Photoshoot Dutch Painter Iris Duchateau

A couple of weeks ago I did an impromptu photoshoot with Dutch painter Iris Duchateau when we met each other in Normandy (France). Iris was originally a violin player who took up painting later in her career. I absolutely love her work – check it out on www.irisduchateau.nl.

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Pictures taken with Olympus OMD EM10 camera (Mark I) and Zuiko 14-42 3.5-5.6 mm lens, Recorded in Raw, post-processed with Adobe Lightroom.


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Robert Capa: When two books go to war…

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Without the shadow of a doubt, Robert Capa is the most famous war photographer of all times.
Born as a jew in Hungary in 1913, Capa left his home country in 1931 for Berlin to escape the oppressive right-wing and antisemitic dictatorship that reigned Hungary during that time. It was in Berlin that he learned photography. He moved to Paris in 1933 due to the rise of Nazism in Germany and it was here that he changed his name for commercial reasons from André Friedmann to Robert Capa. In Paris  his  career as a photographer took off with his pictures of the Civil War in Spain. In 1939 he fled to the US and would operate out of this country until the end of World War II.
During his working life he covered five wars: the Spanish Civil War, the war between Japan and China, World War II, the first Arab-Israeli War and the early days of the War in Indochina. He was a true socialite and was well acquainted with a number of famous artists, including writers like Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and John Steinbeck, film directors Joris Ivens (with whom he travelled through China) and John Huston, as well as actors like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (with whom he was romantically involved).
In 1947, Capa took the inititative to found Magnum Photos in Paris, the famous and first cooperative photo agency, which exists until this day. In 1954 he died when he stepped up a land mine in Vietnam.

Robert Capa’s biography reads like an itinerary

Capa - Blood and ChampagneAll in all Capa’s life seems to offer enough ingredients to create a great story, which is unfortunately exactly what Alex Kershaw fails to do in his biography of Capa titled ‘Blood and Champagne’. There are three reasons for this.
First all the biggest issue is that the book fails to bring Capa alive as a human being. Readers are told exactly where Capa was, when and with whom during his life, but does  not bring these events to live. In that sense the book looks more like an  itinerary than a biography.
Capa as a person is depicted as a charming dare-devil, gambler, womanizer and liar. The problem is that the book fails to explain the why, except hinting at the fact that Capa might have inherited these traits from his father.
Secondly the book covers Capa’s life until the end of WWII in a very detailed manner, but pays less attention to his life after World War II until his death in 1954. This is a pity because this is the period where he founded Magnum and travelled with Steinbeck through the USSR. Although both events are covered, they do not come to live. It is also the period where took pictures of the Dutch Royal family, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, William Faulkner and Truman Capote. These must have been memorable occasions, but the book either does not mention these events at all, or does not share any interesting details about them.
Finally the author does not pay attention to Capa as a photographer. The book mentions multiple times that Capa mainly used Leica cameras, but does not pay attention to his technique, style or choice of subjects. The only memorable quote from Capa related to photography in the book is Capa’s well-know statement ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’.

Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection is a definitive ‘must have’

Robert Capa - The definitive collectionThe book I really recommend is “Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection” by Richard
Whelan. This book contains 937 photos taken by Robert Capa and provides a condensed biography of Robert Capa’s life
The photos are selected by Richard Whelan and Cornell Capa, Robert Capa’s brother (who interestingly enough also adopted Capa as a last name). The book provides a great overview of Capa’s work and does not only include pictures of all the wars he covered, but also pictures he took on film sets with Ingrid Bergman, pictures of the rich and famous (including the Dutch royal family, John Huston, William Faulkner, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote) and series of pictures he took of the trip he undertook with John Steinbeck through the USSR in 1947 and of Jewish immigrants in Israel in 1948 and 1949.
Due to the fact that this book does not only cover his war photography, it enables readers to assess Capa’s skills as a photographer in “non-combat” situations. This distinction is important because photography in combat situation obviously offers little or no opportunity to properly focus and frame pictures.
His work depicting the political unrest in Europe during the Interbellum, with pictures of its political rallies, demonstrations and strikes, provides great documentary material and really manages to bring this era to live. The playfulness of Capa’s street photography will remind viewers of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson (one of the people he co-founded Magnum with). The only disappointing part of his body of work are his portraits. Although they are technically good, there is nothing special about them, especially if you compare them with the work of famous portrait photographers like Irvin Penn or Richard Avedon.
His “non-combat” pictures confirm that Capa was a technically competent photographer . The lightning, focus and depth of filed choices of all his pictures is immaculate. More importantly however is that his “non-combat” pictures are wonderful recordings of hope and optimism. In that sense they are a true testimony of the resilience of the human race.

Rediscovering the Church organ

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Yesterday I had the pleasure to assist my good friend and great organist Philip van den Berg to manage the registers of the organ of the St. Anton Kirche (Church) in Zurich for a Wedding Mass.  The St. Anton Kirche is Zurich was built between 1906 and 1908 by the famous Swiss architect Karl Moser (1860-1936), who was also responsible for the ‘ Kunsthaus’ in Zürich (the main art museum). I haven’t included any pictures of the facade of the church, because it was covered for a renovation.

