Evocation

Each trip to Scandinavia turns me into an even greater fan of that region than I already was. The Nordics put on a show each visit, treating me to a winter reminiscent of a past that I’m not sure even existed: Crisp winters, when the air is so cold that your breath condenses on your face, a low-hanging sun that reflects off the frozen lakes, and a relative quietness that blankets the cities. For this trip back to Stockholm, Pete flew in from New York while Max and I went up from Berlin, and we spent three days aimlessly wandering the streets, listing off our favorite Björk records, and drinking beer served by friendly but decidedly reserved personnel.

Ever since losing my camera, I have been playing with my old DSLR again, shooting clumsily from the hip and taking most pictures out of focus. Those shots you see above are the best ones I took all weekend, all from the Djurgården ferry that we took just as the sun went down over Södermalm. We stood on the deck with cold hands, watched the sun go down, and then went back under the roof, where a group of young Swedes clutched beer cans and shouted at each other. “That’s how properly do a boy’s weekend”, Max exclaimed, and we jumped off the boat to walk yet some more.

Anterior Future

From the excellent Iconic Photos blog, describing a photo Duncan Cameron of a seal hunt.:

Photography as a medium is always at its most powerful when it deals with ‘anterior future’ — images which foreshadows a future event good or ill (but mostly ill), such as photos taken before executions, at firing squads, or in disaster zones. Cameron’s image is one such: the ice floes looked so spotless, the baby seal so innocent, and the longing look of its mother in the background so heartrending that the anterior future here was particularly cruel.

Elegy

I have a picture of a Catholic saint leaning on my computer as I write this. It was given to me by an Italian colleague, who rushed to get as I told her that my camera had disappeared – “It has always brought me luck”, she said.

This is the kind of reaction I have got when I told others about the disappearance of my camera: It prompted shock, then empathy, followed by the question how it could have happened. I don’t really know, I would say: I had stuffed the camera into coat my pocket, went to this bar, and when I left the building, the camera was gone. Was it stolen? Perhaps. Did I drop it into the snow before entering? Perhaps. Did the discovery make the blood in my veins freeze? Certainly.

When I was growing up, my father had his trademark way of mitigating the pain of breaking an object. “Es ist nur ein Gebrauchsgegenstand”, he would say – “just a thing you use”; implying that wear and tear would whittle down even the most prized possessions. It’s a healthy attitude that I reminded myself of on the subway ride home, fists clenched in my empty coat pockets, knowing that a camera could easily be replaced.

I’ve lost a number of things over the years: Keys, glasses, sunglasses. I’ve also dropped a camera lens down a ravine and shattered multiple iPhone displays. “You can’t have nice things”, my friend Beth once told me, with a mix of pity and amusement on her face. I had come to accept this, but the disappearance of the camera felt different: much more personal than the loss of any other object. I loved this tiny, powerful camera that felt not just like a marvel of engineering but also like an extension of my eye. I’ve never had anything that let me so perfectly capture what I was seeing – and thereby document what I was noticing or thinking about.

I am suddenly a photographer without a camera and I can’t help but wonder whether that paradox should mean something. It’s a forced reset that comes at a time when I was wondering how to take my photography to another level: How to elevate it from mere picture taking to the craft of stringing those pictures together.

The grand irony of this story is how I spent my time at that bar: I was killing an hour before meeting a friend, and so I wrote some emails and researched cameras on the internet. My quest to rethink photography had created the impulse to splurge money on an even fancier device. It’s a common trap to believe that you’ll be more creative with better gear, and certainly one that I’ve fallen into in the past. What I realize now is that there’s a flip side to my dad’s saying: “just a thing you use” doesn’t just mean using something until it breaks. But also means making the most of it – with a sense of purpose.

Weekend Reads

1. Far Away From Here
Teju Cole, about his half-year residency in Switzerland, which he spent traveling around the country, taking photos with a film camera, and pondering what makes one’s work good and a place home.

Along the way, I felt the constant company of doubt: my lack of talent, my impostor’s syndrome, my fear of boring others. Every once in a great while, there was finally a superb picture, but when I looked at it the following week, I would see that it actually wasn’t very good: too obvious, too derivative. Three thousand photographs and three thousand doubts.

Read in “Known and Strange Things”, and on the New York Times Magazine.

2. How I Got My Attention Back
Craig Mod writes about a struggle I am too familiar with: How to stay focused in an age of distraction. His strategy? Going away from the internet – or at least turning on Do Not Disturb.

There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.

Found on Backchannel.

“I guess I want to do the impossible and therefore I do nothing.”
– Tina Mondotti

The Empty Streets

Memories tend to blur, even after just a few days. In my head, our trip to Norway looks like one long sunrise and sunset, but thankfully I have the pictures to match those memories: Standing on Oslo’s windy opera building or down by its fjord, waking up to its empty streets on new year’s morning. Back in the grayness of Berlin’s winter, it’s very hard not to daydream about emigrating to Norway.