Dancing with Water & Urban Affairs – Ethan Oelman Zurich Show

Dancing with Water & Urban Affairs, a show by Zurich photographer Ethan Oelman at *Galerie 16b. I’m planning to visit the Vernissage. I’ve assisted Ethan on one of his water shoots and made a companion video with the material called Birth-Kraft (http://vimeo.com/18276591) and also an interview where Ethan explains the background of his Dancing with Water project (http://vimeo.com/20802817), so I’m looking forward to seeing the images in a gallery setting.

It’s raining in Zurich today, so it should be a perfect environment to attend the Vernissage, today Friday January 20th from 17.00 – 21.00. Water will be pouring over the streets, and then I’ll experience the water and urban photography. The show is at *Galerie 16b and runs till the Finnisage on January 27th.

*Galerie 16b
Ausstellungsstrasse 16
8005 Zürich

Berlin Notes: Bärenquell Brauerei Urbex

Back from Berlin, recovered from the flu, dreaming and scheming of something new, new, new.The But first, I worked on some images from the Bärenquell Brauerei, an abandoned brewery in former East Berlin. I found out about the place from Abandoned Berlin, a blog devoted to urbex in this fabulous European city. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the place is like an urbex mecca, fabulous graffiti, old but not so old that it has fallen apart. I had a wonderful time there running around with my Cinevate Atlat FLT slider shooting video with my VG10 for the video poetry project with Bobby Cuevas.













My Awesome Hedingen Wohnung zu Mieten

Various events in life now make it necessary to find a new renter for my current apartment, my wohnung is now free zu mieten. It’s at Arnistrasse 16, CH-8908 Hedingen in the Zurich countryside. In order to promote the project, I decided to make a website for it. It was a great time to apply my knowledge of SEO, and first I picked up the domain www.hedingen-wohnung.ch and then starting putting together some photography for the site. I needed some proper pictures for the apartment  – well, technically it’s more of a house, anyways, it was the ideal time to start playing with HDR photography. I played with the HDR option in Photoshop (CS3) and it resulted in some amazingly horrible results. So, I decided to get a proper program HDR tone-mapping program. After a little searching I decided on Photomatix Pro, a fine piece of software that makes high dynamic range imaging painless and the results are fantastic.

The apartment is fabulous combination of an old 200 year farm house rebuilt from the inside, but retaining much of the original wood and structure. A steel stair case connects the floors and the whole place is like a warm hug. On the top floor there’s a gallery and I put my photo studio up there. The ceiling is high enough for a small trampoline, but I just have a background setup.

Getting the place ready to shoot also entailed clearing things away to make it all minimalist and show off the design (as opposed to views of my camera equipment cluttering up the floor space). When you get that far you might as well wash the floors too, so I did that and then setup my Sony A900 with a 20mm Minolta lens to shoot my first interior images. I’ve seen amazing house photography before, but was mainly just hoping to produce some nice images. Happily, Photomatix is an excellent software program and you can easily produce natural looking images with minimal time input. I supplemented the natural light in one image with an Elinchrom strobe, but otherwise it was all just natural light. Photomatix gives you different tone mapping options which range from that horrible gaudy-over-saturation look to the very natural, almost like you’re standing there, but with a little pop so it feels just a tad like the image is from Wonderland look.

Arnistrasse 16 is easily the best designed place I’ve ever lived in, and I feel like I’m walking through a magazine some days. It includes such funky amenities as an induction oven and internet connection in every room. It’s a certified Minergie place, which means it uses the minimal energy for heating and cooling. It technically has four floors, with an open gallery on the top level where you can setup a studio, or an office if you like. More information on the wohnung is on the main site, www.hedingen-wohnung.ch and if you’re interested in visiting the place I would be happy to show you around.

Le BonBon Paris Portraits by Emilie Brion

Paris is one of the those iconic places that you don’t want to get sucked into because it’s so well known (like Las Vegas), but there’s a reason that it’s so popular. No matter how much you may think it’s a cliche to stroll down the Champs-Élysées, it’s still a unique experience. The Effel Tower simply does not get boring, and I’ll never pass up a trip to this wonderful heart of Europe. The last time I was back there I met up with Emilie Brion, we know each other from an eternity ago in Michigan and I promised to look her up next time I was Incognito in Versailles. We killed a few hours at a cute cafe near the Opera and we got into some heavy conversations about photography, portraits, and the Decisive Moment. She appreciates the capture of a singular moment in time, which can never be relived or improved upon, I say that I produce decisive moments in the studio when I decide to. In truth there’s a never a way to relive a photograph, either from a darkroom or from the computer, and it was excellent when I regained this sense of fleeting time captured in a camera after our conversation. Since that time Emilie has started shooting a portrait project with Le Bonbon magazine, which features portraits of people from the different districts of Paris. I wanted to write about her project, my mind freshly finely tuned for some prose after watching the trailer for the Rum Diary (the novel by the late Hunter S. Thompson) with Johnny Depp playing Paul Kemp. But to be honest, some things are best left in their perfect natural state – and no post processing or editorial drama is necessary. So I present here, in Emilie’s own words – her portrait project of the 6th and 7th districts of Paris for Le Bonbon.

The online version of her portraits can be found here pages 48-49:

Le Bonbon Juillet 2011 Rive Gauche

In Emilie’s words…

Le Bonbon, ‘the candy” in French, is a local free Parisian magazine by arrondissements (for each districts of Paris) made for and close to the locals. It includes information on what’s happening in each district and promotes local restaurants, stores and events. Each magazine includes two pages dedicated to 32 snapshots of people from that district. Since I love to take pictures, I was asked if I wanted to take the pictures for the magazine for the 6th and 7th district of Paris. I thought it would be a new challenge and interesting project.

