I have a few questions that I hope some of you bloggers can answer for me.
- How many of you use some form of auto-posting to publicize your post? I use IFTTT recipes and as convenient and great as they are, I am starting to get the feeling that it's noticeable and has negative effects on my readership. Essentially, it looks impersonal and something done out of habit, which I don't think holds a very high appeal rating. When I think about it, the steps it would take to personalize a tweet, for example, would only take a minute longer. But instead of having some weird, automated "hey look at this" tweet, I could say something about the post, maybe add in an appropriate hashtag, and actually tweet at somebody if necessary.
- What photo challenges would y'all recommend getting into on WP? I have a lot of processed-and-ready-to-post photographs that I think would benefit from being tagged with some sort of challenge instead of the redundant "here's a photo from there" formula. I just wanted to spruce up my blogging and make it more interesting for myself and whoever is reading this!
- Who is using the WPTouch plugin? I'm going to add it after I post this because it looks awesome. Anything I should know about it?
There really is an art to posting on any social media platform, but I always think there is something special about Wordpress. Maybe it's because I started photo-blogging right as I began shooting around with my first DSLR. It was pretty easy for a then high school aged newbie to engage in a dialogue within the photo community. I wouldn't say I learned everything from Wordpress, but I've met some interesting people, I've been inspired by a lot of different artists' works, and I've really taken away a lot of learned experience from the general blogging journey.
It's nice to be back into the swing of things on Wordpress, just because I find that some of these posts are longer than other posts on Instagram or Twitter (obviously). There's really no limit to how I can express myself and rant on what I'm engaged in with my photography. The more time spent on both posting and reading other blogs is evidently rewarding!
So to everyone that has been engaging with me, especially those of you that have been for a long time, I really appreciate the Wordpress love! And I look forward to reciprocating it in the future!
There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL (in real life)…
What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on Wordpress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.
In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.
For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.
We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.
I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.
Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you're bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.
Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn't translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn't have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That's nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive. Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity...I know for a fact the dust wasn't from my lenses. So even after today's cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don't have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I'd use on my lens.
I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn't bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I've become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I'd have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.
Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling I got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.
With that being said, I'm looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!
Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven't found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother's birth place. (I didn't go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren't made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says. The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it's a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region's culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they're touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I've preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn't have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there! (I don't have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I'll post those at some point...)
My time in Vienna seemed very transitional; arriving there awkwardly early in the morning from a night train, I had to wait to be checked into my hostel. The train ride was nice but I was still exhausted. There was a huge marathon in the city as well, so in addition to the bad weather, I wasn't really getting the most out of the place. I quickly got the vibe that Austrians are not the friendliest of people, at least in comparison to the Irish, Germans, and Swiss. In Germany (and somewhat in Spain as well), the locals can quickly figure out you're a traveller. Even if you're trying to use some bits and phrases in their native tongue, they're not very patient as you mispronounce everything. But they don't really hold it against you that your accent sucks. They just switch to English and roll their eyes. Austrians, on the other hand, came across as disgusted or annoyed by my presence as a foreigner (probably because I scream "American"). I didn't really say much to anyone while there, yet somehow I felt pretty unwelcome. Despite there being a marathon, I felt like I was the first foreigner they laid eyes on...or maybe the locals were just annoyed at the large crowds for the race. In any case, the best part of Austria was finding an Irishman in my hostel. I heard his accent, introduced myself as a student from Galway, and we then proceeded to go a bar and grab a few pints. I'd like to give Austria another chance because I had some high expectations before getting there. The true colors of a city are most evident when you are visiting between the touristic seasons. It's the early part of spring in some places more so than others, but Vienna was definitely not beyond its winter.I went for a hike outside the city in the hopes of getting some good shots of the skyline. The weather was overcast but I went ahead with no jacket (oops). I enjoyed the easy incline but the view was hazy, to no surprise, and the clouds were rolling in quickly overhead. I walked back down, past the numerous bus stops that take you up this hill for sight seeing. Then it poured. Still, it's nice to be able to ride public transportation and get away with not paying. Dishonest yes, but no one else seemed to pay for the metro. I went to the Albertina Museum, and that made the city as a whole, worth I visiting. I really can't stand Picasso's work, especially when Monet is in the next gallery. A lot of the pieces on display had me reflecting on what it means to create art. The process, the studying, the critiquing--all of it seemed familiar to me even though my medium is different. I'd just like to reflect what photography has unfortunately become, in contrast to these artistic legends I was reading about in the museum. It cracks me up that people go into museums with hefty DSLRs to take pictures of pictures...what do they after they take them? Process a RAW file and do touch ups on a masterpiece? I can understand taking a photo of something that might catch your attention and you want to send it to someone or use it as a phone background or something. But you could easily just type in the photo's name and most likely find the artist's work online. It was just silly to have to wait in this procession of people focusing their lenses to get the perfect shot of a still image. (ie why do you have a DSLR in the first place?!)
