The City Whispers – Lisbon Graffiti

Now that I’m unemployed, I’ve had time to take a workacation and meet with the Lost In Reality team down in Lisbon, Portugal. We’re developing a mobile app for location-based storytelling, but I also took some time to relax and explore the whispers of Lisbon and the graffiti and street art a bit. The people and artists there have a lot to say with the financial crisis hitting Portugal and it’s well represented on the walls of the city. (more…)

The City Whispers – Zurich Graffiti

zurich_graffiti_i_smallGraffiti speaks across the walls and streets and later I see it all at once in my heads. All the hope and hate and colors and concrete are there in front of my eyes. Shadows on the streets, whispers in the heads. I walked around Zurich shooting graffiti the other day. The excursion was slightly cold and very cool. I walked towards the old Lowenbrau brewery, just beside the river. I’d seen the place thousand times from the train, but never took the time to explore it on foot. just like I’ve visited Zurich a thousand days and nights without ever really walking around with a camera. There’s always things to find, new things to inspire and learn from. I forget this sometimes, but love finding it again.

zurich_graffiti-5I love graffiti because you never know what you’ll find. On the wall of Lowenbrau is a poster of Obama’s Hope, staring off into the future. On the opposite side on a wall a sticker reads, “911 was an inside job.” Across the river from the brewery I see the Star of David and a Swastika sprayed next to a sidewalk leading up to some houses. There’s an equal sign between them. Social commentary on the action of the Nazi and Israeli governments perhaps? Who knows, it’s open to interpretation, some might say intimidation. The next week there’s a story in 20 Minutes about anti-Semitic leaflets being stuffed in mailboxes, someone said it was like the 1930’s. Hope and hate a few minutes walk from one another. In between a 911 conspiracy. Who knew the streets of Zurich were so crazy and political. Is it everywhere – waiting to be seen with the right eyes at the right time? Then there’s the socialists, the hammer and cycle are often found on buildings, usually not too far from an anti WEF image. Thoughts in time, what’s the reason? The abstract works are the best, no specific message, just shapes and colors, your mind doesn’t need to translate the universal language, just enjoy the views.


Zurich isn’t generally known for it’s street art. Berlin, Dresden, these are the cities which come to mind. There you find fantastic visions around every corner. In Zurich the streets are clean, the punks are few, and political demonstrations are anomalies, except for the 1st of May. But if you walk the streets and take a few turns you’ll find the voices on the walls. Images that were once in someone’s head and got translated to poems of the pavements.

The abstract comes out, the aliens faces, the eyes staring back at you and then looking across the city. The graffiti reminds me that Zurich is an inspiring place. Everything looks clean and orderly, but there’s also revolt inside the Stadt. There’s dissension, there’s hope, there’s inspired art. For some reason this fills my heart with joy. Sometimes I think that a city without graffiti doesn’t have a soul or just has nothing to say, or is under a social boot. I don’t think I’ve been in my any small mountain village in Switzerland and not seen at least a small sliver of street revolt on the door of a Kiosk or the side of a train. It’s not always in your face, shouting at you like a Coke advertisement, but the voices are there if you go listening for them.

zurich_graffiti-4Ah, but who is saying what, you wonder. Not everyone is talking to the walls with spray cans, you only hear the most determined voices. That’s fine, I’m not looking for SAMO’s ghost or Van Gogh’s ear lobe. There’s Andy Warhol in the Kunsthause and galleries around Zurich, but I love graffiti because the environment is always changing, and part of the art, the texture of the images changes with the lighting and the season. You never know if it”ll be there the next time you walk by. I think of fleeting moments in the time that can never be recreated or improved upon. Perfect.

zurich_graffiti-9Beware of cities which are too clean, without stickers on the lamp posts or writing on the walls. Beware of people who always clean off the walls with out hearing what they say. Not all graffiti is good, a lot of it sucks. I vomit every time I see nothing but tags. In Zurich most of the stuff around the train tracks is just kids writing their names in colorful ways, who cares. What I like is seeing a horse in scuba gear, alien faces below windows and giant lizards crawling up the sides of buildings. The coolest find by far was this piece of newspaper on the wall near Escher-Wyss-Platz. Basically it’s an astronaut painted on newspaper, with a map included. Pure imagination, priceless inspirations.

Ricoh GRD – Frozen Motion Street Photography

Street photography gets debated a lot in online photo forum elitist groups.  Favorite arguments will revolve around "What is Street Photography" and unknown photographers lavishing praise on figures like Cartier-Bresson – who in certain circles enjoys more mindless devotion than the Gods.

