There is something about mountains…

This post was supposed to include more imagery shot on the street. But hey, who wants to do things as planned? I was going through our imagery this morning performing my favourite editing activity – that is, deleting – and I was attracted to some photos shot in the mountains.

It struck me there is something about mountains! They have such different DNA from the sea. Towering peaks are blanketed by fast-moving clouds, the light fighting hard to get through. The roughness of the terrain, the roaring wind, the cold, heat … it’s all beauty and struggle together! This is a place where human masks are ripped away. This is a place where my senses calm down, my inner compass re-calibrates and new feelings emanate.

Somehow I always see mountains in black and white, even when I am not taking photos. Sure, I sometimes go for popular, colourful, low-hanging fruit but a visual hangover always follows. Too often I end up with a headache when I follow this route.

Below please find some new imagery and some you have seen before – so have I!

There is something about mountains…

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All images shot with the X-series cameras and lenses.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

From Idle To Full Of Vim – Vancouver Visual Excursions

The ease of digital photography, with its side effect of compulsive photo snapping and the peer pressure to perform, has created a situation where massive amounts of imagery are being pumped into all channels of our visual lives.

This flood of work is especially evident in the genre of street photography. I encounter individuals posting hundreds of images per week shot on the street. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure there are plenty of photographers who can produce an amazing body of work in no time. One thing is for sure – I can’t do it! 

Based on my personal experience and from observations of the best people in the field I know that street photography is much more difficult than it appears. In contrast to common belief, a photo taken on the street is NOT automatically street photography. A complete street photograph is a great finale of a lengthy and deeply immersive process of seeing, connecting, using creativity, thinking and risk-taking. Such a state is not something that can be awoken automatically by pressing the shutter button.     

It is not uncommon for some photographers to come back from their shooting sessions with nothing. I mean zero – no imagery! A dry spell or creative blockage like this is quite normal among photographers and artists.

There is a plenty of advice on how to overcome this state of non-seeing. Some people force themselves into shooting, while others beat themselves up. Daniel Milnor, a great documentary photographer and writer, has said in one of his interviews, “I might not have come back with anything but I came back with an idea of where I might be as an artist somewhere down the road.”   

This happens to me on a regular basis. I spend days walking around the streets of Vancouver only to come back with a full card of data but no photographs. However, what I do come back with is my photographic ego highly contained, my senses elevated and, strangely enough, my path to seeing much clearer.   

No, I don’t force myself into “seeing.” I just put the gears into idle. Each time I start seeing again, I am able to expose myself, to take risk. And that may well be a very find road to be on.

Here is imagery shot on the streets of Vancouver, following very valuable idling time. All shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4, the Classic Chrome (CC) film simulation.

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Next time:

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Here is the image of Nick from artquakecreative.com preparing his installation at the Vancouver Mural Festival. More images next time.

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One of the street artists at work.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

Ten years ago I received a lifesaving kidney transplant from Madeleine. The gift of these ten healthy years meant I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her generosity there would be no olafphotoblog.

During these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking why this woman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. 

Please make sure you read the first part of this series here.

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Madeleine took me to her classroom, now a museum. She sat down in her chair and put her hands on the desk. I just had to take this image. People’s hands tell so much.

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We visited a few more rooms, each one revealing more stories about the town of St. Pierre Jolys and its people.

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A rosary caught my attention. Who did it belong to? Was it prayed on?

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Then I ventured into one of the rooms and found dusty old Brownie camera, sitting on a top shelf.

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For some strange reason, I started to ponder about my road to seeing.

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The last ten years have been especially rewarding, as this gift of life allowed me to take a new path. Seeing has become my way of communication in this world. I found that doubt, struggle and vulnerability pave the way to creativity and self-discovery. How telling! Who knew that the old Kodak Brownie on a dusty shelf could spark such musing?!

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In fact, I have to give credit to Madeleine who has been pushing me toward the world of seeing. Both Kasia and Madeleine have been my motivators and judges.