...was leaving. And not having a cool pair of sunglasses. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, had a wild pair of shades. But I loved it here, if that much wasn't made obvious in the previous posts. It's just so expensive. I met a kid for Hong Kong last night in my hostel room and he said that their dollar is roughly 1:1 with the Swiss franc; why is the USD hurting so bad?!A few nights ago, I met some guys at the Three Tells Irish Pub. The only other places nearby were hotel restaurants or I could've walked to a Hooters in the downtown area. Of all the restaurants to have a chain in Interlaken, I'm surprised they have that...But I was later told that the main tourists that come to Switzerland are noticeably from more conservative, eastern countries. Not to make any assumptions, but I got the feelin that the ill-placed Hooters and it's neighboring casino remained in business by attracting somebody. So it made sense to me to park it at the Irish pub, go figure. The guy wearing shorts, flip flops, and a pink sports coat turned out to be the owner. As the night progressed with the beer seeming to flow freely, Shebby, the owner, started discussing business theories with me. In terms of capitalism, I could think of a few pros and cons on my own, but this native Kiwi had a really bizarre concept. I was complaining that the conversion rate from the USD to both EUR and CHF was absurdly high, despite the noticeable difference in the cost of living in Interlaken. Shebby suggested that products, particularly in the service industry-which I have a background in-are visibly more expensive to an American because the US doesn't charge enough. It was a pretty broad slap in the face to the free market concept, but I wasn't sure if he meant how they tax here or how there are government funded programs that are made more accessible via higher prices. Apparently, the waiters/bartenders have an insane amount of vacation time as well as a 13 month of salary paid. So it kind of equates to not paying taxes, according to Shebby. However that system works out, it obviously draws a lot of foreign workers. I didn't know that EU members can just travel between countries and work as long as they have their EU card. But somehow, Interlaken remains particularly Swiss; it didn't lose it's identity to migrant workers or from the impact of the tourist industry. Then again, I was there between the main tourist seasons, which I thoroughly enjoyed! So I didn't run into as many tour groups as I could've, but there were quite a few people packed into several areas with their cameras. I liked that dichotomy between the viewers and the doers. It's expensive here so why not actively do something rather than pay more to photograph it from a distance? Interlaken is dubbed the adventure capital of Europe (or something like that). So I will certainly hope to find myself here again at some point while I'm still young! I was in such a poor state last night; limited wifi and expensive exits from this town was not convenient to say the least. I'm training back to Zurich because northern Italy's train system is on strike. That made getting into France more expensive as well. Going directly east was over 100chf, and hearing that Vienna is also expensive, I thought that getting to a main travel hub might be the wisest idea. I'm going to look to bus into Germany or maybe into France. I don't think I'm doing the train traveling correctly because there are different passes for different countries that have different restrictions in different currencies. That might be easier for someone that can speak Deutsch, French, or Suisse-Deutsch, or all the above plus English...But I'm not timing things correctly. I saw on some travel forum that in Switzerland, there's some sort of saying that goes something like "the smart person travels by train." So maybe I'm an idiot for not coordinating efficiently. But Ireland, Spain, and Holland allowed for more spontaneity in travel plans, specifically when going shorter distances. I'm almost half tempted to look at what renting a car is like if the bus system is deficient out of Zurich...Until then, I'm enjoying the views from the train!
