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Eddie Harris: Live @ Montreaux

Charlotte, Elle and Theo have all gone out for the better part of the day. What a perfect opportunity for me to spin a few favorite albums by Eddie Harris & Co on this sunny albeit windy summer’s day.

 

Storm-Horse-Vejbystrand-Raboff-Photography

Storm Horse

Horses are mysterious creatures. Solemn, somehow. I love photographing them. Aside from the obvious challenge to capture horses at the right moment – with legs, tail and head composed in an interesting way – you also need to configure a backdrop that either adds context to the shot, or, encapsulates the moment emotionally. I took the above photo a few days ago as the current storm front was rolling in over Vejbystrand.

You have to have at least a basic understanding of Swedish to fully appreciate this fine product demonstration. I’ve actually ordered one from Amazon (UK). The gadget, not the presenter.

Vejbystrand-Stora-Hult-Horse

Stora Hult

Back in the countryside for a few weeks. While here, I’ll be casually working on one of my ongoing projects; documenting the ancient fishing village of Stora Hult in Vejbystrand.

First mentioned in writing back in 1524, Stora Hult is one many typical rural villages in southern Sweden where the sea and farmland converge in the most charming, picturesque way. I really love the unpretentious atmosphere and have been photographing and filming here for at least a decade – though much more coherently/cohesively in recent memory.

Even though only at best vaguely acquainted, folks out and about in Stora Hult tend to spontaneously greet each other with smiles and often times, a casual wave. I’ve experienced and enjoyed the same small town equable, approachable attitude in many other places – both in Sweden and elsewhere. And we actually enjoy a little of this in the increasingly eclectic Västra Hamnen, Malmö. Sometimes, when in the mood, I’ll even provoke passersby to react to my hellos and waves. But to be crass, in return, I’m usally only rewarded with a forced acknowledgment followed by a pinch of suspicion. As an American, I really feel contempt for people that aren’t generous with their smiles or, even worse, when they look at me as if I was either a deadly contagion or out to mug them. It’s certainly gotten better over the years, but even after living here for so long, I still find it hard to deal with the level of introversion and reservedness. It’s just so unnatural and unfriendly. As if the climate didn’t make it cold enough.

Vejbystrand is home to about 3000 permanent residents and probably as many holiday visitors that enjoy a week or two here during July and August. There’s a really nice library in “Downtown”, a small grocery store, a florist, hairdresser, couple of restaurants and not much more. Which is fine, really. I think narrowing down the choices is a good thing when you’re on a break from urban life.

Fortunately, as of last year, there is decently fast Internet speed to be enjoyed. While here in the relaxing countryside, it’s still good to keep connected with the world outside of Stora Hult.

Wristband – Paul Simon

Just one of many great tunes by the age defying, 75 year old Paul Simon who has yet another hit album, “Stranger to Stranger” under his belt. I’ve listened to Mr. Simon for as long as I can remember. And it’s so inspiring to listen to his intricately layered lyrical commentary on a wide range of relevant social topics. On this, what could be his very last studio album, the tunes are built upon gorgeous rhythms, feet stomping and hip swaying beats as well as beautiful, “Graceland” quality arrangements – all created in collaboration with, Cristiano Crisci, aka, Clap! Clap!, an Italian jazz musician, producer and DJ. Can’t recommend the album enough. Listen to some samples of it here.

Seafoodie

After visiting Iceland in April where the hotel’s restaurant had a 4 meter long photo of a fish hanging on a wall, a photography project started to take shape – about fish in general and seafood in particular. As far as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed eating seafood – especially shrimp sandwiches – but after listening to this podcast, I may have to reconsider…

Anyway, about a month ago, I called Malmö’s most well-known fish and seafood restaurant to see if they could supply me with a few choice, specimen – preferably with the highest possible visual quality – for a project I was considering.

It took about a week for them to order all of what I needed and as soon as I got back to the studio with the chilled crab, lobster, crayfish and shrimp (and a few other critters that didn’t photograph so well), I began shooting them against both white and black backgrounds.

My seafood collection has now been printed on 850 x 1500 mm dibond (aluminium plates) and are currently on display at Galleri Västra Hamnen – together with a shrimp nigiri that I shot during a previous project.

What fascinates me most about these creatures, is how alien they look up close. Foreign and prehistoric, somehow. But also sculptural and un-organic – almost mechanical. That said, they tasted absolutely fabulous! I don’t get to eat my studio subjects that often.

surfing in venice beach

The Expedition

Back again after an intense but riveting, two week “expedition” that took me to unchartered – or, at least forgotten – places. Especially during the first week. I traveled alone and incognito.

My primary objective was to readjust/realign my life a bit. Acclimatizing to slo-mo from my usual, high paced work cadence – and all related consequences – took several days. I mean, not doing so much took time getting used to.

