Category Archives: berlin

Men demonstrate with bound hands and taped up mouths in protest.

Oromo Students Killed and Tortured in Ethiopia – Protest in Berlin

A demonstration is held in front of the German Parliament against the recent killing of students in Ethopia by government security forces, who have been protesting the planned expansion of Addis Abeba into the sorrounding Oromo region. This protest on 9 May 2014 in Berlin, Germany, is part of a day of worldwide demonstrations by members of the Oromo community and their supporters, including human rights groups.

Protestors marched through Berlin-Mitte with flags, posters and banners.

Protestors marched through Berlin-Mitte with flags, posters and banners.

A protestor holds up a map of Oromia and its sorrounding region.

A protestor holds up a map of Oromia and its sorrounding region.

Men demonstrate with bound hands and taped up mouths in protest.

Men demonstrate with bound hands and taped up mouths in protest.

Protestors holding signs and flags in front of the German parliament.

Protestors holding signs and flags in front of the German parliament.

A protestor holds up photos of students being beaten and tortured.

A protestor holds up photos of students being beaten and tortured.

Protestors marched through Berlin-Mitte with flags, posters and banners.

A sign in German reads “Justice for the victims of violence of the TPLF”.

Uma Thurman graced the red carpet with presence at the opening of the controversial film Nymphomaniac. This shot caught the flash of another photographer directly behind her head, giving a perfect halo.

Berlinale 2014: Hollywood Invasion

I spent the better part of this month photographing Berlinale, one of the country’s biggest and most important film festivals.  The big winner this year was “Black Coal, Thin Ice”, hailing from China, claiming both best actor and best film. Though plenty of German stars are to be expected on the red carpet, the presence of Hollywood has become somewhat overwhelming. Photos from a festival like this fly around the wire within minutes, but the most interesting photos are rarely even picked up by an agency let alone sold to a magazine. This is a selection of some of my favorite shots of mine from two weeks in Potsdamer Platz. These are about light, about character, about something happening.

Edward Norton and BIll Murray were around for opening night, part of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the Monuments Men teams. They enjoyed the red carpet. Mr. Murray posed for us while Mr. Norton mocked us.

Edward Norton and BIll Murray were around for opening night, part of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the Monuments Men teams. They enjoyed the red carpet. Mr. Murray posed for us while Mr. Norton mocked us.

Fans sleeping in the mall in Potsdamer Platz to get tickets for the public, which go on sale early in the morning.

Fans sleeping in the mall in Potsdamer Platz to get tickets for the public, which go on sale early in the morning.

Uma Thurman graced the red carpet with presence at the opening of the controversial film Nymphomaniac. This shot caught the flash of another photographer directly behind her head, giving a perfect halo.

Uma Thurman graced the red carpet with presence at the opening of the controversial film Nymphomaniac. This shot caught the flash of another photographer directly behind her head, giving a perfect halo.

Bill Murray chats with a TV crew on the red carpet at the premiere of Monuments Men. Changing his hat every time and always having fun, Murray was certainly a media favorite this time around.

Bill Murray chats with a TV crew on the red carpet at the premiere of Monuments Men. Changing his hat every time and always having fun, Murray was certainly a media favorite this time around. A “Natural Light” shot.

Nothing but love at the photo call for In Order of Disappearance: Hans Petter Moland, Bruno Ganz, and Stellan Skarsgard. Sure. they are actors. But this one shows some emotion, hard to snag at a festival.

Nothing but love at the photo call for In Order of Disappearance: Hans Petter Moland, Bruno Ganz, and Stellan Skarsgard. Sure. they are actors. But this one shows some emotion, hard to snag at a festival.

Diane Kruger poses for a selfie with a fan after the press conference for The Better Angels. Overhead shot with a Fuji X100.

Diane Kruger poses for a selfie with a fan after the press conference for The Better Angels. Overhead shot with a Fuji X100. I love that she is holding a camera but using her cell phone for the selfie.

Edward Norton at the Photo Call for Grand Budapest Hotel. My flash did not fire but I caught someone else's hard light from the side. Intense.

Edward Norton at the Photo Call for Grand Budapest Hotel. My flash did not fire but I caught someone else’s hard light from the side. Intense.

Martin Scorsese showed up to a screening of an unfinished work of his at Berlinale. I wanted to take my Rolleiflex with me that morning but knew I wouldn't have the time to shoot with an extra camera. But I could crop this shot down to a square, my favorite for portraits.

Martin Scorsese showed up to a screening of an unfinished work of his at Berlinale. I wanted to take my Rolleiflex with me that morning but knew I wouldn’t have the time to shoot with an extra camera. But I could crop this shot down to a square, my favorite for portraits.

Shia Laboef at the premiere of Nymphomaniac from Lars von Trier. After keeping his head down in the photo call and leaving the press conference after a couple of minutes, he decided to brown bag the red carpet. Potentially the most exciting thing that happened during Berlinale.

Shia Laboef at the premiere of Nymphomaniac from Lars von Trier. After keeping his head down in the photo call and leaving the press conference after a couple of minutes, he decided to brown bag the red carpet. Potentially the most exciting thing that happened during Berlinale. He strikes me as a bit off.

 

Berlinale's director Dieter Kosslick takes a pause to read the news at the food carts, a gourmet addition to the scene - but still less pricey than the junk in Potsdamer Platz.

