Situated in the northern foothills of Ethiopia, lies Lalibela, an important spiritual mecca for orthodox christians.
Please click on the image to play the podcast
I came here in September of this year to photograph the people in the context of the UNESCO rock hewn churches. Unbeknown to me at the time, I was on a pilgrimage of my own. Looking back now, I can see that my entire photographic ‘career’ has been that – a journey and as with everything in life, we only truly understand how far we’ve come, by looking back. Everything up ahead of us, is yet to be discovered.
This will be my last podcast for a while. They’re very time-consuming to do, even though I do find them very enjoyable. But the problem is gathering enough new material to make one with. Lalibela was the first set of new photographs I made this year. I do have a trip planned to go to Norway in March 2011 to (hopefully) shoot the Aurora and also photograph the beautiful fishing town of A. Who knows what this may bring in terms of a future podcast, but until then, I’d just like to let you know that I intend to make podcasts in future, but only when I have new material and when the time is right to do so.
I’m in the process of writing a new e-book. It’s all about planning and executing a new photographic project with the intention of coming home from a trip with what will turn out to be a new portfolio of work. I use my recent trip to Ethiopia’s Lalibela as a setting for how I went from an idea to creating a final body of work.
Work in progress cover & title
I felt there was some room to discuss how I go about putting my trips abroad together, how I plan for them, decide what to take and how I go around making images whilst there including the logistics involved.
But I’d like to ask if there’s anything you think you’d specifically like to know in such an e-book? Maybe there’s something you find hard to figure out or you’re not sure about. So I’d like to hear from you – and any valid comments will be included into the e-book. If I like your suggestions, I’ll place a reply on this blog to indicate that your suggestion will be included in the ebook.
I updated my front page today to show a selection of portraits from Lalibela in Ethiopia.
I’m almost done with my scanning and processing, but couldn’t wait to show there has been some movement and that some new images will appear in a new portfolio soon. I’m hoping to put a little podcast together too about the trip and there will be some eBooks to follow as well regarding the preparation around the trip and also some details on how I made some of the images on the trip.
But in the meantime, I’m off to the Isle of Harris for another November shoot on some of the most minimalist, stunning beaches to be found here in Scotland.
Other breaking news is that Steve McCurry is due to release a limited edition book (3,300 copies only) for around £200. I love Steve’s work and if you like portraiture too, then I would highly recommend some of his books from Phaidon Press, and if you’re a big fan, then I’d recommend placing an order for his limited edition book (as I have).
Steve McCurry's Iconic, Ltd edition book
Just busy working my way through the films I shot in Ethiopia and felt inclined to show you this shot.
I’ve got perhaps another 10 rolls of film to work my way through, but so far, I’ve amassed around 50 shots I’m happy with. Expect a contact sheet to follow at some point.
I love using the Contax 645 system with the 80mm lens for portraiture. As much as I feel that equipment is less important than having an eye for a photo, I do feel that the right camera can instil a sense of confidence in you. But I’d much rather focus on the fact that a decent camera in the wrong hands will produce poor photos. It’s really up to *you* whether you capture good photos or not.
So I’ve just started scanning images again. This one just popped up on my preview screen in Silverfast and I’m quite taken with it. Just keen to share it with you.
I find scanning quite exciting. Because I’m dealing with negatives, I’m never entirely sure what’s on them until I’ve loaded them into the scanner. I do like contact sheets, but they’re very expensive to have produced here. I bought a Canon 9000F flatbed to help me produce some contact sheets, but I can’t seem to get it to work with negatives, and my patience for trying to wrestle with some hardware or software issue is rather on the thin side. So I’m just happy to work on a tray of 4 images at a time.
I’m away for a few days.
In the meantime, I thought I’d post a photograph of my guide from my trip to Lalibela.
Muchaw is a Deacon of the Orthodox Church. He was an amazing guide, got me into places that I wouldn’t have had access as a normal tourist, showed me around Lalibela, and of course, lent me his rather large size 12 trainers when my own shoes got stollen from outside one of the churches of Lalibela (I’ve never seen someone look so shocked, dumbfounded and embarrassed at the same time – personally, I thought it was very funny).
Pictured in the background is the rock hewn church of St George. It is in my opinion, the most stunning piece of architecture in Ethiopia. So much so that I asked Muchaw one day why there were no tourist souvenirs of it. I wasn’t surprised when the very next day he arrived at my hotel with two replicas of it – one made of local stone and another made of wood.
Someone, somewhere, had been up all night working away at making these models in the hope of a few Ethiopian Birr.