A part of my journey was to explore if my current eating regimen could be improved or, at least tweaked. This went surprisingly easy and so, during 14 days, I ate nothing but raw, organic, vegetarian food. No bread, no pasta or much refined stuff, whatsoever.

To minimize my caffeine intake, I drank only one cup of coffee a day and then only with unsweetened coconut milk served at a local café where I eventually only had to show up at the counter for the barista to reconginze me and begin preparing my coffee. I also stayed completely away from all kinds of alcohol and other widely/wildly available intoxicants.

Most of my days started at 05:00 with 30 minutes of meditation, followed by a few simple Qiqong exercises. After putting on my wetsuit, I walked down to the ocean to surf for an hour or two. During the rest of the day, I went on long walks, often 10-12 km without listening to music or podcasts.

Although almost immediately affected in a positive way from eating super-healthy food and oxygenizing my thoughts during many hours of outdoor exercise, defining, on the one hand, how life has been and then coming up with a strategy for how I want it to be, took the better part of my first week.

I devoted a ton of time to analyzing, taking inventory and identifying “cause and effect” of my actions and their consequences – writing down thoughts and verbally concretizing them. I became equally passionate with this investigation as I am whilst working on just about any of my photography projects.

I realized after a few days, that if I could only zoom out a bit, I’d likely be able to get a whole new perspective on my life and be able to see connections and intersections that are just to hard to discern when you’re deeply immersed in everyday living.

With my new, unique viewing distance, I started to see context, relationships and the repercussions of various recent events. I am deliberately vague here, but those who have journeyed into the strange yet fascinating territory of self-analysis, will surely understand what I mean and where I’m coming from.

A huge part of my mantra before leaving two weeks ago, was to keep my expectations reasonable. Having said that, I felt sure that just by virtue of the vast geographical distance and change of daily routines, I would at least enjoy favorable circumstances in which to wind down.

Deep down though, I hoped anyway, perhaps naively, that the break would also provide a new and more mindful way to look at how to live my life.

After the second or third day of surfing, I sat on my board early in the morning, waiting for the perfect wave. For whatever reason, at that very moment, this absolutely spot on metaphor emerged; the importance of identifying the right wave to pursue for the best possible ride.

I have a decent success rate these days, but still bet a little too often on the wrong wave. Which means I’m way too tired once the perfect set arrives.

Perhaps too obvious or even corny, but I found this to be a profoundly interesting parallel – one that could easily be applied to much in my life. So enthused am I about my creative life and creativity in general, that I often allow it to wipe me out.

Just as I try to become a better surfer by critically studying the quality of waves, so must I also analyze my many creative projects, both those I am commissioned and the ones I come up with and engage in with zeal and frenzy. Only by performing some kind of due diligence and concentrating on fewer but more inspiring – and therefore creatively developing – projects will I be able to take advantage of the daily surge of energy I generate in a more favorable way.

Less is more, as the cliché goes.

During the second week came further reflections and observations, though now more freely flowing – as meteors, almost.

Most significantly, I arrived at this tremendously profound insight: that for as many years as I can remember, I’ve put an extreme amount of pressure on myself. Pressure mostly based on proving my worth through performance. It’s like an endless olympic game where I participate in several analogous – but unsynchronized events. So entangled, embedded and engaged do I become, that I forget what’s really important; life beyond the camera, the monitor and the deadline.

I brought a minimum of stuff with me and just a few small cameras with me on the trip and I can’t remember taking a single still with any of them. This too took some time to get used to. To not only frame a scene but to then also let it go. So liberating.

Moving about, often aimlessly, almost drifting – without feeling the weight of a clunky, hulking camera bag that indirectly chose my route or mode of travel, was freedom far beyond my ability to describe it.

Not to mention how easy it was to stroll through busy airports and in and out of cramped airplane doors and cabin rows – without having much more than my smartphone,  boarding pass and passport in my pocket.

It took until the last 3-4 days of the “retreat” before my daily routine of meditation, practicing Qigong and my strict detox diet began to create this wonderful bubble of harmony that encapsulated both body and soul. Aside from a few short conversations with some locals, a lunch with a family friend and a couple of good chats with my cousin Laura, I was mostly in silent mode.

Way beyond my expectations, the trip exposed several valuable insights – most noteworthy was a reminder of the importance to have balance in life. I feel now that I have a sensible “action plan” to keep focused on the right kind of waves.

In a few days it’s off to Vejbystrand, a small fishing village along Bjärehalvön along the southwest coast of Sweden. There, among horses, cows, seals and some of Sweden’s most beautiful landscapes, the expedition continues …

Photo: Fredrik Jönsson (from Surf Safari 2015)

In Swedish

Tillbaka igen efter en intensiv men intressant “expedition” som varade i två veckor – varav första var klart tuffast.

