The work, shot in autumn 2008, was a documentation of illegal and unethical practices by logging companies taking place in the Paradise Forest of Papua New Guinea.
The slideshow show be embedded in this post but if it does not work in your browser, or to see it at a larger size, then please follow the link above. You can also find the HTML code for embedding the slideshow in your own blogs etc. Thanks.
Beautiful Bucharest, it wasn’t known as ‘Little Paris of the East’ for nothing. Beautiful architecture stands proud against the hot contrasty summer light, solid and decorative in the oppresive sun. The majority of my memories of Bucharest are from the summer days, only once or twice did I venture there in February, mostly I went in summer or autumn, and mostly with the intention of going to shoot my photographs of roma gypsies.
I lived mainly in Piata Rosetti, a stones throw from the heart of the city in Piata Universitatii. Little Piata Rosetti was full of charm, bus stops along the southern side, a little grassy round-about in the middle, some bars and hotels, chalked political grafitti on walls, newspaper vendors, and gypsies selling flowers- usually piles of roses. On the corners old grandmothers who had made the journey from the countryside would stand with little posies of garden flowers, selling them for a few Lei. I always tried to buy flowers from them, the gypsies would charge too much, and the grandmothers always looked like they needed the sales more. Sometimes when their prices were just too low and it was late in the day, I’d buy a few posies enabling the old women to pack up and make their way home. I’d take the flowers back home to No.5 where I lived, and give them to Magda, the Matriarch of the house, and long suffering wife of Igor. Magda would smile, and laugh sometimes, and put the flowers in little glass vases and dot them around in the dark interior, and then she’d boil up a pot of espresso coffee and light a Marlboro or Kent. Together we’d sit drinking coffee as thick as the summer heat, we’d chat in my decent’ish Romanian learned from watching Dallas on TV, Magda would try her broken French learned from Edith Piaf, but rarely did we not understand each other. Sign language and a common understanding also helped.
One summer night, I forget which year, in the Milk Bar, a newly opened nightlife bar, I was in the company of young Romanian friends. I paired off at one end of the table with a girl who’d stepped out from a pre-Raphaelite painting. We talked in our own languages over our beers, and she slowly told me that if two people drink from the same glass then they’ll share the same dreams. One person who didn’t share the same dreams was her boyfriend sitting nearby, to another he commented, “let them talk, by the end of the night their hands will be sore with sign language”.
I made a lot of good friendships in Bucharest, many which have survived two decades now. Not least with Jason Eskenazi, whom I first met in the summer of 1990. I had seen him about, in the Intercontinental where all photographers ate in those days. He had a small Domke bag and a Leica. One day as I sat on a passing bus I saw him outside on the pavement, photographing a hedgerow with his Leica, I couldn’t understand the image, I thought he must be in Magnum. But slowly we met, we became pals, and we traipsed all over Bucharest in search of things to photograph. We’d jump on trams at random, never paying, and jump off again when something outside caught our eye. In that way we passed a few months, until money began to run out and media interest in Romania began to move on. It was that summer, 1990, in that heat, that I shot a portfolio of images which won me the inaugral Ian Parry Award, set up in memory of Sunday Times photographer Ian Parry who had died during the December 1989 revolution, in a plane crash as he was leaving the country to bring the images back to the waiting Sunday Times.
When the heat in the city was too much I’d take off with friends to Herastrau Park. We’d swim in the lake, diving to the muddy bottom to retrieve mussel like shellfish, which we’d cook and throw away with disgust after tasting. We’d drink home made tuica and wake the next day with sunburn and blinding headaches.
Bucharest was affordable back then, much cheaper than now. We- myself and other photographers there post-revolution, lived well. Food and beers were cheap, a car could be rented from a family for about 10USD a day, every car in the city was a taxi and could be flagged down- everyone was desperate to make money. In the early days an apartment I rented was about 100 USD a month, and slowly apartments came up for sale, old 1930’s apartments for a few thousand dollars. With hindsight it would have been a great investment, but then as a young freelancer starting out in his career I never had a few thousand dollars, and never had foresight.
With a group of UK photographers I once went to the famous Caru Cu Bere (beer hall), a beer hall in the classic sense of the name. The five of us sat down, ceramic tiles on walls all around, the huge roof way above us. The waiter in black and white came to take our order, “5 beers!”. “We have no beer.” We laughed, “but this is a beer hall”. “We have no beers, only champagne”. It was 1990, it was summer, it was cheap living, “Then we’ll have 5 bottles of champagne”. After all, it was Bucharest, the Little Paris of the East.
And in particular the north, the northern city of Shkodra. I was there in the early 1990’s, passing through a few times, and sometimes stopping to photograph. Shkodra, and the north, in those days always felt a bit more lawless than the rest of Albania. There was something about the mullet haircuts and the flares, they seemed more threatening in the north.