Berlinale’s director Dieter Kosslick takes a pause to read the news at the food carts, a gourmet addition to the scene – but still less pricey than the junk in Potsdamer Platz.

Lio Fan wins the best dressed award as well as best actor for his work in Black Coal Thin Ice, which also took home the Golden Bear for best film. Fan cracks a smile during the winner's press conference. His silver bear pokes into the frame at the left.

Lio Fan wins the best dressed award as well as best actor for his work in Black Coal Thin Ice, which also took home the Golden Bear for best film. Fan cracks a smile during the winner’s press conference. His silver bear pokes into the frame at the left.

The Monuments Men brought a wave of Hollywood to Berlin. This crew came in singing and conga-lined out of there. Bill Murray, John Goodman, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Matt Damon. Most fun photo call ever.

The Monuments Men brought a wave of Hollywood to Berlin. This crew came in singing and conga-lined out of there. Bill Murray, John Goodman, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Matt Damon. Most fun photo call ever.

Shia Laboef at the premiere of Nymphomaniac from Lars von Trier. After keeping his head down in the photo call and leaving the press conference after a couple of minutes, he decided to brown bag the red carpet. Potentially the most exciting thing that happened during Berlinale.

Shia Laboef at the premiere of Nymphomaniac from Lars von Trier. After keeping his head down in the photo call and leaving the press conference after a couple of minutes, he decided to brown bag the red carpet. Potentially the most exciting thing that happened during Berlinale. He strikes me as a bit off.

The table in the press conference room is wiped down  just before the winners come in.

The table in the press conference room is wiped down just before the winners come in.  

That’s it for the kind of interesting shots from the festival which won’t get picked up for publication. A group of young photographers took part in the project Close Up! and got to roam around Berlinale half playing the game of a press photographer and half taking a step back to observe and view the festival in its entirety as a subject. These projects are excellent, artistic, and a lot of fun. If you are in Berlin, swing by C/O’s new digs at the Amerika Haus to see more interesting, refreshing perspectives on Berlinale. 

The spray paint on the side of a home at Oranienplatz reads "Refugee are Welcom Here"

Reporting from The Bundestag: The “Refugee Question”

Even the conservatives in the Bundestag – at least those willing to speak this morning in the session on refugees in the EU – acknowledged that Germany needs to do something about the “refugee problem”. And they did not sound hawkish. They spoke of the need to address the dreadful conditions at Lampedusa.

“The” boat which sunk off the coast of Lampedusa on October 3rd, 2013 – a shipwreck in which about four hundred of the five to six hundred people traveling from North Africa  to Italy – and the photos of that event, appeared to be the motivation of Merkel’s Union to act. The reporting of that event has likely been instrumental in changing the discussion.

One of the sleeping places at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg, Berlin, where refugees are camped out.

One of the sleeping places at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg, Berlin, where refugees are camped out.

But focus on this event alone, and frankly, on Lampedusa itself, has also dominated a discussion which has many more dimensions. One of the men at Oranienplatz, the year and a half old refugee camp in Berlin where refugees are camped out in a combination of lack of better choices and political protest, told me that about 100 of the 400 people on the boat he traveled on from Libya to Lampedusa died on the way. And his ship didn’t sink. This morning in the Bundestag, the necessity to act seemed to be more of a generic progressive, humanitarian need for members of the SPD (Social Democrats) and Grüne (Green Party). It was members of these parties who spoke of their experiences having actually visited the camps.

Christina Kampman (SPD) gave her first speech at the Bundestag on the necessity for reform.

Christina Kampman (SPD) gave her first speech at the Bundestag on the necessity for reform.

And Die Linke (The Left) appealed to ethics: that we know what is going on, people are dying.  Money is flowing to “Festung Europa” – The Fortress of Europe – but not to people who need it. The Mediterranean is thoroughly monitored, the argument goes, and therefore we know where the boats are but do not help when they are sinking – and thus bear part of the responsibility for the deaths of people attempting to escape. Indeed, the discussion happened today because Die Linke, about half of this Bundestag’s meager opposition, proposed it. They chose strong words to label the request: “Das Massensterben von Flüchtlingen an den EU-Außengrenzen beenden – Für eine offene, solidarische und humane Flüchtlingspolitik der Europäischen Union”, that is, “End the mass dying of refugees at the outer borders of the EU: for an open and humane refugee politic of the EU”.

Karl-Heinz Huber (CDU/CSU) questions Ulla Jelpke (Linke) on wether or not they would accept a differentiation between migrants and asylum seeker.

Karl-Heinz Huber (CDU/CSU) questions Ulla Jelpke (Linke) on wether or not they would accept a differentiation between migrants and asylum seeker.

It is hard to disagree with much of was said today. The question is what will be done. We heard today that the solution is to better the situation in Africa, with varying amounts of feeling of responsibility the situation. We heard that Europe and Germany need to help Italy and Greece. From others, that Germany is just as responsible as Italy because this is a European question. That people should be able to get a visa which allows them to travel to a country in Europe where they have family, roots, or a common language. That language courses have to be made available. That there is an office in Europe that deals with securing borders but none for helping refugees.

Frank Heinrich (CDU/CSU) thanked the opposition Linke for bringing up the issue of refugees.

Frank Heinrich (CDU/CSU) thanked the opposition Linke for bringing up the issue of refugees.