Att vänja sig av med mitt normalt höga arbetstempo – och alla konsekvenser som hör till att jobba kanske lite för mycket – tog faktiskt flera dagar. Kände mig både stirrig och hade svårt att landa i att inte göra så mycket.

Lättare gick det, lite överraskande, med maten. Under 14 dagar åt jag inte något annat än rå, organisk, vegetarisk kost. Inget bröd, ingen pasta eller annan raffinerad föda. Har heller inte hällt i mig mer än en enda kopp kaffe om dagen. Den drack jag på morgonen tillsammans med osötad kokosmjölk på ett lokalt kafé. Jag har också helt avstått från alla former av alkohol och andra sätt att berusa mig på.

Dom flesta av dagarna började med uppstigning klockan 05:00 och sedan 30 minuter meditation följt av ett par enklare Qiqong-övningar. Därefter trädde jag på mig våtdräkten och knallade ner till havet för att surfa en timme eller två.

Även om min mentala hälsa så klart påverkats positivt av ovan träningsprogram och kosthållning, pågick den stora tungviktsmatchen mellan å ena sidan hur det har varit och hur jag vill att det skall bli, i helt andra sammanhang och situationer.

Dom tuffaste ronderna gick jag igenom under första veckan där nästan all vaken tid ägnades åt att analysera, inventera och identifiera orsak och verkan. Efter några dagar, började jag också skriva ned och verbalt konkretisera mina tankar och insikter. Jag zoomade helt enkelt ut en bra bit till det att jag hade någon slags satellitperspektiv.

Med mitt nya, unika betraktningsavstånd, kunde jag lättare se sammanhang, relationer och olika händelseförlopp. Jag är medvetet vag här, men dom som gjort en liknade upptäcktsresa/självanalys, förstår säkert hur jag menar.

Jag försökte verkligen ha rimligt ställda förväntningar innan jag reste iväg för två veckor sedan. Samtidigt kände jag på mig att bara den geografiska distansen och dom brutna rutinerna skulle skapa goda förutsättningar för att åtminstone få välbehövlig fysisk och mental vila. Innerst inne hoppades jag ändå, kanske lite naivt, att brytningen också skulle skapa grogrund för ett delvis nytt sätt att se på hur jag lever.

Efter andra eller tredje surfdagen, satt jag tidigt på morgonen och guppade på brädan och väntade ut den perfekta vågen. Det var någon gång under just den här stunden som det dök upp en alldeles klockren metafor; att i god tid identifiera vilken våg jag skall satsa på – och inte chansa på en som ändå inte har bärighet att lyfta och föra mig framåt – är bland det svåraste med surfningen.

Jag lyckas allt oftare, men fortfarande satsar jag lite för ofta på fel våg. Då far jag ibland runt i vågens eftermäle som en trasa i en våldsamt skakande, gigantisk tvättmaskin och måste sedan kämpa med precis allt jag har för att ta mig tillbaka ut till revet igen. Vilket i och för sig ger bra träning och erfarenhet, men ökar också risken att jag blir för trött för att kunna ge järnet när den optimala vågen – som kan ge mig en lång, härlig tur in mot stranden – dyker upp.

Det var just häri som det låg något mycket intressant och djuplodande – en parallell som kunde appliceras på min egen livssituation.

På samma sätt som jag försöker bli en bättre surfare genom att kritiskt granska vågornas kvalité, måste jag också bli väsentligt mycket bättre på att analysera mina projekt, både dom jag erhåller som uppdrag och dom jag själv skapar och sedan kastar mig över med stort iver och frenesi. Genom att satsa på färre men mer inspirerande – och därmed utvecklande projekt – kommer jag att kunna plöja ner en större mängd kreativitet och samtidigt utnyttja dygnets energiflöde på ett gynnsammare vis.

Less is more, som klyschan går.

Under andra veckan kom ytterligare funderingar och iakttagelser, fast nu mer fritt farande – som meteorer, nästan. Framförallt kom jag fram till en för mig kolossalt genomgripande insikt: att jag under många år satt extremt hög press på mig själv. Jag är inte längre så road av att tävla med andra. Men med mig själv pågår en ständig olympiad där jag deltar i flera parallella – men fullständigt osynkroniserade – tävlingsgrenar.

Detta är för mig en i allra högsta grad signifikant insikt – en som jag tror många kreativa delar med mig.

Den krassa kontentan är jag måste lägga band på min vilja att hela tiden tävla med mig själv om att leverera – till förmån för det som faktiskt pågår utanför min lite snäva, kreativa värld: livet.

På resan tog jag inte med mig mer än ett par småkameror och jag kan inte minnas att jag tog någon seriös stillbild med någon av dom överhuvudtaget.

