Tag Archives: Documentary Photography

Faces of Brazil

I’m usually shooting video on assignment. Too often, stills are second priority and I never have enough time. However, when I go out in the streets, I have this compelling desire to capture the essence of the street–documentary style–a story in every frame–a thousand stories in a single image. I don’t consider it stealing, although, I try to take the spirit of a place with me.  I try to be invisible so that I and my camera don’t interrupt the realness of the moment. I rarely succeed. At least, that’s how it feels. Sometimes I get lucky and freeze the moment I was seeing in my mind.  People are my favorite and hardest to shoot. I love to capture the stories that are written in the lines of faces and hands, or, deeply etched on the soul through the eyes–stories I can only invent–stories you will see differently. Perhaps our own stories are written by the ways and means with which we see the world.

Brazil is exciting, vibrant, constantly moving. The scenery is diverse and beautiful. So, too, are the people.

Strikes in Brazil

Fish for lunchWorld cup was still a few weeks away. We were eating lunch in a little cafe in Recife. The food was delicious. My new Brazilian friends were delightful. The lights in the restaurant went out and the cafe owner approached our table. He spoke rapidly and seemed agitated. I don’t speak Portuguese, but my friends look concerned.  I looked around and noticed that the cafe was empty. It wasn’t, just a moment before.

São Paulo PolicePolice Strike.

Gangs were coming. People were rioting. The situation was dangerous. The cafe was closing and we needed to leave.

São Paulo public transportationA few days later, in São Paulo, our taxi driver told us the bus drivers were on strike. We were so close to the hotel, just one block left to go. Traffic stopped.

Let’s walk, I said.

Too dangerous. With your equipment, the taxi is the best option.  Cars stopped. Buses blocked roads. It took us  an hour to go one block. The city was in turmoil.

São Paulo PoliceThe next morning, another strike. The Police, again, in eleven Brazilian states. We may not be able to get the shots we were looking for. Crowds. Riots. Craziness.
Street MusicianStreet performers playing cool jazz. Just another crazy day in Brazil.

I stood on the roof of an old hi-rise building,in downtown São Paulo,  taking pictures and shooting B-roll video of the city. Police Strike, Sâo PauloBelow me I could see Police–all of them. On Strike. When I took their pictures, they were friendly and seemed rather pleased. They had nothing else to do, World Cup was still a few weeks away.Sã Paulo Police

Street Musicians

Real Mongolian Barbecue

There are no fast food restaurants in Ulan Batar.

Our driver, a native Mongolian, took us to what he said was the original Mongolian Barbecue. I looked at the menu, most of which I didn’t understand. Some of the dishes had English translations next to the Mongolian. My choices, among many others:

Rendeers wigwam

Baked Sheep Head

Ox Tongue

Fried Ox Tongue

Horse Meat Assortments

Fried Liver

Mongolian Khuushuur stuffed with mutton

We ordered an assortment of dishes to share. When they brought the baked sheep head, our Mongolian friend looked rather anxious. He waited for me to go first. I wasn’t sure I was hungry anymore. The sheep was sitting in the serving tray staring at me–literally.

“Do you want the eyes?” He asked. “Or the brain?”

“No thanks. It’s all yours.”

With gratitude and zeal, our friend speared the eyeballs from the sheep. Then, he lifted the skull from the sheep’s head and scooped out the brains.

I went for the Khuushuur. It seemed safest.

As we ate, and shared stories, I began to forget our differences. I began to relax and enjoy a culture I knew so very little about. I began to appreciate the food which had a very different, yet pleasing taste–that is–until I looked–again–at the eyeless sheep staring back at me.

Venezuela–Before the World Collapsed

More than 40 people have died in the recent protests in Venezuela. The Government has jailed many more. Tensions are high. Inflation is rampant. Food shortages are common. Yet, just a few months ago, it would have been hard to recognize the growing seeds of discontent.

I spent an hour at a park in Caracas last August. I met a some wonderful people and made some great friends. When I pulled out my camera, a Venezuelan Military Policeman made my acquaintance immediately. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard rumors and had been warned about taking pictures or shooting video. However, when I told him what I was doing, he warmed right up and asked me to take his picture. As we talked, I could feel an underlying tension. Yet, I would not have guessed that just a few months later, the clash of discontent would echo so loudly or so painfully.

