Lisbon_fog*

The photograph above is a fake! What I mean is that the fog effect has been added after the fact in Photoshop to make it look like something that has never really happened. The truth is that it was a sunny day in Lisbon, I took the shot, it was boring because nothing was really going on, and I fucked with it until it became sort of pretty. I one level, I actually like it but that is as far as it goes. I will never exhibit it, or even sell it. (I take that back. If someone offers me and extravagant sum like Peter Lik, I will break down and sell it).

Recently, I have been reading about the World Press Photo Awards “scandal” in which a significant number of entries had been disqualified because they had been altered. It was interesting because I think they overdid it. I am not a journalist—far from it but of course I have opinions—lots of em. If I had entered the shot above, it would have and should have been disqualified. No doubt about it, its a complete fake. The scene never existed, except in my imagination. But lets not get anal about it. For years in the days of film photographs were manipulated in the darkroom by burning in, dodging, cropping, and intensifiers to bring out the shadows. They bore no resemblance at all to the original negatives. I read that the year previously, a photo was disqualified because the photographer had committed the ghastly act of removing a piece of litter from a corner of the frame via Photoshop and that constituted a violation of the rules. (He could have easily cropped the offending garbage out and that would have been OK.) My only interest in photography is in exhibiting and publishing in books and magazines—not news reporting so I come from a different angle on this subject. In my book anything goes, but I do have personal ethics about my photographs. 99.999% of my images are unaltered. Nothing has been removed or added except on that extra 001%, I have done the unmentionable—I removed and offending element from the frame. Sometimes I try to remove it by burning in but I cannot so alas Photoshop. I have never added anything in and I would not—except I have never had to until now but who knows? I usually never crop, but every now and then I do. I burn in and dodge like a maniac. What I am saying is that in my world anything is fine as long as it creates an interesting image—one which my audience would appreciate. Since I am not recording anything that I saw, only what I felt, what I do to my images after the fact is not a sin. Journalists are supposed to act as witnesses, and as a result their images have to be a bit more on the level. Its too bad really because I happen to think that some news images are outright boring and a bit of enhancements would not harm the original intent, which is to record, however I am not a journalist. I just seem to think, they should lighten up a bit. On the other hand if they did, where would it stop and how far is enough?

 

Lisbon_Wedding (1 of 18)One of my “passions” is photographing weddings. Although I am not a wedding photographer, somehow over the years, accidently showing up at strangers weddings and making a few photographs has grown on me and it has slowly evolved into one of my lifelong projects.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be in Lisbon during the annual Feast of St. Anthony. This is the “big event” in Lisbon and there are always many activities to enjoy—including a mass wedding at the cathedral, which has been going on for who knows how long. I had done my research and knew that on the 13th of June at a particular cathedral in the Alfama barrio of Lisbon, 11 couples would be married. So at 1:30 I set off to see what was happening. As I got closer to the cathedral, I noticed that crowds had been getting increasingly thicker and that the city had placed barricades along the side of the road to keep the hordes back. I also knew that this would be a hindrance to me getting any interesting photographs.

In one of my rare moments of aggression, I chose to walk up the middle of the street, between the barricades with an authoritative photojournalist swagger, straight up to the steps of the cathedral, where I parked myself right in front of the doors and waited for the happy couples to arrive. I thought I looked vey professional, but I am sure I stood out like a sore thumb from all the other Portuguese photographers who seemed to know each other. One of them eventually walked over to me and said something in Portuguese which of course I did not understand. He then said it in English.

“You cannot be here. This area is reserved for the press.”

“Mr. Rocca said I could stand here.” I lied

He walked away. We were 15 minutes from the arrival of the brides when another man, with an official badge, trimmed grey beard in a dark suit—looking very very official approached me and whispered something in Portuguese in my ear. I motioned that I did not understand and then repeated in English

“I don’t think you may have the proper credentials.” He said with an impish grin. He had a nice manner and said it in a very sweet way. I thought that this was it and I was about to be booted out, so I replied

“ I guess you are going to kick me out.”