Det var hur jobbigt som helst i början – men ganska snart väldigt befriande. Bara det att jag kunde förflytta mig ledigt och planlöst – vind för våg – utan att känna hur tyngden från en stor kameraväska indirekt valde färdväg eller färdsätt åt mig.

Och att vistas på stökiga flygplatser och in och ut ur trånga flygplansdörrar och gångar – utan att ha mycket mer än sin mobiltelefon, boardingkort och pass i fickan – ja, det var nästan overkligt.

Det tog fram till dom sista 3-4 dagarna innan surfningen, meditationen, Qigong-övningarna och min strikta detox-diet började skapa en slags holistisk harmoni i kropp och själ. Långt över mina förväntningar, skapade resan förutsättningar för flera värdefulla insikter – framförallt i hur viktigt det är med balans i livet. Och jag har nu en vettig “action plan” för att hålla mig till rätt slags våg.

Om några dagar bär det av till Sjömantorp i fiskebyn Vejbystrand vid havet utmed Bjärehalvön. Där, bland hästar, kor, sälar och nordvästra Skånes vackraste landskap, fortsätter expeditionen…

Foto: Fredrik Jönsson (från Surf Safari 2015)

mojo-surfer

Mojo Surfing

Gone surfing. Literally. Metaphorically, too. Not bringing much. No other computer than my phone. No other camera than what fits in the palm of my hand. No agenda aside from what might be the mother of all agendas; the search for mojo. Back in a couple of weeks.

Model shoot with Karolina

Femininity

In Sweden the “hen” debate is still raging on. I don’t get it. It’s a un-topic in my world. The only really interesting difference between men and women – and everything in-between – is purely physical. The emotional divergancies are there and that’s great. And as a dude, I’ve come to realize how much more in touch with their feelings gals are. In a evolutionary sense, woman are millennia ahead of most men.

We’re human and by virtue of that commonality, we should treat each other equally regardless of race, gender, physicality or sexual preferences. That men make more money than woman doing the same job is just another expression of oppression based on nothing else than a difference in sexuality. Same goes for all kinds of other discriminatory stigma still prevailing in our society. It seems as if the “Neanderthalian” worldview is still alive and kicking.

The slideshow, “Femininity” viewable under “Projects”, is a homage to the many beautiful women I have been fortunate enough to have photographed over the years. I would of really loved to have added my own daughter to this collection – she’s strong, smart and beautiful – and web shy.

Sundspromenaden

Homework

I’m pretty much an absentee employee of my own company these days. Still busy, just not from my ordinary workstation. With this amazing summer weather and an identical Mac editing system at home, I just don’t see the point of working in my new, but more or less windowless studio right now. So, while Charlotte is busy with her projects at our gallery, Galleri Västra Hamnen, the adjacent studio is empty and I’m just steps away from a refreshing swim in the ocean right outside our front door.

high on heels

High on Heels

Back in Malmö for a short spell. Time enough to get back on track with regular visits to the gym, a run, a morning dip in the Öresund but also a couple of new personal projects and commercial assignments.

A chef friend of mine has a bit of the, “Imelda Marcos Syndrome”. She has what may be an uncontrollable addiction to impossibly high heeled shoes. I find this fascinating and asked her to borrow a few pairs from her vast collection and then convinced another friend to model in them for me. Not exactly sure where this project is heading, but there’s something here, I’m sure.

Cinque Terre Vernazza

Lungo l’Italia in diretta!

I’ve enjoyed yet another primo Italian experience. Especially at base camp – in the Cinque Terre village of Monterosso, where the locals are super friendly, the food is great and it’s not too crowded. If you visit Monterosso, don’t miss the family owned Miky, one of the top ten Italian restaurants I’ve ever eaten at period. Their tuna tartar aperitivo and tuna steak portata principale are just marvelous. Great presentation and service, too.

I’ve now experienced the prologue to what will inevitably be a long, hot summer season with an endless tsunami of flag waving tourist groups, hiking stick clenching retirees and pizza craving Americans – arriving daily in the tens of thousands via trains, buses and cars from all over the world.

I caught a glimpse of how badly the hordes of visitors can behave a few times in two of the four visited villages, and it ain’t pretty. I honestly feel hesitant about even recommending a visit during this time of year. November would probably be considerably calmer and therefor a more enjoyable time to visit Cinque Terre.

The regional government in Liguria needs to put a quota in place to limit the amount of visitors here and by doing so, provide the spectacular beauty this place has to offer some well-needed space. I’ve heard that there are in fact talks of a quota – at least along the trails between villages – but I can only assume that greed is a strong, resilient opponent to limiting the amount of tourists.

I spent more or less ten years of my life working in the hotel and restaurant industry and so, wherever I travel, I try to make an effort to be a good ambassador – as both an American and a Swede. I aim simply to be the kind of guest that makes a good impression just by being genuinely friendly and polite. Simple enough.

