It starts with a gentle nudge. The people standing on the platform begin to slowly slide backwards across your window. The rhythmic bumps quicken and the graffiti blossoms on the walls in the outskirts of the station. The tracks converge. The train bends around a sweeping right corner and moves past the the edge of the village. You sink deeply into your over-sized seat as the train smoothly accelerates across open countryside.
Soon the soft hiss of the track and the flashing power poles hypnotize you. You are flying toward a distant horizon and unknown adventures. You have time to talk, to read, to dream-maybe a little wine and some music. The long track defines your movement but not your thoughts. They certainly don’t have to be linear.
Through the Window, Colorful Scenes, Distant Goals
Of course you left on time. You have learned that you better be on the train on time. No particular fanfare. It just leaves. And you have double-checked the destination. At times you still wonder if you are on the right train…. In Morocco the station announcements are in Arabic and French. They are not always loud enough or clear enough over the speakers. You crane to see the first sign in each station and then check your map.
The Beautiful New Station, Fes, Morocco
Long distance train travel is a singularly interesting experience. It is not comfortable nor punctual everywhere. Even a single trip can vary in punctuality as you pass from one country to another. But in some places it is both very comfortable and very punctual. Certainly, at its best, it is like clockwork.
Speaking of Switzerland, one of my favorite routes is from Geneva to Lausanne along the north shore of Lake Geneva. Below the train, vineyards and beautiful homes descend to the lake shore. In the distance the snowy Alps form the horizon.
The long ride from Geneva to Budapest traverses many kinds of terrain. The towering Austrian peaks give way to the flat Carpathian Basin. The signs, the stations, the towns, the people change as your progress. They keep moving.
Your world is inside the train. It is your reference. The rest of the world is on the move.
Sometimes you have an entire train car to yourself. Other times people are standing in the hall and luggage is in a teetering stack above you.
Swiss, Upper Deck, 1st Class, Empty, Win!
You get to see the in-between places. You also see the rough parts of towns. And lots of graffiti. You are passing along an industrial transportation route. It is not always pretty.
Then another world bursts past your window. The pressure and sound hit you like a shock wave. Faces blur through your view. Another train passes in the other direction and just as abruptly disappears.
Train travel can be savored. Well, I savor all travel, but…. You spend a few moments in distant villages and roll through interesting towns. You see the station sign and have a few glimpses down the streets. Then you are in-between again. Moving on.
I enjoy almost everything about train travel. The stations, despite their minor dangers, present a mixture of people that you may not have time to see anywhere else.
Keleti Palyaudvar International Station, Budapest, Hungary
For a travel photographer trains give a tremendous introduction to new countries. If you travel light, it is easy to carry everything that you need on trains. There is usually more room for luggage than on a plane.
Going Light, Going Far, Working to Make Art
You keep moving, rumbling toward your goals. Trains provide a rich setting for anticipation and imagination. Long rides may eventually get a little tiring, but the further you go the more memories you carry. You are more a part of the countryside you are moving through than when you look down from 35,000 feet.
Friends, Castles, Adventures, Une Bonne Vie Dans Le Train, Najac, France
Here comes the train. Find your seat. Store your luggage. Sit back, put up your feet, and savor. Adventure awaits!
Street photography provides many opportunities to see things that you might normally walk by without noticing.
The longer you walk the more you begin to look around for interesting perspectives. The luxury of time lets you view features and people from several different vantage points. And as your eyes roam, details emerge from the busy scenes in front of you.
Viewing features from below or from above, or isolating intriguing small elements for close-ups, changes the perspective and the character of the image. The composition, lighting, and viewing angle reveal the artistic intent and indicate the effort and thought that go into a photograph.
(Unfortunately, people seem to be conditioned to think that artistic photography requires a black and white image, or a poorly lit or blurry abstract image. When some people see a sharply-focused, color image they dismiss it as a mere ‘snapshot’ without considering the composition or isolation of the subject, or the distinctive perspective, or the time and work that it takes to show an interesting feature without other distracting elements. They don’t take the time to look at it and think about what the photographer was trying to do. Street photography is commonly realism. End of pet peeve #1.)
Pet peeve aside, the main subject of this posting is looking and seeing things that may be normally missed and seeing features from a different perspective.
