Changing your everyday lenses

8599981363_3ae1a98b07_bLast week I made a short trip to Salzburg and, because I wanted to travel light, I took with me only the 50mm lens. Somehow by the time I got there, I completely forgot what gear I had and when ready to  take a few landscape photos… of course surprise! It didn’t work as expected (usually I take landscape photos with the 18-55mm). I got a bit frustrated, but this mistake made me realised a few things in and outside of the photography framework:

1. Notice your habits and break them once in a while.

It seems I’ve created some habits that I wasn’t even aware I had – same motifs that I constantly repeat in my photos: long streets, panoramas, markets, buildings. Having formed such habits, it means that you have created a structured way of tackling a new place from the photographic perspective. And, of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. When you are out of ideas, you can always just activate this pattern. The down side, though, is if you are constantly working this way, you might leave out some unexplored places.

How to get out of your routine? Pick a theme or focus on a certain element during your photo-exploration. It can be people, colours or maybe something more abstract such movements, light/shadow, dimensions etc.

But don’t chose your theme before starting your photo-exploration. Let the place pick the theme for you. Just observe the environment, enjoy it first and then take your camera out of the bag. Otherwise, you might miss the fresh vibe of the place.

2. Use your tools for what they are built.

Or the opposite don’t try to transform them in something they are not. With this I don’t mean don’t use your tools creatively, but rather know them first and use them at their full potential.

It wasn’t easy to break my habits and somehow I was falling back and had the tendency to shoot buildings or bridges and even to start thinking at strategies to get somehow a panorama pic. All this when it would have been easier to take close-ups or maybe portraits as this lens can do best.

And I couldn’t help notice a third point:

3. Real change doesn’t happen if you only change the tools you are working with. It happens if you also change the way you use them.

These observations work in the context of the everyday life as well. Just replace the word lens with point of view or personal filter and here you go. In translation this means: observe your thinking stereotypes and loose them once in a while. Your patterns of thinking might not work outside the walls of your home. Challenge them when you meet new people, visit new places or even when catch-up with old friends. Changes can happen: better understanding, deeper bonding, greater exchanges.

This reminds me also of Einstein’s quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Photos to follow.

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Invictus

The other day I was complaining to a friend about how stuck I am with my writings. From three lines of conversation in which I explained the idea of my post, here is what it came out (title and editing are not mine):

Invictus

I’m trying to write
about the expat life
and it’s like being a baby again
I want to say
you build
very much aware
your social web
you learn how to walk
how to interact
and the way to interact is changing
you search for circles within people
but something is missing
something went away

I learned that I should have a point. I guess in poetry you don’t need one.
I’ll experiment some more!

Note: It’s strange how my friend, without knowing the recent release of the movie Invictus, named my way out of stuckness. And I, without knowing the poem of William Ernest Henley, accepted it. Things fit somehow!

From Bucharest

Indeed, its been a long time since my last post… I was busy repatriating after my two years away and the adjusting process was a bit more challenging than I thought. It seems is taking longer to re-adapt than to adapt. A funny process of re-discovering your neighborhood, your city, your friends.

But I’ll talk more about this in my next posts along with other learnings. For now.. just a “wrap-up session” with Michelle’s help, friend and GSP fellow, who told us the highlights of the 2007 batch story at the Graduation Ceremony.
Thanks Meesh for allowing me to post your speech and thank you guys for the journey! Good luck with our everything else!
PS Special thanks for the photos to Flora, Samson and Michelle!
“Exactly two years ago, we were all just names on a list of students accepted to the Global Studies Program. Today, we are a family.

Two years ago, some of us had never experienced international travel or been away from family and friends for an extended period of time. Today we are well informed when it comes to passports, visas, and police clearances! Each one of us came to GSP from diverse backgrounds – we represent 16 countries. Our lives before the program consisted of contrasting experiences yet we were united in our pursuit of higher education and well, lets be honest – we wanted to travel!
Some see us as academic tourists, global citizens, and social scientists, and we are all of those and more. As a group, we have truly become an international family.
We have taught a lot to one another, not only through cultural exchange, discussions but ultimately, our friendship. Our similarities as well as our differences have brought us together and enhanced our understanding of the world and of ourselves. GSP serves as a platform that connects visionary people who see beyond their hometown.
Being students allowed us a distinct kind of access to each new place. The lively atmosphere of a university campus eased our transition in to Freiburg, Durban and Delhi, as we entered each new country through the doors of the university.
Every semester brought something out in each of us, whether pleasant or not, we came to know one another as sisters and brothers… or even more! At times our every emotion was exposed. We laughed, we cried and struggled together with all of bureaucracy and disorganization within the program itself….oh, oops!