Where many other visitors – primarily Germans and Americans – tend to be both boisterous and arrogantly demanding of locals working in the tourism industry, I’ll make an extra effort to show empathy and abide by the their way of doing things – a strategy that generally pays off really well. Like waiting to be seated as opposed to bulldozing my way into a restaurant or bar and expecting to be served pronto. Or, trying to greet and thank people in the local tongue instead of arrogantly assuming my language is the “lingua franca”.

I get that most Chinese tourists don’t have much experience at traveling abroad. And that they have an entirely different set of etiquette rules that dictate their social behavior – regardless of where they are geographically.

But the obnoxious attitude of many of my fellow countrymen I’ve encountered here, is nothing short of disgraceful. The old cliché about Americans being embarrassingly ignorant, boastful and deafeningly loud? It’s alive and well. In their defense, I suppose one could argue that the vast majority of Americans traveling abroad also come from rural parts of the country and that their over-the-top behavior is just a sign of insecurity. But when I think about it some more, the exaggerated behavior seems familiar, somehow. It’s really not too dissimilar from that of the next Republican presidential candidate.

Speaking of which, Louis CK has a few well-chosen words about Mr Trump. Get them here.

Vernazza, Italy

Currently in the midst of the picturesque villages along the breathtakingly beautiful Italian Riviera – a stretch of dramatic coastline in the Liguria region called Cinque Terre of western Italy. I’m here for a few days to shoot for a travel thing. Walked along a mostly steep, partially stepped path this morning from the village Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza – pictured above. If this place isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. The gentlemen in the collage were old friends, possibly old fisherman. As I walked by, I just couldn’t refuse asking them if it would be okay to take a group shot. Over the years, I’ve lost touch with most of my old buddies and these dudes reminded me of them.

clocktower gear

Clockwork

I’ve been lucky/fortunate/careful – take your pick – when it comes to my camera gear. It’s basically worked like clockwork. My pro gear, that is. The pocket/compact cameras aren’t built to last and either become technically obsolete within a few years, or, just break way beyond repair.

I committed to Canon’s digital pro gear a long time ago with the D30 and over the last 15 years, I’ve only had a single repair. And that happened just last week when focusing reliably with Canon’s formidable workhorse, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, started becoming increasingly unreliable.

Strangely, it was impossible to reproduce the faulty focusing in the studio and it was at only some focus lengths that images tended to look just slightly blurry.

Through my gold membership at CPS (Canon Professional Service) I was provided with an astonishingly expedient repair process and via Kamerateknik here in Malmö, my repaired/renovated/realigned lens could be securely bayoneted back onto the 5Ds again. within a mere week. That’s impressive service, indeed.

The image above from a bunch of gears atop the old clock tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. Shot with the almost pocketable Fuji x100s.

Weekend in Vilnius

Spending the weekend shooting in Vilnius, Lithuania – the third of the Baltic nations that I’ve visited in the last few years. Hard to compare, but I’ve found folks here to be very friendly and helpful. The width of old town’s architecture alone makes Vilnius worth a visit.

Thanks to my buddy Yigit and his friend Erika and her preferred makeup artist, I was put in touch with Karolina, a young, amazingly talented model with just the right look and level of professionalism I was aiming for.

So, with a great model, Yigit as my enthusiastic assistant, perfect weather (soft, cloudy filtered light) and a brilliant location on a platform with abandoned train tracks below at Vilnius Central Station, today’s first shoot could not have come together in a better fashion.

Tofu Pasta

Tofuism

Nothing screams of spring louder than when every friggin’ dude in the hood with a Bbq starts grilling beef, pork and poultry practically every day of the week.

As much as I’ve enjoyed eating vegetarian cuisine for close to a year now, the smell from the neighborhood’s collective Bar-B-Quers is damn near torturous.

The shot above is from my lunch today at Green – created by yet another superb chef with impressive consistency, Johan Andersson. As good as it was to munch on grilled veggies, pasta, homemade pesto and deep fried tofu today, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I actually deeply long for a thin slice of lightly smoked ham with Dijon, a juicy, charcoal grilled burger decorated with a salty, kosher pickle and drenched in Hellman’s mayo and a side of coleslaw – or, why not just an inch thick, sirloin steak topped with a generous portion of Béarnaise.

Vegetarians dream of sheep. Grilled sheep.

jog pildamsparken

Run with the Sun

Once the weather turns for the better and the temperature eases into t-shirt weather, which it finally, finally, finally has here Skåne, I half kiddingly joke that all is forgiven. The winter, I mean – which was mild and relatively dry – but lingered unusually long and was nearly unbearably windy.