Since the pictures are snapshots, I did not want to use a digital camera but simply use my iPhone 4 so that when I would approach people to ask for their permission to take pictures, I wouldn’t be a photographer – but like them, a pedestrian walking on the street with an iPhone in her hand…. Less intruding I find…

Shooting street portraits of strangers is challenging. Often when you see a stranger you want to photograph, you can’t seem to ask them for their photo. For my part, I don’t want to intrude and I have the fear of the rejection. The struggle to shoot through the fear is worth it as when you get a spontaneous approval then you get excited and want to shoot more.

The reaction varies, either you get a firm “no”, or a spontaneous “oh, ok” or some people ask you numerous questions s as they are intrigued by the reason they were chosen and what the purpose is. Approaching people on the street is quite a sociological and psychological experience in itself…

The light is my biggest challenge… I walk around and find someone that I feel represents the districts or I am just struck by their face but I don’t want them to pose and position them to get the best light. I prefer the “instant” moment as these are not professional photos but snapshots so I often disregard the light and the one thing I want to capture with every portrait was that ‘unguarded’ natural look… that look that moved me in the first place when I spotted them on the street… I want to avoid that usual snapshot smile… you know, that smile that you’ve smiled a thousand times whenever you’re in front of a camera that “forced and fake smile and posture”. I want it to be REAL and spontaneous.

This project was a challenging and rewarding experience for me. I remember each and every encounter I’ve had with all these strangers: how I spotted them, how nervous i felt, how they reacted to me, and the rewarding feeling afterwards knowing that I just got one more keeper in a set of a hundred keepers I was aiming to get. Now I feel so lucky having been able to connect with these people even for just a few seconds. Different faces… all of them beautiful in very different ways with whom I have had a brief encounter that I tried to capture to its best in its instant.

As Marcel Proust said: “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Detroit Fasnacht – La Marche du Le Nain Rouge

An interesting holiday has been resurrected in Detroit called Marche du Nain Rouge. It has some historical roots in the French-influenced history of the city. Apparently (I know someone who actually talked to a woman who saw it one night) there’s a devil (or dwarf if you like) living in Detroit, and has been there for some time. On March 20th the good people of the city gathered together and marched down the street dressed in red to scare the devil from the city. I imagine that the devil then scampered over to Dearborn and there was a party at Shatilla to toss the Jinn out of Dearborn. Then for sure it went to seek refuge in Sterling Heights to deal with little old Polish ladies who tried to bash his head in with rolling pins. Anyways, it’s a reason for a party and from the timing has some parallels to the Carnival season and the Fasnacht festivals in the German areas of Europe. With that in mind, my girlfriend offered to help design and make with me a fine red devil mask for me to wear on my vacation to Detroit this year. I’ll arrived too late for St. Patrick’s day, but just in time for La Marche du le Nain Rouge.

The Mask

For the mask we decided to make a classic Fasnacht mask from plaster. The basic idea is to lay strips of plaster on your face and let it dry and then take that mold of your face and create the mask. This ensures that the devil will see your eyes, but not recognize you, making it impossible to take revenge on you later in the year. To make sure the mask doesn’t stick too much to your skin it’s good to apply a cream to your face before starting. So I closed my eyes and my girlfriend started spreading coconut fat on my face, and I burst into a laughing fit of a solid 10 minutes. Eventually I settled down and sort of fell asleep while she layered my face with wet plaster strips. In the end I spray painted the skin of the beast and let it dry for March 20th. As Fasnacht gear was being sold all over the Zurich area I picked up a sort of strange devil pagan skull on fine black stick to carry around the Cass Corridor. Sadly I had too much chocolate in my luggage and had to leave it in Switzerland. I imagine it will find an essential use at some point in my life, maybe for the next march.

I am the Despair of Detroit

Everyone met at the 3rd Street bar around 1:30pm, and then the Nain Rouge appeared on the rooftop. He had a viel red face with sharp teeth and a devilish smile. From the shadows he took responsibility for moving the Pistons to Auburn Hills and stated that he is the despair of the city, a beacon of depression to steal the hope and quash the dreams of anyone standing within the city boarders. Merde de Tete Monsoir! From there a decision was made to march the Nain out of Detroit, and ah, he complied and everyone headed down the Cass Corridor to Case Park where a Cadillac drove up and Coleman Young walked up with the Spirit of Detroit and took the Nain away. The Nain was outstanding, but took a backseat to all the excellent people I met and checked out on the street. The Detroit Marching Band played excellent beats and I happened upon such characters as a Steampunk dude with a mini-gun for an arm and iron fist of Joe Louis. However, at some level I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the conflict. The Nain Rouge was in the area before Detroit was settled (read it on Wikipedia), so in reality the Nain is just defending it’s land, is this the message we want to communicate to the world, that it’s ok to kick the Nain out of Detroit, or Nainland? Shouldn’t we all try to get along? The Nain is possibly a quite upstanding fellow, who simply wishes to enjoy a Cuban cigar on the banks of the river while watching the sun set? I’m looking forward to flying into D-town next year with a new mask.

Ruins of Detroit Matterhorn of Michigan

I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains and inspiration. The term ruins implies that something has not simply fallen into neglect, but is somehow lost to society. It is degraded beyond its intended state to such a degree that it is lost from redemption. The inspiration, the reason for creation has been lost and totally forgotten by those who built it, and no one wants to carry on the idea.  We don’t remark on the ruins of Notre Dame or the ruins of DDR Berlin, and we don’t talk about the ruined glaciers and mountain ranges in Colorado. Ruin is a physical and mental state of being. A building can be old, the walls crumbling and the facade faded, and we can call Versailles a monument to the pinnacle of French art in the time of Louis XIV. I think of the chateau west of Paris as ruined as any other tourist building in Europe, where the inspiration for its creation has long since been neglected and ignored. The buildings exist to what was, but speak nothing of the future. What good is a beautiful building if it doesn’t inspire? Keeping the outside looking nice is irrelevant when the purpose for being no longer exists. Nothing useless is truly beautiful. Everything is in flux, and it’s all falling apart in one way or another. The Duomo cathedral in Milan is in ruins from my perspective, and as it’s rebuilt and reconstructed it contains physical pieces of yesterday and today, but the idea of Rome is as dead now as it was when the Empire failed and fell because no one cared to keep it going.