The progress I can report on is that the discussion took place, and did not suffer from navel-gazing. Nobody said that it is not “our” problem. A few conservatives claimed that we are doing enough already. But nobody stood up and said, “This is Italy’s problem” or “This is Africa’s problem”. Baby steps. There was also very little discussion of specific situations – like Oranienplatz – within Germany.

The spray paint on the side of a home at Oranienplatz reads "Refugee are Welcom Here"

The spray paint on the side of a home at Oranienplatz reads “Refugee are Welcom Here”

Again, it is very hard to disagree with anything that was said. But the question remains what Europe will do and how Germany, in its unique historical and economic role in Europe, will help to shape that discussion and move forward.

Shot at 50, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer). Still contrasty, but getting there.

New Film: Adox CHS 100 ii

It isn’t every day that a new film comes along in this millennium. So when one does, those of us who shoot film get excited. I think we owe it the people at  Adox, who actually went through the trouble of developing a new black and white negative film, to give it a shot. I shoot a lot of film. I attempt art with it, and I teach people how to work with black and white film. And I do bring film cameras along to press shoots, which I often use for portraits if there is a quiet thirty seconds.

The neatest thing about the Adox CHS 100 ii film, other than being new, is the film’s spectral sensitization: it is close to flat, and goes up towards the blues. This could be great for photographing with an open blue sky on a sunny day. Here’s the tech sheet. If you are antsy to get to the punchline of the review, here’s the simple version: the film is promising, interesting, and will take some getting used to. Like any new film, really. If you are looking for a film for your first foray into into film photography then I wouldn’t suggest starting with this film – mostly because it will require experimenting, and the amount of information out there is relatively small by comparison to more established films like Tri-X or HP5.

I can give the film general high production marks It seems to be physically well made. I was working with 4×5 sheet film, so I can’t comment on the grain. My gut feeling is that it is fine but not extraordinary on the grain front, closer to an old-style grain than to new (which are both, incidentally, standards in my cameras).  

Just one comment on price, because this is most of what you get if you search for info on this film in English. The price at FotoImpex makes it the least expensive sheet film you can get your hands on on in Germany. I know this isn’t the story at Freestyle, but I think it is worth mentioning – a lot of people in the U.S. won’t have a reason to try the film at its price there. Understandable, but I still think it is worth it to investigate when a new film comes around – we have no idea what will be available in a few years.

Let the games begin.

Exposure, Development and Shadow Detail

The take-home point of my experience spending a few days with the Adox CHS 100 ii is that the 100 part of the name may be a bit exaggerated. I tend towards low contrast, high range negatives, and I found that the shadow detail was difficult to retain at 100. I am getting results that are better for me by rating it at 50.

This testing was done of Christmas and New Years, mostly in Berlin – not exactly a Sunny 16 situation. The light has been excellent these days though, with a low hanging northern european sun hitting the streets just right, and a deep blue sky. Closer to Sunny 11, though. Even still, rating the film at 100 gave me little shadow detail. I was happier around 50.

Adox CHS 100 ii with Rodinal

The film reeked of Rodinal/Adonal – By Adox, made in Germany, Fine Art in the name. Plus for sheet film, grain isn’t usually a consideration. No matter what I did with CHS 100 ii and Adonal, the shadows were pushed down. I didn’t get the results I was looking for but I suppose that someone who has been using Rodinal for longer than I’ve been alive could get this right pretty quickly.

 

 

Overcast day in Coburg, shot at ISO 100. Adonal 1+50 tray development for 10 minutes.

Overcast day in Coburg, shot at ISO 100. Adonal 1+50 tray development for 10 minutes. The shadows aren’t playing along.

 

The shot above was my first attempt, shot at ISO 100, souped in Adonal 1+50 at 20C for 10 minutes in trays, agitating once a minute. This shot was on a cloudy, indeed drizzly day. The negatives came back at the upper limit of contrasty for me – the sky, which was indeed white, has little texture and the lampposts get lost. This time is closer to a N+1 (increased contrast) development. 

Note that these are scans of fiber prints, not of negatives. I’ve done a rough brightness adjustment to get the scan to have similar tones to the print in my hands. This overdramatizes the issue of the shadows, but it is still quite present in the prints.

The upper scan was almost a straight print, I dodged the small lamppost at the end of the street by 1/3 stop to get some separation. The right hand side of the image, though, really suffered. I reprinted, dodging the shadowy right hand side of the image for a half stop. Here’s a detail scan.

Same negative as a above, 1/2 stop dodge on that shadowy right hand side.

Same negative as a above, 1/2 stop dodge on that shadowy right hand side.

The negative has some information there, but the tonal falloff is strong.

The Adox tech sheet claims 9 minutes for standard time, more like 8 minutes for sheet film due to being produced with one less layer. This is looking consistent so far: 8 minutes for N, 10 minutes for N+1. Great, except that the shadows were already disappearing, and that on a rainy day.

Standard Contrast Development with Rodinal

Looking better:  Similar weather, same rating of ISO 100. Increased time and less agitation giving better shadow development.

Looking better: Similar weather, same rating of ISO 100. Increased time and less agitation giving better shadow development.

The next round was on a similarly overcast, rainy day. I shot again as metered (ISO 100), but this time I developed in Adonal 1+50 for 12 minutes in a tank with less agitation, more like every 2 minutes. The result is much, much better. It helps that those stairs are almost exactly that shade in real life, a tinge brighter than middle gray. But I still have the feeling that the shadows run away.