After a chock full weekend of activities including an art show, an opera premiere and then standing mostly indoors selling a bunch of studio props, furniture and photography gear from within the old studio, it was tremendously invigorating to go for an 11k run early this morning. It’s been a few weeks since my last run – I usually workout at the gym 2-3 times a week with jogging as part of my warmup – yet the run went extremely smooth with a few pauses a long the way – just to capture the gorgeous sunrise over Malmö. Yes, all is forgiven.

trucking company tires

Continental Tires

Last week, I was hired by one of the world’s leading tire manufacturers for two outdoor, advertorial shoots in southern Sweden. The theme was centered around testimonials from reps of two trucking companies – both heavy users of the brand’s winter tires.

As the assignment took place during late April in Sweden, achieving the right meteorological circumstances wasn’t too much of a problem. In fact, during the course of the day, my assistent Jakob and I had just about every kind of downfall known to man: rain, snow, sleet and hale. Fortunately, there were a few precious dry moments for the required portrait and landscape images.

Garage Sale

Garage Sale!

Finally, the renovation of our gallery and the move to the new studio is complete. There’s still a few minor adjustments and tweaks that need to be made before I’m entirely satisfied.

Since the new studio is a bit smaller, we’re having a studio blowout/garage sale this Saturday and Sunday between 11:00 a.m. and 05:00 p.m. to get rid of all the props and furniture that there just isn’t any room for. Some of which you can see above.

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

Review of the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

I have unusually mixed feelings about this hotel. The “luxury” in ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, which we stayed at for a couple of nights earlier this month, lays mostly in its stunning location.

It’s the lakeside and surrounding mountains that put this rural hotel on the map and not the nearby and, in at least one direction, visually dominating, geothermal power plant.

Over the years, the ION has been written up in many of the world’s leading travel magazines. The interior design, room decor and architecture have all won prestigeous accolades.

Yet today, unfortunately, I find the hotel’s look and feel to be both a bit tired and not very well kept. The scuffed or completely missing paint on the main entrance door and the sparsely vacuumed corridor carpets, were discernible indicators of how even the most basic maintenance is overlooked and neglected.

My room was small, but nicely fitted with thoughtful albeit somewhat dated furnishings and features (iPhone 3 connector to the bedside speaker). The windows were sparkling clean which provided an unobstructed view of the spectacular landscape.

One thing boggled my mind. Why on earth do the rooms have to be so absurdly small? Especially when at least some guest must plan on heading out into the wilderness for an adventure with appropriate garb and gear. I mean, it’s not like there isn’t any available real estate in the vicinity. And why hasn’t anybody thought of having a few of those beautiful Icelandic horses grazing in a corral nearby? Now that would of been a nice site to look upon.

The hotel’s staff seemed to be mostly freelancers from Reykjavik. While some had clearly been working at the hotel for a while, others gave the impression that they had just arrived and barely knew the routines they’ve been hired to perform.

Service is therefore a bit of a hit and miss experience at ION. In fact, our very first encounter with the front desk was a perfect example of this.

The two women on duty were more interested in finishing their discussion than greeting us with a warm, Icelandic welcome. It was as if we were brashly intruding on their private conversation. Obviously clueless to the fact that our very presence indirectly financed their employement.

On a brighter note…

The food at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel was simply fantastic. For all the reception staffs shortcomings, mixed level of professionalism among those working in the restaurant and in the bar – as well as the hotel’s somewhat failing upkeep – the crew in the kitchen were nothing less than supreme. They knew exactly what they were doing and provided me, during my two dinners and two lunches there, with one scrumptious and aesthetically pleasing dish after another. Particularly the seafood and fish was just superb.

I’ve eaten at several places on Iceland during both my visits. And I’ve got nothing but really good things to say about the country’s culinary offerings. My experiences at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel were no exception. But with so much great food to be enjoyed elsewhere on beautiful Iceland, I don’t feel that the hotel on a whole is worthy its past reputation as a place to visit beyond a dinner reservation.

Billy-Elliot-Malmo-Opera

Billy Elliot

Almost forgot about this. Saturday, good friends invited us to see the much talked about and rightfully praised musical, Billy Elliot at Malmö Opera.

I’ve not seen many live musicals in Malmö – or, in any other city, for that matter. And though the story line was captivating and ever-so relevant (following your dreams/pursuing your talent), the decor and choreography top-notch, it was the talented and forcefully, über-cohesive cast that blew me away.

Whilst following the plot (scored by Sir Elton John), I couldn’t help but stray into thinking how tight the cast must be now as an ensemble after first prepping and then performing so many live shows together. And that despite all the hundreds – if not thousands – of hours of practicing songs, learning dance routines and memorizing pages upon pages of dialogue – as well as endless repetitions and tweaking sessions, before and in between show dates, the cast must surely still have tremendous fun.