Remnants and Ruins

I think of the remnants of the empires of Detroit as the mountains of Michigan, physically and philosophically, and should all be turned into parks for everyone to experience and to explore. Exploration of the natural world feeds the adventure centers of the brain. The unpredictable landscapes and oceans challenge us to survive outside of our comfort zones and the trappings of society. I’ve always found adventure difficult to have in a city environment, and it’s a primary reason why I live in Switzerland, where a healthy balance between cities and outdoor exploration is embedded into society. I like places that inspire me to do things today.

Standing at the gates of Versailles makes me wonder what it was like when an angry mob knocked on the door for the head of Marie Antoinette (or was that only a movie). Standing in the main entrance of the Packard plant in Detroit makes me wonder what I could do in life if I applied myself a little bit more. I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains to explore and to be inspired  by, and the main and most accessible mountain range is the Packard automotive plant. Packard is the Swiss Alps of Michigan, the Urbex Matterhorn of the Motor City. The feeling I have walking up crumbling stairs in Packard is the same sensation I experience descending down the ridge of the Zinalrothorn in Zermatt. The terrain is unsteady, you don’t know what’s around the next corner, and your sense of adventure is highly tuned to your surroundings.

Glaciers of Detroit

Packard is not a collection of ruins to me because I don’t feel like the inspiration which created Detroit is dead, but rather sleeping a little bit. Packard is a great collection of caverns to explore. Staring down the long dark halls is as mystifying as staring out across the width of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. Cracks in the floor exposing the lower levels is like looking down into the long darkness of a large crevasse.  The  fallen ceilings and walls remind me of the car-sized boulders that litter the Oberaletsch Glacier. The plant is filled with the history of the city and the Empire era of Detroit. Like the glaciers telling the story of the ice leaving the landscape of Switzerland, Packard is covered with grafitti on the inside, telling different stories as time ticks by. The collapsed floors make me think of how the ice has carved images into the rock faces as it flows and then recedes.

Both are living in a sense, the transformation is due to weathering and to humans. Water flows into cracks in rock and concrete, expands upon freezing, and another little piece breaks off the walls and mountain peaks. Both are dangerous and deadly to the naive who venture there, and a helmet, boots, and rope would be advisable in both the mountains of Detroit and Switzerland. Walking through Packard in my Doc Martens, I feel I look like the Japanese and Korean tourists who head up to the Junfraujoch in tennis shoes and a light jacket. We’re all looking for the same thing I think, life isn’t as complicated as writers like to think it is. Exploration is an important part of life, and both urbex and mountaineering combine physical tenacity with mental stamina.

Packard is explored, Packard burns, it’s been gutted and probably there are sill bodies hidden away in dark corners, but it’s not a scary place to me. I stand there in awe.  I’m awed by how it crumbles, how nature is taking it  back to the earth.  Empires can fall as quickly (or faster) than they were built, and this is an important perspective to understand. Europe houses the ruins of Monarchs, Fascism and Communism to name a few. Detroit saw the birth of industrial empires, but the inspiration for a second coming of Detroit is all around. Humans build up large things and think the monuments should exist forever, but they’re all being knocked down by time and the desire of people to maintain the momentum of an empire.  This is perspective, this is the life and transformation of an Empire and everyone should see it. Empires are built and they fall. Huge masses of concrete can be built up and a few years go by and they are skeletons, just like you’ll be one day.

Packard looks like a city in the aftermath of a war, sitting on the far edge of the blast radius from a nuclear impact. Standing at that point where everyone gets vaporized and all the windows are blown out, but the buildings remains standing. I used to play paintball in Packard at a place called Splatball City, and if you look you’ll find remnants of those wars and happy times of my teenage years. People say it’s the fallout of economic war. They say that the result is the same as a military confrontation. Windows blasted out, nothing inside the walls anymore to support life – just places to hide away in from the wild life outside.

Detroit and Berlin

Packard 2010 probably looks a bit like Berlin in May of 1945. You can imagine snipers hiding away on the roof tops of Packard and werewolves plotting in the shadows as Russian soldiers drag German women into empty rooms. Or you can imagine Bratz dolls roaming the halls and chilling on window sills, but that’s just my imagination filling the page with bullshit for an unwritten movie script. A fitting notion, given the booming movie industry in current-day Detroit.

Like the glaciers, the ruins of Detroit won’t last forever, they are mortal, and must undergo the aging process like everything else in this world. The ruins of Detroit are fading like the ice in the Alps, or the melting snows of Killamanjaro. If you have the motivation and the opportunity, go check them out while you still can. Urban exploration is something you have to do in the moment. Old buildings get demolished or closed off, or their innards gutted as they transform from majestic theaters to forgotten memories. I take pictures of the glaciers because I want to show my grandchildren what it was like, in that time long ago when ice covered the Alps. It’s all in flux, and Detroit is getting reworked like Berlin in the late 90’s.

It’s not a bad thing that Potsdamer Platz now has a Sony Center instead of a no-man’s land, but’s good that you can still find one of the last guard towers if you know which street to walk down, and deportation memorials are all over the city if you care to notice them. Thousands of bodies and still forgotten in shallow graves on the WWII battle fields around the city. I feel like I barely know some parts of Berlin anymore because it has changed so much between 2003 and 2010, but that’s not a bad thing, that’s just life. I hope Packard will still be there in 10 years. However, if the skeleton is still there it might be a shopping mall, or a set of affluent apartment studios, but I hope that a few graffiti walls are left standing – like that lone section of the Berlin wall at Potsdamer Platz with a peace sign on it. I should live long enough to find out.

