HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Category: Photographic (Page 1 of 6)

Pouring Across the Iberian Peninsula

Iberian Road Trip Preamble

Above is the tentative itinerary now (after chatting with Tiffany and my ladyfriend), although I need to have The Mom’s take on it but the general direction is there. I’d like to maximize time in Portugal so i’ll probably rush the part in Spain or at least try to. Here is the general direction of the itinerary:

Iberian Road Trip Preamble

  • Wine (Tiffany has a contact for me to get close to the production)
  • The good the bad and the ugly
  • Craft beer (if i can, not as many as in other parts of europe of course)
  • Tiffany in Lisboa
  • The ocean shore
  • Actual balls (because “les rognons” are not actual balls, they are kidneys basically, and i do love rognons)
  • Maybe some dancing/music because the ladyfriend would kill me if i do not see/shoot some
  • Porto! (with the port wine of course)
  • Gugenheim in Bilbao
  • Sausage in Toulouse with some cassoulet if we are not dead by too much food by then!
  • and more… and possibly not what is mentioned ahah…madness.

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Seething Clouds on Turnagain Arm

Seething Clouds on Turnagain Arm

Clouds are the essence of balance. They are created from the heating of air and the condensing of water vapor in the air as it rises. As air rises it cools, decreasing the water vapor it can hold. As air descends, it warms and evaporates. Up and down go the countless billions tiny water droplets and ice crystals that make up clouds. Forming and deforming. The chemical process of changing moisture from a gas to liquid is a poetry of motion.

Seething Clouds on Turnagain Arm/h2>

Nowhere is this more spectacular than within mountain ranges. Air blowing over a mountain is forced upward and can develop swaths of clouds quickly, especially where air masses collide. Different air swarming in a valley masses can’t coalesce unless they share similarities in temperature and moisture content. Live Science tells us that “if a cold, dry air mass pushes into an air mass that is warm and moist, the warmer air is forced upward, rapidly producing clouds that bubble up, perhaps ultimately leading to lightning, thunder and showery-type rains. If the cold air retreats, warm air pushing over it can bring a much slower process of lowering and thickening clouds and finally light precipitation in the form of light rain, mist or drizzle.”

In the case of Turnagain Arm just southeast of Anchorage we often see air masses of warm, moist winter air off the ocean meeting the Chugach mountains where it cools, and creates some of the fiercest and fastest cloud formations in Alaska. Formations that, due to their microscopic crystalline composition of billions of tiny water droplets, are reflective as glass beads, scattering sunlight, and most often producing a white color. However they often take on the characteristics of the sun as well, making sheaths of clouds appear pink, orange, yellow, blue and so on.

The road to Kenai is a beautiful yet dangerous scenic byway. You never know what you may run into: a moose, a cloud or even a glacier (or all three). Enjoy the ride.

Eerie Beauty – Interview with Anna Tea

Eerie Beauty – Interview with Anna Tea

“Societies and cultures nowadays have merged yet they try to preserve some particular values they have and this this can be incredibly confusing thing to experience for young minds particularly as this is the time when one seeks to find him- or herself yet it can happen that the surrounding environment does not organically accept you, that they will make you know – you are not like us.”

–Anna Tea

Eerie Beauty – Interview with Anna TeaMeet Anna, a 21-year-old former Tourism student in Lublin, Poland. She grew up in a small, indistinct town known as Lutsk in Ukraine, studying music, fluent in Russian and Ukranian, as is the norm. Later on traveling and living in numerous European countries (Hungary, Poland, Romania, among others) in an effort to try to understand various cultures and meet different people. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

“Artists are Aliens,” she says, “but so are everyone else, too,” she probably thinks. The feeling of not belonging, of being unaccepted or simply confused are the motives behind much of her photography. The themes–represented by the forms of young Caucasian women in mundane situations–running through these etudes (Burning, Fantasy, Solitude, Void) depict the isolated emotional state of the teenager grown up, of the adolescent ostracism that reaches into adulthood and beyond. Yet it goes a step further in removing the traditional rite of passage from its place of origin. Displaced from the motherland and speaking a foreign language, the glue that holds us together is capitalism. The irony is that despite the rampant commercial globalization evident in some stage in all parts of the globe, there are cross-cultural signifiers which will always maintain preeminence, that which defines a given culture, and push the stranger to the outer limits, e.g. “We can all share a laugh over a Coke and our new Louis Vuitton but I am still (Insert Appropriate Nationality Here), so Fuck You.”

“I have reached the conclusion that not always it is possible to truly become part of the environment, not always one is able to fully blend into one’s space and sometimes it is better to observe everything from one’s own world – silently, carefully, patiently.” Though not technically proficient, she has adopted the I’ll Be Your Mirror version of travel street-photography and adapted it to fabricated scenes involving aspiring arthouse fashion models. The photographs feel as off-the-cuff as they do rehearsed and staged. Do they subvert some kind of traditional depiction of the European female or is it more of the anonymity of the superfluous consumer? Hard to say, so I had to ask Anna some more questions.

Eerie Beauty – Interview with Anna Tea

HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?

ANNA: When I was 14 years old. That was a 5mgpx digital camera, a present for my mum’s birthday. She agreed to give it to me to take photos of my friends during walking.

HESO: You have a distinct portfolio, turning traditional ideas about beauty, fashion and commercial photography on their head, giving many of them the look of grainy street photography.

ANNA: For me is very hard to say if I am a fashion or a fine art photographer. The line is sometimes invisible, I just do what I feel I wanna do or even have to do. I didn’t attend classes of photography where I could know what I do and see the difference in styles, know more about techniques, but I took photos instinctively, with no teachers around, no classes, no lessons. In fact, nobody can teach you to feel and to think. Also, while traveling I take photos, but I can’t say that I am a travel photographer, it is more like “not to miss the moment”. For memories.