Shooting a Sunny Day

After that, the sun came out, so I would need to move towards N-1, maybe N-2. The standard zone method would be to shave off time, but truth be told, I do not want to be doing sheet development in trays in the range of 5-6 minutes. I am just not that accurate. Instead I decide to reduce agitation and increase the time again, a combination that leans towards stand development with Rodinal. So I shot at ISO 50 and souped 1+50, 20C, 14 minutes, with only a gentle sway of the tray, closer to every two minutes. 

The results were useable but imperfect. For the sake of comparisons, I took the identical shot on HP5 and I gave it my standard N development (ISO 400, ID-11 1+1 11 minutes with constant inversions).  The negatives are both dense and the contrast is a bit high for my taste, but the information is there on the negative. Not the easiest thing in the world to work with, but the information is recorded. The shadows, though, still run away. They were about a stop darker than the HP5.

Staining Adox CHS 100 ii with Tanol

I wanted to try one more thing: a staining developer like Tanol. Pyro is nearly impossible to come by on this continent, but Moersch does a great job locally on all kinds of funny chemistry. I used to shoot Agfa APX with PMK Pyro from the Formulary. I find the results of Tanol to be qualitatively similar to Pyro, with high accutance, large tonal range and little grain – and what is there, I find rather elegant. 

Lacking much information, I jumped in, mixing Tanol at 1+1+100, souping for 14 minutes at 20C in trays. Truth be told, I took this as a total shot in the dark – it is a rough average of all the times Moersch lists for Tanol. Seemed like a good place to start, and indeed, it think it was.

Shot at 50, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer). Still contrasty, but getting there.

Shot at 100, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer) 1+1+100 for 14 minutes at 20C. Still contrasty, but getting there.

The setting is a half-abandoned sports center on the corner by my lab in Berlin-Friedrichshain. Not every building has graffiti on the windows and not just the walls. I rated it to ISO 100 again, expecting trouble in the shadows. It was bright and sunny that morning. What I got was subtle, high accutance and a large range. The contrast is still too high though: this was printed with a filter 1, and some shadow detail is still missing here. Presumably shooting at ISO 50 and developing with a staining developer would get the job done if the sun is shining.

Thoughts on Adox CHS 100 ii

After a few days of testing, my conclusion is that the Adox CHS 100 ii film is highly capable, especially in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I imagine that my best use for the film would be in a studio, but everyone has different tastes. Using the sheet film, I’ll be rating it at ISO 50. The best results I got were Rodinal 1+50 12 min at 20C agitating every two minutes and Moersch Tanol 1+1+100 14 min at 20C agitating every minute.

Note again that Adox says times for the sheet film are 10% reduced with respect to roll – especially important if you are going to use my  Adonal times with agitation every minute as a guideline.

I’ll publish an update when I’ve gotten results that I’m a bit more satisfied with – it is likely to be some time, but I wanted to get this out there right away.

 

 

The party heads sign the Coalition Contract of the 18th German Parliament

Welcome, Merkel’s Cabinet

This week saw the swearing in of the 18th Bundestag (German Parliament), after months of talks amongst the parties.

The results of the election on September 22nd left four parties in the corners of the ring, with Merkel’s Union coming just several seats short of an absolute majority. This is not a common occurrence here. Btw, calling her party “Union” is a little pedantic but should be done. The CDU, her party, has a sister party, the CSU, in Bavaria. Different parties and different heads of party but generally voting as a block.

The various arrangements have lead to a “Great Coalition” – a joining of the two centrist, middle-sweep parties: The SPD (Social Democrats) and CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats). You can guess which one is center-left and which one is center-right.

Before the leaders of the Social Democrats were willing to go into this slippery coalition, they drew up a contract with the Union (this happens) and then put it to a vote of their party members, presumably to cover their political butts.

A vote of a party member is counted by an SPD volunteer in a hall in Berlin, deciding on a Great Coalition

A vote of a party member is counted by an SPD volunteer in a hall in Berlin, deciding on a Great Coalition.

The measure passed, ushering in a Great Coalition. 

Monday saw the official signing of the Koalitionsvertrag, the Coalition Contract. Big table set up with lots of important people from each of the three parties – the two Unions and the Social Democrats. The signatories were the head honchos of each of the parties. For the CDU, this was Merkel, who has consolidated the power within the party rather thoroughly around herself. For the SPD, Sigmar Gabriel was the leader of the coalition talks in his role as the head of the SPD. Now in the Cabinet, he is Vice-Chancellor and now the custom-cut Minister for Business and Energy. Gabriel has emerged as the most prominent member of the SPD. He is also, as the name of his new position suggests, the person who will try to lead Germany towards its goals of energy reform, abandoning nuclear energy by 2022 and developing the green sector.  The rest of the parties’ leadership signed on, too.

Sigmar Gabriel, head of the SPD, announcing the results of the internal vote. He has emerged as one of the powerhouses of the SPD.

Sigmar Gabriel, head of the SPD, announcing the results of the internal vote. He has emerged as one of the powerhouses of the SPD.

The third person sitting at the wheel was Horst Seehofer, head of Bavaria’s CSU, and the Ministerpräsident (Governer, really) of the state. Certainly on Monday he came off looking rather unpolished, as here, when he couldn’t find the correct page of the contract to show to the press, and Merkel had to help him. 

