Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Fence


On one of the days that I decided to only shoot in B&W with my 50mm, I noticed this fence in a very old village on the mountains of Galicia in Spain.

I loved the texture of the house wall and the wooden fence. Many houses (still inhabited) are built with stone in small villages in this part of Spain. They were probably hundreds of years old, which makes me wonder if any of our new modern "glass buildings" would last half that long.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Khao Phansa candles - Chiang Mai


As the seasonal monsoon rains approach Northern Thailand, it marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, or "Khao Phansa", during which all Buddhist monks retreat to the temples for the duration of the rain (3 months) devoting themselves to study, meditation and spiritual renewal.
Apparently in former times, this was done to prevent monks from trampling upon rice paddies when they venture out to receive offerings from the villagers.

During this period, the locals engage in merit-making and bring offerings to the monks for their retreat. These offerings consist of dishes, household products, monk robes and these big yellow candles.
The candles are believed to provide them with illumination physically and spiritually. They are beautifully carved with flowers and dragon patterns and can last weeks.
This tradition evolved into full-scale festivals featured in the Buddhist calendar and Thailand's official calendar of festivals such as "The Candle Festival" of Ubon Ratchathani province, featuring a procession of magnificent ornately-carved beeswax candles of various shapes and sizes like boats or elephants. A contest is even held to award the most beautifully carved candles which can stay lit up to 3 months!

You can see on the photo the size of the candles compared to the walking man.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunday Market Dance - Chiang Mai


Every Sunday starting around 4pm, the main street of the "Old city" in Chiang Mai (Th Ratchadamnoen) is closed to vehicles and a huge market is set up extending the entire length up to Wat Phra Singh until midnight.

Anything can be found in there, from clothing to music, souvenirs, hill-tribe products and of course.. Street Food!

I always notice this little girl in hill-tribe costume (I think from the Hmong tribe if not mistaken) dancing on the Sunday market as well as the Saturday walking market, since February!
It saddens me to see poor or visually impaired people and especially children being used for begging or tourist traps. Those young girls have their childhood stolen from them to be able to attract money and it can be felt in their sad eyes.

Unfortunately it's the same in most countries of the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The wet rickshaw ride


As I previously mentioned, I joined a few days ago the Chiang Mai Photo Walk with a few other photographers. Unfortunately the sky poured down on us for too long and we had to cancel the walk.

We found a shelter in a narrow street while waiting for the rain to end. It was fun to see people pass by, running, driving or just trying to get on with their normal routine, unaffected by the rain.

This year, Northern Thailand is subject to one of the worst droughts since years. It is currently monsoon season but the rain just doesn't seem to reach Chiang Mai, although the weather is overcast for weeks now.

And of course, it just HAD to rain for 4 hours non stop the ONLY day we decided to gather up and go out shooting! Oh Irony... Well, at least I hope it helped the surrounding fields a bit.

I nevertheless got a few nice shots of wet people, like this rickshaw driver, in his raincoat, going on with his job while the passenger just hides behind an umbrella.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cliffs of Moher - Ireland


After we trespassed on private land to shoot the Cliffs of Moher away from the mass of tourists and paid parkings, we arrived right at the edge and went all the way down to the ocean. It was a very windy and stormy weather, it felt quite creepy to be there, alone.

The Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mhothair in Irish) are located on the west coast of Ireland, south of the Burren and around the area of Doolin (which is a very charming little town).
These vertiginous cliffs have a maximum height of 214 meters (702 feet) above sea level. It is often a very  rainy area with strong winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean.
It is a very impressive place to visit but I'd suggest to avoid the touristic area and go wander around to find a spot to sneak in and really appreciate the power of Nature concentrated on that area.

Of course, be careful not to get too close!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Watchtower - Zhuhai


Last March, I went to China to visit my girlfriend and a few cities around the South coast. We spent a weekend together in Zhuhai, a prefecture-level city bordering Macau.
Zhuhai is in the province of Guangdong, in the Pearl river delta. It is a popular touristic place for the Chinese and is often called the "Chinese Riviera".

We went walking on the waterfront promenade for a few shots. The weather was murky but it was a pleasant day. I liked the city, it is quite green (as in lots of trees) and relaxing.

On the promenade was this abandoned watchtower overlooking the sea. The rusty bridge, the broken windows, the muddy water and rocks below and the overcast weather gave it a creepy atmosphere. It could be a good setting for a horror movie with the final scene against the bad guy inside.

