and it will always be a full frame in the spirit of a polaroid. As a purist in composition and framing, it was simply made for me. Despite all these options, I personally don’t like my filter effects to be too flamboyant. Consequently, I prefer the more neutral configurations and don’t switch very often between them during a series of shots. Therefore, I have banned some “crappy” films and lenses from my ranking list.


MICHAEL MAY

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Some critics say: Pfffft, Hipstamatic: toy shit, style over content. I have to contradict: Way too easy, guys. There is great potential in these little squares. You just have to find the right balance between style and content. There are so many little oddities to discover in our daily life. Composing in a square frame is completely different from the usual 3:2 or 4:3 and quite a useful compositional exercise focusing on diagonal lines and (central) perspectives.


MICHAEL MAY

Hipstamatic is a useful tool to work in series. Using one combo for one section makes sense. From time to time, I make some contact sheets including 8-15 pics for one series and produce photobooks of five series. As a good demonstration of how I digest and curate my work, I will show you last summer’s bunker series from Normandy. I made some complementary shots with my Fuji x100 T, but the main focus lay in shooting Hipstamatic. In order to get a true retro approach, I reflected on the suitable lens/film combo. At the end of the day, I chose a glass plate film (C-Type plate) with the Lowie lens. A perfect combo for a bunker clichÊ.

97


MICHAEL MAY

This is an ongoing side project to create about 20 series annually. The bunker book was printed with the sole purpose of being shown on our website. A limited edition (exactly one copy) was a nice birthday present for my friend Rainer, who curated the last Observe exhibition in Iserlohn. See you here for our photo festival in 2017!

99


NEW YORK, UNITED STATES

CHRIS FARLING


101

After many years of living in and around Park Slope, Brooklyn, my wife & I decided to move to, well... Brooklyn. Now we’re in a pretty remote (for now—the much-maligned G train our only real bulwark against massive gentrification) part of Greenpoint, once a predominately Polish neighborhood located in a cul-de-sac between the East River, the creek separating Brooklyn from Queens, and the BQE expressway. I had always found Park Slope and many of the surrounding neighborhoods that make up what some call “Brownstone Brooklyn” to be difficult to photograph—there’s an earnestness and quaintness there that’s hard to puncture. So I’ve spent most of my energies shooting in Manhattan, particularly in thronged areas like Times Square or downtown neighborhoods like the Village, SoHo or the Financial District. As a result, my photos have tended to feature crowded scenes, only marginally contained by the frames I often hastily put around them. In Greenpoint and surrounding areas of North Brooklyn, there is more to latch onto photographically with the partially industrial landscape and the tension between established and recently arriving populations (sorry, it makes me feel icky to use the lazy shorthand of “hipster”). To shoot Brooklyn with a 28mm takes some getting used to after being acclimated to the close press of Manhattan streets. You always have to deal with distance, whether attempting to close it or keep it at bay. It’s helpful to let go of the expectation that you might get a keeper and just enjoy walking around and exploring. The following are photos that I’ve taken in North Brooklyn in recent months as I get to know my new environs.


CHRIS FARLING

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CHRIS FARLING

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CHRIS FARLING

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CHRIS FARLING

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CHRIS FARLING

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EDMONTON, CANADA

TOM YOUNG


113

My dad liked to say that life is just hills and valleys. He forgot to mention that sometimes those hills feel like mountains.


TOM YOUNG

115

In the spring of 2014 I separated from my wife, and in the summer of that same year we decided to divorce. The months that preceded and followed that important decision were some of the most difficult ones of my life. Neither of us had been happy, and the decision was right. But dismantling that relationship, however flawed, involved a complete change of course. It meant jettisoning all of the ideas and expectations I had had about my life up to that point and starting the work of building new ones. Sure, I hadn’t always been married. But I’d also never been divorced. And going through that process resulted in me reconsidering my relationship to practically everything, including photography. Photography is in no danger of disappearing from my life, but where I want to go with it is still in a state of flux.