The party heads with their signed copies of the coalition contract. Merekel (CDU) helps Seehofer (CSU) while he struggles a bit and Gabriel (SPD) laughs on

The party heads with their signed copies of the coalition contract. Merekel (CDU) helps Seehofer (CSU) while he struggles a bit and Gabriel (SPD) laughs on.

With the contract of the parties signed, the parliament met on Tuesday. They had met a few times since the election to discuss special topics, but that was a bizarre constellation where the old ministers still had their seats – including those from the now ousted Liberal Party (FDP). Those sessions did not pass new laws. They were not, in some sense, full sessions of parliament. 

Hans-Christian Ströbele (MP, Green) addresses the Bundestag during a special session on the NSA syping scandal. He had met with Snowden the week before in Russia.

Hans-Christian Ströbele (MP, Green) addresses the Bundestag during a special session on the NSA spying scandal. He had met with Edward Snowden the week before in Russia.

Germany is a very democratic country. Tuesday’s vote, though, was not democracy’s strongest showing here. The President of the Bundestag, a position akin to Speaker of the House, proposed to vote on Merkel for the position of Chancellor, a yes or a no. At least it was a secret ballot election. 

Angela Merkel puts her ballot in the box in the vote for Chancellor in the Bundestag

Angela Merkel puts her ballot in the box in the vote for Chancellor in the Bundestag.

The results came back with 462 out of 631 voting for her. It is noteworthy that this represents 42 less votes than if everyone from the Union and SPD had voted for her. The other parties, who presumably did not vote for her at all are Die Linke (The Left) and Die Grüne (The Greens). This vote of more than 2/3 is likely to be the kind of votes we will see in the next four years.

The cabinet's bench is filled with new ministers for the first time in the 18th parliament

The cabinet’s bench is filled with new ministers for the first time in the 18th parliament

While Germany only has one house, the Bundestag, this situation does not amount to a total mandate. Laws go through the Bundesrat as well, a federal council representing the states of Germany. The members of the Bundesrat represent the votes in state elections, which deviate considerably from the national vote – here, the Green party has considerably more power, and the Liberals (FDP) still hold seats.

This week also marked what would have been Willy Brandt’s 100th birthday. So after months of campaigning and bickering, Germans could rally around Brandt and remember a time when the country was more united (that was a joke). Brandt was the Mayor of West Berlin when the wall was built, the Chancellor who fell to his knees in Warsaw at the memorial to the ghetto and uprising, and whose policy of Ostpolitik helped lead to German reunification and reconciliation. While sponsored by Brandt’s own SPD and mostly attended by their own members, at least one person showed up who has definitively risen above party politics in his life, former President Richard von Weizsäcker – renowned for the speech in which he said that May 8th 1945, V-Day, was a day of liberation.

Fromer President Richard von Weizsäcker attending what would have been Willy Brandt's 100th Birthday

Former President Richard von Weizsäcker attending what would have been Willy Brandt’s 100th birthday party in the Willy-Brandt-Haus of the SPD.

 

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon's eye staring down at him.

European Premiere of The Hobbit and the Nikon 300mm f/4 Lens

Berlin gets really excited when Hollywood comes to town. Almost as if someone forgot to tell Berliners that their city is back on the A-list for, well, just about everything ranging from startups to tourism to art, miniscule galleries and world-class film premieres included. Pardon my cynicism at this degree of fandom, but I suppose I am revealing myself as a native New Yorker. So Potsdamer Platz was stuffed to the brim on Monday with fans of Lord of the Rings for the European Premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, now the fifth movie in the trilogy.

Fans dressed as Orcs, clearly happy to be strolling down the red carpet.

Fans dressed as Orcs, clearly happy to be strolling down the red carpet.

It was my first red carpet since getting back from Thanksgiving in New York last week. Which meant I finally got to test my new gear. I’ve been hunting around for some of the long Nikon lenses, for those moments where, well, I am crushed in behind two photographers taller than me, getting shots of people fifty feet away. Like Monday. The lenses have been damn tough to find in Berlin. I know, I know, Poor But Sexy. But still, the only 300mm lens I’ve found in the whole city was for rent. I even went to visit the Nikon reps at Calumet during a show, but they just had one of those odd 80-400 superzooms for tons of money and a questionable quality, but none of the fixies. So I swung through Adorama in New York, as I always do, and managed to score a wild deal on a 300mm f/4 AF-S lens for a meagre sum, as I am want to do.

Good on me, too. The red carpet was ginormous. I mean, huge. How big? Here’s the surprise guest of the night, beauty Orlando Bloom, waving to the press. This apparently wide angle shot is on a standard portrait lens – a 50mm shot Dx, so about 85mm.

Guest star of the night Orlando Bloom (Legolas), waving to the press.

Guest star of the night Orlando Bloom (Legolas), waving to the press.

So I shot with an effective 85ish mm lens, and a 300mm lens on my other body. I had my effective 35mm Fuji X100 in my pocket, in case I wanted a shot with other photographers’ gear in the way. I didn’t.

To further set the scale, they built a dragon. Smaug, to precise. Here we have Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the dragon, in front of the dragon. I’d guess the model (the dragon, not the guy) was about 4m tall and 15m long. For those of you who aren’t comfortable thinking in metric, that converts to really big.