Now, I love what I do for a living – make no mistake. But I can’t help but fantasize, if only just a little, at what it would be like to be part of a troupe like the talented artists performing Billy Elliot. Here’s a link to Malmö Opera’s website – in case you want to see the aforementioned show, which I can wholeheartedly recommend.

clouds

Shoulder Season

The shoulder season. The hotel and tourism industry use that term a lot. Not exactly sure what it means – but I seem to remember it referring to a period in between low and high season.

We’re currently in a meteorological predicament – a shoulder season in between winter and spring. No big surprise – this is after all Scandinavia, where weather is notoriously unpredictable any time of year. It snowed yesterday in Lund.

On a brighter note, for the last several days, we’ve been blessed with troves of beautifully formatted, low flying cumulus clouds – the surrealistic kind you’ll see off the coast in South East Asia or as a masterfully painted backdrop in an old film like “Gone with the Wind”.

The above shot was taken yesterday evening right in front of our living room – just moments before the sunset far beyond what looked like a torrentially drenched Copenhagen.

Prince Dies at 57

Nothing Compares 2 U

Like millions of folks, I’ve spent countless hours listening to and singing along with Prince’s many, many hits. His brilliant guitar playing and intelligent, often wonderfully erotic and humorous lyrics have been part of my life for more than three decades. No less than a musical genius, was Prince Rogers Nelson.

When one of your favorite artists pass, for whatever reason, it hits you like no other news does. I suppose it’s yet another jarring reminder of my own mortality and how fragile and uncertain life increasingly becomes the older you get.

Learning of Prince death was particularly tough – much more so than Bowie’s, just a short while ago. I’ve admired both artists for a long time – in recent years mostly for their stoic mentality: to keep pushing on and never shy away from redefining themselves creatively.

I’m sure it’s going to take some time to realize that Prince is gone – and how large of an impact he had on my younger self. I’m no musician, but during the last half of the 1980s and early 1990s, I worked as a traveling DJ for among other outfits, EMA Telstar/Dirocco and I always had a song or two from Prince in my playlist – wherever the gigs took me. Always.

More importantly, Prince’s music accompanied me during those intense years when I painted in Gotland, Göteborg and Riksgränsen. Especially “1999” and “Sign o’ the Times” would spin endlessly, all the while I experimented with oils and acrylics – to a varying degree of success.

I caught Prince live a few times in Göteborg and his epic concerts are still among my all-time favorites. Musically and visually. Here’s his half-time show at the Super Bowl XLI during a torrential downpour.

Here’s another classic Prince performance at the 2004 Hall of Fame inductions with Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, Jeff Lynn and others jamming George Harrison’s, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Prince really tears it up at 3:28. What a virtuoso! And if you’re a Lenny Kravitz fan, you’ll love watching Prince and Lenny perform “American Woman. And here’s something really special: Prince, Michael Jackson and James Brown on the same stage.

Just a few weeks ago, I was turned on to his latest album, “HITNRUN Phase Two” from last year (2015). I’m listening to it right now and feel both blown away by how cohesive it is thematically and how sad that it is his last – though unreleased songs and albums will undoubtedly emerge in the foreseeable future.

Photo credit: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images North America

half moon

A New Phase

Shot this half moon whilst atop a hill in Spain last week. Amazed by how close I was able to zoom in from a 200 mm camera lens.

Change is good. And one of the new year’s most profound changes will certainly be the new gallery and studio space – both currently in a prodigious renovation phase.

By Friday this week, the new photo studio will be ready for two separate shoots. And sometime next week, I’ll be able to exhibit what’s left from my show at Malmö Live.

So, once again, I’m shooting for the moon. Half or full – it don’t really matter!

California Surfers

Surf Nazi in Lunada Bay

I’ve never surfed there, but I stood upon a hill overlooking Lunada Bay – a small, right-handed break just south of Palos Verdes and Redondo Beach – not much more than a year ago and practically salivated at what looked like a fantastic surf spot.

Turns out that Lunada Bay, which is getting national media attention as of today, has been dominated by a small, almost militant group of local surfers that allegedly both verbally and at times even physically – fend off outsiders attempting to enjoy “their” waves.

I’ve recently read a few articles about this group of middle-aged men and their ridiculous “Surf Nazi” attitude. Fortunately, I’ve never come across localism as brutal as what the New York Times reported about in Lunada Bay in today’s paper.

Sure, I’ve come experienced a few surfers around Santa Monica Beach’s Tower 10 with higher regards for themselves than the waves they surfed in. But that’s never happened around Breakwater or Venice Beach Pier where the above image was shot a few months ago.

The general rule of thumb is to give dibs to anybody that arrived before you – and to definitely not screw up potentially good rides for those clearly above your pay grade.

Sticking to those simple rules is the key to having a good time – which is really what it’s all about, needless to say. Read the NYT article here. More of my surf shots here. And finally, a map to Lunada Bay here.