The Watchtower
Scream all you want, no lifeguards will save you

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Child in a market - Photo Walk 2010


Today 24th of July was held the 3rd annual "Worldwide Photo Walk", a social photography event created by Scott Kelby where photographers get together in town, walk, shoot, socialize and have fun.
Although some parts of the world the walk hasn't started yet, more than 33000 photographers, amateurs and pros are expected in 1111 walks around the world (cool number!).

I participated in the Photo Walk in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Unfortunately, heavy rain spoiled our gathering and the event was canceled an hour after we met. We did have the opportunity to visit a local market though before the sky poured on us. We got separated in two groups to prevent people from panicking..
I mean.. Imagine yourself sitting in a corner peeling onions when suddenly 40 people point a huge camera and start clicking while the multiple flashes turn you to dust... Horrible!

I saw this little kid playing in a corner with his little top. He was very shy! Every time I pointed my camera, he looked down and tried to focus on his toy. Cute.

Overall it was a fun but short time. I am not really used to taking photos of people in the streets but being in a group made me feel a bit less shy and I saw how some photographers approached the merchants to have their shot.
Hope everyone else in the world has more luck than we did!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thai temple decoration


I don't have much to say about this photo. I found it on the entrance gate to a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai and I did not really find what it represents.
The two little beings on both side of the seal look like Garuda, or Hanuman. I'm not really sure.

I would appreciate if someone could help me with the symbolism of this decoration. Thanks a lot!

UPDATE: Thanks to @fookied on twitter for telling me it's the King's seal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

O Cebreiro Village


On the French route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, lies a tiny village at the entrance of the Galician province. Sitting on top of a dreaded 1300 meters high mountain pilgrims have to climb (I don't know why.. I enjoyed it!), O Cebreiro, although appearing like a slumbering old village, played quite an important role in the history of the region.

While I was lucky to have a good weather during both my stays (good but freezing), O Cebreiro usually likes to hide under a mysterious foggy blanket. After reaching the Galician border, I felt its presence without seeing it. A faint music was floating all around, transported by the mist. The fog magically disappeared both times I arrived on top of a hill overlooking the old village.
The first thing I noticed was the music. It sounded like Irish music. Celtic to be more precise. Even the architecture of some houses was different with big round stone houses and straw roofs (called pallozas). I later learned that Galicia was of Celtic culture, some even claiming the Irish Celts originated from there.

The main attraction of O Cebreiro however is the pre-Romanesque church of St. Mary, the oldest fully remaining one on the Camino. It played an important part in guiding the pilgrim through the mist with its bell.
The church of St Mary also owes its fame to the miracle which occurred  in the 14th century, as well as the presence of a Holy Grail (not THE Holy Grail).
Tradition has it that a weary priest was celebrating Mass one winter´s day. A peasant from a nearby village, having fought his way to the top of the mountain through a fierce snowstorm in order to hear Mass entered the church just as the priest was performing the consecration. The priest insulted the peasant´s faith and ridiculed him for having come all the way to the top of the mountain in such severe weather in order to witness a non-existent miracle. At that very moment, the bread and the wine on the altar were literally transformed into flesh and blood.
The miracle of O Cebreiro was confirmed in 1487 by Pope Innocent VIII while the particles preserved from the miracle were placed in a silver chalice donated by Queen Isabella the Catholic. The chalice image was later incorporated into the shield of Galicia due to its importance to the region.

Miracle or not, O Cebreiro is undoubtedly a magical place to visit. Don't forget to taste the famous queixo do cebreiro with local honey!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Belvedere de Buffon


Every time I find myself in Paris, I take some time to go visit the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden) near the Austerlitz train station.
Founded in 1626, it has first been used as a medicinal herb garden and later was opened to the public in 1640. Today the garden covers 28 hectares and hosts four museums: The Grand Gallery of Evolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Entomology Museum.

In the south corner of the garden is a small "maze" (it's actually a spiral to the top) around a 20 meter high hill with a beautiful belvedere crowning the top. The small hill was actually a huge pile of garbage. Instead of removing the pile, it was turned into a tiny hill for the public to enjoy a higher view of the garden.

The elegant belvedere is the work of the architect Edme Verniquet, made for Comte de Buffon. It is a mixture of Chinese and western architecture and is topped by a sundial. The words "Horas non numero nisi serenas" are inscribed around the higher part of the structure. It means in Latin: "I do no count the hours, except the calm ones". The word serenas, meaning calm represents the weather, more precisely the sunny weather.
Every day, a bell used to ring announcing noon only when the weather was clear. The mechanism was invented by Mr. Mille and consisted of a counterweight balancing a hammer striking a bell. A string held the counterweight in place until the sun was up high. At noon, thanks to a magnifying glass cleverly positioned, the string burned and released the weight. Every day, it was replaced with a new one for the next day.