I don't even know where to begin when it comes to today. I was referred to a ski shop by a Kiwi bartender at an Irish pub in Switzerland. Went in, got a great deal in terms of skis and transportation. Basically, I crossed the street, caught a bus that brought me to a train station. From there, you train up into the mountains. So combining my favorite mode of traveling with my favorite landform (mountains) along with some skiing, I knew is gave a good time no matter what. But these Swiss Alps really are something else. The views are incredible to say the least. The slopes were pretty good as far as spring skiing goes. So what else can you ask for in terms of der perfekte tag? You walk off the train, buckle up, ski down. I think the pictures can tell a better story than I can, but I did meet some kids from Cambridge. I thought I skied fast but apparently everybody here does! The last stop I got off of was Kleine Scheidegg at 6,762 ft. You can get considerably higher with the chairlifts but most of the bowls were closed. (That didn't stop me from dropping into one with the Brits). I don't really know where else to visit after a day like today. My friends at the pub didn't think too highly of Milan, which was the next largest city south of Interlaken. I'm considering this Cinqe Terra walk I've been told about on several occasions...
Nothing screams voyeuristic existentialism like listening to the extended intro of "I Will Possess Your Heart" on a cloudy day on a train in Munich. Hokey, I know but heading to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial is a little sobering. On another note, I'd say I can comprehend some simple phrases (written) In German. It's making traveling outside Munich's city center less difficult. Picking out other Americans is pretty easy; as I write this on a bus, I already detected two college-aged girls on the metro heading to the same memorial. Those Northface jackets are such a giveaway... ------ I feel like I've been to a concentration camp before, even though that's not true. I must've dreamt being at one and everything about it matched today; the drizzly weather, the scenery, and the feeling I'd get while walking around the place of the deaths of thousands of people. Two things that struck me as I wandered around for a few hours. First, the role Dachau played in the concentration camp system. As early as 1933, prisoners were delivered there, like cattle. That's six whole years before Germany's invasion of Poland. Many of the prisoners that went to Dachau were Soviets, Polish clergy, and various "political prisoners." political prisoners at a concentration camp added with some photographs in the museum had me wondering if the people there knew what was occurring, the prisoners and the small town right outside of it. Today, especially as an American, history is retold as if the mass extermination of people had been taking place and any and everybody knew that it was happening. I think the prisoners themselves might have had an idea that their living conditions were clearly leading them to their deaths. But the more modern view of the SS's ingenuity of mass murdering wasn't on the prisoners' mind.
That brings me to point number two: the awesome extent that human beings can systematically and efficiently kill themselves. Dachau was actually a work camp that was taken over by the SS (from the local authorities running it), which then instilled this "new model" of running concentration camps. The networking that took place between camps proves just that; there was a schematic manner to control the non-Aryan population. Mass executions didn't take place at Dachau. Prisoners would be shipped elsewhere to subcamps. But there was still a crematorium that was later replaced by a larger one for disposing the dead. So yes, thousands of people died there but my mentality really changed when I realized that there was a cunningness to the SS and their means for running Dachau that placed it as the new standard for concentration camps. (The prison within the concentration camp. I found this to be quite bizarre and it consequently formed this notion I have that prisoners didn't recognize their status as we now do. A prison within a prison...what sort of implications does that give?)
(The bunk beds that were initially suppose to house around a hundred men. I can remember the specific numbers but at some point, these long buildings had nearly 2,000 persons living in each structure). (The Jewish memorial among the other varying sects of Christianity's churches).
Again, this was written from the iPhone so forgive me for any typos or grammatical errors!
(I'm just waiting for my phone to charge before I go to Dachau so I apologize for the typos and misspellings, I'm on my iPhone). Yesterday the couch surfing guy never got back to me and I was literally on his door step but with no wifi I had no idea how to get in touch with him. So I had to train back into the city and ended up doing this maybe 4 mile loop trying to find a hostel. I didn't have wifi so I used some instincts like locating the nearest Starbucks. But my phone was dying and I was about 2 miles outside of the city center at that point. I know hostels don't book the day of, or it's difficult to do that, so I wandered through the city center again. I found a large group of kids with an older leader of sorts, and again, using some instincts I've picked up from traveling, a group like that must be heading towards a hostel. I stalked the youth group 😛 about a half a block behind them as to not seem crazy. They lead me right to this hostel that looked really crowded but fortunately, they had a room for me! I met a French Canadian named Xavier and shortly thereafter we went out for some German food. I had Munich schnitzel and a liter of dark beer (putting the Irish pint to shame). It's nice to see a city on a weekday just because most European cities have a crazy night life on the weekends.
I know I was suppose to write a part 2 for my trek this past weekend. (I am getting around to it). But I got distracted with having Lightroom and 10 gigs worth of RAW files to edit. iPhoneography is certainly nice to experiment with, but it's way past time for me to be dealing with RAW files. There's just something to be said when you're out with the DSLR, working away to get that shot. Then you bring it back home, work on it, and make it perfect.