HESO: Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa. Or is it not important? Explain.

ANNA: I use only digital camera, but in the future I am thinking of trying analog, just for comparing. As for me, I do not see any importance in gear, brand, price, etc. The important should be the idea and how artist presents it. I also like taking photos on my iPhone, sometimes I combine sets of photos taken on phone and camera, and for sure, not many people see any difference.

In my opinion, there is no beauty; there should be intriguing thing in personalities, people with zest, what I find inspiring! Click To Tweet

HESO: Many photographs have the feel of an art installation piece. Almost like a sculpture? Is this purposeful? To what end?

ANNA: Sometimes I feel calm and the photos look like sculptures. Sometimes I feel like burning inside and I want to make a fire. Photography is a way of meditation, reducing stress or keeping the feel of balance. I do it more subconsciously, on level of emotions, that I cannot control and don’t really want to. But lately I try to direct emotions toward ideas I have.

HESO: You get up in the morning, pick up your camera, where are you going?

ANNA: Every morning I say to myself: “This day is full of nice surprises.” And it is true! I pick up camera, when I already know what I will photograph. Before my shooting I prepare many things like finding the location, arranging models, preparing garments, sometimes I agree with make-up artists and hairdressers. And I like more shooting around 4pm or even later at home (I have small studio). Morning is not the time for new ideas for me.

HESO: Some of your photographs seem like stills from some film that hasn’t been made. Is this intentional? Do you like film? What particular genres? Favorites?

ANNA: I can spend the whole day watching movies! When I was a teenager I watched really many films, like every day. So, yeah, maybe it influenced on my photography style, it came earlier. My favorite directors are Jim Jarmush and Tim Burton. Films I can watch hundred times are “Leon Killer”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Night on Earth”.

Life is full of interesting things, I don’t have time for thinking of what to do. Click To Tweet

HESO: Some of your models are not the typical “Beautiful”, which is a good thing. What do you want to portray when you photograph the female face or body?

ANNA: Almost all models I found by myself when I was at school, now they are my close friends. I share ideas with them, I tell them stories and secrets, so the process of taking photos turned to be like a soul time. I don’t really think that they beautiful or not, it doesn’t mean anything! There are as many opinions as there are people about what is true beauty. In my opinion, there is no beauty; there should be intriguing thing in personalities, people with zest, what I find inspiring!

HESO: Who are your favorite photographers?

ANNA: Tim Walker, but I don’t really have time for following any photographers.

HESO: What do you do when you are not working?

ANNA: I am studying, I am traveling, sometimes paint, sometimes watch movies, read books, go to concerts, hang out with friends. Life is full of interesting things, I don’t have time for thinking of what to do.

HESO: What is your favorite food? If you could eat with anyone, alive or dead, in any time period in history, in any place, who, when and where?

ANNA: My granny is my favorite chef! Everything she cooks tastes delicious! The person who I wanted to meet but already cannot is Walt Disney! Could be nice to share my dinner with him, and my granny would be also happy to bake some fairy cakes for him.

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

One of the best thing in the countryside are the encounters with ladies carrying around an amazing amount of stuff (often on their head), some of them do it with very curious and beautiful (if not totally outdated fashion wise) outfits. She had a smile to warm up a dead body

What is race? How does it work? For example, what does humanity’s racist tendencies of the past have to do with current economic world order? Ethnology assumes that race and racism are extremely powerful social and cultural forces at work everywhere in the world. And that we, as humans, seek lessons for generalizing about modern society and the contemporary global order. But specific questions need to be asked too: what are the structural dimensions of race and racism (social, political, and economic inequality) and what are the cultural dimensions (artistic forms of humanistic expression, as well as politics)? How do they differ from country to country? If one were to take two island nations–Japan and Madagascar–and compare their societies, it would seem that the Malagasy would come in a far second to one of the most powerful economies as rich in cultural history as the Japanese. But why? Unfortunately the answers are never easy. But with effort and experience we hope to gain insight. Though the following article is not a comparison nor a study of two separate, unrelated countries, but rather about research and communication, we place a special focus on an old practice with a new name: ethno-photography. It will be described as an analog and digital bridge for science and communication; as a platform for resource users to showcase their points of view; and as an amplifier to research for development.

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

–by Arnaud De Grave & Patrick O. Waeber

A brief glance at Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

This little dude is a Gentle lemur (also known locally as bandro, or under his scientific name Hapalemur alaotrensis) from Lake Alaotra; it seems not so sure whether to enjoy the sun and breeze while softly rocking on the top of a reed stem, or rather be concerned about the pirogue lurking in closest vicinity.

Madagascar, renowned for its unique flora and fauna, one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots on earth, has a lot to carry in terms of suffering. The nation has been through five years of a transitional administration under the leadership of a former DJ, during which economic disorder and international isolation has weighed heavily on its people. Presidential and legislative elections finally took place in Madagascar in December 2013. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, according to the New York Times the president with the longest surname in history, assumed his role on 25 January 2013. Immediately thereafter, the African Union and Southern African Development Community lifted their suspensions, followed by the European Union’s development program; monetary institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reinstated their development funds. Hope for better times?