Although the view is not what it used to be (new buildings), the belvedere is still a beautiful place to sit and relax away from the busy streets of Paris, or just hang out with your loved one in a nice romantic setting.

Have you ever visited this part of Paris?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Golden Chedi


If you dare to wander a few meters outside Khao San Rd when visiting Bangkok (or if you are not in bed with a hangover), you'll spot at the end of Tanao street a chedi peaking from behind the trees. This is the temple called Wat Bowon Niwet.

Surprisingly, far from being the most visited by tourists, Wat Bowon is regarded as one of the most important temples in Bangkok. Built in 1829, it was actually two different monasteries separated by a canal:  Wat Mai to the north and Wat Rangsee Suddhawas to the south. It was later incorporated into one temple during the reign of King Rama VI (1910-1925).
His Majesty Bhumiphol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the present monarch, stayed here for a short time during his ordination in 1956.

Pictured here is the chedi of the temple. A chedi, or more popularly known as Stupa in English is a spire like structure containing Buddhist relics and used as a place of worship.
The shape of the chedi represents the Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. His crown is the top of the spire, his head is the square at the spire's base, his body is the vase shape, his legs are the four steps of the lower terrace and the base is his throne.

The entrance to the temple is free making it a good place to visit when short on time after staying on the "Khaotic" Khao San Rd.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Football's over!


So last week was the final match of the World Cup 2010 between Spain and the Netherlands.
It was an exciting tournament with many surprises and small teams reaching higher than the big old famous ones. I was rooting for the underdogs, preferably African countries (Go Ghana!).

I felt kind of bored seeing the same big billionaire teams winning all the time. Brasil, Italy, France, England, Argentina, Germany (although they played very well).. I wanted to see some change, new teams! Obviously I was happy when Spain won the cup!

So now that a week has passed, the world got back to its routine. Tears have dried, laughters have faded, vuvuzelas were put away and conversation topics have changed except maybe for Spain and S. Africa.

So I'd imagine this is what a football field looks like after some time has passed and people got into other things.
I caught this in Spain (what a coincidence) last year outside a tiny slumbering village. I suppose none of the players ever came from this village!

What about you? What were your thoughts about this World Cup 2010? Excited? Disappointed?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

St. Christopher in Reims


This is a shot of the interior of the Basilica of St. Remi in the city of Reims, France.
The Abbey of St. Remi founded in the sixth century contains the relics of the Bishop St. Remi, who converted Clovis, the king of the Franks, to Christianity in 496 AD. The small church later became a basilica thanks to the Pope Leo IX.

The origins of the abbey lie in a 6th century chapel dedicated to Saint Christopher, as seen on the photo carrying baby Jesus on his shoulder. The church later acquired the relics of St Remi which founded its success and was visited by many kings and Popes.
The Basilica was looted during the French Revolution and many valuable objects where destroyed. Later during the first World War, the building was bombed and a huge fire destroyed the roof and vaults. The restoration lasted until 1958 and the stone vaults were replaced with wood and plaster.

The original organ was destroyed during the 1918 bombings. In the year 2000, the French organ-builder Bertrand Cattiaux offered this magnificent instrument to the basilica. It looked like it was almost glowing in the dark.
The chandelier seen in the background contains 96 candles representing the Bishop's age when he died in the year 533 AD.

In 1991, the Basilica of Saint Remi became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I recommend visiting the place!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Canal


Before reaching the province of Leon, right after leaving the small village Carrion de los Condes, is this path following a long canal bordered by trees offering a much needed shade. It is a relaxing walk and interesting place to spot many bird species described on signs located along the path.

This canal is quite a welcomed view after walking about 10 days on the Meseta, a plateau that stretches between Leon and Burgos and considered as the "Spanish desert". The Meseta is where most pilgrims grow tired and feel like quitting. But once Leon is reached, the landscape changes again with green hills and rivers to rest by, enhancing the morals.

I always loved getting up early and start walking before sunrise to experience Nature's awakening.
I wasn't the only one. Many others also started walking at dawn in order to advance before the heat settles in.
Or maybe just to be in their own little bubble, away from the crowd, to be able to exorcise their internal demons..

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wadi Nakhr canyon


The Sultanate of Oman is truly a splendid country with a variety of landscapes from white sandy beaches, flat rocky deserts, to high mountains and even the famous Salalah, an area almost as green as Ireland.

Rising about 3050m above sea level, Jabal Shams (Mount of the Sun), part of the Jabal al Akhdar (the Green Mountain) range of mountains is one of the jewels of the country.