For Scale: Benedict Cumberbatch standing in front of the Smaug model. It's really, really big.

For Scale: Benedict Cumberbatch standing in front of the Smaug model. It’s really, really big.

To catch the difference between the lenses, well, that shot was at 85mmish. This one is at 300mm – neither he nor I had moved. He’s just pointing to his dragon, now.

Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Smaug the Dragon, thumbing towards him

Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Smaug the Dragon, thumbing towards him

This lens is gorgeous. It does everything a lens should and nothing it shouldn’t. Skip this paragraph and the next if you don’t care about the lens. It eschews VR – useless for moving subjects – which makes it light, cheaper, and probably last longer since there are less moving parts. It takes a 77mm filter thread – big standard for Nikon. It is AF-S (quick) SWM (quiet), IF (no external moving parts) and D (backwards compatible to pre-automatic cameras) and ED (fancy glass). What it “lacks” is G – which would kill the aperture ring on-lens and compatibility along with it and the nano crystal coating, which I would would have liked. Because it is not a zoom lens, it is way lighter than other similar looking lenses, and it has a minimum focusing distance of 1.45 meter – the same as the 70-200 f/2.8 VRII. But this is a 300mm lens, making it effectively much closer. Yay! It also means there is almost no distortion. I hardly see a difference in straight lines using Adobe’s default correction. Big score, especially for using it with film. The f/4 makes it one stop less sensitive, and slightly worse at subject separation in some situations. Looking at these photos, no complaints there. It would be great to have an extra stop, but not for 6 times the price and weight. For the extra 5 grand I could have bough a D4 instead, which gets plenty of extra stops over most cameras.

For the record, the main reason I didn’t go for the 70-200 VR II. (other than price and a variety of other gripes) is that at 70mm, you can’t focus close enough for a crop shot of a person’s face. I lost a couple of shots due to that. Red Flag.

Back to the Hobbit. Some people are tough to recognize in real life. While that is probably great for the privacy of actors and actresses, it makes it tough to properly caption your pictures, or to try to get someone’s attention. Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo, was easily recongizable. One point for the press.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon's eye staring down at him.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon’s eye staring down at him.

There were some blunders of the night. Early on, this couple came by, and were, well, mistaken by a number of the photographers as being Peter Jackson and his wife. Evidently he was part of the production team. Whether or not he heard the photographers calling out to him as Peter, well, he and his wife played along. That happens.

The Not Real Peter Jackson with his wife.

The Not Real Peter Jackson with his wife.

Gusts of wind happen, too. Which is how I caught this hair moment of the Real Peter Jackson, left, with his daughter, Katie. Note that the dragon is the background on most of these shots.

The Real Peter Jackson and his Real Daughter, Katie Jackson, and a gust of wind.

The Real Peter Jackson and his Real Daughter, Katie Jackson, and a gust of wind.

Looking at those shots, this lens is doing its job. Contrasty, sweet subjects with a perfect separation to the dragon. These tele shots run around f/8 to f/11 – so the subjects are perfectly sharp, front to back, while the background has become abstract. If you check out the Orcs, you can count the blades on the aperture ring. If only I shot Canon, I could attach my beloved Dresden-built lenses with more aperture blades than you can count. Literally. But I don’t, and it doesn’t seem like we can expect production lines to return to that kind of extraordinary quality openings anytime soon, where we could count off the abbreviations of modern lenses and get 22 blades. 

Here’s a picture of some pretty people to finish this off, since you have made it to the end.

Just look at all those cheekbones. Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel, Elf) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas), posing for our lenses

Just look at all those cheekbones. Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel, Elf) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas), posing for our lenses 

 

 

The demonstration arrived on Oranienburgerstraße as the sun was setting. The New Synagogue can be seen in the background.

Remembering Kristallnacht: The 75th Anniversary of The November Pogrom

“It is anything but obvious that leaders of the Jewish community would want to address us today”, explained one Church leader, to the thousand-strong group who had gathered at Berlin’s City Hall to commemorate Kristallnacht, perpetrated 75 years ago this past Saturday. The mayor of Berlin, the Catholic Archbishop of Berlin and the Protestant Bishop of Berlin and surroundings led the group in a silent march, stopping at memorials along the way, to Oranienburgerstraße – a street which is again home to a Jewish community  – where the demonstration was addressed by two Rabbis, as soon as Shabbat ended. “It is sign of hope that shabbat is again being celebrated on Oranienburgerstraße”, he explained.

"Remeber. Commemorate. March." reads the banner held by the Mayor, Protestant Bishop and Catholic Archbishop of Berlin along with other leaders.

“Remeber. Commemorate. March.” reads the banner held by the Mayor, Protestant Bishop and Catholic Archbishop of Berlin along with other leaders.

The speeches given by the Mayor, Bishop and Archbishop are also not to be taken for granted. The Mayor discussed the complete lack of organized resistance by the Churches. He pointed out individual acts – for instance, the police commissioner who prevented S.S. men from burning the New Synagogue (pictured above) on Kristallnacht – and cited them as evidence that resistance would not have been futile, had there truly been any here in Germany. The church leaders, for their part, spoke shamefully of the lack of courage of their predecessors. The Protestant Bishop Markus Dröge called on the state to be open open to asylum seekers escaping contemporary persecution, a hot topic at the moment.