According to some, the power shift was merely a cosmetic make-over. The political situation remains fragile, and the new government has to deal with a lot of “challenges”, to say the least, which have been ongoing for long times, and will likely and unfortunately continue to carry on: Highest poverty rates, highest birth rates, highest school drop-outs, increasing in-transparency in governance, increasing illegal exportations of precious natural resources. Nevertheless, the new government started to take action by creating more presence in previously neglected regions in Madagascar, and according to Rajaonarimampianina’s speech on 25 September 2014 in front of the UN General Assembly in New York, declared that “Our primary goal is to bring our people out of their precarious situation” (…) “the aim…is to transform Madagascar into a food hub in the region” referring to increased investments into agriculture.

Inside Madagascar’s Bread Basket: Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Local marshlands are at risk to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it

In terms of rice and inland-fish production the Alaotra-Mangoro region, one of 22 in Madagascar, is the country’s current food hub. Constituting the largest wetland system, the Lake Alaotra wetland’s surrounding marshlands deliver crucial cultural and ecosystem services such as water, medicinal plants, fish stock, while hosting unique wildlife such as the Alaotra gentle lemur, a primate species living constantly in marshlands. The wetland is the third out of currently nine Ramsar sites in Madagascar since 2003 (The Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources). The Malagasy government added further importance to the conservation and biodiversity values of the region by inscribing the system as new Protected Area in 2007. To be ratified as a Protected Area (the marshlands are risking to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it…), a management plan, currently in the making, is badly needed.

Forests? Of course, there are also some beautiful forests full of biodiversity (more than 80% of all described animal species in Madagascar depend on forests), but they are largely locked up in parks and reserves. The rest of the landscape is dominated by agricultural production (a significant portion is also for self-subsistence, with a majority of the 550,000+ people engaging in small-scale farming), and a vast extant of open grasslands, which are low in nutrients and hence difficult to use for farming production.

Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and… Click To Tweet

Governing the complexity

So, we have mentioned forests. Check. Outside protected areas, there are still ‘forests’, but many are degraded (or actually burned in order to be used for agriculture), and either have been transformed into something like ‘agro-forestry’ (though generally rare, and more on the ‘agro’ side than ‘forestry’), dominated by a few species such as fruit trees, or plantations. Besides being the rice granary of the island, the Alaotra is also leader in terms of plantations (with the usual suspects: acacia, eucalyptus, pine) for wood production but a lot is used also for energy consumption. Wood charcoal is still the number one energy source in Madagascar.

There are a impressive number of institutions responsible for governing the various dimensions of this complex human-environmental system: Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water and Forests, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Livestock, Ministry of Mining. There are remarkable overlaps of responsibilities requiring some coordinated planning, a challenging thing, …and you’ll also understand that communication, i.e., the receiving and delivering of information, between these institutions (but also between the decision makers and resource users on the ground) becomes a key part in this governance undertaking.

Research in the Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The AlaReLa logo represents 3 main ecosystems: in yellow the open grasslands, in blue the wetlands, and in green the forests.

Given we are working in the realms of NRM (natural resources management), we first started creating an acronym (technocrats are very fond of acronyms; not that we would label ourselves as such, but we are, as said in NRM realms): “AlaReLa”, the name of our research for development project, stands for Alaotra Resilience Landscapes. In brief, this research aims to provide tools to the various stakeholders of the Alaotra human-environment system to strike a balance in the governance between development (or agricultural production thereof) and conservation (there are crucial ecosystems for biodiversity and people). Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and agriculture. This sounds very ambitious, and it probably is! Nonetheless, we, a consortium of several research and conservation institutions use a three-prong approach: understanding, exploring, communicating– with the latter being ongoing throughout the duration of the project, and beyond.

How do we do it?

Well, we talk and we listen. Sounds simple, right? To tackle the understanding portion of this research, we use a variety of disciplinary approaches (e.g., ecology, sociology, remote sensing) to create a picture of this complex human-environmental system. The exploration consists of collectively developing models (in our case role playing games and board games such as Settlers of Catan©) to test collectively agreed scenarios. For this, we sit together with the various resource users and decision makers to describe the challenges of NRM, to identify and link the key actors and resources of the system which may be prone to change (such as environmental, economic, political, etc.). In applying this participatory modeling approach, the underpinning philosophy is communication. By gaming various NRM situations, we bring together key stakeholders of the system; we listen, we (the researchers) and they (the stakeholders from the Alaotra) both learn, and we reformulate questions. During this process new questions and surprises can emerge which were not evident from the start of the project. To sum up, we all gain a better understanding of how processes or dynamics work (this is our overarching assumption).

But let’s elaborate on the term “communication” a bit further; here we explore and present a rather new avenue of communication in research. We decided to ask a photographer to be part of the AlaReLa project, here is what he has to say…Arnaud! Your turn.

In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. Click To Tweet

An innovative approach to dissemination of research

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Shooting from a moving pirogue is no picnic! I had to do it while standing [Note from Patrick: almost 20 minutes!] to be able to get a shot of a baby bandro. I earned the respect of the fishermen that day, and got the picture of the beast.

There is a need to be innovative in environmental sciences, involving locals and the approach described in the former paragraph explains one of the ways the AlaReLa project is doing this. However, there is also a lack of communication for all this science to actually mean something! Having been an academic myself (in various unrelated fields, do not ask on which fields, I still have some sense of decency) I do think that there is a conundrum in the way research and particularly the publication/reference/quotes system performs and sometimes clutter the way knowledge is produced. Writings by scientists for other scientists is needed, the peer review system is sound. But maybe there is a need to reach further and with more tangible effects for a more perennial outcome; so one has to find other ways to enter people’s field of view. Art could be this entrance. Or rather art could be the metaphorical foot blocking said-door. The AlaReLa team decided to continue being innovative and incorporate a photographer in the project, from start to finish, not only for pure documentation… Somebody who could invest more than a couple of weeks to go on site and maybe sleep on the floor and get bitten by bugs and almost killed a couple of times for being too noisy in shady bars. I was happy to oblige.