Once we left the museum, we decided to visit the grave of Madeleine’s grandfather. It is one of a few places where the ashes of Madeleine’s father, Rene Mulaire, were scattered.

Cecile and Madeleine walked in silence.

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We all could feel the presence of Madeleine’s grandfather and father. What incredible men! Who knew that their grand/daughter would be standing here with a stranger whose life she had saved.

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The same day, Madeleine’s family organized a lovely dinner for Kasia and me. We could both feel the warmth and genuine kindness all around us.

The following day we started our drive home. Over the course of the long drive we thought about Madeleine and her family. The beauty of the Glacier National Park provided a great visual background for our contemplation.

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I realized once again that without Madeleine I wouldn’t be here to feel, connect and see. Strangely enough, the dramatic visuals only underlined this belief. I took out my camera and started seeing. It was my thank you and it always will be.

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If you have enjoyed this personal series, I have a favour to ask of you. There are thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant in North America. In the meantime, most people die each year taking their organs with them.

Could you please find a few minutes today to make the decision? Consider becoming an organ donor after your death. Please let others know your decision and register at BC’s Organ Donor Registry https://register.transplant.bc.ca. In the United States http://www.organdonor.gov.

You can find similar programs in your country.

Think about it. You can save as many as eight lives just by signing on. No effort is required. And if you’re lucky you can help your new friend take photos after your death (:

Still not convinced? Then watch this.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X100S, Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 1)

Ten years ago I was yet again a dying man. Regular dialysis kept me alive but drained my body of precious energy so I paid almost weekly visits to the Emergency department. I felt tired, depressed and very sick.

This physical and emotional end-of-the-road exhaustion came exactly three years after my multi-month stay in an intensive care unit. That was when I was dying the first time.

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It all started one ordinary Sunday afternoon when I was playing soccer with my friends. During the game I suffered a small scratch on my leg – one that you would probably ignore. So did I!

However, within hours I started to feel unusually weak. That evening I knew something was horribly wrong. By the time I got to a hospital and got a diagnosis, deadly flesh-eating bacteria had already eaten a great chunk of my leg. Who knew it would be just the beginning?

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I spent the next six months in an intensive care unit fighting the impossible. With the help of every known piece of life-sustaining machinery I was kept alive. However, with the C-difficile, numerous bouts of pneumonia, blood poisoning, septic shock and another long list of medical hazards, the verdict was in. The doctors didn’t think I would make it.

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For some unknown reason and to the great surprise of the medical personnel, I survived it all. However, I couldn’t go back to a normal life. For the next three years I had to have dialysis to keep me alive.

After each session of dialysis my body grew weaker and weaker. Almost weekly visits to Emergency due to numerous complications drew on my stocks of physical and emotional energy.

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The only way out was a kidney transplant. Given the average waiting time for a kidney transplant and my deteriorating health I knew that the prospect of receiving a kidney in time was nil. The only option was to find a living donor. I was incredibly lucky, as most of my family members immediately volunteered to help. Unfortunately, my unique blood mix quickly reduced the number of candidates to zero.

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To my amazement a few people I barely knew tested their blood to see if they could help but without much success. That’s when I gave up but my wife, Kasia, did not. She kept fighting and spreading the news about my situation.

And then, after months of stress and despair, we met Madeleine. I remember our first meeting. After years of suffering, disappointment and setbacks I had little hope, but the first time I saw this Frenchwoman I felt there was something different about her. Her strong and peaceful persona spread a calming tonic in the air – a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

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After months of medical tests, I was born again on November 28th, 2006. Madeleine had saved my life and become my other sister.

This year we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our transplant. During these ten years I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her gift there would be no olafphotoblog.

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In these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking and debating why a Frenchwoman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

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Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. This photographic essay is all about Madeleine and her family. This is a story that must be told – over and over again. It is a story of real courage.

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When we told our friends that we were heading to Winnipeg, they quipped, “Why would you go there?” It’s super hot (or cold), it’s flat and there are mosquitoes everywhere. After just two days spent with Madeleine and her family, Kasia and I fell in love with this super hot, flat and mosquito-ridden land. Why? Because you cannot separate the land from its people. And what people they are!