He smiled and asked me where I was from and I told him that I lived in Florida. He said he had a sister who lived in Tampa and that he loved visiting her there. We chatted for about a minute or two and then he motioned me over to a spot right near where I was standing. He said I could stay but I had to keep an eye out for the TV camera boom and not get in the sight-lines of the TV cameras. He said that this event was being televised all over Portugal so I had to be discreet like the rest of the journalists covering the wedding. As long as I was on the same side of the carpet as the TV camera, I would be out of the way. I thanked him for his help.

15 minutes later, the brides began to arrive. I could not believe that I was still there, shooting away and loving every moment of it. After about half and hour of posing for pictures on the steps of the cathedral, all the brides entered through the doors and I began to follow them but a security guard stopped me. I thought my luck had finally run out but I was having such a good day, no security guard was about to spoil it for me. I went up the the man with the badge and grey beard and asked if there was any way I could get inside. He made a facial gesture that implied my chances were very slim, but he went inside the cathedral and in a few moments he returned with an official journalist pass. I spent about an hour inside the church, went out for a breather, photographed the band that had assembled, the mobs waiting to see the couples and all the rest of the activities, and went back into the church as the weddings were winding down. Again, the nice gentleman with the grey beard approached me and said the the wedding would soon be over and I should find a good spot outside when the couples would parade down the street. We went outside and he pointed out a place where he thought that might make a good spot to photograph their exit. I was the first one there and had a prime location for the grande finale. The couples came out, kissed each other, waved to the crowd, and then formed a long procession heading down the street with the band, relatives, photographers, TV personalities etc. following them. I wiped a tear from my eye—it was over.

If you think that this article is about photographing weddings you are mistaken. It is about how taking photographs can bring you closer to people, help you share experiences and just enjoy the beauty and rhythms of life in a very special way. More important than any of the pictures that I took, it was the experience of interacting with many kind people, who allowed me to participate in a very small way on such a sweet occasion. These moments are unforgettable.

If you want see more of the wedding series, click here:
http://www.dsaxe.com/wedding/index.html

Lisbon_Wedding (18 of 18)

I haven’t been up to much these days so there is little to post regarding my recent work. It is difficult to come up with anything because the weather has been just great. Always sunny—which is good for living but bad for photography. Actually sunlight works in Florida because that is all you get but overall I prefer cloudy days—less harsh shadows. But as I was aging, I have been inactive—and loving it. It is good to take a few weeks/month off from time to time. For the most part, I have been dreaming up new projects and planning my website update. I don’t really dream up projects from scratch. I usually just go over my better images and see what pops up. Once a reviewer suggested doing it the other way but I could not really find  a reason to listen to him. It seemed kind of anal, and I think he just needed something to say because he was a reviewer and they are supposed to say things to you. So he suggested thinking up a project first and then going out to take the pictures. If I told him I did it that way he would have suggested getting projects from my body of work”. Sometimes I think most of them are full of shit. So here I am thinking of projects from my work and these themes have sprung up in no order of preference. Blacks (Go Obama!), little people (not midgets—shots of people from long distances), body parts, and people one meets along the way (close encounters). I have dallied with some of them before but they just keep coming back to “haunt” me so I have another look. Oh ya, I am still fooling around with landscapes—ˆ always have but this time I am trying to put a decisively American edge to them.

The picture above was taken in Portugal (Lisbon) about 4 or 5 years ago. It was sunset and for a brief moment there was nobody on the street except this women in a pharmacy getting stuff. It has nothing to do with the above but I needed something to put up because nobody just wants to read anymore.

Street Scene: Alcobaca, Portugal 2007


Just over two years ago, I almost died (see here) in this town. At least, that’s what Sharon thought. For some reason, I remained unusually cool throughout the episode but that’s not this is about. I just thought it was time to post a new photograph and this is what I came up with. It is a place in Portugal which we visited because of the incredible cathedral in this small town. I took this picture as were leaving the parking lot. The cathedral is at the end of the street to the left.