Eternal thanks to gatsbyj who I met via Flickr for taking me shooting in Packard.

Trains Are Good For America

Trains are good for creativity, trains are good for the economy, for America. Monorail, monorail, monorail…

I don’t keep tabs on American politics as much as I could, but the 2010 mid-term elections have sparked some interest in my brain. There were (and still are) plans in action in the US to install high-speed rail between various cities, and some folks have run in the 2010 elections promising not to waste money on such schemes. The short summary I understand is that Democrats and Obama want to pay for high-speed rail and a Republican backlash is attempting to block high-speed railroads from coming to the States. As an American living the past 7+ years in Switzerland (and a regular train traveler throughout Europe), I can speak volumes on the benefits of a train system integrated into a healthy society. The topic of job creation and immediate economic stimulus are the two least interesting and least important reasons to start a high-speed rail project in the States.

Good For The Economy

The short reason I hear for installing trains is that they’re good for the economy because they produce jobs due to the building of the needed infrastructure and also stimulate manufacturing in local areas. This may be true, but the reason the US should have high-speed rail and the reason I love train travel is that it simply makes society better. If you’ve never lived in a train-society, where the rails means of transportation is used by nearly everyone at some point to get from point A to B, then you don’t have a fucking clue what you’re missing. Trains are good for the environment. Trains are good for work productivity. Trains are good for relationships. Trains are good for writing, for creativity, for enabling communication, for the elderly, for the young, for business, for pleasure, basically they’re a no-brainier excellent way to improve the quality of life of a society. Why? Let me explain…

I lived my first 26 years in the United States, in Michigan. It’s car capital of the world, it’s Motor City Detroit. There was no real public transport to speak of when I was growing up (and there still isn’t), and communities were defined by urban sprawl (and basically still are). I’ve logged more hours driving between the years of 16 and 26 than some people in Europe will log in their entire lives. I’ve driven from Michigan to New Orleans, Michigan to Nevada, through the South West, Colorado, parts of California, and when I came to Switzerland I knew I was happy not to drive every day of my life anymore. One huge advantage of train travel is that it has the capacity to free your mind.

Trains Are Good for Thinking

Driving requires that a large part of your brain allocate attention to the act of driving. Some people think that driving is an easy barely-need-to-pay-attention task, but it’s really very involved. If you spend an hour driving, you’re concentrating primarily on just driving. You can talk on the phone (and distract yourself from not hitting the cars around you), listen to music or books (fun on road trips), and watch the road. You can think about things, but most attention has to be devoted to driving – and if you can’t drive, you’re basically fucked, your mobility is very limited in the States without a car.

Train travel requires that you buy a ticket, sit in a seat (you sometimes have to stand if it’s crowded), and then you can do whatever the hell you want. You can write a book, philosophize about the universe, sleep, read, talk on the phone, talk on the phone and write email on a computer and drink a coffee and once in a while look out the window, it’s awesome. Having more time to think means you have more time to ponder and develop ideas. Ideas motivate us in life to start companies, write plays, bake cakes, fall in love, etc. The amount of time I have to devote to things besides driving during the day when I travel means I have something like twice as much time to live and ponder my life in Switzerland and Europe than I do in the United States, and it’s awesome. I read more, write more, and think more on trains. I can honestly say that my writing, blogging, photography, painting, and creative projects would not exist if it weren’t for train travel. It just gives me more time to think about stuff.

Trains Help Communication

Train travel improves communication and idea sharing between real people. This is one topic I hear very little about when trains are debated in the context of the US. I have the impression that residents of the States sometimes think of themselves as American citizens, and that we’re all part of the same country so it doesn’t matter too much if you live in Detroit and haven’t seen Boston, but the US isn’t as homogenized as we’re taught on MTV, and the ability to travel from one city to another allows people to share ideas in real-time (instead of on Facebook) and opens up our minds. It’s incredibly cool to board the train at night in Zurich, and arrive the next morning in Berlin, or Vienna, or the South of Italy, or France, or Spain, Amsterdam, etc. It saves travel time because I can travel during the night and not be destroyed and sleep deprived when I roll into New Orleans at 8am after driving all night. This makes it easier for me to get exposure to people in different areas of Europe, visit museums, shoot graffiti, attend barcamps, etc. I travel much more in Europe than in the US because of the train system. I also spend more money in local economies in Europe because I travel, and meet more people in different cities. Trains help connect people in different geographic regions separated by distances, irregardless if they are able to drive a car or not. In a way, this means more freedom of movement and travel than in a car dominated society.

Not a Bus or a Plane?

Can’t one just take the bus? Why do we need to build rail when we already have roads? Yes, you can take a bus, but trains and busses are really very different. You can walk around on a train, you don’t get caught in a traffic jam, and it’s faster. Why not fly? This barely need mention but air travel sucks compared with trains. Plane seats are jammed, there’s little ability to move around, pressurizing cabins is uncomfortable, airport security in the US makes people want to not fly, weather has a greater influence on travel, and it’s hard to work on planes (I only fly coach).

Trains Help the Economy

Trains are good for the tourist economy and for domestic vacation. For example, I sometimes fly to California to visit friends. Last time I flew to San Diego to stay with one friend by the beach, and then took to the train to L.A. to visit another friend and we drove to the mountains to hike. There was another guy I wanted to meet in Arizona, but there’s no easy train connection to him and I didn’t want to spend 12 hours driving to Phoenix and back, so we didn’t meet up. If a high-speed rail were running between San Diego and Vegas, we could have easily met there, infused money into the Nevada economy, and then headed back.