It took me about 10 minutes to slip and slide over rocks to get to this point in a low tide. I knew what I wanted to capture, premeditated how I would get it, and then plugged in the settings and just waited. The tide was coming in, so my heart was racing. The 50mm is not accurately showing how close I felt, even though 50mm lenses are typically considered to portray what the human eye sees.
I can't ever forgive myself for missing out on days with good weather here in Galway. The plan was for me to wake up early and hike with the university's group out in Connemara. But at 7:30, the downpour wasn't all too inviting, especially with a minor cold that I want gone before Madrid this upcoming weekend. The weather had a sudden change of plans, though. So by noon it was nothing but blue skies, puffy clouds, and green grass. I had to get out. But with the day seemingly halfway gone, I couldn't bus anywhere. While here studying abroad, I've had a strong interest in getting lost. So I got the backpack and photo equipment together and headed east with no destination in mind. No cellphone service is a godsend, especially with an urban area as your point of departure. (Doesn't matter for a foreigner, though. No internet + no Irish phone = I'm cut off!) Walking beyond the docks for the first time, I got to see the innermost part of the bay. A residential area lay on the other side of the water, something that "center city" living has deprived me from, even though it was only a 20 minute walk to get there. As I kept walking, one trail led to another, seamlessly. When you wander aimlessly, it's ironic that a path becomes more clear to you. (Or maybe there's something existentially more to that that I pondered over and don't feel like sharing).
Passing some sort of military base led me to a high vantage point where I could see a sand beach. Well-gated train tracks kept me from descending directly to that foreseeable destination. So I meandered some more until I found a car tunnel to cross underneath, opening up to this beautiful recreational area. Lots of off-leash dogs and several mounted horses took advantage of the low tide. Three dogs anxiously pulled their leashes, anticipating the freedom that lay ahead. A gravel path led me out to a peninsula. From there, I could see up and down the coast; low hanging clouds were rolling in at their freakish pace. I don't know why, but I considered it better to remain by the water as the potential storm chased after me. Every time it rains, if you're not surrounded by buildings, you can see distant sheets of rain and figure if you're in their path or not. I guessed right and received only a drizzle's worth of dampness as I stumbled along the beach's pebbles, departing from the locals and their park.
I could tell my coastline was running out and that I would need to cut inland. By chance, I found a muddy driveway leading me to the same pair of tracks I crossed underneath earlier. But for some reason, the Irish have gates at the majority of their crossings. I'm not sure what purpose that serves, maybe these intersections weren't used regularly. Yet there was no way I could get around the gates to hop the tracks. This run down structure lay to my left with NO TRESPASSING, a field to my right. A black cat eyed me as I leaned over some barbed wire to snap a shot that I thought would look good for some heavy HDR editing. The three dogs that passed me earlier by the beach came up the muddy path with two men, one close to my age, the other nearing 50. I said, "Howdy. Where do y'all reckon I go from here?" (Southern accent goes a long way outside of Galway-don't ask why, it just does).
Before coming here, I was told about the Irish people's forwardness, friendliness, and wanting to share stories. And to varying degrees thus far, I've experienced those attributes separately. But in this instance, I had no idea that I'd be getting all three for the next five hours. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable with the generic Irish accent, I was taken aback by the older man's response. From a distance, I couldn't understand a word he was saying. But his forwardness led to his welcoming me on his walk with his adopted son. Apparently, there was no direction to head but through the fields. What I could understand from this man's face-paced talking was that the six or seven horses in the field were wild. The other option was going through some psychopath's property; there was a camera that I had not seen that my new acquaintances pointed out to me. So that wasn't much of an option at all. Wild horses it was.
We leashed up the pit-bull, mid-sized black lab, and larger puppy that just had surgery on its hind leg. Pathetically, there was some fourth dog, a Jack Russel mix, that wasn't anyone's dog. No one had a leash for it; so if it made the mistake of following us, it was on its own. I didn't fully realize what the term "wild" meant for the wild horses until all of them charged us as soon as we hopped the fence into their field. People think I'm ridiculous for having some sort of fear/respect for domestic horses. Yes, I know they're trained, but those animals are massive and muscular. It's no different (in my mind) than a tame lion at the circus. All of these thoughts came rushing into my head as our little party edged around the pack. The dogs were instinctively smarter than I was; their herd mentality versus the horses' herd mentality meant everything as one wrong step could've had me left behind my herd of humans. They kept bucking at us, to which my new friend threw his hands up, yelled, and bucked back at them! The fences we kept close to were technically working against us, covered from overgrowth and barbed wire. On the other side of them, elevated on gravel, were the train tracks. The only direction we could head was forward as the horses' front line took up our rear. I had to walk backwards to keep them from chasing us, one of the dog's leashes in my hand.