Originally, I thought it was just a pretty scenic picture but I had a second look at it recently and thought I could get something more out of it. I have been doing this a lot lately. The beauty of digital photography (or one of them) is that the contact sheet has been replaced by programs like Lightroom or Adobe Bridge. In the “old days”, you could look through your contacts and if you saw something worth printing, you had to go through the entire routine of small prints, work prints, final prints, etc. and then what you ended up with was a fairly good print of the image on your contact sheet. It might be lighter, darker, more/less contrast, with some of the edges burnt in but that was it. Now it’s different! Color becomes black and white and vice versa. Color mixes with tonality and grain is either added or subtracted. Parts of the image which distract the viewer are darkened or blurred out so that the are hardly noticable. In other words, you are never quite finished looking at any of your pictures. They can always be made, changed, altered and printed— and the best part is that you are always sitting down. This can be done over a cup of coffee just before supper. I should mention that I never add or remove parts of images nor do I use any other digital wizardry. I only darken/lighten/blur parts of images. The only concession I make to our modern era is the use of layering and masking but what the hell— nobody’s perfect. Actually why not? I really never change anything that was in the original image— I merely alter it. That is what photographers have been doing since the 19th century.

Part 1
As we get older, heath care becomes more important and for those who are a bit unlucky, it becomes critical.

A few years ago while traveling in Portugal, Sharon and I stopped in a small town called Alcobaca to see its wonderful cathedral and explore the town. We decided to have lunch in a charming little restaurant across for the church. I had some shrimp and Sharon decided to try their speciality— sardines. As we were finishing, Sharon said to me that I looked rather red and if I was alright. I said I was but she wasn’t sure.

“Your face is awfully red— something is really strange” she said

I said I felt fine but she dragged to to a pharmacy across the street. The pharmacist who spoke little english motioned me to a chair and took my blood pressure. It was 79 / 40. She said “go to hospital right away” and called for a taxi.

Within a few minutes, we were outside of the local hospital in this very small town. It was a very nondescript white concrete building that was a relic from the fifties. Nobody in they place spoke english but after some yelling, and screaming by Sharon, the local administrator came down. He spoke some english and admitted me. We were taken to a small 12 foot x 12 foot concrete room. In it was one gurney, a wheelchair and two wooden chairs. There were three people in this room so I got the remaining wooden chair. Eventually, the guy on the gurney was moved to another room, the person on the wheelchair moved to the bed, the guy next to me moved from the wooden chair to the wheelchair and I stayed on my chair. A nurse eventually came in and tried to take my history but she did not speak english and who the fuck speaks Portuguese except them and 180 million Brazilians. Ten minutes later the woman on the gurney was moved out and I moved to the wheelchair. A nurse came in and took my blood pressure, temperature and listened to my heart. At this time, I was beginning to feel very crappy— my joints began to ache, and I was feeling very uncomfortable. Sharon called for the doctor/resident to look at me. He thought I had had a reaction to the shrimp so he gave me an antihistamine and then left. Twenty minutes later it was my turn to occupy the gurney. (I should mention that the blanket was never changed. I have no idea how many people had occupied this gurney today.

The resident returned and checked my blood pressure again. He shook his head and left the room. (I knew things were not getting better for me). A nurse came in to give me an IV. (She did not wear gloves). My blood pressure was still dropping and was beginning to feel very achey.

I was very uncomfortable and could not find a position to rest that helped me feel any better. No matter how I placed my body on this fucking gurney, I could not get rid of the aching that was spreading to every joint in my body. The worst part for Sharon and I was that we could not communicate with anybody.

In a few minutes the resident returned with another doctor and they discussed my case in Portuguese. The second doctor turned to me and introduced himself. “I am Dr. Alves (in perfect English—He is the guy in the photo) ” I will be looking after you from now on. What medications are you taking?” I told him I was taking Niaspan for my cholesterol and he replied “Has your dosage changed” I told him that they had increased it before I left the US. He went on to say that he was only visiting a friend in this town and that he worked at a hospital in London. He said that he had over 200 patients on this drug and that he had seen this in three cases.
“We will give you an infusion of saline and you will be fine in a few hours.”
The then moved me to another room that was very different from the one that I had spent the past hour in. It was a modern medical emergency facility except it did not have half as many medical toys as the ones in the US. They began the infusion and my blood pressure slowly began to rise. He would come by every twenty minutes or so to see how I was doing. He was not rushed at all and would always spend about five minutes chatting about this and that. I told him that this was a far different place than in Southern Florida and he chuckled. two or three times, the hospital administrator who had admitted me came by to see how I was doing. I thought that was really cool.