I decided to call this activity Ethno-photography. How does it work? The “ethno-” means a humanistic approach and long stays, with local involvement through iteration in the picture selection (and shooting) process and through potential collaboration with local photographers. We should be able to use photography as support for the project research results, or even provide more information, a different point of view, visual narration for data… That is where my (second) academic background came in handy. Let’s spill the beans: I re-educated myself in Forest Ecosystems management recently.

It is not all fun and games though… One of my biggest fear was (and still is) to depict the locals throughout the lens of Neo-Colonialism or Post-Colonialism or Neo-Post-Colonialism, et al. I am a Caucasian male of 40, born and raised in a “rich” country (France, of all places, has a, er, rich and complex history with Madagascar). Whether I like it or not, my views are tainted. By overthinking it sometimes, as well. So I had to find a way to make sure this vision I was to bring back was a vision shared with the depicted people, as real a picture as possible. Of course, paradigms, lenses, etc. Here is the way the AlaReLa team and I tried to overcome this issue. The project was separated in three distinct phases:

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The modus-operandi was simple: wander around, pick some good one, negotiate (sometimes with the help of an interpreter – phd student, local project manager, etc.) and shoot. While the picture was self-developing, write “AlaReLa project 2014” on it and make a scene of drying it and all… give it to the model and try to escape the hordes of people wanting to get one as well. Repeat later, farther… I tried to get a wide variety of models: kids, teenagers, workers, old folks, both genders. I then asked them to be pictured with their instant-photo by joking that my boss wouldn’t believe me that I worked if he had no proof! There is nothing better than the common enemy of “the big boss” to make friends…

1. Discovery – I followed two Malagasy PhD students during their field work and, without previous knowledge (i.e., without having done my homework and read a lot about the country and its history), took a first harvest of pictures…

2. Iteration – With the first batch of pictures it is possible to identify some gaps in the stories we want to narrate and complete the set. However, the most important for me is to go back to the same spots (and more of course) and to show a selection of these pictures to the locals, asking them what is missing. For instance, let’s say I was dumb enough not to take any pictures of Zebus, there is a strong chance people will ask me something like “Dude, where are the zebus!” Zebus are an important element of local life, from social prestige to more economical reasons, which is of course linked. It is my belief that, by combining my view and theirs through this iteration, an accurate picture of the life in this socio-ecological-economical system can be achieved. I do hope that something beyond the obvious will emerge from this ping-pong with the locals. Nonetheless, we already know that I need more pictures of people working and a more varied selection of activities: fishing, cooking and farming, but also charcoal making, hunting, illegal alcohol making, etc.

3. Display / Outreach – The final outcome for the photography part of this project is a transdisciplinary exhibition, coupling photography and environmental sciences, in various locations. A first formal collaborative exhibition at a cultural institution in the capital Antananarivo with a local photographer (I am in negotiation with the French Cultural Center, the only way to have good wine at the opening…) will be organized. Then we will bring a selection of the pictures, printed on tarp, to each village where I was staying when doing, er, let’s call that field work, that sounds like science. Each time we will try to have a party and create a cultural event. Following these, the exhibition will constitute a package that will be proposed at scientific conferences as a support for the presentations of AlaReLa researchers’ work. First results were shown with a presentation and an exhibition in April (2015) at the GTOe conference in Zurich. This is aimed at bridging the gap between art and science or, to get back to our metaphor, put the shoulder in the door-frame previously blocked by the metaphorical foot.

The photography in itself has also been thought/designed to be multidisciplinary (within reason and within photography techniques) and serves different purposes. Digital colour photography is used to document the work of the AlaReLa researchers; it can be used rather quickly for Internet visibility (even during the stay, as shown on my flickr Madagascar set) and later by the researchers for their publications, reports, etc, all using creative-commons licensing. For the “art” part I use mostly black and white analogue film photography. It is beyond the scope of this article to debate of the pros and cons of film photography or to inflame any church wars, though let me just say this is a personal choice and modus operandi, not any kind of statement. The selection of which type of camera(s) to use and why is also beyond the scope of this article but to satisfy the photography-freaks amongst the readers here is my setup: I used two Voigtlander Bessas (R3M and R4A) with 3 lenses: 21mm, 35mm and 50mm, shooting Ilford HP5 and FP4 film, depending on the wind direction and my moods. The use of rangefinders helped me to get quickly close to people and be rather unobtrusive, but this set-up is limited for portraiture or details such as hands, etc. I will undoubtedly change this for the second phase. In addition to that I carried around with me a Fuji Instax camera and gave away about 70 to 80 portraits. This helped me connect with people and led to a lot of memorable encounters. Moreover it left behind a trace of my passage (each instant picture I labeled “AlaReLa project 2014”) and a tacit promise of return.

That is all good but what is the gain for the locals? Obviously they get the opportunity and the ability to bring their own point of view through the process and through the collaboration with local photographers during the final exhibitions. We’ll see how that goes. In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. In addition, as the stays are long there are possibilities for me to share some of what I do: photography, self-publication, association creation, etc. During the first phase I gave a workshop on how to run a small photography association (BOP – the infamous “Bricolages Ondulatoires & Particulaires” collective) and try to publish artifacts to a group of photographers from Antananarivo.

This is of course still a work in progress. My second stay is planned for the end of 2015 and the AlaReLa team and I already have some ideas to go beyond what was done in phase one. However, the results from phase one are very encouraging and some of the objectives have already been reached.