TOM YOUNG

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The practice of photography has the potential to make me feel two distinctly opposite ways. I have had experiences where being on the street is flow, is energy, is connection. Those have always been my best outings, the ones that keep me going back for more, the times when I come home and am excited about what I’ve seen, what I’ve captured, and what I’ve been part of. I had the feeling that I understood what was going on, that I had a sense for what might happen next, that I was in tune with the people around me. Maybe even, somewhat grandiosely, in tune with humanity. Those are invigorating feelings.


The opposite feeling I have had while taking photographs is that of being very much apart from those I am photographing. I feel disconnected, lonely, as if an outsider, observing but not engaged. Like an introvert who doesn’t know anyone at the party and isn’t entirely sure whether he wants to try. Those experiences while shooting have unfortunately been the more common ones over the past year and a half. The photos resulting from these two different shooting experiences don’t always clearly reflect my state of mind while shooting; I of course take my fair share of junk when “in the flow” and I can still come away with nuggets of goodness when feeling disconnected. But I always know the difference. The motivation is weaker, the satisfaction of capturing the energy of what has been happening around me much diminished. When finding myself in front of a sea of intense Texas cheerleaders, I’m too analytical, not amazed enough at the incredible scene. When wandering crowded streets on Hallowe’en I’m too fixated on my flash settings and not on soaking in the surge of hedonism. When at my cousin’s wedding, surrounded by happy family and friends, I feel oddly like I don’t quite know them, like this celebration is something more to be watched and documented than to be participated in.


TOM YOUNG

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TOM YOUNG

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Maybe it’s a chrysalis. I know the feelings I have when shooting are more about my internal state of mind and less about the character of my subjects. So it’s not them, it’s me; I have been in a state of recovery that I am now starting to emerge from, a state that turned me more inwards and made me less open to engaging with others, whether through the lens or otherwise. Happily, I’m starting to feel the desire again to try something different, to push my boundaries once more. These are encouraging feelings, though I don’t yet know how I will channel them. I’m working on breaking out of this cocoon. But in the meantime, there’s a part of me that is still outside of myself, observing this re-emerging Observer and trying to pick up on what energy he is putting out, and where he might want to go next.


TOM YOUNG

123


BANGKOK, THAILAND

LARRY HALLEGUA


125

I felt excited taking photos again, like a kid going to the beach as a weekend treat. I’d lost that feeling since living here in Bangkok. Settling into a new environment, job and cultural acclimation took a few months as it inevitably does, and my photography took regular pauses and my focus disappeared. Having become frustrated with single shots, I’ve also been contemplating recently what it is I want to be shooting. After exploring a few themes whilst here, but not fully satisfied with the results—and especially because of my apathetic attitude of late—I knew I needed a change of scenery, away from Bangkok’s familiar markets, malls and streets, so I headed to the water and sand, to Pattaya. I hadn’t done street photography on the beach before, so shooting one of Pattaya’s infamous resorts was just the kind of refreshing outing I needed to invigorate me from my slumber. Pattaya’s beach felt hot and welcoming. Under the beach umbrellas and on their beach mats and towels, Thais, Russians, Chinese, Germans, Brits and other tourists bathed and basked in the deep sun, relaxed after their Thai massages, drinking beer or coconut water, eating beach snacks and seafood dishes and pleasingly ignoring my presence, as I wandered up and down the long stretch of sand. Pattaya has a reputation built on the sex trade. The majority of foreign visitors, traditionally, head there to retire and die happy, preferably mid coitus with a partner less than half their age. In recent times, however, the place has been changing. The influx of Russian tourists in particular are not here as sex tourists. Some might be, of course, but more often than not, they’re here with their families or in couples. The beach feels like the Costa Del Sol from its 1980s heyday, only it’s Russians, rather than the Brits, who are wandering about like baked lobsters in speedos or thong bikinis.