It’s easy to be on vacation with the train. In Switzerland, many trains that go between cities have a kids wagon at the end of the train. It’s colorful on the inside, and has a large area with a slide and play area where the kids can go crazy. This is a nice contrast to driving three hours with a kid in the passenger seat who wants to run around and gets tired of sitting after 30 minutes on the road. You can do more on vacation because you don’t waste time driving. If a trip is more than 6 hours, you take a night train. You book a ticket, reserve a seat, and just let the train take you where you’re going. I travel more in Europe than in the States largely because it’s easier. From Zurich I can easily take day trips to four different countries. If I need a car I can always just rent one. In fact, the short-term car rental industry is very healthy in places like Switzerland. You travel to a city, rent a car if needed, and don’t rent one if you don’t need it. Easy, flexible, good for the local economy, good for the country.

There are many benefits to having trains integrated into a society. The short-term economic boost and industrial stimulus related to train infrastructure is just a very small part of why trains are awesome, and should be built to connect population centers in the United States.

Paris Notes: Incognito in Versailles

I’m incognito in Versailles, the small village just outside Paris – the doorstep of old royalty and Louis XIV art. I’m in a high scarf and sunglasses with a blue wool hat turned sideways. It’s overcast in Paris and I wanted to blend into the shadows of the clouds, totally incognito. Who doesn’t want to be a French spy in 70’s Europe? Less dangerous than working in the East Berlin office but enough je ne sais quoi to be interesting.

Bonjour, ca’va? Je suis un Spy, hagimemashite? So desu ne, nanji desu ka, Voulezvous coucher avec moi? Arigato gosaimasu. Au revoir, madame plus moisours.

I know a few different languages not extremely well. This makes it fun traveling to various locations like Tokyo or Paris, where I know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to hold a real conversation. When I miss a word I just substitute another from somewhere else. Sometimes this is the best way to keep the flow, the momentum of the experience going, because nothing is more awkward that stammering, stopping, and then thinking about what to say. If I miss a word in French, I just add one from Japanese, and it ends up in a mismatch of sounds and mispronunciations no one would except the imaginary being in my head can understand.

Tempo and gibberish are important in a conversation when you want your words to be forgotten. It’s more important to be remembered for what you were wearing then what was said, because people forget names and facts but they remember images and visual impressions. In a big, slightly disorganized city like Paris, even a simple idea like getting from one train station to another can be an experience. I had arrived at Paris L’est and thought it would be possible to just jump on a train and head to Versailles. This is the small country-minded mentality a person falls into when they live in a small country like Switzerland. I ended up taking le Metro to le Opera and then navigated the underground tunnels towards Saint-Lazare. I’d never been down there before, and there wasn’t really a map showing the way, just a reference on the street map showing that the two stations are “somehow” connected to one another. I descended into the bellows of the beast, in the digestion tract of Paris itself. Every city can be made to look beautiful on the outside and on postcards, but you never see what is beneath the streets.

When I emerged in the night I was en route to the FNAC store by Saint-Lazare to rendezvous with Emilie, my contact in Paris. Along the way an organized protest filled the streets, something about raising the retirement age by a year or two. Riot police were on alert in large vans with batons at the ready, but the mob marched up and down the same block all day without incident. There was graffiti in front of Printemps, asking Sarkozy to go home. This was written just below the giant gorilla, who was bellowing out something about loving New York or the new fall line of lingerie on display. Batman was there as well in the shadows watching over the city, as was Superman to watch over the children.

I left the protest when it became clear that would be no tear gas and everyone just wanted to be heard, and stood incognito in front of the FNAC building. Emilie materialized out of the crowd and we headed off to a bar to talk. We went over the details of the past 15 years and then turned to business. I passed her my card collection, she chose one from the ProtestLove series, “Everything worth remembering is a journey into the self which, when completed we look back upon with awe. Can you tap that nerve?” We also executed a three image photography project on the perspective of her crushed cigarette pack. Or was it her pack? These details are cloudy now, maybe the pack came from the table next to ours or perhaps I left  it there and had taken up smoking without realizing it. She wanted to capture the decisive moment Cartier-Bresson style, however, I don’t own a Leica and couldn’t figure out how to do black and white with my Ricoh GRD. I mentioned something about just doing it in Photoshop later and she nearly threw her drink in my face. The fine fall temperatures dropped as the night grew up into a cold middle-aged man ripe for a life-crisis, and we decided to move inside. There we finished our drinks with a postcard of Jim Morrison by the bar. I apologized to him for not making time to visit his grave in Père Lachaise on this trip, but Emilie said it made no difference, as his body had taken flight from that resting place some time ago.

In any event, the details of the meeting are sealed in secret and near midnight we ducked into a Japanese noodle restaurant before parting ways. There are many Japanese restaurants in Paris and they all seem to be run by Chinese. However, this is irrelevant, my favorite noodle dish in Tokyo is tantanmen, and that’s a well-known Chinese invention. We ate quickly and I made my way back to Saint-Lazare, catching the last train back to Versailles.

Editor’s Note: Don’t believe everything you read, some of the recorded events only occurred in the head of the writer as she was writing it. He makes no apology for the outcome.

A Pure Detroit Fashion Experience

I grew up at a time when if you could buy a T-shirt promoting Detroit it would say something like, “Welcome to Detroit, Now Go Home.” Now when I travel back to Michigan I’m continually inspired by the shops and style I see in the city and surrounding areas. Few places say Detroit fashion like Pure Detroit, a home-grown fashion brand that takes the best of Detroit and infuses that inspiration into stylish things to wear.