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Until this week I never knew that the registration of a church organ was so complex. The organ, build by Kuhn from Männedorf (CH), has around 200 valves . These need to be set before and, which is much more stressful, during the performance.

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Philip van den Berg played a number of beautiful works – most of them extremely challenging from a technical point of view:

  • Johann Gottfried Walther, Organ Concerto in F. (Albinoni transcription)
  • Georg Friedrich Händel, “Lascia ch’io pianga” aus Rinaldo
  • Camille Saint-Saëns, Bénédiction nuptiale
  • Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Nun danket alle Gott

I personally do not particularly like church organ music. Main reason is that in the protestant churches I attended in the Netherlands, most organists seemed to be specialized in distorting the bass sound of their organs with the same intensity as Jimi Hendrix when he distorted the sound of his Fender guitars. Until the day of today I still wonder if and why people actually enjoy listening to this. I absolutely love Bach, but I am always trembling when, after the first couple of bars, the organists start moving to the lower registers and use their organ pedals in his Toccata.

Coming back to the playlist, I absolutely love the pieces by Johann Gottfried Walther, Organ Concerto in F. (Albinoni transcription) and Camille Saint-Saëns, Bénédiction nuptiale. For me this is a completely different class of performance and of organ music then I was used to. It opened my ears (and eyes!) to the beautiful music church organs can produce.

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All pictures are taken with an Olympus OMD-EM10 camera in combination with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 35mm f/1.8 fixed lens. I really love this lens: it is fast, built extremely sturdy and the optics are fantastic. The pictures were taken without flash, in RAW and post-processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Photos Huis Doorn – Home of Kaiser Wilhelm II

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Last weekend I visited Huis Doorn in the Netherlands, home of the former German Kaiser (Emperor) who lived from 1859 – 1941. After Germany lost WW I, Wilhelm II obtained asylum in the Netherlands (which had been neutral during WW I). Wilhelm II subsequently bought Huis Doorn and ordered extensive alterations. Fortunately enough he did not have to worry about furnishing his house; the German government enabled him to take whatever he wanted from his palaces in Germany. All in all 59 railway carriages were needed to transport his selection of furniture and other possessions to the Netherlands.

The transition from Kaiser to civilian provided him with lots of spare time. One of the hobbies of Wilhelm II developed was felling trees from the estate and chopping them up. It was rumored that he was so dedicated to this activity that he was solely responsible for significantly reducing the number of trees in the woods surrounding the house.

Important persons in his life in Doorn included his wives, first Augusta Victoria van Sleeswijk-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, who died in 1921; and secondly, Hermine von Schönlach-Carolath. He married her in 1922, one year after the death of his first wife. After Wilhelm’s death Hermine returned to her estate in Silesia, where she died in 1947 during imprisonment by the Red Army. Another important person in the life of Wilhelm II at Huis Doorn was Sigurd Von Ilseman, his adjudant, who had followed him into exile at the end of WW I. Sadly, Von Ilseman committed suicide in 1952 on the premises of Huis Doorn.

The emperor always kept hoping that one day the monarchy in Germany would be restored and stated that he wanted his body only to be transported back to Germany once that would be the case. To no avail. Although Hermann Goering visited the Kaiser a couple of times in Doorn before Hitler came to power, Hitler was not interested in a political role for Wilhem II.

The attitude of Wilhem II towards the Nazis was a bit ambiguous. On the one hand, he sent Hitler a telegram to congratulate him with the victory over France; on the other hand, he did not want the Swastika symbol to be present at his funeral. His telegram of gratulations to Hitler was the reason for the Dutch government to confiscate Huis Doorn after the war. His wish of a funeral without Swastikas was ignored by the German authorities when they arranged Wilhelm’s funeral in 1941.

The relationship with the Dutch royal family also was interesting. Despite the fact that they were relatives, Queen Wilhelmina never paid him a visit, though her daughter Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard did.

After his death Wilhelm II was put on a bier in the Mausoleum (which he had designed himself) on the premises of Huis Doorn. In the field in the front of the mausoleum there are also graves of five of his dogs.


All pictures are taken with an Olympus OMD-EM10 camera in combination with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED wide angle lens. The pictures in the house were taken without a tripod with an ISO between 3200-6400, hence the noise level of the pictures. All pictures were taken in RAW and post-processed in Adobe Lightroom.

A selection of the Kaiser’s uniforms

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Emperor staff

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The guest room

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Sleeping room for guests

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The dinner table

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The dining room

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The reception room

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The smoking room

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Exterior Restroom of the wife of Wilhelm II

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Restroom of the wife of Wilhelm II

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The relaxation room of Wilhelm II

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The Hermine Salon, named after the second wife of Wilhelm II

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The master bedroom

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The bathroom of the wives of Wilhelm II

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Working room for the adjutant of the Kaiser, Sigurd von Ilsemann.