LARRY HALLEGUA

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LARRY HALLEGUA

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LARRY HALLEGUA

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LARRY HALLEGUA

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LARRY HALLEGUA

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BALTIMORE, UNITED STATES

LARRY COHEN


137

Ego. So powerful that it can falsify truth. I share a lot of photos because I believe it brings context to a life larger than my own. My hope is always to show what it felt like to be somewhere in a way that resonates with the people who were actually there and reverberates with those who were not. At times, I allow this noble pursuit to drown in shallow thought. Evaluating my work, I compare and contrast. I usually find my work wanting and, all too often, my solution is to compare myself in contrast to other photographers. The elusive “good” I strive for, but rarely achieve, is easier to stomach that way: “Not good enough, but better than you.” For example, I once curated a precisely numbered set of photos on a particular day to match the cumulative work of an international photo agency. Admittedly, sheer arrogance. What an asshole….


LARRY COHEN

139


I shoot in good light, bad light, with it, against it, naturally or with flash. The viewfinder to my eye or hand held freely, with depth of field or isolation, inclusion or exclusion, close or far, while weighing color and tonal value. I use geometry, simplicity or complexity, structure or boundlessness, emotion, and movement. I look at whatever is before me like a photographic algorithm, weighted by variable values that fix themselves for me, that mix themselves for me, nudged by light. Camera in my hand or not, what I see is through this prism. It’s like magic at its best because it mixes elements and you can’t see science or math. The thing I like about photography is that your work is your work. You can think, say, and feel what you will, but your work is your action. My constant struggle is in the lack of limitations I apply to myself in making photographs. I often think that I suffer from a lack of stylistic consistency that a fixed focal length, post-processing plug-ins, black-and-white conversions, or more narrow interests could easily provide. I need to accept this as not being my flaw. An abundance of appreciation is not a lack of vision. I need to also accept that not doing the same is not a flaw in others. When people think of my work, it seems that they focus on its energy. Whatever skills I’ve worked to acquire enables its execution. Every single skill had a hefty price to pay in loss for a time. They were not “free” except in my choice to do so. The struggle in attaining this wealth can manifest itself in arrogance. I know I’m sometimes perceived this way despite it not being my intent. Only my work and time transcends the impression, as well as my willingness to help others. I like to think so. Sometimes not; now for instance (winking emoticon).


LARRY COHEN

141

Street Photography has been my teacher. Its greatness is in its difficulty to make photos that endure. So much of it has to do with the ability to process information quickly and its benefit is that as one learns to move freely with these thoughts into structure, you find flow. Flow is my reward. 2016 will be a year in which I release my petty thoughts that constrain the elusive “good” I strive for. I am fearful that there is nothing to fill my competitive drive, but I will release it anyways to the Gods of Street Photography, who provide me lessons, but within the confines of a game. Life is not a game and I will not treat it as one. I do have faith. I believe in the saying, “In turn, and in time.” Mostly, I believe in love and my greatest strength is that I trust me. I want my work to have a purity. I want my reputation, my integrity, to precede me, not for accolades, but to further facilitate my freedom to make photographs. Humility, here I come—apologies in advance for the struggles to come.


LARRY COHEN

143


LARRY COHEN

145

Where did this come from? It came from the illusion that “I Shot Baltimore” from the White Bubble I lived within. It came from the death of Freddy Gray. It came from the strength of people who give so much. The fighters for humanity who suffered trauma or struggles, but are ferociously rooted in love. From Day One, I’ve watched their own battles with ego. At times, I’ve seen animosity between individuals with similar goals that was never necessary. I’ve seen many struggling with themselves and their own conditioning. I’ve also seen their will to learn, evolve, and grow. Clearly, I’ve seen that their unconditional giving is what made each of them who they are and that the only thing that holds each back is an ego loop. The need to feel “special” only in how they compete. I’ve seen that this is what I see. I’ve seen myself in them. I know that our collective strength is more powerful than the broader capitalistic game, structures, false mantras, and closely held fears. It is no longer a choice, but my salvation to raise vibrational energy en force. My camera is a drum beat within many. We are on the same team fighting for that elusive truth that eludes us, only ourselves in our way.


Š 2016 Observe Collective All images in this issue are the property of the respective photographer and cannot be reproduced without the express consent of the copyright holder. No part of this magazine may be used in part or in full without the express written permission of Observe Collective.

Profile for Observe Collective

Observations v1n1  

Personal reflections on photography from members of Observe Collective

Observations v1n1  

Personal reflections on photography from members of Observe Collective

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