Midway through the field, I looked back to see the crazed property owner come to the gate. His camera must've picked me up. I couldn't tell what he had in his hand, but at present, the horses posed a more immediate concern. We descended further away from the cleared portion of the field, which slowed the horses until they judged that we were no longer encroaching on their land. Badgers and foxes were the next thing we might encounter, according to my friends, but we didn't see any of those. We had to hop a low point in the fence, making sure that the dogs didn't get cut. Just then, a train zipped by overhead. "Well," I thought to myself, "At least that means there won't be another one for a few minutes."
The terrain changed significantly once we crossed the tracks. Another path picked up, winding through a forest. Those renowned Irish stonewalls even exist in the woods, creating that fairytale-esque feel which could not be accompanied by a story of the little people. As Eamonn (the older man) talked about the tricky nature of these little people, I couldn't help think how such a fable continues for so long. But that light-hearted talk ended abruptly as we came upon a glen. On the other side of this field lay Old Dublin Road. Here, the IRA executed two men. I began to realize that I was hearing an Irishman's opinion about a topic that seems to have many sides. To me, there doesn't appear to be any unilateral understanding of the violence that occurred on the Emerald Isle. To hear this man's point of view was rare, even considering how open the Irish can be with their stories. Plainly put, violence was never a valued entity. But foreign control truly resulted in the maltreatment of the people, something that doesn't seem forgiveable, regardless of the current legal status of the Northern Counties.
To be continued. And yes, I will do a part 2. I just have to be somewhere now...
Quick disclaimer: If anyone wants a more up to date feed of my travelling, feel free to follow me on both Twitter and Instagram (same username) @jvierephoto. My workflow and travelling habits are dis/allowing me to use certain forms of social media... Anyways! Belfast. It took an arm and a leg to get here from Galway. The journey took me to Dublin Airport, which was close to three hours, and then a second bus that took another two. So I got into Belfast later than I wanted. I won't lie, the parts that I wandered around were not the prettiest. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Well, actually, on the bus I was wondering whether or not there was going to be border control. As an American, you hear about the recently subsided violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But I couldn't conceive what it would look like in actuality. I sort of had a DMZ scene in mind, but that wasn't the case. I guess you need your passport if you were to cross a body of water, which, if you think about it, is quite fascinating. Consider that all the violence that occurred took place between two "nations," according to one side, yet no one really cares enough to establish border control. (Maybe that's my American take on it; there aren't always huge walls between countries). But then again, when I went through Heathrow Airport, there was a good deal of security.
Without any border control, people obviously come and go as they please. For work, tourism, family. Yet, it becomes quite apparent that you're no longer in the Republic of Ireland as soon as you get into Belfast. For one thing, the accent is different. Full-Brits (that's what I'll call those from mainland England) are not friendly. Northern Irish are somewhat friendly, yet I think I rubbed one of them wrong when I mentioned I was studying in Galway. Neither party is as friendly as West Coast Irish. Throw Dublin into the mix; from what I've heard, they're not entirely friendly (towards Americans at least). But that is my vantage point as an American. It fascinated me to hear my Northern Irish coach (bus) driver think that the Northern Irish are a friendly community. Whoa-me saying that sounds like I'm accusing them not to be! Well, to be honest, I didn't quite know what to expect because the violence was so recent. I don't know if there is still an unspoken animosity. But the scars of the violence are evident in the façade of Belfast. (Definitely check out the Instagram feed. I'm getting some good shots with the iPhone and 5D).