Looking up at features makes them seem more imposing and exaggerated.
Ornamentation, Budapest, Hungary
Cathedral Rain Spout, Geneva, Switzerland
Did you see both dogs?
An overhead perspective diminishes subjects. Looking down is my favorite perspective for street scenes.
Overhead Perspective, Geneva, Switzerland
Time is an important ally of street photographers. It takes time for opportunities to develop. It takes time to see things from a unique perspective. It is enjoyable and creative time.
I hope that the next time you see an artistic color photograph you have the time to enjoy it and consider what the photographer was trying to create. Why did they take the photo from that perspective, at that time of day etc?
Street photography is a well-established theme. But it doesn’t have to be done at street level.
An overhead perspective of street scenes presents an entirely different image. People and objects are foreshortened when viewed from a vertical perspective.
If you can get high enough you can photograph features that are high above the street to give an interesting view of things normally only seen from below.
Applying A Building Wrap Advertisement, Budapest, Hungary
The basilica in Budapest, Hungary has a tower that is circled by an exterior catwalk near the top. A heavy stone balustrade eventually provides a sense of security to a very high place. At first, even the thick stone railing wasn’t enough to make me feel like hanging over to photograph the street below. But I ended up taking hundreds of photographs during a couple hours of walking around the catwalk.
I have wondered how giant advertisements are wrapped around buildings. On this day in Budapest I watched two climbers put the finishing cinches on an enormous advertisement. I have tried to translate the Magyar (Hungarian) words but have not been successful.
In this case, a sturdy aluminum pole framework was constructed first. The sign was then attached by looping a line through grommets and then around the poles. The climber rappelling down the corner of the framework cinched each loop as he descended like a seamstress stitching fabric together. They worked on this edge for more than an hour.
I am not sure if people on the street watched them from below while waiting for a traffic light. Perhaps they were high enough that they weren’t noticed. But they sure were photogenic from above.
I don’t start the day in a smokey tent in the desert but I do wander when I photograph.
I am not led by trade or grazing and I am not following a long-established traditional route. Spontaneous creativity draws me down streets toward images. I don’t have a plan, just general principles.
I am savoring the sites, sounds, smells, and interesting people of a new city. Scenes, perspectives, lighting, compositions, and chance combinations hold my attention. My camera and a light top-loader pack with an extra lens and other supplies, along with a light rain coat, are my cargo. I listen to music stored on my phone via earbuds. It is a time of escape and of immersion. Cultural immersion.
Neighborhood Store, Budapest, Hungary
Walking all day leads me to many unexpected places. Small neighborhoods are surrounded by an immense urban framework. But each one has its own character, its own people.
In a historical city like Budapest you are walking though the glories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the gray oppression of the Soviet era along with battle scars. Remnants of each pop out, but the Soviet era relics are not as photogenic.
Battle Scars, Budapest
Budapest is a city of ancient castles, palaces, boulevards, synagogues, basilicas, parks, museums, and all the elements of a modern business center. While I visited Hungary it had the Presidency of the European Union.
EU Flag Flying at the Parliament Building, Budapest
It is easy to forget time and place. My mind is racing, “what if the bright yellow street car passes through this park and a tour boat floats down the Danube, and ….” So many ideas and so many surprises.
In the distance I hear sirens and I am stopped by a serious officer. Nobody can walk across the courtyard ahead. People gather. Security tightens. The honor guard comes to attention as a black car enters the courtyard with flags flapping. A visiting dignitary emerges and is treated with honor by his hosts. I never knew who it was.
Late in the afternoon, I have to rest. I try to find a shaded outdoor table at a café. It is time to have some lunch, lots of water, and a glass of wine. It is a good chance to watch people on the sidewalk and in the buses. Conversations sound interesting, but I don’t know what they are saying. Maybe I have time for one more glass of wine….
On the way back to my hotel I pick a different route. Who knows what I will see? Ten hours of unplanned wandering have filled me with many memories. I have hundreds of photographs to sort through. Most are not useable for anything. But a few are rewarding and interesting.
Along the Way, Budapest
It has been a great day. And I am glad that I am not returning to a tent. My hotel near the train station is a welcome oasis!