Pure Detroit

If you walk through the Pure Detroit store in the Fisher Building one of the most iconic accessories to pick up is the seat-belt buckle belt. It’s genius in so many ways. The buckles are taken from, or at least sourced from seat belt buckles that used to protect passengers in Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler cars. I still have vivid memories of buckling myself into the family van (a Ford) and I just couldn’t say no to buying one. It’s sort of industrial and unique in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Another staple of Pure Detroit is the fitted T-shirt. Detroit Rock, Detroit Funk, they’re displayed in 70’s-80’s colored script and result in a non-kitsch image of the city. Of all the cities I’ve visited in the world, Detroit has the coolest T-shirts. Prague is a close second, nearly tied with Berlin (and Berlin has the coolest sweater). This is actually not easy to do. I’ve seen the city T-shirts in Paris, New Orleans, Zurich, Prague, Tokyo, Boston, New Mexico, Las Vegas and a few other not so memorable locals. The Pure Detroit shirts are by far the most stylish and cutting-edge of any other place because they focus on the historical music style and well as the city. They’re cool without trying to spoon-feed anything to the person who looks at you walking down the street.


In the city, my favorite shop is Spectacles (230 E. Grand River Harmonie) . I was just walking around one day and heard some cool music pumping into the street. At first I thought it was coming from some apartment and pulled out my Zoom H4 to record the sounds. Then I realized it was coming from the shop I was standing in front of and decided to walk in and check it out. Spectacles is sort of beyond cool. You can buy homemade funk CD burned on a computer, new designers and T-shirts I wouldn’t know where to find anywhere else and the shop has an all around awesome feeling. I talked with the owner for a bit and walked way with two shirts and a couple of CDs. Whenever I’m in Downtown Detroit I head to Spectacles. The shop isn’t huge, but the ambiance inside is unique, and they sell real clothes there. If you stop into an H&M, you always have the feeling that you’re buying something fleeting, that will look cool for half a season and then it’s over with. The stuff at Spectacles has a sort of timeless cool funk feeling. They stock small designers, so if you’re looking for something unique, it’ll be there. On my last trip I found a fantastic hat that sits upon my brain with an authentic style the hats in Zurich just don’t have.


Outside of downtown and near Wayne State University is Showtime (5708 Woodward Avenue). What’s Showtime? More or less it’s hands down the coolest Rock-oriented fashion spot in the world. Sounds like an exaggeration, but I’ve shopped in San Diego, Tokyo, Zurich, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and a few others, and it’s just a fact that Showtime is the coolest of them all. Well, to be honest it’s borderline between Spectacles and Showtime for my favorite establishment, one is hip hop and the other rock. If you want to dress like a rockstar then head to Showtime, don’t ask about the prices and let the clothes find you, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

The Burbs

Outside of Detroit is Royal Oak, once the trendy alternative area of the metro area, now an upscale nesting place for young professionals and those who want to look trendy, the city still has a lot of cool shops, like Indigo. I stopped in just to be different (from my boring perspective) and left with a T-shirt and sweater, the likes of which I wouldn’t be able to find in Zurich and probably neither in Paris. This is kind of the point, because I’m not likely to run into someone sporting the same look while strolling down BahnhofStrasse in Zurich.

Shoes are the make-or-break addition to any wardrobe. Onitsuka Tigers are the most fantastic shoes I didn’t know existed until I started paying attention. These shoes are coveted items in Zurich, and generally can’t be had for less than 120-160 CHF per pair. The situation is blissfully different in Michigan (and the US in general), and I picked up a nice pair of white Tigers at the Summerset Collection in Novi for like $60. I also got a pair of Levis 507 jeans, another item which carries an obscene markup in Europe. Shopping at the Summerset Collection (located in Troy) in the hardcore white-collar suburbs of Detroit lacks the feel of the actual city, but the selection and prices (compared to Zurich) are nice.

Detroit is my new fashion shopping Mecca in the world. The stores aren’t all in the same place and you might have to search around for the things you want – but when you find them you can rest assured that the merchandise will be fresh and unique. My sister says I look European now, even though many of my clothes are from Michigan (or from We in Zurich), and in Europe people might think I look American, but I say the style is pure me.

If you’re heading to Detroit and don’t know where to start, head to the Downtown Welcome Center (1253 Woodward) and check out an Inside Detroit tour, highly recommended.

Photo09 Zurich – Rejection Stings for An Instant

Bratz-0420.jpgThere’s a cool photo exhibition in Zurich each year. Depending on the year it has a new name, in 2007 it was called Photo07, in 2008 it was Photo08 and this year they’re calling it Photo09 (although it’s taking place in 2010). The concept is sort of the year in review, present the body of work of different Swiss photographers in one big show. Basically, each photographer presents their work from the past year in a giant old industrial hall. The images are the focus, and you walk through the visual menagerie stopping to check out interesting images and passing on others. It’s in the Maag event hall in Zurich, the cool thing about the show is that it features anyone, pros, amateurs, fashion photographers, hobby photographers, it’s just a really cool collection of visual imagery. All in all it’s a cool night out to attend the show. I checked out Photo07, was in Detroit during the 2008 show, and decided to submit a portfolio and image concept for Photo09.

I went about the submission process like it was an engineering conference, which means that as long as you pay the registration fee and present some work, you can show or talk about whatever you want. I figured, based on the Photo07 show that it was the same concept, present my photos of the past year in a layout which I think best represents my Vision09. The organizer of a conference like the SPIE Smart Materials get-together doesn’t know what will be ground-breaking research and what is worthless crap because they can’t predict the future and progression of science, and therefore generally won’t deny serious work (although to be fair, some conference organizations just want to make money and will take anything).

So long as the organizers think you’re on the level, you’re free to display your vision. I figured it was the same thing at Photo Zurich – and maybe it was at some point, but that was before the show got popular, and this year they had far more submissions than space to display them. So naturally, people had to be cut from the list. I submitted a portfolio and concept presentation to Photo09, which basically encompassed my year in photography for 2009. This was an interesting year since I had a nice combination of income, travel, and free time to think about life. My Vision09 includes images from Bratz in Rome and California to portrait shoots with Jurgita, her cousin Margarita, myself, and the Barbie Hunter Alexandra was there as well. It seemed like a cool collection of images which couldn’t be denied, but it was – and I’m fine with that.