POW: from Zoology (behavior of monkeys) via forestry (behavior of trees under changing climate and disturbance regimes), to complexity (monkeys, trees, non-tree environments, and people). Co-founder of Madagascar Wildlife Conservation; Madagascar Conservation & Development scientific journal (MCD) editor. Currently post-doc-ing at ForDev ETH Zurich and coordinating the AlaReLa project.

ADG: from manufacturing engineering and design (sociology of metrology, integrated design of MEMS) to forestry (sociology of forest management around ski resorts) to innovative eco-technology (Mycoremediation with Polypop Industries) and ethnophotography of sciences… BOP president and co-founder, editor and designer of the BOP Photo Analogies magazine; MCD layouter.

Skylines Hong Kong

Skylines Hong Kong

Skylines Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a perfect example of a seemingly finite universe in which a quite small amount of land has been pointed toward a certain kind of efficiency–building up and down rather than outward–in effect searching for ways to find space within rather than without. With its background as imperial playground and now its multi-cultural identity going far to define it as China-but-not, Hong Kong is a perfect place to get (very) lost and still feel warmly surrounded and enclosed by people of all makes and models.

Skylines Hong Kong

Shrine to all the Night bats

KOWLOON is a big beautiful sewer, awash with gorgeous rats. Humid and rife with an armada of smells in her harbor: smells of the sea and shit, dim sum and diapers, tobacco and Tsing Tao. I’m staying where I always stay in Asian cities: in the ghetto with the illegals and no names, foreigners and prostitutes, criminals and the working class- a crowd which Jesus would approve, the lifeblood as it were, and then there are the ubiquitous touts on every corner proffering fake Rolex, real hash, faux Gucci, real women, ersatz Versace, real annoyance- this is Nathan Road. I am targeted for my pigment, my melanin. 8 of 10 apparently being too dark-skinned to be dollar rich, the random Brit and I (not together mind you) walking the wide crowded boulevard, remain the only recipients of such special offers as Pressure Point foot massages, exquisitely tailored almost-Armani suits and of course the superfluous Chinese Virgin…”Comes with the set meal!” I expect to hear next, yet somehow don’t. The thought arises concerning job security in this latter category, though knowing the Chinese’s affinity for their daughters, most likely not something to give a lot of thought to.

Here in this part of the city, on these long traversive roads, one tends to walk faster than any double-decker tourist special. One weaves and bobs like a prize fighter in training, with that special glint in the eye focusing toward some future destination. Though if those eyes should linger too long on any would be prize, if too much interest be shown in any merchandise, human or otherwise, the possibility of being pestered and followed for blocks by a never-ending flow of Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian or other-blooded touts looms too large for comfort. So I walk on, turn corners, round blocks, repeat, retrace, I check out a possible restaurant in two to three passes before committing, whereupon I do not stand outside like some pasty German in overly tight safari shorts with his fat wife gawking at the plastic display. No. But rather walking in, in full stride, head up high with eyes scanning, sitting as strategically as possible (for a potentially quick getaway should it be needed) and I order the local beer as quickly as possible.

The truth is I enjoy all these things to a certain extent- the dirt, the constant pestering, the humidity, the walking, the smell of the earth, the sweat, blood, and genitals all intermingling in intimate proximity to fellow humans, swarthy or not. Though they reside at the periphery of my journey, though I pass them by, they too matter. They also are part of the process. For what I seek is simple, friends. What I seek is food. And no matter how much shit I have to trudge through to reach my destination, sometimes known sometimes not, I shall pass.

It's the BBQ prawns which I can't get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the second order, blindingly hot wrapped around thick chunks of bamboo, hot and sweet, washed down with a second tallboy of Tsing Tao. Visions… Click To Tweet

Skylines Hong Kong

Restructuring Hong Kong Night & Day

As diverse as Hong Kong is English is everywhere. Good English too, at least compared to the Japanese. The Chinese are Asia’s consummate businessmen and thusly realize the power of properly utilized linguistics. Most any restaurant I walk in to has an English menu, albeit offering slightly inflated prices, telling me of the: oceans of shrimp, ox tail, beef tongue, pork neck, duck wing, camel hoof, shark fin, turtle soup- the translation of which leads me to actually knowing what I shall soon be served as opposed to (yet another) bout of random pointing at Chinese Characters, because though the businessmen of Hong Kong do know their English, the citizenry have yet to learn word one, nor do they care to, especially the wait staff, it would seem.

Having gotten my beer and a roomful of odd stares from the customers (none of whom are drinking anything but tea with their dinner), I down a few glasses of the ice cold Tsing Tao and kick back, preparing the various soy and sweet chili sauces. But here comes my order- nothing fancy for dinner- BBQ prawns fried in sugarcane, the Vietnamese veggie harumaki- fat thumbsized bastards all of them, come with a plate of lettuce the mama-san mimes me to wrap the spring roll in and then dip in the strong chili paste, and finally my weakness, some octopus tentacles. It’s the BBQ prawns which I can’t get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the second order, blindingly hot wrapped around thick chunks of bamboo, hot and sweet, washed down with a second tallboy of Tsing Tao. Visions of cows and their two stomachs float by, but I’ve already ordered more than usual, so I finish my beer and pass on, rolling a smoke outside and venturing onto the next joint.

Skylines Hong Kong

A Misty View From Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

The Chinese are nighthawks, up all hours selling, buying, eating, drinking, smoking, touting, pimping, dealing, double-dealing, even perhaps loving. The opportunity for good food, good photos, strange conversations, illicit meetings, dark alley connections, neon-lit exclamations, convenience store forays, porn-mag expeditions, brothel look-sees never ends. Then there’s still the endless sidewalk running alongside this British-dubbed Nathan Road, walled in on all sides by a million different nationalities, all vying for one more Hong Kong Dollar. Well friends, tonight I’m buying. Anyone know a good place for snake, boar, bear, pigeon or raccoon at 5am?

