Aarhus, Denmark- August 15

 

Germanysconsin

Along The Road Through Germanysconsin…

HELP!!! I’ve been abducted by a couple of bohemian artists and am being held captive in an Atelier!

They are forcing me to eat healthy organic food, live in the moment, and lighten the hell up.

My dear friend E and her fantastic partner P have been trying their best to put some vigor and whimsy in my stride, and their treatment is beginning to take effect.

The tension is starting to slowly roll off me now that I’m in Denmark. Aarhus is a sleepy little college town right on the water, just what I need after the last five years of hardly ever leaving Chicago and three weeks in nice but still a bit urban and uptight Berlin.

As much as I enjoyed my time there (and want to return whenever I can) it was a great weight off my shoulders when the bus pulled out of the Berlin bus station. Some of the bad mojo was residual anxiety from my 1981 visit during the height of the Squatter’s Riots and the Reagan Cold War, some from the fact that so much of what I was trying to escape from in Chicago (gentrification, conformity, rampant capitalism, Americans) was fully in evidence there, some from the bad jam, and some just because I’d only been out of America for less than a month and was still very much “tightly wound.”

The vibe of Denmark feels great to me. I could sense it as soon as the bus crossed the border from Germany. The architecture changed and the atmosphere just seemed to lighten up a few shades.

The nine hour bus ride (actually longer than my trans-Atlantic flight over here) also helped provide a feeling of distance and of journeying to a vastly new land. Although I have to say it was a very nice bus (double-decker with a free coffee station downstairs) and the ride was no trial at all.

Northern Germany was uncannily like the part of Wisconsin I grew up in (which is not surprising since there was a huge proportion of Germans there), with mile after mile of neat well-kept farms and small towns. The only difference was the architecture of the homes (slate roofs are such a rarity in the US) and the large amounts of windmills and solar arrays interspersed with the crops & villages. At a certain point I woke up from a nap to a vista of tall corn and hay fields so similar to a stretch of I-90 near Janesville that for one odd disorienting moment I thought I was on the Van Galder bus to Madison.

The all-too-familiar scenery helped contribute to the feeling that I hadn’t really been able to leave anything behind, but the crossing into Denmark brought about a sense of optimism and newness that had been sorely lacking so far in my excursion. And when the bus pulled into the Aarhus Bus Station and I saw E & P sitting waiting to greet me I felt as if I were arriving somewhere I’d truly never been, but which also felt remarkably like home.

They greeted me with much joy and love and we strolled to their large flat on the fourth floor of a building overlooking one of the city’s panoply of adorable little mini-parks and my Danish Decompression Session officially began.

They are a couple of free-spirited artist/musicians and have been making me feel as if I am a long-lost brother. In a way I am; E and I met in Shanghai while each of us was in the throes of a great musical/creative epiphany and bonded like brother and sister from the first night at my cousin’s music club. She met P a couple years after returning to Aarhus and they fell into a deep and sweet romantic soul-mate situation. So it’s like hanging with Sis and Bro to be with them.

I’ve been spending my days exploring and taking photos (it’s a gorgeous city that also has some large wooded parks and cool beaches), then my evenings in their delightful company. We went out wandering one evening looking for a place to have some dinner, and I remarked how much nicer they were dressed than I— so they topped off my jeans & t-shirt ensemble with a bright burgundy bowler hat. Usually I would have been much too self-conscious to accede to that sartorial accessory, but with them I gave it not a thought- and we dashed into the Danish nightfall to find some sustenance.

They’ve been telling me how they would like to take me to the West Coast of Denmark, an area renowned for its beauty and rural charm. They have a friend who’s an artist (quite well-known) who is trying to create an artist colony in a little hamlet where she bought a couple buildings.

They are too busy to take me there right now so the plan is for me to just travel up there myself and meet her and see what I can do to assist her in her quest. Sounds like just what I need for the next step in the Decompression.

BTW- Aarhus was the traditional spelling for the city but in recent years it is more common for it to be spelled Arhus (the city officially sanctions the single A spelling), although there is still a bit of debate about it. I tend to use the AA Aarhus because I think it is WAY cool looking. Sorry.

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No Bang-Bang Chicago Really Nice!

¬†One of the many reasons I love Denmark is that there are virtually NO guns and gun violence is almost unheard of. Of course, my experiences in Rogers Park many years ago make me love it a lot more than most Americans, but it’s still quite a cultural revelation.

I’ll tell people here that on a nice weather weekend in Chicago anywhere between 10 and 30 people get shot and they look at me as if I’m telling a tall tale. When they realize I’m not joking they ask me what is up with America and Guns, and I really don’t have a good answer.