It’s sort of discouraging to get a rejection letter for your first photography show, my first journal submission was accepted by Smart Materials (IOP Publishing) with barely a correction request. The divide between Art and Science is nonexistent for me, so I figured I would at least get in to Photo09, but on the other hand, I’ve had an equal number of articles rejected as published in scientific journals. It was actually a very apologetic rejection letter I received, so well-written in fact, I had to ask my girlfriend to confirm that they had indeed rejected me. The German was so eloquent to my non-fluent eyes that I didn’t know if I was being asked to not attend, or if I had gotten in and they didn’t want me to feel too good about myself. On the one hand this sucked, but on the other hand, it meant I wouldn’t need to pay the 250 CHF entrance fee plus the costs associated with printing out my display images. Which, in the end means it’ll make paying the credit card bill for that Zulu shield I ordered from South Africa much easier to rationalize (yes, it’s for a photo shoot).


Rejection from Photo09 stung for an instant. I’ve never been actively interested in what people think about what I shoot (not to the point that I would cry for not getting in a show). Each image is a failure in my mind, to accurately communicate the emotions and visions from my brain, so I wasn’t hurt that the editors at Blofeld Entertainment GmbH didn’t want to show my pictures. However, since I went through the editing process of putting together a presentation concept for Photo09 in Zurich, I figure I should display it somewhere. Since the web is one of my main platforms of choice to display imagery, I figure I’ll do it here (Vision 09 on Issuu). I’m slightly scared to see what  the Vision will bring in 2010.

[issuu layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Fdark%2Flayout.xml showflipbtn=true documentid=100111205313-4caedf8cc7714e0e846ea819535be68b docname=vision09 username=Boltzmann loadinginfotext=Vision09 width=500 height=225 unit=px]

A Tourist in Detroit – the Real City

Editor’s Note: The following words have been writing themselves for over a year, but the author is a lazy one and finally we had to shackle him to a coffee shop table in a location just out side Zurich, Switzerland and beat the sentences out of him. This is the first in a series (which were promised us), and who knows what we’ll have to do to get the last installments written.

Detroit_08-8103-Edit.jpgI’ve been to many cities in the world. Zurich, Berlin, Tokyo, Barcelona, La Paz, San Diego, Paris, Geneva, Budapest, Krakow, and the one that always sticks in my mind is Detroit. I love cities that inspire me – they stay in my head and energize my being in ways that other places just “don’t”. Each place is different and everyone is special, but Detroit is the one which sticks in my mind. Detroit inspires me. Detroit feeds my soul. I’ve been living in Switzerland for nearly 6 years now, but I was born in Detroit and I grew up in Michigan, in the suburbs of the City. As such I lived in a State with a divided society. When you grow up in the suburbs you spend your days in strip malls and communities like Birmingham, Royal Oak, Ferndale and all the satellite metro areas. These places aren’t bad (although down right evil from a city planning standpoint), Royal Oak was a cool alternative area during the 80’s with punks in mowhalks standing on the street corners. The place got “civilized” in the 90’s and the cool alternative scene eventually moved to Ferndale, although the “feeling” remains.

The perception of Detroit is one of failure and vulgar fear for the suburbanite. Many who live in the burbs work in Detroit and head out to the occasional Tigers, Lions, or Red Wings game, but the city is not a central part of the Michigan experience – which is sad. Detroit is one of the few beacons of real idea exchange and thought evolution in the suburban urban-sprawl hell of Michigan. In general Detroit invokes fear – fear of the place. After living in Switzerland for five years and visiting Michigan a few times here and there I realized what a pathetic connection I have to the city, so during Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009 I decided to be a Tourist in Detroit, and started filling a Moleskin journal with scribbles and impressions.

Winter probably isn’t the best time to vacation in Detroit, but it was one of the most fantastic trips of my life so far, and I’m going back for more. I stayed at my parent’s house in the burbs and tooled around Detroit during the days and nights for a week. I was at an advantage, my friend works at the Detroit Free Press and she introduced me to Jeanette Pierce, who helps run INSIDE DETROIT. In short, I was hooked up. INSIDE DETROIT is an essential doorway into the coolest parts of the city. The biggest problem with tourism in Detroit is that no one from the outside knows where to go or what to do. Detroit was developed around the automobile as a mode of transportation, and for this reason, the city is very spread out. If you don’t know where to go, it’s a little hard to just tool around and explore (although I do as that’s my “thing”). INSIDE DETROIT was setup to fix that, and it is very effective in communicating what to do and giving alternative tours of the city.

I generally hate generic city tours. I’ve been on a horridly boring group tour of Florence, and despise the spoon-fed cultural education of listening to someone lecture to me in a city square. The coolest city tours I’ve been on were in Berlin and Detroit. Fat Tire provides an excellent bike tour of the city and Berlin After Dark gives the ignorant night seeker an excellent experience of Berlin nightlife and clubs (including free shots on the trains). I got the same sense of alternative expression and unplanned for inspiration and adventure on the Inside Detroit tour I did. Basically I spent New Year’s Eve on a Detroit bar tour. We hit up three different places and ended up at the Filmore Auditorium to ring in the new year. I Never had to find the Real Detroit. You stand in greatness here, not the shadow of what was (like in Paris) or what will never be (like in Tokyo), but stark and undeniable greatness (as in Berlin). I don’t say this of every city. Geneva is beautiful, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as Detroit. Tokyo is full of eye candy, but lacks the soul I feel in the Motor City.

What does it mean to find the real city? I once had a horrible pizza in Sienna, the little city in Italy where they have the horse race in the city square, now even more famous from the opening scene in Quantum of Solace. People tell me I should go to a local place, not a tourist restaurant to eat. But what do I know, I’m just there for a few hours. I never have to worry about finding the real Detroit, it’s all real, and out there for the tourist to experience and be inspired by. Where is the Real Paris? The Real Florence? Is the Real Milan defined by the churches no one really prays in any more? Search hard enough and you might find the real Prague between the hookers and gelato stands. You can visit some cities and never find the real place – just the manufactured tourist areas. In the real city you don’t have to worry about being fleeced with tourist prices for a coffee or being annoyed by professional beggars. If people ask for money on a street corner in Detroit, it’s probably because the genuinely need it.