Ryanair

Flyin’ with Ryan

Generally speaking, I’m rarely worried about flying.  I used to be. Quite often, too. A hint of turbulence was all it took to set my alarm off and order a neat glass of whisky. Not that I don’t still react when the ride gets a little bumpy. But it just doesn’t freak me out as much.

I suppose with age, comes a more sensible psychological approach once you’ve realized your life is invariably at risk. I mean, once I’ve made the conscious choice to board an airplane or a helicopter, small or large, there just ain’t nothing I can do about it should anything go awry – so what’s the friggin’ point of worrying, right?

Having said that, I can’t help but feel a little less secure when flying with super-low budget carriers like Ryanair. I’m not worried about how they service their fleet of planes – old as they may be. In fact, I have a tremendous amount of faith (maybe too much…) that airline technicians know what their doing and make sure the planes they service are maintained so the cockpit crew can keep them airborne – at least while I’m a passenger.

No, it’s more the ramifications from all the quick turnarounds and subsequent hyper-stress the management of these no-frills airlines inherently imposes on the crew, that concerns me.

Flying to Malaga with Ryanair last Wednesday was therefor not a entirely pleasant experience. The cabin was jam-packed and throughout the 3.5 hour trip, the flight attendants were constantly trying to sell something to us – lottery tickets, duty-free confectionery, booze, snacks and what not. Fortunately, the fellow sitting next to me was an ornithologist with a passion for not only watching, but also photographing birds. And so, we ignored the many PA announcements and instead spoke at great length and depth about traveling, birds and camera gear.

After my three day shoot in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, it was considerably more enjoyable to leave Malaga on board an old SAS Airbus 321 (likely from 1989 or 1990) with a more agreeable color scheme and less hurrying cabin crew.

hidden paradise

Andalusia

I’m currently filming a marketing video at a hillside retreat a few kilometers above the village Órgiva – a small, Spanish town nestled in between the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalusia, Spain.

The retreat’s focus is yoga, meditation, development conversations and healthy cuisine – all of which I have had an opportunity to try firsthand – between sessions of capturing the participants experiences.

This is a family run retreat – the owners are originally from London – but they have been residents of the valley for more than 20 years. Just like the organizer, all of the current guests are Swedish and though I’ve only been here for three of the group’s seven day visit, it’s plain to see how much everyone has enjoyed their stay. From the storehouse where the kitchen and dining hall is (and where I am writing this post), I can see layer upon layer of mountains and hills – and at a distance, the Mediterranean.

The food in particular has been simply amazing. All vegetarian, mostly locally grown, tasty and beautifully presented.

Visited the village Órgiva below the retreat yesterday. On the one hand, it’s a typical rural Spanish pueblo with a slew of narrow streets, small squares, sidewalk restaurants and tobacco shops, a grandiose church – with a cathedral complex – and blocks upon blocks of hideously ugly, more or less decrepit, concrete apartment buildings.

But there’s more to Órgiva than meets the eye. The village also turns out to be this unique enclave where a few thousand “free spirited” foreigners, literally from all over the world, live, raise families and more or less contribute to society (work).

Had a deliciously strong brew of java at Teteria Baraka – Órgiva’s immensely popular rendezvous hangout – a Moroccan cafe where tourists, locals and the valley’s laid-back bohemians and hardcore hippies amass for tea, coffee and eats all day long. It reminded me of places like Bali, Koh Phangan, Goa and yes, even Venice Beach. Only now, the hippies are my age and older and most seem to employ the help of smartphones or laptops for their transcendental travels.

Kenya, Iceland and now Spain. Where to next, I wonder? Italy? Yes!

Iceland

The Icelandic Weekend Shuffle

After about six years, I’m back on this otherworldly island. This time to capture Icelandic horses deep in the hinterlands — which really isn’t too far from the capital, Reykjavik. Booked a helicopter and with any luck, I’ll get a few shots from above tomorrow afternoon.

 

Elephants-Masai-Mara

Blissfully unaware

Unlike many photographer colleagues, I’ve stubbornly refused to specialize. How could I? There are just too many interesting subject matters in our world – and so little time to photograph them all!

But seriously, if I had to pick a genre, it would likely be animals. I’ve always been particularly intrigued by elephants – like the two above from last week’s safari. And though I enjoy capturing dogs, cows, horses and just about any other domestic or wild creature, those I’ve encountered in Africa emit a unique soulful aura. They seem so blissfully unaware of how the planet has evolved and how their species has shrunken concurrently with their habitat.

Maasai-Mara-Warriors

Warriors – Come out and Play!

While in the Kenyan bush, I spent about an hour in a small Maasai village on the outskirts of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The village’s warriors wanted to show how high they could jump and one our game drivers felt compelled to join in on the competition.