But another indicator that you're out of the Republic of Ireland is the currency. The UK's pound is something like 1.8 to the USD, which is absurd and makes me furious (to the point that I'm including it in this post). The Euro equally disgruntles me, but the pound really sends me over the cliff. I have no clue what I'm talking about in terms of economics or business, but the quality of living here is a) not higher than Galway and b) not higher than America. The fact that consumable goods that are cheaper in quality here are almost double the cost than they would be in America is beyond my comprehension. But the Irish and English banks offer no-charge on withdrawing from ATMs, another indication that there is a strong attempt to revitalize the city. I've heard from West Coast Irishmen that as a result of the Troubles, Belfast economically suffered from the spite it received from the Republic. In other words, it's visibly evident that the Republic spurned the Northern Counties to the point where a lot of streets are empty with abandoned shops. It's an eerie feeling which I have not felt since the summer of 2011, when I first drove through some hardened areas of West Philadelphia.
But check out the architecture; definitely affluent in some areas. Listen to the driver's accent too.
Enough about money and my ranting about the state of Belfast! (I hope to find some better spots to get another impression tomorrow). The countryside of County Antrim is beautiful. According to my awesome coach driver Pat, the scenic Coastal Route is globally ranked among the top 10 of some list of coastal roads. Even with the February weather, that was self-evident. Contrasted with Ireland's other coastal region, this land was more in line with what I preconceived Ireland to look like; the grassy rolling hills and sheep. (Sheep are any and everywhere. But this land is richer with volcanic sediment, which historically caused it to be contested among Gaelic and Anglo rulers. The English Pale, that is Ireland's east coast, is better for crops. You could see that in the shade of the grass. It wasn't like Connemara's, West Ireland's, harsh countryside, which is littered with rocks).
Because the Game of Thrones set was filmed throughout this area, I couldn't help think of another sci-fi book, the Lord of the Rings. And then I had myself thinking that this area kind of looked like New Zealand. Maybe not the same (haha) but the land experienced some volcanoes and glaciers to form a really unique terrain! There were a bunch of Brazilian kids on the bus who also seemed to love Game of Thrones. It's a very big deal here in Northern Ireland, particularly because the crew works out of Belfast. (They're coming back here in June/July to start filming for Season 5 already...)
But let's jump to the Giant's Causeway. I have seen pictures and I have heard stories. It's best to just visit the scene and experience it yourself. I had no idea Scotland was so close by, so that was a surprise for starters. The actual landmass is indeed uniquely shaped like stairs or a footpath. I scoped out the area pretty quickly and initially set up my tripod in an area away from other people. Then I got bold and went right for the money shot. There are jetties of the "causeway" that have massive waves crashing into them, causing the water to have a spray and nice visual effect over the rocks. I had to have the shot. There I was, edging out further on the slippery rocks in front of the other tourists who thought that their zoom lenses would suffice for this scene. I love what my 50mm makes me do! I started snapping away, fearing for the 5D as it got some ocean spray. I'm not sure if I got the shot at this point, but I kept recomposing until I heard a really loud whistle. Startled from my laser-like focus on the waves crashing, I turned to see some type of authority figure. I picked up my tripod and headed over to him as he joked, "They (the waves) are coming in too big and too frequently!" Then it hit me that yes, in fact, they were. And if it wasn't for this man, I probably would've just squatted there as water surrounded my small patch of dry rock.
So we backed away as I chatted him some more, seeking where to plant the tripod again. It took me a good 15 minutes to go about 15 meters into another, smaller jetty that was displacing the water in a visually captivating manner. The rocks were so slippery that I had to use my Manfrotto as a cane as I ventured out into the quickly ceasing low tide. Once positioned, I realized that yes, again, I was surrounded by water. But this time, since I was away from the tourists, there was no one to blow a whistle at me. My heart started pounding as 10 foot waves broke in front of the lens. I was just far enough away from the spray but I didn't want to lower the tripod any more than it was already at for fear of getting washed away. A wave broke in front of me and judging from the current, another was going to break to my right. I turned the tripod head and got the shot of the day. (Sorry I don't have it uploaded yet...such a tease).
Follow me on Instagram for more photos of the trip. I hope to have some edited-RAW files up soon...
I know I said I'd have a part two for my hike last week, but time is really flying by over here. (Ask me in person if you were dying to hear the end of that story). I'll just start by saying that it's interesting to compare the sharp contrast between the advertised facade of a city and its actual likeness. There's no point of me delving into what Amsterdam is depicted as, especially when targeted to a younger population. But I will say a few things on those topics; legal prostitution and legal drugs. One thing is done more casually (or subtly) than the other. From what I could tell after eating in a local cafe outside of the tourist traps, marijuana is a part of the Dutch lifestyle. It's hard for an American (maybe not so much now with Colorado's legalization) to see drug use aside from fringe behaviour. But try, if you can, imagining yourself as Dutch. You're fairly well-educated, multi-lingual, and have an awareness that your Amsterdam home attracts a large tourist population because certain activities are legal. You don't live near any of the touristy spots of town. You don't binge on substances (like other cultures typically do without hesitation).