Germany is not in danger of forgetting. On the contrary, the process of remembrance is a living aspect German society today. Berlin chose “Diversity Destroyed” (Zerstörte Vielfalt) as the theme for 2013, putting faces and names to many people from the city who fled or were murdered during Nazi rule. The activities surrounding the theme culminated with this weekend’s events.

The Neue Synagoge Berlin (New Synagogue) on Oranienburgerstraße, which was protected from the S.S. by a police chief on Kristallnacht.

The Neue Synagoge Berlin (New Synagogue) on Oranienburgerstraße, which was protected from the S.S. by a police chief on Kristallnacht.

On Friday, the President of Germany visited the workshop of Otto Weidt, a man who saved many Jews’ lives. But unlike in most of Europe, the Legend of the Resistance is far from the dominant discussion in Germany. Here, it is still very much one of guilt and accepting responsibility. Indeed, throughout Europe, one rarely hears tales of French, Italian or Polish culpability – nor of German resistance.

This weekend, the tone followed suit. Shops around the legendary Kurfürstendamm – an area where many shops were owned by Jewish families before the Holocaust – put decals up, showing their windows as if they were shattered. Kids were asked to make short films in responses to questions like “What would you do if the most important thing in your life was taken away” – which produced shorts ranging from a boy taking away his little sister’s iPhone to two teenagers of the same sex holding hands in the schoolyard, before getting bullied and separated. The films, amongst other things, were projected onto the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday night in a evening called “Diversity is Freedom” (Vielhalt ist Freiheit).

A nun who marched wearing her habit and a bag which reads "Vielfalt ist Freiheit" - Diversity is Freedom.

A nun who marched wearing her habit and a bag which reads “Vielfalt ist Freiheit” – Diversity is Freedom.

On Saturday, the main event was the Silent March through Berlin. It wound its way from Alexanderplatz past Museum Island and onto Unter Den Linden, where the first stop was at the Berliner Dom, an enormous protestant church in Mitte. A group of students from a protestant church group read aloud stories of lives destroyed on Kristallnacht, as they were doing all day.

The Mayor (center) and Bishops in front of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) while students read aloud stories of lives destroyed on Kristallnacht.

The Mayor (center) and Bishops in front of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) while students read aloud stories of lives destroyed on Kristallnacht.

The March continued, moving to the Book Burning Memorial in front of Humboldt University’s Law Department. An enormous book burning was held here on May 10, 1933, in which professors and students of the University brought books out of the library and burned them, accompanied by orchestras of the S.A. and S.S. An underground memorial houses empty bookshelves in commemoration.  As the demonstration arrived, a catholic choir stood on the steps of the department, singing Shalom Alecheim, traditionally sung as Shabbat begins.  Here is a dreadfully unprofessional video I shot of them, but it’s the audio that counts: Cathloic choir singing Shalom Alecheim at the Book Burning Memorial in Berlin

 

The Denkmal zur Erinnerung an die Bücherverbrennung (Book Burning Memorial) in Bebelplatz, Berlin, shown on May 10 2013, on the 80th anniversary of a major book burning at Humboldt University.

The Denkmal zur Erinnerung an die Bücherverbrennung (Book Burning Memorial) in Bebelplatz, Berlin, shown on May 10 2013, on the 80th anniversary of a major book burning at Humboldt University.

And on Oranienburgerstraße, we stopped in front of a parking lot. Not at the recognizeable “New Synagogue” from 1866, which was spared on Kristallnacht but ruined by allied bombings, then partially razed and rebuilt in East Berlin, but at the site of another synagogue which was burnt down on Kristallnacht. The demonstration arrived before shabbat ended, at which point the crowd –  by now, larger than when it had begun – respectfully waited for the two Rabbis who would be addressing the group to come. The group stood in the street, looking for the first stars, arguing, Talmudically, whether the first star that was spotted was indeed a star or was a planet.

The demonstration arrived on Oranienburgerstraße as the sun was setting. The New Synagogue can be seen in the background.

The demonstration arrived on Oranienburgerstraße as the sun was setting. The New Synagogue can be seen in the background.

The group was addressed by Andreas Nachama, a Rabbi and Professor who is involved in many walks of Berlin life, and by Gesa Ederberg, Rabbi at the Synagogue on Oranienburgerstraße. They traded off at the podium, Rabbi Nachama discussing the current day situation. He discussed the fact that all over the world, there are Jews, Christians and Muslims who are persecuted for their beliefs, and the desire of the Jewish Community to rebuild a reform synagogue on that empty parking lot, before which we stood.

Rabbi Andreas Nachama addresses the demonstrators on Oranienburgerstraße once Shabbat had ended.

Rabbi Andreas Nachama addressed the demonstrators on Oranienburgerstraße once Shabbat had ended.

Rabbi Ederberg discussing Kristallnacht, emphasizing not just the S.S. men who burned synagogues to the ground that night but the men in suits and ties who walked by, not wanting to see what was going on. And she told a tearful audience of the studying and laughter, humor and knowledge, which were lost along with the lives taken in the Holocaust. 

 

One of the protestors at the Bradenburg Gate.