The day starts a deep dark gray and seems to settle that way, as if it likes it just fine. The streets wet from rain or the perpetual sweat the city secretes from its myriad glands, I cannot tell. The touts at their posts already, yawning yet with eyes apeel for the day’s fresh white meat. Sipping a mango smoothie, I makeway through morning traffic with one thing on my mind: dim sum. A local points me toward Happy Market Noodle Factory recommending the congee. I find it, walk in and sit while the mama-san impatiently taps her foot as I sip my tea and take in the 10 page menu she just slammed down on the sticky table.

I say “Beer” motioning big as she husks off whispering something to the other 8 waitresses lounging about beneath strange posters of various mostly deep-fried flora and fauna, all looking eerily similar. I need the time it takes her to get my beer so as to justify my slow perusal of the menu’s breadth and overall depth of selection. I imagine myself a fortune cookie maker: “One must take their time when ordering so as not to miss the menu’s secret back-alley specials.” Somewhere a gong carols. Birds flap off. A baby cries.

Mama comes back and I know another drink won’t keep her from tossing me out, so I order a mudfish congee to appease her and keep scanning, my eyes jitterbugging back and forth past typical boring, safe tourist fare. I linger a bit over shark fin soup, but can’t bring myself to sanction such brutality. The ox-ball dumplings in oyster sauce with braised bok choy sounds good. Never had testicles before. Penis yes. Testes no. That’ll serve nicely as an apres-main and for the second course…it’s then I see it, big and posterized above a waitress picking her nose: Deep Fried Pigeon.

My choice is made. Screw dim sum. I. Must. Have. Pigeon. My mouth, which before had merely been expecting testicles, now goes into salivary overproduction mode. My belly rumbles and rolls in anticipation. My fingers even begin surreptitiously to move toward my lips, preparing to be licked. As if a sudden case of low blood sugar has set in, I have the shakes. I’m flushed and prickly. My dick is hard.

Skylines Hong Kong

This Little Hong Kong Pigeon Won’t Be Flying Far

I head to the bathroom to steady myself, throw water on my face. Looking in the mirror I flash on my ex-girlfriend and her vocal disgust for what she termed “flying rats”. What would be her reaction to my breakfast choice: would she hug me to her bosom for ridding the world of one more foul beast or revile me in disgust for putting such a vile, dirty creature across my lips?

Shrugging, I head back to my table, passing the kitchen, full of a fresh delivery of duck carcasses, some brown and crispy-skinned, others pale and limp, all piled next to various heaps of pig legs, necks, feet, cow tongues, ox tails, and what look like a bevy of genitalia all queued up for the big Oak-round cutting board and that mad-eyed Kahn lookalike with the cleaver in his hand and blood on his apron. Steam floats about in all directions, whistling and shooting like from old locomotives, while small, angular men in white wield knives with deadly accuracy, moving with a precision memorized by muscles years ago. There is no waste. Not in animal nor in preparation. It is a pleasure to watch.

It is only then I notice my the pounding in my ears. Suddenly everything’s sped up. My pulse ascending to double beats. Blood rushing to the surface of my clammy skin. My walk is thick and loud like slow motion through a bog. I imagine MSG poisoning feels like this. Was the bear liver I had yesterday bad? The Panda anus not quite bacteria free?

It’s nothing. Nerves. Excitement. Sexual rush. I get back to my table and, steaming and popping in grease rivulets, here comes my pigeon. It’s smaller than I expected, though defeathered, what isn’t? As it’s served whole (it’s fried little head, eyes and beak rendered so perfectly…adorable) I glance at my chopsticks, then at the bird, then at my steady surgeon hands and I have at it, dropping the chopsticks and tearing into it. Literally ripping it in half and sucking all I can out of its fried little ass. There are no barriers anymore.

I flay the skin from its neck and, peeling up and over the head, I bite down until it breaks between my teeth, sucking out all the marrow from the neck bones. I slurp at the eyes, test the beak, chaw on the spine. I want to consume it whole. And not for my ex and for anyone who ever hated on one of these so-called winged rodents, but instead to take the yoke off of its much maligned back and put it on mine. Suddenly I see a light. I hear beautiful singing. And then I know.

From now on little fellow, in eating you, in consuming you whole, sins and all, I relieve you of your earthly burdens and take them for myself. From this point forward Brother Pigeon, I feel your pain, just like all the clawed, taloned, hoofed, scaled and winged animals I have taken your deliciousness into my body and allowed to strengthen me in my journey to rid the world of treachery toward our collective. Thank you, brother, for your life, tasty as it was, given unwillingly, has now become mine and until I can no longer eat another of your winged kin, can step no longer to the cutting board to declaw you, can no longer chew my own food, I will live this life in strength and peace, pursuing wisdom and offering respect to all those who seek to enlighten us on our collective journey down the Right Path.

A photographic work-in-progress focusing on the communities in which we reside and the lines, sometimes invisible sometimes not, that connect us. This project began in Hong Kong in 2007 documenting how we layout, build, maintain and ultimately view ourselves within the large-scale cityscapes in which we move to and fro, work and live, love and kill. Suggesting not only what we see before us but also the larger and more mysterious nature of the cities and therefore the societies that we make, as well as their reverberations spreading outward from the center to the fringes. I remain fascinated by exploring new places with my camera and a few rolls of film, after which revisiting old places provides me a parallax perspective, fresh ideas and new insight into how we continue to add to the world of our forefathers and mothers.