While eating in a crammed sandwich shop, my friend and I listened to the outgoing owner going back and forth between English and Dutch. His shop was tiny, but within the 30 minutes I was there, you could get a sense of a more genuine Dutch culture from his interactions with his patrons. He knew everyone that was in his shop, except for me and my friend. But that didn't stop him from joking with us in his well-polished English. As well as being outwardly educated, Holland is noticeably ethnic; "Asians" and "blacks" gathered in this luncheonette and were also regularly interchanging between Dutch and English. One of the younger patrons asked what the owner was doing later to which he replied, "Smoking some weed and staying in." I wasn't surprised at this, but the scene certainly presented me with a foreign culture that was different from Ireland and America. Lax laws and small, intercity businesses make for a brighter population.
But Amsterdam didn't end up like that by chance. I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Holland through its historically rich art. For anyone that doesn't remember their European history, the Netherlands dominated the trade scene throughout the colonial period. As a result of being progressive then, combined with struggles with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, the country continues to be forward-thinking. Yes, this means legal drugs and prostitution, but the locals in Amsterdam were really into venerating the art. The museum was beautiful and packed full of Dutch and foreigners. (Dutch is distinctly audible; something like a cross between French and German. So I could quickly tell who I was standing next to, if their height or garb didn't give them away. There were some tall individuals in that town...)
But that still brings us to the fact that prostitution exists there. I feel like there is a bit of yin yang thing going on. If Holland is able to thrive so well culturally, it has to be fueled by something. I think that any town would benefit from tourism's added spending. So combine that generic business mentality with the aforementioned, distinctly Dutch progressivism, and you end up with legal prostitution. However, whilst walking through the Red Light District, you can quickly tell that the whole prostitution shtick is a tourist trap. The way things are advertised and presented in those couple of blocks was very different than a couple streets away. As amoral as it may sound, my hat is off to Amsterdam in the strictest economic sense. There was visibly a huge population of males, ages 16-30 that walked through that section and Holland prospers from it. (But not exclusively). The last thing I'll say about this is that it was odd to see locals living above or across from the rooms with "red lights" over them. I guess I didn't personally internalize how that would work out on a daily basis. But for the most part, that area was a tourist destination, not a residential area. I still think the local Dutch were distanced from that.
I went on a canal tour and saw the city from a unique perspective. The Dutch really dominate water; traversing it, controlling it, utilizing it. The Dutch East/West Indies Companies traversed oceans for trade. Amsterdam was built by damming and dredging the Amstel River (hence the city's name). And to this day, there are certain parts of the city that are below sea level, which is an incredible feat considering the IJ Lake, canals, and river all have to be monitored to avoid flooding. The IJ (pronounced kind of like 'ay') was originally a bay. I can't remember how much of the city now sits on dammed, artificial land but it's more than half. Another fun fact is that there is an estimated 1.6 million bikes in the city. That's more bikes than people. (I don't know how that compares to Portland, Oregon, but there are separate road/paths for bikes and mopeds. It was wild to cross a street because you never remember to check for bikes, only for cars).
If anyone wants to hear more about my time here (or in Ireland), please feel free to comment below. I can email anyone if they're interested. I would also love to hear any travel suggestions or photo destinations as Cork, Ireland is on my itinerary for this upcoming weekend.
(Written yesterday): My day started with me not going out last night; probably the best decision I made before embarking on an intense, five+ hour trek in the Irish back country. Let's get one thing straight, there are no trails in Ireland. In the few instances where there are footpaths, they are nothing compared to the US National Parks' neatly kept (and subsequently crowded) trails. http://youtu.be/er9OksDhn4Y
I've admittedly been a bum here in terms of waking up and assimilating to the five hour time difference. (I worked out a class schedule that doesn't have me waking up any earlier than nine). In waking up at 7:45 was a huge commitment for me to make; it was more than worth it.