I sometimes talk about the NRA’s influence over lawmakers and how there are just so many people who are so afraid of someone taking away their guns that every time there is a horrible mass shooting they go out and buy more guns- or I talk about the REALLY crazy people who think that all the horrible mass shootings are actually faked by the Government so they can come and take away their guns (how they called the mothers of Sandy Hook victims to tell them their children didn’t exist). I tell them that there are many American people who know it’s insane and think that perhaps there will be a mass shooting so horrible that everyone will wake up to how crazy it is and demand something be done but each more horrible mass shooting just brings a stronger backlash from the Gun People.

But lately I’ve grown tired of trying to make excuses or explanations and I just say that America is an insane country with a National Death Wish. They ask me what I think will happen or what can be done— and I REALLY don’t know what to say.

All I know is it’s nice to not have to worry about getting shot on the street or in a restaurant or theater or wherethehellever. It’s a feeling I want to hold on to.

 

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Photography And Me

 

My photo taking has gotten a bit more serious. I have always been experimenting with composition (as those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know) but now I am trying to push myself farther and teach myself more about it. I shoot just as many (if not more) photos than before, but I am being more exacting about what I keep and/or post. If I came across a shot I found interesting I would usually just keep & post every picture that wasn’t completely blurry or askew- but now I’m being more picky about culling all but the sharpest and best composed, and asking myself what makes a certain picture “better” than another.

I suppose you could say I’m trying to find my own aesthetic- but that sounds a bit high-falutin’ for my rudimentary level of ability.

Also just started messing around with some of the features in the low-rent picture management program I have and trying to adjust color/brightness/etc. and have been cropping certain shots- something I should have been doing from the beginning. But it’s not like I’m trying to be Ansel Arbus here.

My Street Photography is always literally of the street. I suppose what I mostly do is Architectural Photography more than anything else, but even when I’m shooting at ground level I try to avoid having people in my shots at all.

There are several reasons, a big one being that it’s already been/being done so much better than I ever could do it by so many people. Another is that as much as I enjoy the Vivian Meier/Henri Cartier-Bresson style of Street Photography, I personally feel that on some level it’s a bit of an arrogant invasion of people’s privacy.

The few times I’ve been snapped on the El or elsewhere by some stranger, my first instinct (always resisted of course) is to go slap them upside the head and shove their camera up their ass. Of course, it always seems like it’s some snotty 20-something twit who’s probably going to post it with a “Look at the weird fat old guy!” caption on their Instagram rather than something that’s going to hang in a gallery somewhere, which contributes to my ire- but REALLY, who the fuck are you to shoot someone without their permission? I suppose in Art the end justifies the means to a certain extent, but it still rankles me on a fundamental level even though I often find the results to be fascinating.

Even if I wanted to do that sort of thing, I just don’t have the look/persona where I could get away with it. Vivian Meier was an unassuming old lady (she also shot with a camera that wasn’t held at eye level) but when I take someone’s photo on the street they wonder what the hell is going on. A women would probably think I was a stalker, and men would wonder if I was a cop or something with my broad build and foreboding brooding ways. And when I smile I just look a bit unhinged, so there’s just no softening it. Plus, to be honest, nobody ever seems to do anything that interesting when I’m walking about with a camera.

But the biggest reason I avoid people in my shots is because of an encounter with an elderly neighbor many years ago in Lincoln Square. He always used to engage my wife and I in conversation on the back porch of our building, and one time he showed us an album of photos he’d just taken on a trip to Disney World.

Picture after picture was almost completely bereft of people, and although I’ve never been there (Disneyland when I was 3 & 6), I know one of the hallmarks of the place is that it’s always jam packed with a sea of humanity. I was absolutely mesmerized, “What’s up? Did you go on some day when the park was partly closed or as a special excursion?”

Turns out that he went with his wife and Grandchildren, and since he didn’t do rides he had much alone time waiting for them all to get through the massive lines take the rides. So what he would do is find a shot/angle that he liked and waited for that brief moment when the tide of people had a break in it. Sort of the photographic equivalent of crossing a busy expressway.

The effect of his painstakingly patient style was unbelievable, like he’d been on some private tour of Disney World, and even those plastic cheesy vistas seemed imbued with a certain profundity without all the legions of tourists lumbering through the image.

Even after 15 years that memory sticks with me, so when I’m on the street or in a park and want to photograph something, I channel old Mr Ramos and (at least try to) patiently wait for that moment when everyone is out of frame.