Two hours later, Dr. Alves said I was fine and could leave. I thanked him, took his picture and asked him about paying. He laughed.

“In Portugal, emergency medicine is free. For the Portuguese and to all visitors.

Part 2
The following year, while we were in Florida, Sharon told me one morning that her chest felt some pressure and that this had been going on all night. It was my turn to insist that she see somebody. In the US there are walk-in centers for emergencies so we went to one. She was seen vary quickly and when she came out, she told me that they had given her an EKG and that although it seemed fine, there was a small anomaly that they thought should be looked at in the hospital where they had a more sophisticated EKG machine. So off we went to JFK Medical Center—the finest health care facility in Palm Beach County. It was a super modern complex featuring the finest minds, machines, drugs and bullshit that the American health system had to offer. They gave her another EKG and came to the same conclusion. Her EKG was fine but there was a small anomaly that should be investigated. They admitted her. They gave her aspirin and an EKG every hour just to make sure.

While this was going on, I called Blue Cross in Vermont and told them about it. The woman on the phone said that I did not need prior permission for emergencies and they would take care of it. I felt much better since the major concern in American health care is not outcome but cost.

I went to visit Sharon the next morning. Her room was about 24 feet x 24 feet with a private bathroom, a plasma TV and next to her bed was a menu. “Would you care top order lunch” she said. “I’m serious.” I ordered lunch from room service. She said she was fine and that they would be releasing her. Upon her release we were presented with a bill for $17.260.23. (including the aspirin at $6.00 each.)

I thought the process of settling this was a matter between the hospital and the insurance company but insurance companies being what they are did not see it that way. They declined to pay.

“You told me I did not need permission to get emergency care out-of-state” I said

“You don’t” they replied. “You do however need permission to be admitted. We will cover the cost of the emergency visit which was $250.00”

“Schmucks!

In the end it was eventually settled because insurance companies being what they are know that when they are wrong it is wiser to settle than to face a litigation and raise the attention of the State authorities who regulate them. On the other hand there are always a few poor souls who accept their bullshit without question believing they know what they are doing. And why was the bill $17.260.23? Only because the hospital’s fear of lawsuits forces them into overkill to cover their ass. An individual would have had to pay $17.260.23 but the insurer gets it for far less. Health insurance in America is run by 3 gangs. There are the hospitals, the insurers and the lawyers and they are in charge. The poor schmuck patient is only the vehicle for their avarice, just like the plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit. They are only there to pay the bills.

Do you remember the scene in “La Dolce Vita” where the two kids claim to have seen the Virgin Mary in a field and the whole Italian media circus swoops down on there town to report the event?

Well, it’s sort of true because in this town in Fatima Portugal, that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t a town in the 1930’s when this “vision” supposedly took place but today it is a small city devoted to this event. The high point is the cathedral which you cannot see in the photo . The photo only shows a part of the steps leading up to the place. Its fucking huge! We arrived there at around 10:00 PM but the place was still , kicking with masses going on in an outdoor cupola 24/7. This place was about as trashy as one could get. I thought I had seen it all when I was a kid in Montreal and they had the “Oratoire” situated on a hill with brother Andre’s heart in a glass vase in the cathedral but this place put it to shame. I only wish we could have arrived a bit earlier while the souvenir shop was still open. I would have loved to get a slice of Pizza with an image of Jesus visible in the cheese topping.

I am working on my website which I am in the process of updating. I really like this picture but it does not fit in with my site design. The problem is that it is vertical and it just does not fit in with the other images so here it is— on its own.

Actually, I am a big believer in single images. Somewhere along the way, galleries and the public that follows their lead decided that themes or stories were the next big thing. They might have a point, but there is still room for a single image every now and then.

This was some small fishing village in Portugal (I cannot remember the name) that had absolutely no charm, tourists, historical sights or quaint restaurants. It was beautiful and was oozing of soul. The air was cool (it was mid November) but in the sun, you would never feel it. As we walked along through the town, I noticed this dog was just hanging out, sleeping in the middle of the road but as we approached, it got up, gave me a final look and walked away. We were strangers in this town— even for dogs.