Upon our arrival, Madeleine and Raymond (Madeleine’s husband) had an entire apartment ready for us. Here is what we found on the table.

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The next day we headed to St.Pierre Jolys where Madeleine was born and where she went to school.. Her school was run by nuns but is now a local museum and that was the first stop.

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Madeleine showed us a statue on which her father, Rene Mulaire, had worked for years. She gently put her hand on the figure. We all could feel the warm and calming presence of this great man.

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Madeleine and her mother Cecile leafed through some documents and old books. The page with an image of Rene and his employees in front of his pharmacy caught our attention.

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Another room in the museum was dedicated to a character created by Madeleine’s mother, named Bicolo. Cecile ran a page in a francophone newspaper dedicated to children all about the character Bicolo. Here is Cecile and the character she created.

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…to be continued.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4 and  XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Most Important Trip Ever – Prelude

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Over the years we have done many road trips around North America. Some of these trips brought us amazing memories and great imagery, which we often shared on this platform.

While we enjoyed them, our latest road trip was the most important we have ever taken. Not only did we capture great imagery, visit spectacular locations and enjoy great weather but we got to know special people. In particular, it was a trip that let us discover the family history of a very special person, without whom I wouldn’t be here today.

We took many images, which will help us to tell this story like no other. It is a personal story but also one that goes beyond one person. It came to our realization that this event means much more than we thought, so it must be told, over and over again.

Now as we go through the imagery shot over the last ten days, memories and emotions are being awakened. We will try to channel our thoughts into words and the flow of essential words should find its way into this blog. Stay tuned.

For now, let these few images be a prelude to the account of the most personal and greatest road trip ever.

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All images taken with the Fuji X100S, the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

  

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Congratulations Portugal!

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All the images were shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4 lens.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Is the X-Pro2 for the heart and the X-T2 for the head?

Since we have already taken a dive into the dangerous world of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), let’s beat ourselves up for one more post. I promise the next time we will return to the normal and important subjects (in fact later this month we will be leaving for a super road-trip across many states and provinces all the way to Winnipeg to complete a super important and personal project).

Along with the release of the brand new Fujiflm X-T2, as is usual in such a case, vigorous online discussions have been taking place about whether to upgrade or not and whether the X-T2 is preferable to the X-Pro2 or not, etc. As someone who has shot with both the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 I formed my own opinion on the subject.

However, I am well aware that providing a definitive answer to this question is impossible due to the fact that we all differ, not only in the way we see or interact with the camera, have different sensitivity to the aesthetics of our surroundings but also in our emotions and experiences.

Rational people could take a look at the specification list, what each camera can do, what it cannot do, prices, etc. and conclude that there is no contest: the X-T2 is newer, it has faster AF, a great, brand-new grip, shoots 4K and is cheaper than the X-Pro2 – therefore it is a better camera. Indeed, that could be the case but with one proviso: it is better for YOU.

In our highly opinionated review (or rather rant) of the X-T2 we said that the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 have become flagships of the X-series – but they are different cameras. After using both I know that for my way of seeing and working, I prefer the X-Pro2. Interestingly enough, Kasia, my partner in crime, prefers the X-T2. Our problem is to explain clearly and logically why.

I have been thinking about it for a while and yesterday I came across a fascinating piece by one of my favourite X-photographers, Patrick LaRogue, titled, “On Flagships: X-T2 and X-Pro2.” In his piece he quotes a friend from Tokyo who said, “The X-Pros are for the heart, the XTs are for the head.” Immediately a light bulb lit up over my head. Eureka! That is the answer I was looking for! Is it a bit far fetched? Yes! Is it irrational? Yes! Do I care? No!

Confused? You should be.

Here is the imagery shot with a pre-production Fujifilm X-T2, XF 35mm F2, ACROS (A) and Classic Chrome (CC) film simulations.

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…and truly yours at work

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

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