In spring we arrived in Freiburg for our first semester, and familiarized ourselves with globalization, international politics, and anthropology and social thought. We remember meeting at beer gardens or Augustinerplatz or at Dreisam river, unwinding after classes. Seminars with Professor Sitas provoked us and introduced us to the facts that we would encounter in South Africa. And as we met with the challenges of daily life inDurban, learning and academic engagement intensified.

The plight and the hopes of a diverse nation, less than 20 years into democracy was a glaring reality. Transportation in the city was not easy at first– a cab to the grocery store? Minivans bouncing to local beats and people singing to lyrics in Zulu. Yebo!

Delhi, by far, was a semester of not only the beloved masala chai but masala challenges as well. Trying to fall asleep, in our freezing cold concrete rooms, zipped up in our sleeping bags. Which then transformed into trying to sleep with the fan on full blast in the 45 degree heat, along with the bucket showers, the hostel food, and of course how can I forget, the mosquitoes? But ok, no problem! The smell of incense in the shops, the sweet taste of gulab jamun, to the honking of horns in the hectic streets. A tiny cup of chai. A dog named George!
I recall our group trips to Varansi, one of the holiest cities at the Ganga river, and Dharamsala, a new holy space through the influx of refugee Tibetan monks. The excursion to villages in Rajasthan without bottled drinking water, taking pictures of school children. Learning to do without the many comforts of home… but we managed to rise to the occasion, isn’t it?
The winter in Freiburg was our last semester. And with it came the Christmas market, a trek to Boike’s house in the Black forest while it snowed, and then, the thesis. Night after night at our desks or in the library. Worrying about making a point. You have to make a point! What is my point?! What is my theory?! Ahhh I don’t have one….yet.
And well, speaking of the thesis, our own individualities manifested only the range of topics we chose, but the manner in which we actually finished. It was definitely an interesting experience marked by endless hours in front of the computer checking Facebook, oh, I mean TYPING and very few hours of sleeping as the deadline approached. But we made it. We survived thesis-sclerosis.
At the end of the day, I believe that all of us in GSP will agree that these last 2 incredible years of our lives will never be forgotten nor compared to. As we know that all good things come to an end, so to does our experience together.
Today, I would like to think of this moment in our life as not simply the end of an incredible journey, but also the beginning of forming our paths towards a better world – towards awareness, humanity and creating an understanding – a dialogue with everyone meet.
With the experiences that we have accumulated, we have not only the power, but also the responsibility to move our societies forward towards a common good. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.” I know that whatever any of us do in the future, the legacy of GSP will carry on and always remain within us, reflected in our thoughts and actions.

Some of us are not sure of what the immediate future holds, but now we do possess an important and diverse set of skills for a variety of career paths. Judging by the previous batches, I don’t think we have to worry much about the value of our degree in a global or local context. Our academic background is anything but mainstream.
In closing I’d like to thank my fellow classmates for an amazing and unforgettable 2 years. I wish everyone success in the future and look forward to bumping into you anywhere on the planet.
Thank you!”
Michelle Bolourchi
GSP 2007

I wanna be like you!

Labels, patterns, categories… we use them. That’s an obvious fact and not necessarily a bad thing. Human mind needs to operate somehow in this world of infinite information. The exploration process starts with a first step of recognizing and comparing our previous experience, seeking landmarks in an unknown space. The freshly discovered item is classified in a “folder” after setting similarities and differences with the existing ones.
It’s a perfectly normal process. Nothing to be afraid of! The problems appear when we limit to these categories and even worse when we attach them a good/bad label.
Some time ago a friend from India showed me a video with Russell Peters, an Indian-Canadian comedian who talks mainly about cultural stereotypes (of course Indian jokes included). While watching it, she told me… “you know, I was really angry when I first saw one of his performances”.
Indeed I had to agree with her… looking in the mirror is not an easy task. You need to change the perspective and admit your thinking patterns. Humor gives the opportunity to make a step back and reflect on how you act and think about yourself and the others.
At the same time when you feel ‘categorized’ you may also want to stop being defensive and just joke about it. I received a good amount of smiles with lines like: “well, I’m a woman, I need to faint a bit now” or “I can read minds, but only in my office hours” or (borrowed from a friend) “yes, I’m from Dracula country, but no worries I became blood-hungry only after midnight”.
So why not use categories in a constructive way? It sure helps to add value to our interactions.