I can only hope that the warmth of an August morning may return to dispel the awful strife of violent disagreement and return a measure of peace to a beautiful and interesting land.

You can buy it in Hong Kong, 24/7

I was working in my suit and tie. Not uncommon in my current assignment. Our light panel case had some particularly powerful velcro holding it together. When I bent down to get the LED lights out of the case, the velcro grabbed my tie. Destroyed. I went through three ties that day. I needed a new tie, like, NOW. My AroundMe app told me I could buy a new tie .57 miles from my current location. I took off walking. I never made it to the store AroundMe suggested. I found a tie shop within a quarter mile. In Hong Kong, much like L.A. or New York, you can buy just about anything, at just about anytime. The city never slept, at least, while I was awake, which was most of the time.

My last post from Hong Kong is dedicated to Commerce.  Fortunately for me, I now have several new ties.

Hong Kong Streets

We were walking on a busy Hong Kong street. The road was narrow. Cars were zipping past. People were jostling by, lots of them. At the crosswalk, people were waiting, restrained by the glowing red character, which, although I didn’t know the precise meaning, clearly meant, ‘don’t walk’. The light changed. GREEN. GO. The gates opened. The dam broke. The race began. People rushed across the busy street as if their lives depended on it. As if, to finish last in this race would embarrass their team, let down their nation, disappoint their parents, end their lives. Literally.

The clock was ticking. Seconds remained.

I stepped into the street. A hand seized my arm, held my shoulder.

“WAIT.” My friend, a Hong Kong native, pulled me back onto the sidewalk. “Not enough time,” he said.

We could make it, I thought.

Voooommm. A Black BMW M6 roared past, inches from where my toes had just been.

“THERE’S STILL TIME ON THE CLOCK,” I shouted, thinking that made a difference.

“In Hong Kong, the cars do not stop,” my friend said.  “You must pay attention.”

We turned down a narrow side street. Cars were not allowed. People bustled, shoulder to shoulder, grocery sack to grocery sack, carving out space amidst the shops, the pungent smells, the noise. The crowd was moving, faster in the middle, slower on the sides where the shouts were loudest.

Dried fish. Wet fish. Hanging meat. Cloth. Shoes. T-shirts. DVDs. Electronics. Hand bags–with designer labels–REALLY.

My friend held my camera so I could shop. I selected a present for my wife. My friend did the negotiating–back and forth.  The shopkeeper spoke in loud, harsh tones. He seemed to be angry. Then, he smiled and bowed. They exchanged money–my money–and I was given a beautiful silk scarf. I had no idea how much it cost. Walking away, I checked my currency conversion ap.

“Great deal, ” I said, stepping off the curb. “My wife will love it.”

My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me back onto the sidewalk.  A car zipped past as I looked up from my iPhone.

“Here,” he said, handing me back my camera. “you should take more pictures.”

Hong Kong Slice of Life

When I saw the Reggae Kung Fu poster, I asked my friend, a native of Hong Kong, if Jackie Chan was in town. I meant it as a joke. He didn’t laugh. He took me seriously.

“No. Unfortunately, Jackie Chan is not in town.” He said it as if he knew, at all times, where Jackie Chan actually was. And, he seemed disappointed he could not take me to meet Jackie Chan. He didn’t mention any Reggae artists.

Humor, especially with sarcasm, doesn’t translate well, mine, or his. My friend told me how much he loves Jackie Chan, how much the people of Hong Kong love Jackie Chan. But, he said, the movies made in Hong Kong look different than the movies made in the US.

“What’s the difference,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “They’re just different.”

He tried to show me some examples. Grittier, dirtier, darker, faster, more martial arts. “American movies make Hong Kong look…cleaner.”

“Show me your Hong Kong.”

He tried to. I think. The sites we filmed and photographed were carefully selected. I spent nearly a week in Hong Kong, this time, and I still don’t think I’ve seen the city, the ‘real’ city. After all, I couldn’t give a one sentence description. Big, tall, vibrant, energizing, fast paced, harried, smelly, busy, clean, dirty… I could use a dictionary and never run out of adjectives to describe Hong Kong. It is all of those things, and more. So, bear with me. I photographed the things I could see. Slice of Life? I hope so…