I like the idea of photography being a documentary tool, but documentary according to what?  We all perceive ideas and images in various ways, so it’s pretty hard to set down a specific definition of Street Photography.  Tokyo is probably one of the best places in the World to make street images.  The number and styles of people spread throughout the city is endless and sets an excellent stage for your humble photographer narrator.

My day to day routine in Tokyo involves taking the train from Komaba and changing in Shibuya, one of the busiest stations in Tokyo.  This affords daily opportunities to exercise one of my favorite photography styles – capturing Frozen Motion of folks heading hither and thither.

Cameras are by default used to capture static moments in time.  This often entails sharp, defined images where you can clearly see what the photographer saw.  Or was it only what was recorded by the machine?  My mind doesn’t always percieve street photography as a static scene.  I want to see the unseen image, the one I didn’t know was there – the Motion.  I want to take an image with my camera to see what it will look like.  Capturing motion is pretty easy, you just reduce the shutter speed such that the resulting images capture enough definition so everything isn’t a total blur.

The Ricoh GRD is pretty much the perfect camera for street shooting, save for the long RAW write time – in which case the Ricoh GX100 or the new Ricoh GRD2 is probably the best camera available for these types of boredom deflecting activities.  With the wide angle 21 mm lens attachment you can pull in a very wide scene, with colors and motion from everywhere in front of the lens.

Motion capture can be very cool, but it’s also very easy to make mediocre images this way.  To my eye, if there’s just enough blur to make the image appear unfocused, but not enough for any colors to mix with one another, it’s just a waste of memory card space.

Many Japanese wear conservative suits to the offices, and when mixed together this renders a sea of grey.  The element I look for is something with a bright color, a hand bag, a light colored box, something that will stand out in the sea.

The second element I hunt for is mixed motion.  If you just stand there and shoot, all the motion is in one direction, one or two of these shots are cool if you’ve never used this technique before – but gets old crazy fast.  I like capturing motion from different directions.

In Shibuya, I usually head up the stairs and position myself on the edge of the up and down directions, then I can focus on someone with a non-standard element (color, geometry) and pan on them while I’m walking past.  This means that the image is a combination of them getting closer to me while my camera is rotating, if I’m lucky I can catch one element of their person in reasonable focus – like a hand or bag.  If executed with exacting imprecision this results in an element popping out from the chaos.

The Frozen Motion technique works for me because it’s the scene which I want to capture for Street Photography.  The important element isn’t capturing and documenting the scene exactly as it occurred, I want to paint with the motion, get the random colors mixing – chaos going and freeze it in-camera.

You can try stretching the image and using motion blur filters in Photoshop, but for my taste it’s like using a Lens Baby instead of a Holga, there’s no randomness to the image – it’s all been over-engineered, and hence – boring to my eyes.

Dude, Who Brought the Tear Gas?

So, the World Cup seems like a big deal over here in Europe. Especially so if you’re a Swiss soccer (excuse me, football) fan and you were in Zurich last Friday watching the Swiss team beat South Korea. I watched the game on an open air screen just off the Limmat river, the same one that flows through Zurich. In the summer it’s fun to take your clothes off and go swimming there at 2am after the bars get boring. After the game I felt tired, but also felt like checking out the city so I took my bike down to Bellevue, a popular location where a small soccer stadium was set up for devoted fans to watch the game in. For some reason it made me think of my college days at Michigan State University. In particular, the 1999 Final Four when folks took to the streets and started fires on Grand River, Bogue street, and various locales in East Lansing.

The crowds in Zurich
The crowd seemed happy enough. I was running around with a $1000 camera in my right hand and snapped off some shots of the crowd. Things seemed to be taking a turn for the more interesting when the crowd surged towards me and I could catch hints of fumes in the air. The police were gassing the crowd near the bridge and there seemed to be an exodus in the works. I started running as well, but got distracted by the guy in a cow suit.

 The cow suit guy

The police must have left because I couldn’t see any shooting tear gas stars floating through the night sky. But there were fools who were crazy enough to try and drive through the city. I was a bit worried when some spirited youths began rocking a van back and forth. I thought about getting in close for some photos, but I didn’t want the thing to tip over on me.

 Van rocking

For some reason though, I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe it was because the game didn’t mean anything to me. Or maybe I was just tired inside. Ah, so this is what getting old feels like. They call that maturity some would say. I just had no desire to view the riot and instead took the long refreshing bike ride home.

Zurich Soccer World Cup