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The study of Wilhelm II – note the saddle chair at the left

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Vestibule

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The yellow lounge

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The relaxation room of Wilhelm II

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Kitchen

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Kitchen table

"Fungus in the palace garden" Olympus OMD-EM10 Olympus Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED

Fungus in the garden of huis Doorn

 

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The mausoleum of the Kaizer seen through the windows of Huis Doorn (which could do with a cleaning). In the forefront the German eagle and the graves of five of his dogs can be seen.

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Grave of one the Kaiser’s dogs in the garden in front of the mausoleum of the Kaizer

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The mausoleum, designed by Wilhelm II himself

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The coffin in the mausoleum

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The rose garden

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The chapel of huis Doorn

I would highly recommend a visit to the estate, combined with a guided tour by enthusiastic volunteers. For more information go to www.huisdoorn.nl

 

 

 

Rapperswil (CH) with Olympus 9-18mm

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Recently I visited Rapperswil, a town situated on the southern end of the Lake of Zurich. It is a beautiful old town, built on a hill in a peninsula surrounded by the lake. Rapperswil boasts a number of historic monuments, including an old monastery, a castle and several churches.

Due to the fact that my Nikon D750 was being repaired by Nikon (as part of the recall program to fix the flare problems of their D750 model), I decided to take my Olympus OM-D EM10 camera with me.

With the exception of the pictures of the individual musicians of the band KabelBrand (for which I used the Olympus 14-42mm 3.5-5.6 lens), I took all the photos in this post with the Olympus 9-18mm 1:4-5.6 wide angle lens. Because the OM-D EM10 camera uses the micro four-thirds sensor, the equivalent full frame length of this lens is 18-36mm. The lens is extremely light; weighing only 155 grams, it almost feels like a toy, and certainly a lot lighter than the 640 grams of my old Nikon 20-35 mm (although that is a 2.8 lens).

It was an extremely sunny day and therefore an excellent opportunity to check the performance of the lens under these conditions. As you can see, the lens did a great job. The only thing is that the performance of the lens when it was exposed to direct sunlight was not great; I could not use a large number of my pictures, because they showed clear traces of flare when I reviewed them in Lightroom, despite the fact that I was using a lens hood. This provides a good reason to scrutinize pictures taken under these conditions more closely with the LCD screen of the camera next time. It is also a good reason to come back to Rapperswil another time to try and see whether the performance of the lens without a UV filter would be better.

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Open air concert by the band KabelBrand (unplugged)

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The original sound of Lakshmi Music

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Very rarely you hear a band with a true original sound. I had this experience when I heard   the Dutch band Lakshmi on a festival a while ago.

It started with the line-up: there was a real (two person) string section, and got only better when the music started. It is difficult to describe the sound, the description that came to my mind was a mix of the Velvet Underground, Soft Cell and the Eurythmics.

The band and band members are relatively young and have a lot of ambition and potential. They definitely deserve and international audience and I am curious how far they will come!


All pictures taken with a  Nikon D70S camera in combination with a Tamron 18-200 (non VC) lens.


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Indian summer in Scheveningen

A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk around the harbour of Scheveningen (Holland) in the beginning of the evening. Despite the fact that it was already September, the temperature was still around 20 degrees Celsius. The light was beautiful; it reminded me of one of my favorite paintings: “North atlantic light” by Willem de Kooning.

I decided to take some pictures with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 in combination with the standard kit lens: the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 ED. Although I love this camera and lens, given the limited amount of light I knew the noise level would be quite high and therefore a  faster lens or a bigger sensor camera would have been ideal. However I learned a while ago that the best camera there is, is the one you have with you…

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The quality of UV filters does matter

There are many discussions on the Web concerning the question whether it makes sense or not to use UV filters for camera lenses. After spending a couple of hours reading these discussions, the only thing that became clear to me it that it is apparently an emotional topic for a surprisingly large number of people, but that there are no conclusive arguments convincing enough to support either side.

Since I mainly bought UV filters to protect my lenses, I could never understand why they needed to be so expensive. When I needed to buy a 67 mm UV filter a couple of months ago, I spotted  a brand I never saw before. The brandname was “Phottix” and the packaging stated that the filter was produced in China, using glass produced in Germany. The price of the filter was only CHF 15, around a third of the price I normally pay for my B&W or Hoya filters. I was quite happy with this filter for a couple of months and even thought that the aforementioned suppliers had ripped me off for years.

All this changed a couple of weeks ago when I viewed the first picture below which I took at the Via Mala Schlucht (CH) on the LCD screen of camera. I could not believe my eyes and immediately took the second picture without this filter.

Both pictures are taken with a Nikon D750 camera and a Tamron 28-75 2.8 lens. The (RAW) pictures are displayed here as they came out of the camera.

I still do not know whether UV filters are necessary from an image quality perspective or not, but I do know (now) that cheap ones are to be avoided… at all costs.