The Spires of Watts Towers

Watts Towers – Nuestro Pueblo

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

                                       — John Augustus Shedd (1859 – ?), Salt from My Attic (1928)

Cities, more and more, represent waste, inefficiency and indentured servitude within an unnatural and unhealthful setting that is inhospitable to humans. But what can you do? You were likely born in one, raised and currently live and work in one, and probably see no problem at all with this situation. You have been brainwashed by police dramas on cable television and fashion magazines and 24-hour news cycles that need and fear are the primary human emotions. Indeed you most definitely enjoy being surrounded by the Energy of the City, the buzz of traffic and hum of electrical lines criss-crossing the grid, beneath which strangers just like you search out on their smart phones the newest restaurants and bars, go to 3D movies and shop at miniature stores in shopping malls nested atop concrete parking lots, where you chomp on foodlike substances and slurp down overly sugared coffee drinks before getting into whatever vehicle the carsalesman convinced you you couldn’t live another day without to drive back to the apartment/condo/townhouse/duplex/highrise/brownstone you live in to unpack your new gear before adding another nth of unbiodegradable rubbish to the invisible pile of garbage on which our foundations founder.

But this is a must for most. We don’t know any better. And if we do it doesn’t matter. We have to work to survive, to pay the bills, to afford some little comforts and conveniences in otherwise unexciting stomp to the grave. As Emily Haines of Metric disdainfully sings in Handshakes, “Buy This Car To Drive To Work / Drive To Work To Pay For This Car.”

Start a farm and grow your own vegetables? Impossible! Buy a boat and sail around the world – HA – Pipedream!

Watts Towers – Nuestro Pueblo

Andy Warhol may have asserted that everything has been done and there is nothing original left, and all of life’s new days are full of government regulation and legalese, but within the life of duty to work and family and country and local football team and softdrink, there are chances to aspire to more. Between each breath there is the specter of death, driving us to grasp the manic and surreal images from within our dreams and blow life into them. The effort to create something from nothing but your only slightly intelligible mindscape is called visualization and one of the things that make humans special.

Simon Rodia, the diminutive Italian immigrant who constructed the Watts Towers by hand —alone— out of steel rods looped with spoked circular hoops rising to over 100 feet, who had no formal architectural training, once said, “I had it in mind to do something big and I did it.” Yet the towers, under construction from 1921 until 1954 and often the target of civic demolition campaign, have been proven more structurally sound than many modern edifices. The towers are more than the sum of their structurally sound steel reinforced rods. Artistically composed of a mosaic of blue and green glass bottles, various kinds of seashells, shards of pottery, multicolored tile and other locally found materials, remarkably, they are not merely towers at all. Viewed from within, one can see that the towers that poke into the often blue sky of south central Los Angeles are instead the masts that stem from the hull of an unsailable ship, one supposedly pointing toward Rodia’s homeland. in a way the towers represent both a dream come to fruition as well as a dream unfulfilled. From the mind of one man sprang one of the only culturally profound sites in the southland (other than the La Brea Tar Pits, which perhaps represent the yin to Rodia’s yang–the inward breath of life rather than outward aspiration–the sucking in rather than the blowing out), and yet it’s very shape and meaning are one that will never come to pass for Mr. Rodia, who passed away in the mid-60s. It is symbolic that to get to Watts Towers, the brave traveler must venture through some unsavory and potentially dangerous terrain, but what trip that means anything is not fraught with peril? What ship is meant to stay in harbor?

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Honke Owariya – Best Soba in Kyōto

The Soba War

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

A Slice of Seasonal Heaven – Roasted Duck (鴨せいろ)

Visualize if you will, a spry young man in his work kimono, made of an easy to clean light fabric, walking down the dirt-paved roads of the old capital Kyōto to the clickety-clackety of hundreds of Japanese sandal-wearing passers-by as they go about their daily business. He smiles and nods to his acquaintances while the deciduous trees rain orange and red fires of leaves all around. With a wave of the hand, a quick konnichiwa to his neighbors, and a right turn past the entrance curtains our man enters his shop. A small storefront with a tiny garden pond to the left and a backroom for kneading, mixing and baking makes up the modest shop, all separated by the thinnest of rice-paper shoji sliding doors, yet somehow keeping the cool autumn breeze from disturbing the still sun-dappled air of the fine-milled flours and powdered sugars floating like benevolent ancestral ghosts around the confectionery. The year is 1465 in Nakagyo-ward, just south of the grounds of the Emperor’s palace, and you have entered Honke Owariya, which although new, has quickly become one of the favored shops of the imperial family. Sadly the Ōnin War, which will begin in just two short years and will last ten, destroys most of the city, scatters the population, and renders the emperor powerless: not exactly auspicious timing.

Maybe our man hides out until after the war, all the while perfecting his deliciously sweet an (餡) paste, the emperor’s favorite mochi (餅) and the traditional jellies of tokoro ten (ところ天). Maybe an influential member of the emperor’s cortege comes calling telling you His Highness really loves simple fare, like Soba and should you decide to take advantage of the large natural water table upon which the city lies (thanks to its beneficial situation in the Yamashiro basin of the Tanba Highlands) to extend your talented hand into making the best dashi soup stock around, your legacy might still be around in the year 2000. Thankfully that or something like that is exactly what happened, which is why we still have Honke Owariya, arguably the oldest restaurant in Kyōto- which would likely make it the oldest in Japan- 544 years later.