Creative ideas grow during a photography session. As time passes you begin to see things differently through the lens. Images take hold of your imagination and it is difficult to walk away.
Ideas keep emerging. Perhaps hundreds of photos of a simple room verges on obsession. But each one is different and represents a different concept. A slight change in composition and perspective creates a unique image.
There is excitement when clouds open overhead and sunlight pours in the skylight. There is also attachment to the images. An emotional attachment. And there is loss when an image is missed. “Why wasn’t I ready? Why did I still have the ISO cranked up so high, now the light is gone? It only lasted a few seconds, and now nothing. The scene was alive, now it is dead.”
Hours pass while you are absorbed pursuing unexplainable creative passions. You walk the streets guided by image ideas. You never know where they will lead. You see new places and note features that you need to return to when the light angle is different.
Travel photography leads you into a series of overlapping explorations as you learn about a new place. At the beginning of the stay at each destination you spend long days in reconnaissance. You try to see the new location in all light conditions. The days start before dawn and last until dark, and after. Then during the rest of your stay, you follow your notes and return to sites at certain times of day. You make adjustments as you learn more and meet people. Hopefully the weather cooperates.
People do not really understand how captivating the process is, how powerfully the images draw your imagination. Sometimes the explanation sounds pretentious and self-absorbed. It is just something that you must do. It is hard to say without sounding overly dramatic.
There must be overall balance and there are other things that must be done. But for those short times when you are trying to make art, you are continuously seeing compositions and thinking about how to photograph them. You want to show people what you are imagining and how you have seen this place. Your website and exhibitions give you chances to show your ideas.
You hope that the photographs are interesting. You hope that people will stop and look. But you realize that nobody will ever know how much time and emotion that you have dedicated to each photograph. They just see a picture. “Hey, you just went there and stood and took a picture. Big deal!”
The next time you get your camera out and start walking it will be the same, however. You see images. This is what you want others to see. Did you see these chairs in this way?
Traveling east from Austria toward Budapest the scenery out the train window changes from towering glaciated peaks to flat agricultural lands. Hour after hour the Hungarian countryside stretches out like a table top as far as you can see.
Hungary is in the Carpathian Basin and most of it is flat and at low elevation, but the northern part of Hungary is mountainous.
If you rent a car in Budapest it is a short drive north to the Mátra Mountains. The highest point is Mount Kékes at 1,014 m (3,327 feet). The wooded hills are a welcome break from the urban pressures of Budapest.
The mountain roads are inviting and wind through shady forests and pass through beautiful medieval and modern villages. Near the summits there is ample parking to enjoy the broad vistas over farmland and forestland. The only sound is the wind rustling the leaves. It is a good place to clear the clamor and noises of the city out of your mind and think about the tiny villages far below.
Eger is a popular village with visitors to northern Hungary. Its ancient Baroque buildings are well preserved and the 13th century Eger castle is an interesting place to visit. Eger is 1,000 years old and welcomes guests to stroll its cobblestone streets. It is a pleasant place to spend time and unwind.
Baroque Hall, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary
A simple skylight is turned into an extravagant display of scrolled arches, gold-trimmed sculpted faces, symmetrical accent moulding, and decorated glass. The colors are subdued, but every other aspect is ostentatious.
This is another example of an art museum itself being part of the artwork on display. The buildings play an important role in establishing that the items within are made with rare skill and artistry.
This is a place of creativity beyond functionality. When you step inside you can not escape the fact that you have left daily routine outside. Your senses should be stimulated, if not startled.
This is the ceiling of the Baroque Hall in the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépmûvészeti Múzeum) in Budapest, Hungary. This wide angle view creates an interesting abstract image of shapes and colors. It is a very large hall and the ceiling is impressive in person.
It took a while to photograph this hall. Actually it took a couple days to photograph at all inside the museum. The first time I visited the museum I chose to go on a Thursday since they were open late that day. I had spent the morning walking the streets of Budapest photographing street scenes. After I paid my entrance fee and the supplemental fee permitting me to photograph I went upstairs and started working my way through the 14th century paintings with a goal of reaching the impressionists before closing. Before an hour had passed they announced by loudspeaker that the museum was closing six hours early. It turned out that they were having a special meeting and were closing early that one day.