R0013273-Edit-2.jpgYou can write a lot of vile things about Detroit, you can cite the riots of 1967, just like you can cite the Final Four riots at Michigan State University. I don’t really understand it. In Zurich there’s the occasional soccer riot, sometimes the fans get crazy every other weekend. The police come out, the tear gas is launched, the crowds are dispersed. Are riots a bad thing? Yes, they happen anywhere and everywhere and like avalanches it’s just best to get out of the way when they’re coming down on you and move on with your life afterwards.

I’ve been through many parts of the world, sometimes I get the feeling that I have no center, no place that calls back to me and that I always feel 100% comfortable in. But that’s the point, to take yourself from your comfortable living environment and place your body and mind in a new sphere of experiences. I’ve aimlessly wandered the corridors of Europe, I’ve walked around the peaks of Bolivia, slept on the White Sands of New Mexico, watched the sunset and then the sunrise from atop Mt. Fuji, jumped off cliffs in Greece and ate tempura in Osaka. But Detroit, this city is a special place in the world.

There is a feeling of determination when I walk the streets of Detroit. I get a sense of enlightenment when I look up towards the sky. The music, the people, the bars, the buildings, the food, it all comes together and floors me when I drive down Grand Blvd. I’ll take DEMF over the Zurich Street Parade and the pastisio in Greek Town over the offerings in Athens (I’m not the only one). The only other city with such a sense of ghosts and recent history echoing the streets is Berlin. The inertia I feel in these two population centers sticks with me, it inspires, it invokes philosophy, and it gives me a center in the world.

Editor’s Note: This was only the first installmet, Detroit City of Inspiration and a Tourist in Detroit articles are being written and rewritten, the photos are being edited and publishing deadlines have been set in limestone.


The Amazing Amazee Booster Party

Amazee_Climber.jpgPart I: The Amazing Amazee Booster Party


We always tend to start with a beginning, and find our way towards an end. Photography is simply a lazy Artistic form of communication. Sit in front of a computer doing Photoshop every night, and you run the risk of living a predictable plotline.

When your mind is locked in a tired day-dream-suspension of animation, where it’s impossible to focus and you imagine that a bed would be your best friend, then it’s time to say “yes.” Time to take an iced bottle of Vodka from the freezer, step into your Docs, and stroll confidently into the night. No other reasonably sane option you see, just have faith and propel yourself “forward”. My destination of the night was the Amazee Booster party at the Technopark in Zurich.

Amazee is a grassroots social networking and project management website. It’s a Swiss Startup and was having a booster party to energize funding and interest into different projects. Since it was a good time to say yes, I decided to attend. I like stepping into a comfortable set of street clothes and heading out when I feel drained by life. Sometimes you recharge the batteries of the body by pushing it further – see what’s in the shadows and alleyways of the night. Try hard enough and you’re sure to find what you were looking for – Cape Noct mon ami. The day is a time to hide and play out the pleasantries of society, the night is the time to take place on the Greek stage and act out all the monologues which embarrass us in the sunshine.

I got to the Amazee party sometime after 8pm. I didn’t actually know anyone, which was one reason I said “Yes” and decided to attend. The only requirement was a bottle of vodka/run/champagne and some booster money. I figured it was a good time to step out of my comfort zone and see how my social skills really are when fumbling with my not-exactly-fluent German. I figured I would go there and push my German language abilities are far as they would go. Parties are the best place to test these things, between the alcohol and noise you really see if you have any actual conversation abilities, or if your German is just a bit better than gibberish, fit only for asking for directions in Berlin or ordering drinks at a bar. Naturally, the Amazee people were as you would expect at an internet startup party, cool and easy to talk with.

Of course, one has to be careful when discussing things like, “internet parties.” When you say, “I attended an internet party in Zurich” everyone thinks something like, “What, you went to a Craig’s List sex party last night?” So you say instead, “I was hanging out with hip Swiss StartUp people at a company party.”

Amazee had recently been contacted by lawyers for Amazon.com, who asserts that the name Amazee is too close to Amazon, and therefore Amazee must change its or face litigation. This is like McDonald’s getting pissed at Burger King for selling french fries. It’s like Apple computer suing iRiver just for making an awesome music player. It makes no sense. Those who ask those in the know, know that Amazee derives it’s name from the word Amazing, which accurately describes the Amazee grassroots web platform. At least Amazee an original idea. Where does Amazon.com come from? The name is taken from a fucking rain forest in South America. Amazon.com is one of the least original names of the DOT.COM boom era, slightly more original than Buy.com and far less clever than Yahoo. The actions by Amazon.com is nothing but imperialist bullshit and internet strong-arming. However, this internet stand-down is slightly relevant to the night, as there was a white board at the party and people were putting up possible alternative to Amazee. I was slightly intoxicated and a moment of false clarity manifested in my mind. There was a pen, so I went slightly mad coming up with new names:

Zaema, Kadamos, Gadakis, Zukama, Kamkan, Zakahann, SAMO (apologies to Jean-Michel), Freudzeud, Zukama, Adazoo, Edokann, Eomasan, Uberkann, Zanasan.

It’s such a shame I took up engineering instead of marketing and brand management as a career, but that’s why I publish a blog. The party was breaking up around 2am, and a few of us decided it was too early to go home. We headed towards Hive, the logical location if you’re coming from the Technopark and looking for a place to groove, but the beats were uninspiring and we took a cab to Helvetiaplatz and walked into Kanzlei, to seach out the Digital Shaman.

Part II: The Shaman’s Trance