If you are thinking of going to Lalibela, then you can contact Muchaw at email@example.com
One of the benefits of having your own guide, who happens to be a Deacon in the church, is that you get access to areas that the ordinary tourist does not.
So it was with my trip to Ethiopia. I’d been speaking to Jake Warga – who has produced an excellent podcast about Lalibela available on YouTube, and he recommended I get in touch with the guide he used.
So it was, that I ended up on the day of Meskel, situated around 2 feet away from the Lalibela cross, right in the heart of the celebrations, while all my newly found friends from my hotel stood on the periphery looking in towards the celebrations. I distinctly remember catching eye contact with them and exchanging a dialogue through our eyes which went sort of like this:
them: is that you Bruce? How did you manage to get down there into the heart of it all?
me: yep, it’s me, I feel like I’m on display to everyone and the world here, but I can’t help find it crazy that I’ve managed to find myself in such an amazing vantage point.
I’m not used to feeling smug. I’m not used to feeling I have the upper hand. It was a strange situation to be in. But it did allow me to make photographs of the men who were dressed like kings on Meskel day.
On Meskel day
As I go through my films (roughly about 1/3rd of the way through them so far), I’m finding that I’m very much in love with Portra 160NC, but I really can’t use 400NC in future. It simply lacks the tonal scale I want from a 6×4.5 negative.
For those of you shooting digital (roughly 99.9% if my workshops are anything to go by), then this is all meaningless to you. Unless you like the colours and tones I’ve got in my India and Nepal Portfolios and also evident in this shot of an Ethiopian Orthodox Deacon.
It’s very hard for me sometimes to go back to scanning film. I feel I’m getting so used to seeing smooth clean images on my workshops and by contrast, film simply looks far too noisy at first…. but it just takes an adjustment to get back into it.
Besides, by contrast, I feel digital has too much of a smooth-plastic-look to it and the colours just don’t ‘sing’ the way Kodak’s Portra 160NC does. Which reminds me, I get a lot of correspondence from people wanting to know how to get the same look with their 5D. You can’t.
If you want the look of film, then shoot film.
Anyway I love this shot and wanted to share it with you today.
I intend to put some material together over the coming months about how to prepare for a photo trip abroad, how to work with film (for those who are interested) and all the other gubbins that goes along with a remote photo shoot.
One of the reasons why I decided to go to Ethiopia, was because I watched a television programme by Dan Cruickshank called ‘Around the world in 80 Treasures’. In this program, Dan goes around the world looking for some of the most sacred of items which are not so commonly known to exist.
The Lalibela Cross
For instance, he goes to Ethiopia to search out the Ark of the Covenant, which turns out to be held, as many Ethiopians believe, in a small hut with an iron fence around it, and looked after by one guard.
In the TV program he also goes to Lalibela to see the Lalibela cross, a 7kg gold cross which dates back to the 12th century. It is an Ethiopian heir loom of significant importance.
I went to Lalibela for Meskel, a festival which happens once a year, known as the festival of ‘finding the true cross’. Ethiopians are orthodox Christians and Lalibela is their own Jerusalem.
So I thought I’d show you a photograph of the Lalibela cross, held by the Deacon of the church of Bet Medhane Alem.
It was a real privilege to be allowed to photograph the cross before the ceremonies of Maskal – it is perhaps the first and only time in my travels that I’ve ever been given such privileged access to something of such significance to a nation.
I’ve been a bit swamped lately, and I’ve only just literally started to work on my Ethiopian image this afternoon.
But I’m a little troubled. My Nikon Scanner’s software isn’t supported anymore and I can’t get it to work on Snow Leopard, so I’ve had to resort to buying Silverfast. Talk about clunky. Talk about confusing. Talk about being able to screw up a scan so easily.
First Scan from Ethiopia
I used to work in Software, and I know it’s easy to make a hash of stuff (hey, I was never that great a programmer), but the user interface could really do with an overhaul on their software and more importantly, so could the workflow. It’s rubbish.
Anyway, here’s the very first test scan I’ve done. I think it’s going to take me a few weeks to get to grips with scanning on Silverfast. It’s always painful for me having to learn new software, get used to the way *it* wants to work, rather than it working the way *you* want it to work.
Hope you enjoy this first taste of my new portrait images from Ethiopia. I have no idea what is in store at the moment because all I have is a big box of negatives all sitting in their sleeves at the moment, and a cumbersome way of scanning them on a Canon 9000F to see what the digital-contact-sheet holds.