I went back two days later and was able to use my previous ticket and photo privileges, after considerable discussion. Eventually I was helped by a museum staff member who was curious about why I was taking so many photographs of the building. Her initial suspicion eventually turned into artistic curiosity about what I was trying to show. She guided me to the Baroque Hall.
I spent several hours taking photographs and it turned out to be a very interesting time. Several of the halls had skylights and as clouds passed over the light changed dramatically. The museum has an impressive collection but it is also dramatic architecturally. For me it was still a place for active creativity. You can view more interior abstract photographs from this museum in my Hungary gallery by following the Photography link above.
The phrase ‘Roof of the World’ is applied to the Himalayas, the Pamir Mountains, Nepal, Tibet etc. – the area of the highest elevations on Earth.
Well this photo is not about that. It is about the ‘World of the Roof’.
Budapest is filled with beautiful architecture, parks, and broad boulevards. But in this posting I am taking a somewhat abstract view of a small section of roofs because the shapes and colors caught my attention.
The Basilica on the east side of the Danube River, the Pest side of Budapest, provides a narrow balcony around the top of its tower. It is reached by a very long set of spiral stairs. The balcony is more of a catwalk. It provides 360° views over the Budapest skyline. It is a spectacular place for overhead street-view photography if you are willing to hang over the heavy stone balustrade.
I spent an hour or two walking around the circular balcony photographing various views, some repeatedly as lighting or features changed. Whenever you spend a while photographing a particular setting you gradually see more and more. You become more creative.
In my first few laps around the balcony I was looking down at the street far below. And it took a few laps to get comfortable with the height. It was a hazy day so I didn’t photograph the skyline and didn’t really look at it at first. But eventually I noticed the roofs (no, the plural is not rooves) nearby.
This scene shows a striking variety of roofs and roof fixtures. There are skylights, a ladder, chimneys, tile, ducts, and antennae. I think the most interesting feature is the giant gray ducting that looks like an accordion bellow. Maybe it’s not a duct, but I don’t really know what else it would be. Perhaps it is a decorative ceiling in the building below.
In this foreshortened telephoto perspective the roofs look like they are on the same plane, as if they were a connected, but separate world. It is a world that goes unseen, except for people who work on the ducts or skylights, or sweep the chimneys. It is the world of the roof.
Which did you like the best, walking from village-to-village in rural France or strolling the streets of Budapest?
A contrarian answer to an unnecessary choice. They were both wonderful, interesting, and educational. And very different!
This trip is the reason I haven’t posted to this blog recently.
We have returned from a good long walk along the Lot and Aveyron Rivers in southern France. We stayed in small rural villages along the way and met unbelievably kind and unique characters. My main photographic goals were rural French countryside and small village lifestyle.
I also spent a week roaming the streets of Budapest. Each morning I would make a loose plan of where I wanted to be when the sun was at certain locations, adjusted for afternoon thunderstorms, and then I would listen to music and just walk all day. Budapest is a very photogenic place and very stimulating creatively.
In between those two locations I spent travel days in Geneva and Bern, Switzerland.
I have many photos to upload to my online galleries and many stories to tell. We were lucky that the weather in France was spectacular and that each of our lodgings turned out great, in its own way. We stayed on a farm, in a chateau, in a hikers’ gite, and in nice village hotels.
In Budapest I stayed in the Hotel Bristol, which is a short walk from the train station. I always stay near the train station. The Hotel Bristol is a comfortable and modern boutique hotel. The staff is very helpful and speak English, among other languages. You can find them at: http://www.boutiquehotelbristol.com/ or you can book them through booking.com.
I had some great train rides. I got to ride along Lake Geneva a couple times. There is a great view from the upper level of the train and the Swiss trains are so comfortable. The longest ride was from Bern, Switzerland to Budapest. It was over 13 hours but the scenery was spectacular.
The photo above is of the Matthias Church on Castle Hill in the “Buda” part of Budapest. The morning sun was still low enough to light it well and it was a crystal clear day. Castle Hill is a long walk from the train station, but the city is filled with interesting scenes and people. In future postings I will tell some stories and show photos from southern France, Geneva, and Budapest.
The bottom line is that all the travel went well and I am once again addicted to travel. I am ready to go again!