NUI Galway Mountaineering Club is probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. First come, first serve; you pay 10e for a full twelve hour day of adventure. I was the fourth person to arrive for a spot on the would be full bus. The sunrise was beautiful to witness as I waited; the day was looking formidable. Once we departed, I learned there was a short, medium, and long/expert only variation that we could choose from in terms of trek paces. I looked at the contour map and saw that the only way to bag a few peaks was to go advanced. I wanted the challenge; I live for exploring. Out of the bus of 50 some odd students, alums, and older folks, only eight of the latter category chose for the long route. Thank God my beard is full because newcomers aren't typically allowed on this variation of difficulty.
My perspective of space and distance is always off; regardless if it's in the city or in the wilderness, I fail at measuring. I couldn't tell how far we went by bus, but it wasn't even a full hour before we reached our destination, still in Galway County. Apparently, I had entered into Connemara from a different direction earlier last week. My sense of direction isn't bad like my sense of distance. But the landscape makes me think this country is much larger than it really is. Ireland is truly an island, for we had not gone so far and eventually saw the Atlantic Ocean.
Garda (the police) shut down the road that we were suppose to be dropped off due to a murder (?) or flooding. So being the advanced group, there was no questioning that we could just "hoof it" to our trail head. While Ireland saw some considerably hard times in its past, there was no Works Projects Administration established at any point to create a network of roads. Our walking didn't take place on a road; we traversed a field that could only be summarized as squishy. From a distance, you'd believe the ground to be no different the American prairies. Yet it only was ten minutes off the bus until my feet completely soaked, despite the beautiful weather we experienced else wise.
Something that a Southerner would think is worth noting is property laws. "I've got my gun so get off my property" is somewhat of the unspoken norm in Virginia. You stay in the National Parks' boundaries because immediately outside of them are descendants of families that were pushed off their land by FDR's New Deal projects. Fascinating maybe only to me, our leader asked a young kid at a gas station whether or not the owners of the land would be bothered with our potential "trespassing" on his land. Apparently, contrary to culture precedence, there was no issue. Earlier on the bus, even the university students seemed to know who lived where and who owned what; I forget that the country is small in population.
I misjudged the distance between the Garda blockade and the foot of our mountain. To my surprise, time didn't seem to pass by too quickly as we trudged through spongy reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace this group moved at; I must have looked like an idiot because I was constantly smiling and sticking out my tongue. I skipped -"gracefully" as a group member said- as I forded a river to begin our ascent.
Great weather, a new terrain; a new adventure unfolding before me with each step into cold mud.
To be continued!
Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).
Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.
I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.
I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos...If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.
I guess my posts will be getting shorter now that I am back into the grind of being a student. It doesn't mean I will be shooting less. I've watching various Youtube clips about different photographers and their styles; reading up while I have down time.
Now that initial shine of being in a foreign country has started to wear off, I am starting to get a little homesick. There are certainly some things that I took for granted back in the States: if you "have" internet access, that means you actually have it. Back home, food is processed (and probably more unhealthy) so that it lasts longer; buying groceries on a daily basis is nice because the produce and seafood is definitely fresh here. But I feel like I am spending more if I am spending at a more frequent rate, even though each payment isn't as high as a bulk purchase like back at home.
Another thing, which is a positive aspect, but it will still take me awhile to get use to; island culture. It's true, Ireland is an island. I was moved to an apartment looking on the bay/docks. So now I find myself listening to Jack Johnson as I write this because when the sun shines, I feel like I'm at the beach. But with the island lifestyle comes this off-putting mentality of nonchalance and its subsequent disorganization. For someone that has lived in Philadelphia, certain things annoy me. (There, I said it). Cross walks, in the rare instance there are painted lines at a street intersection, don't mean anything for a pedestrian. Galway City doesn't have very straight roads either, or so it seems to me when I am trying to get from point A to point B. The "grid" on Mapquest is deceiving; there aren't a lot of direct lines, which undoubtedly represents Irish life. But the upside of all this is no road rage. I don't know how but there quite simply is nothing of the sort you see in the States. The long, snaking routes I take to my destinations are along the River Corrib and different canals. It's quite a lovely commute. So I feel as if I need to detox from fuming Philadelphia and not only say that I like these differences, but actually embrace them as a part of daily life. I hope to internalize the daily grind not in some disgruntled (Philadelphian) mindset in which I have to do this. But I sincerely want to enjoy them. Once I get my iPhone up and running, those small things will be posted more frequently.