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Monks always say: 壊れてもいないものを直すべからず (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

When you are invited by the family to stay at the restaurant itself, and they casually drop that it was established in 1465, your mind begins to go numb. These kinds of numbers don’t mean anything to Americans. 544 years of uninterrupted service means that they had already been serving soba for more than 300 years by the time the thirteen British colonies got off their lazy arses and decided to unify into the U.S.A. The soup I was slurping was older than my own country’s constitution, and much more delicious, which made me wonder, 1) just exactly who are these soba-mongers? and 2) what’s the difference between their product and the stuff you buy at the store?

That first talented young patisserie chef who came from Nagoya along with some members of the imperial family, worked hard to turn the shop from strictly sweets to the soba du jour. Generally considered an everyman’s dish, fit for laymen as well as for a king- the initial proprietor Denzaemon (でんざえもん)- as has been named every master behind the Owariya (尾張屋) symbol- has passed down the recipe alongside the name from father to son since the end of the Muromachi and into the Edo period, until today. While the building itself has changed over that time, the shop has been located on the same soil- despite war, fire, and other misfortunes which prevailed upon a Japan still searching for its national identity during the violence of the 15-19th centuries- since 1465. Only open for lunch, the current establishment- a multi-leveled wooden building which can seat over 50 guests comfortably, and located down a sleepy side-street near the Karasuma-Oike subway station- has been in use since the early part of last century, the 1920s or 30s. Barring another civil war, a massive fire, an earthquake of great magnitude, a genealogical dry spell or any other potential disaster already having occurred in the storied history of Kyōto (Mothra’s Revenge perhaps?), the current incarnation could be around for another five hundred years.

Honke Owariya – Best Soba in Kyōto

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

As an apprentice this is as grandiose as his day gets

But what exactly is soba? According to Owariya, soba “are thin grey noodles made from sobako, or buckwheat flour.” Depending on which area of Japan you live, they range in percentages of purity from 100% juu-wari inaka-soba (Nagano) to mixtures containing various wild mountain yams, green tea and even mugwort. It ranges from the traditional kaiseki-esque 500 + year-old stuff of Owariya (who do an excellent sobazushi by the way) all the way to small shacks serving bowls of the stuff as fast, cheap food for businessmen who don’t have five minutes to sit. Despite sounding a bit mundane, soba has become by far my favorite Japanese food, so much so that I still slurp up the thick dark buckwheaty goodness of sansai-soba (country veggie) at the standing fast food noodle joint in Matsumoto whenever I head back that way. How, you ask, is it so highly favored among the blue bloods, the proletariat and, of course, foreigners like myself? Despite the ancient mama-san trying to hurry you up to free space for the next customer in line, the important thing is to go slow. In order to be able to appreciate the finer subtleties amidst a symphony of salaryman slurps, you have got to eat it often and eat a lot of it. Which shouldn’t prove a problem, as according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition eating buckwheat, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. Another benefit would be eating the 100% juu-wari soba for people with wheat allergies (it’s a fruit seed, which does not contain protein glutens). Ok, enough with the history and the health benefits, we get it already, so what, it’s good for you and allergy freaks can eat it too…can we see what’s all the fuss at Owariya?

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Kamo Seiro (鴨せいろ) – Autumn Duck in fish stock

Duck is as seasonal as it gets in the old capital. At Owariya talk around the green tea cooler has it that the cook hunts the birds himself. True or not, this dish, Kamo Seiro (warm soba noodles with warm roasted duck in warm tsuyu dipping sauce), a close relative to Kamo Nanban (warm soba noodles with leeks), another Kyōto autumn / winter favorite, is masterful. Something about the autumn air and the changing colors makes people, especially Japanese people, and even more especially Kyōtoans, long for a taste of the season, and not being especially close to any seaside the people of the Imperial City generally agree: what does that better than roast duck? The crispy skin is like the falling leaves crunched underfoot as you walk in the chill dusk evening toward your lady friend’s house, the centimeter thick layer of beautifully textured fat redolent of the bearskin rug before the hearth of the roaring fire which throws flame light on the open bottle of vintage old world Pinot noir said lady friend is holding, and finally past the skin and beneath the fat comes the tender flesh, reminiscent of the autumnal elements, of the mingling of fire and air, and as you bite down and union is achieved, you taste the fine seiro fish stock now with a hint of oaky barbecue added as ballast and realizing that this meal too, perfectly balanced as it is by the light buckwheat noodles awash in their own sobayu, like others, will pass, you slow down. Taking your time now, you look out the window and watch the people passing and the wind blowing the leaves to that far off sea. Things inevitably change, but thankfully some things do not.

Craft Beer - What's On Tap for 2015

Craft Beer – What’s On Tap for 2015

Craft Beer – What’s On Tap for 2015

2014 was a blur of craft beer. It feels as if I was finally awakened to all of life’s infinite malt possibilities, but I know that it’s just the beginning. 2015 promises to be equally exciting and full of new and delicious surprises. The big ABV boys were out at play in the barley fields of the lord. Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, and New Belgium led the way for the craft beer industry, but limited run ales, as well as multiple hopped IPAs from Lagunitas, Rogue Ales, Brooklyn Brewery, Stone, Dogfish Head, Boulevard, Harpoon, Deschutes sold out regularly throughout the US and the Double IPA saw a large showing as well. Stronger beer seemed to be what was on the menu. But in order to grow beyond the roughly 5% market share they currently possess in the domestic market, smaller craft breweries will have to diversify. It looks like we could be in for a wave of lighter, flavored and session brews running anywhere from a demure 4%- to a slightly less timid 6% ABV. 2015 will be the year of the Wheat Shandy and the Milk Stout. Here’s the rundown of what 2014 tasted like. And cheers to the new year!

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