Portraits of The Refugees Striking at the Brandenburg Gate

A few days ago, I posted a series of photos of the refugees who are hunger-striking at the Brandenburg Gate in protest of their living conditions. I took those photographs on Wednesday. In the brief moments that I was there, I found a member of parliment speaking with the protestors and watched an ambulance take away one of the protestors who had fainted. I photographed one man who was lying, huddled, the last image in this post. Rain was coming and going.

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

A protesting refugee is brought to the hospital after several days without food or water (Wednesday).

I returned Friday morning to find a situation, sombre if less dramatic. By then, there were more helpers – many of them students in Berlin – than protestors. These supporters are organizing blankets, umbrellas and first aid, and handling the constant flow politicians, press, supporters and tourists.

Two of the helpers survey the encampment as a group of striking refugees sit and talk.

Two of the helpers survey the encampment as a group of striking refugees sit and talk.

The protestors who are still there have an extraordinary strength to them. They have gone without water for days, food for more than a week. Everyone is speaking in soft voices, nobody has the energy for more than that. I asked about half of the people who are still there if I could take their portrait. Two men told me they were too weak, maybe later. Those who said yes did so in the hopes that their faces reach beyond their encampment in Pariser Platz.

One of the protestors at the Bradenburg Gate.

 

One of the protestors at the Bradenburg Gate.

One of the protestors at the Bradenburg Gate. Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate, in Photos

A group of refugees have come to the Brandenburg Gate in protest of their dire living conditions, explaining it to the world with a hunger strike. The demonstration began about a week ago on 9 October and shifted to exclude water on Tuesday. The extremity of the strike reflects the dreadful conditions which these people are facing. In many cases, a visa was issued on humanitarian grounds – but one which excludes the right to work, leaving the person with few choices. By the night of 16 October, a large number of the protestors had been taken to the hospital. I’ll leave the rest to the photos.

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

The group on the first night of the strike, with the Brandenburg Gate lit up for the Festival of Lights behind them.

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

A request to not enter the encampment’ a no-water area

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

Green Party member of the Bundestag Hans-Christian Ströbele visits the refugees at the Brandenburg Gate.

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

A banner behind the group reads “No Person Is Illegal, We Are All Staying”.

 

The Brandenburg Gate on the night the hunger strike began, lit up for the Festival of Lights.

The Brandenburg Gate on the night the hunger strike began, lit up for the Festival of Lights.

Refugee Hunger Strike at the Brandenburg Gate

A striking refugees on day 8 without food, day 2 without water.

 

"Meth Lab" at the Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

Breaking Bad Finale Party

Only in Berlin: a red carpet event in a car wash.

Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

The transformed Cozy Wasch at the Breaking Bad finale, complete with couches on the track.

Apparently, Breaking Bad is such a spectacularly superlatively fantastic show that its finale deserved a red carpet of its own put on by AXN, a Sony channel in Germany, which was airing the show. And that finale deserved a car wash.

Reading that it would be in Cosy Wasch near Ostbahnhof (a train station) – an area smattered with clubs like Berghain in abandoned factory buildings, power plants, and whatever else was lying around when the wall fell – I assumed it was in an abandoned car wash. I should have known better. After all, cars were a luxury in the days of the East. The Breaking Bad finale was aired in a completely functional car wash.

Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

The waiters donned biohazard suits to set the mood. Donut in hand.

Other than some corporate execs and a couple of moderators there wasn’t anyone there to do with the show. But to set the scene, they transformed the track for cars into a living room and the side rooms into a meth-lab-lookalike. I felt at home shooting here. No, while it is hard to earn a living as a photographer I’m not cooking meth on the side. But the equipment and room were similar enough to the micro-distilleries which I’ve photographed that I could just jump in and get to work without having to scout.

"Meth Lab" at the Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

Part of the “Meth Lab” in a side room at the car wash.

The only person there who seemed to have anything to do with the show itself was actually just part of the events team, so he was checking off the guest list and making sure VIPs were comfy. But fans of the show might have to look twice. When things got quieter later on, he and anyone else really could strike a pose.

Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

No, not Walter White himself: a guy working for the events team takes his turn on the red carpet

Though usually these red carpet events are alternatively stressful and boring, this one was a lot of fun. Walter White up there isn’t the only one who got to play with props. Sunglasses, hats, bag o drugs, fake money, teddy bears – it was all there. Here are the kinds of shots that got printed the next day:

Oliver Kalkofe throwing some cash around at the Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

A fun red carpet: Oliver Kalkofe making it rain

But for your BTS look, a lot of people were not having it. Some were – clearly Oliver in the above shot was enjoying himself. Others were, well, prompted to do so. Model Sophia Thomalla wasn’t interested, but at least one photographer saw to it that he got a shot with her and the props. Here is the photographer, handing Sophia a pile of fake money and instructing her on throwing it.

Model Sophia Thomalla at he Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

Model Sophia Thomalla at he Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

Beyond the staged red carpet, though, the scenery really was cool. And somewhat creepy. I’ll close with a shot in a side room of the car wash – there are windows on the left through which you can see a car being washed or a series finale being screened. They lit it neon green, thoroughly weird. After a few shots failed to capture the mood, I put a 1/4 CTO gel on my flash and set the white balance to flash (daylight). The idea was to saturate the greens but give a warm hint to that creepy doll thing to add some contrast. Worked. And an LED gave an extra hint of red onto the turtle, which I hadn’t even noticed before I checked the shot.

Breaking Bad Finale in Berlin, Cosy Wasch

A bit of creepy design in the car wash back rooms