Located only 2 hours drive away from the capital Muscat, this impressive 600km stretch of mountains is home to some exciting activities like canyoning in the Snake Gorge (yes it is called Snake gorge because there are many snakes on land and in the water), trekking in the wadis or climbing up to the highest peak only to be greeted by the most beautiful canyon in the Arabian Gulf region: Wadi Nakhr (also known as the Grand Canyon of the Middle-East).
The area is only reachable after a long sinuous road and a trek up the mountain. This actually prevents it from being overcrowded with tourists. It is also a good opportunity to meet some local shepherds living in small villages vertiginously hanging on the cliffs.

Oman remains my favorite country in the Arabian Gulf region.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Pilgrim Tree


Along the Camino de Santiago, right before reaching Hospital de Orbigo, is a an imposing magnificent old tree known as: The Pilgrim tree.
This tree has seen many pilgrims walk under its shade, nap or have a well deserved break to eat a bocadillo after crossing the hilly area past Leon.
When I reached the tree and put down my backpack, I just wandered around enjoying the peace floating around. It was a place of rest and no aggressive sound disturbed the silence.
I also met the young Australian couple as seen on the photo. They were doing the Camino starting from France with a 18-month old little girl! The baby looked so happy and I've never seen a child smile and giggle as much as her.
I guess they simply proved that anything can be done, even a month long trek with a baby if there is a will to do it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thai Spirits [HDR]


Thailand is a Buddhist country, but Animism is also omnipresent and interwoven in daily prayers and religious ceremonies, especially in rural parts and the North.
Spirits and ghosts live everywhere in Thailand. Unlike in western culture where they are mostly feared and  banished, Thai people pay a particular respect to them.
Flowers, incense, or food is placed in front of shops, on the bows of boats or in front of Buddhist icons. Brightly-coloured ribbon is wrapped around trees or other objects. These are all offerings to the spirits that reside there.
One common feature representing Spirit worship seen in most parts of Thailand is the "Spirit House" called San Phra Phum in Thai (roughly meaning Abode of the Land's Guardian Spirit).
These Spirit Houses usually made of teakwood or concrete are often in the shape of small temples or Thai style houses raised above the ground on a pillar. Inside can be found little figurines or an image of Phra Chai Mongkol, an angel like figurine, often gilded, and holding a sword in one hand and a money bag in the other.
Each day fresh flowers & food as well as lit candles & incense sticks are placed either on or close by the Spirit House to ensure that the spirits maintain karma and protection.

In this photo I took in Chiang Mai, gauze ribbons in assorted colors are tied around an old bodhi tree. Next to it lies a Spirit House, which strangely is placed on the ground instead of a pillar.

I have found a new interest in this tradition so more info will come in the future concerning Animism and Spirit Houses. Enjoy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Katam Corner - Chiang Mai


One of Chiang Mai's major attractions is its "Old City". Built some 700 years ago, it was once an entirely walled square surrounded by a moat. Today, it is one of the rare cities in Thailand where the old surrounding brick wall is almost intact, especially on the corners with their walkways and arrow slits.

There are five gates around the city with the most famous one being the Tha Phae Gate, entirely reconstructed in the 1980s to give an idea of what the walls once looked like. Tha Phae gate is now pedestrianized and is part of the "Sunday walking night market" every weekend.

This photo here is the "Katam Corner", one of the corners of the Old City (South-Eastern corner), and it happens to be right in front of the apartment we are renting. The wall is clearly visible surrounded by the moat.

It is truly a beautiful old city.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tiny Blue Mushroom


Imagine the scene:
You are walking on a forest path, you suddenly notice a guy wearing a straw hat embellished with feathers, a huge backpack on his shoulders, lying on his stomach in the grass and sticking his camera to the ground to take a photo... That's me.
People were curious and some stopped to ask what I was shooting. It was fun to see surprise in their eyes when I showed them to photo of this tiny mushroom I found.

I spent a good amount of time focusing on the ground, walking slowly to find those hidden tiny treasures to capture with my macro lens. This mushroom was about 2cm tall (less than an inch). Bugs, spiders, plants.. It was all worth rolling in the mud for these different shots.

And at least now my parents can't spank me for getting all dirty!

Do you mind getting all dirty to capture a beautiful shot?
And do you, by any chance, know what this type of mushroom is called? It was so small and fragile. Loved it!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saturday Market food stalls (stools?)


In Chiang Mai, every Sunday takes place the famous "Walking Night Market" on Th Ratchadamnoen, offering a taste of provincial culture, cheap bargains and reminding the itinerant merchants stopping in town to sell their goods.
Usually the street is packed with both locals and tourists making it hard to move around.