At that time I toured Albania shooting with two colleagues- a fixer called Alban, and a driver, Eddy, with his long silver estate car. I’d call the shots, plan the days adventures, look at maps and decide where to go. Shkodra was gateway to the north, to the mountains, and had the only hotel in the area. So even if we went shooting in the mountains somewhere chances are we’d come back to Shkodra in the evenings.
One time, traveling with a journalist and different driver/car, we left our car overnight in the police station compound, figuring it’d be safest there. Next morning we arrived and it had been stripped, gone were wing mirrors, wiper blades etc. The policemen shrugged.
The hotel in Shkodra was an adventure, it’s name escapes me though. Probably Hotel Shkodra, but maybe not. One evening we checked in, and retired to the armchairs in the corner to plan our next move. CRASH. The ceiling above the reception desk fell to the ground. Concrete galore. Albanians scurrying and running, dust and debris everywhere. We escaped with our young lives, with seconds to spare.
Another evening in the same hotel, travelling with the same journalist, a UK guy called A.B. We checked in, the concierge being friendly. Perhaps it was late, perhaps we were dusty from a day in the sticks, who knows, time has blurred some details. We check in, we buy a bottle of cheap wine, perhaps fizzy wine, from the concierge, produced from under the reception desk, and paid for in hard Dollars. In those days it wasn’t a case of what would you like to buy, it was a case of what can you sell us. We retire to our room, a shared room. We drink our fizzy alcopop and retire to beds, another day of adventure behind us, another day of living life to the full, chasing stories and images, dreams and adventures. Fast forward a couple of hours, we’re asleep. There is a knock at out room door.
I remove the armchair we’ve rammed up against the door, and open the door, wearing only my boxer shorts, and there’s a police man. He has his gun. A silver pistol of some sort I remember. And behind him, is the concierge. It was late, too late for this scenario whatever they wanted. They wanted to come in, we wanted to sleep. But the concierge had finished his shift, it was the middle of the night and he’d sensed money making schemes and adventures. He’d run home, across the city, to fetch another bottle of fizzy wine/champagne/alcopop to sell to the thirsty Dollar Weilding Westerners. And now, from behind the gun toting policeman (who was also thirsty) he produced it, grinning.
Who were we to resist ? No, no thanks, not tonight, we’re tired. No. And there’s a silver pistol in their hand. No, hey, guys, friends, what kept you, come in!
And in they came, the policeman in his blue shirt and wide brimmed hat, and the concierge. Of course we had to buy the fizzy juice, of that there wasn’t much discussion. And of course we had to open it, of that there wasn’t much discussion. And of course we had to drink it with their help. But it was amicable. Us in our boxer shorts, them in their uniforms. We drank, the pistol was passed round, heavy and silver in our hands. Cheers !
Same hotel different time, I arrive with Alban and Eddy and a woman journalist N.N. We ask what was on the menu and they tell us they have red wine. A rarity in 1992 Albania. We bought a case, and drank the rich, red fruity wine in the back of the car on a journey back to Tirana.
Same city different time. I go to photograph in the childrens orphanage, or perhaps it was a hospital. Either way, it was incredibly sad. Not the type of place to leave a child, or to go to. The children wore rags, cold against the stone floors and walls. The walls were painted in two tones, one tone up to the level of two or three feet, the different tone for the rest. The floor had tiles and was cold. The window had bars and no curtains. The women staff were all very big, and buxom and matronly and stern, wearing white, and non plussed about their surroundings and the children. Some Canadian teenagers played guitars and sang to the kids “Give us a J, give us an E, give us an S, give us a U, give us an S, JESUS”. The kids sang and clapped, and in the corner one of them masturbated with the excitement of it all.
Just north of Shkodra was a particularly scary town. Perhaps it was a good place, perhaps I do it a disservice, but it always worried me. It was closer to the Montenegran border. It always seemed like cowboy town. They had a bakery which I shot in if I remember correctly. Albania in those days had so little that a working, operating bakery was news. The town though had a feeling, a bad feeling. Every time we arrived there, or passed through, I’d reach over from the back seat of Eddy’s silver estate and press the button between the two front seats locking the 4 doors of the car. Call me nervous, call me scared, call me cautious.
And all of the above had a sound track, especially the days in Eddy’s car. A cassette played non stop, at top volume, as we drove amongst fields of cows in the sun, of white geese on dusty tracks, as we passed through lawless towns, men in flares and mullet hairdo’s by the roadside, Hoxha’s pillboxes at every turn. The music was good then, and the music is still good now. Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’ album. The soundtrack of Shkodra. The soundtrack of Albania in 1992.
I sit on the Azusa9 heading north,
I think I see the Virgin Mary on the side of a building, but it is rust,
then I do see Jesus on top of a building,
After him, a buzzard sits on a fence.
On the way home, the weak winter sun peers over the snow capped mountains,
I pull down the train window shades to do my edit,
as I finish a man gets on and pushes the shades back up,
I choose 20 pictures.
The man sitting behind me constantly sucks his teeth.