Less known however is the "Saturday Walking Market" on.. as you guessed.. Saturdays on Th Wualai. It attracts less tourists and is more enjoyable to walk around. It is located in an older street outside the "Old city" walls.
Of course, I have to admit, what I like most in these markets is the variety of local food you can find almost every 10 steps! My taste buds are grateful every weekend and my stomach curses me all night long.
Some people would avoid eating street food from fear of poor hygiene. I think it's an excellent way to discover local culture and I've never fallen sick from any kind of food during my 10-month travel.

What do you think? Would you be afraid to taste food from a merchant like in the photo above?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Golden Greenhouses [HDR]


This is a place close to my heart.
It's the village in Lebanon where I used to hang out every summer. The hilly isolated village where I went to explore with my cousins and came back home covered in mud and thorns.This place called "Wata el Jaouz" right below the famous Faraya in Central Lebanon carries all my childhood memories.
Many inhabitants are farmers so these greenhouses are everywhere. They sell mostly vegetables that have a heavenly taste.
Now, this safe little haven is becoming overcrowded, with luxurious villas popping here and there, belonging to multi-millionaire sheiks from the Arab Gulf who spend their 1 week holiday per year behind guarded walls.

This is another HDR shot I am posting this week. What do you think? I always try to keep it more subtle than the flashy ones we see on the net all the time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The broom lady


In Thailand, you can find and buy almost anything on the streets. I saw this lady selling brooms in Chiang Mai while walking back home from lunch with my girlfriend. I wanted to get a nice shot of her but she kept walking too fast even with all those brooms!
I just had to use my telephoto lens to capture her from far as she was heading towards a bar.
I liked the balance between the lady with her merchandise and the bar bottles out of focus in the background. I wish that sitting girl was not in the shot as it creates distraction but hey... It was a spontaneous candid shot.

Do you think she might be a witch?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Landscape Painting?


I like it when the light is diffused. It makes the colors look soft with no harsh shadows. 
It sometimes makes a landscape look like a clichéd painting, like this one from Spain. 

I know there are a lot of broken rules in this photo. The horizon is in the middle, but I felt it was better this way as both the foreground and sky created a nice balance. The trees are out of focus, because of wide aperture, but it gave them this "painted" look. The colors are soft like on a  watercolor painting.

I kind of like the result! What do you think?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thai Sunset [HDR]


What I really missed in my 20+ years living in the UAE are beautiful dramatic cloudy sunsets. There's an average of 5-6 cloudy days per year in the Emirates so I've had my share of blue bland boring skies.
Now that I am in Thailand, and it's rainy season, I often experience beautiful sunsets worth stopping and taking a shot of... if it's not pouring down of course.

I also haven't posted any HDR shots for ages too. Unlike the big flashy over-saturated I'm-on-acid-looking HDR photos many people seem to post, I prefer more subtle use of this technique to bring out contrasts in the photos. Some more will follow soon. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Alkmaar Streets


As I'm watching the quarter finals of the World Cup 2010 between Brazil and the Netherlands, I thought it would be a good opportunity to post this picture. I'm not particularly a fan of both teams but hey... I've never been to Brazil yet!
This shot was taken in Alkmaar, a small town of 95000 inhabitants, famous for its cheese market. I had the opportunity to visit a few towns with 2 friends including of course Amsterdam, but I was not really impressed by them. I preferred the relaxing atmosphere and simplicity of Alkmaar with its clichéd windmills and canals.

[Edit]: Well, congratulations to Holland for kicking Brazil out of the World Cup 2010. Good job.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

O Cebreiro


Although the whole Camino de Santiago was fantastic, one of my secretly favorite places was: O Cebreiro... The second highest peak after the Pyrenees, in Galicia.

The weather was great as I walked through a beautiful forest up a steep mountain. Even though many pilgrims were on the same path, there was a silent and peaceful atmosphere floating all around.
Once I reached the top, magnificent landscapes appeared before me. Looking back, I could trace the whole path I walked all the way from France.. about 700km (430+ miles) and a month of bliss.
As I reached the tiny village with the same name as the mountain, I was first struck by the music I was hearing, Irish sounding music! I had to ask around to understand that Galicia had Celtic culture and some even insisted it was where the Celts originate from.

I loved the village so much that I decided to stay until the next morning. All I did was walk around, take photos, sit in peace watching the landscape and of course.. stuff my face with queixo do cebreiro (cebreiro cheese) served with local honey, pulpo (octopus) and flowing alcohol.
After a great freezing night, I was treated with this fantastic present, an ocean of clouds stretching at my feet across the valley.
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