Shadow and Light

Duality is a function of two opposing forces meeting at an impasse, and in that meeting, bringing each other into existence.  

When I look through a lens, I see in duality - shadow and light. This, more than anything, draws me to the craft: the use of contrast to direct the viewer's attention to a particular subject. 

The darkness in our world is impossible to ignore. It screams at us from our phone screens, televisions, magazine racks. Occasionally, I feel as though it will consume me. Climate change, terrorism, species extinction, famine, good ol' fashioned murder, rape, water wars... 

But there is also light. I've seen it, felt it, and am proud to count among my friends and colleagues people with indomitable spirit who do good works against impossible odds. They build schools in countries where children have never held a book. They defend our Constitution in the courtroom. And they push and push and keep pushing for a sustainable future, in spite of - or perhaps because of - rising seas and encroaching deserts. 

We have become fixated on darkness in film and television. Consider our most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past few years: The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Homeland, True Detective. They each feature protagonists who, driven by pure intentions (love, survival, security), commit sometimes unspeakable acts. Sure, the anti-hero is nothing new - ask Othello and Macbeth - but it seems like now more than ever, we are enamored with protagonists who exist in extremes: the brightest light, the deepest shadow. 

Is that a bad thing? No. It is simply a reflection of the extremes in which we exist. Television and film are like dreams; they allow us to process and work through our fears and obsessions, and perhaps in fixating on darkness, what we're really looking for is the light. 

All of this came from a recent late-afternoon stroll along the High Line. Camera in hand, I sought out the duality and found it made each object and person and moment all the richer.

Yours truly, one dappled-sunlight stroll at a time,


Visiting the High Line
Visitor information is available here. Sunsets at the park are especially stunning.

A Stroll Through Central Park, Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time...

Magic words. The beginning of every great adventure. The promise of a thrilling tale.

I'm re-reading the Brothers Grimm and delighting in their grimm-ness; their stories begin innocently enough, but by the end of most, you're left with the distinct impression that life was much, much harder for the tellers of these tales, and it was best not to sugar-coat things for the kiddos who listened, rapt, at the fireside. 

Bad things happen to good people (or mice, as the case may be), good things happen to bad people (or cats, as will happen), loyalty is rewarded, jealousy is punished, love is blinding. All important lessons, all mostly absent from the modern-day iterations of the stories - kids might never know that the Little Mermaid doesn't get the prince and doesn't live happily ever after - in fact, she doesn't live at all, but is reduced to sea foam as punishment for her ambitions (Hans Christian Andersen was a downer, too). But I suppose Disney can shield us from the harsh reality of life only for so long; it catches up to us all, sooner or later. Is it really so wrong to believe in perfect, happy endings for a little while? And so...

Once upon a time, there was a girl in New York and she loved to meander the green-arched lanes of Central Park. On one perfect spring day, she strolled, alone but not lonely, for hours through the winding paths, and saw along the way balloons and bubbles and ball games,  statues and kiddos and parents and lovebirds, old couples, young couples, gay couples, straight couples, dogs of every shape and size, joggers and bikers and rollerbladers, and there even was a drum circle pounding a hypnotic beat and a pianist playing Chopin in the slanting afternoon sun and a lonesome saxophonist saxophoning beneath a bridge (aren't all saxophonists a wee bit sad in that beautiful, heartbreaking, I-left-my-heart-in-Paris way?).

This is Christopher Columbus. What a story!
What a pleasure to see such green after months of snow and bare branches.

The girl's soul was full on life and she was happy. She treasured these feelings, because she knew that spring doesn't last forever and winter is coming. (A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the greatest tales of our time, but that's another story.)

The end.

Yours truly, one meandering tale at a time,


The Met Museum in Black and White

When I find myself in New York City with nothing to do on a hot summer day (a rare occurrence, but it does happen), one of my favorite ways to while away the hours is in the cavernous, air-conditioned halls of the Met Museum. 

An immediate sense of the promise of pleasure washes over me when I walk through those giant, heavy front doors, past the security line, and into the Great Hall, always teeming with visitors and the hum of hundreds of voices. 

Each and every time, I stand in the center of the hall, wondering where to begin that day's exploration. I am most often drawn to the Greek and Roman Art galleries, and could spend hours marveling at the ancients' knowledge of human anatomy and proportion, wondering how it could all have been lost in the Dark Ages. The collapse of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Catholic Church as the primary seat of power in Europe led the continent down a dark road; although it was artistically rich in its own way, Medieval Europe lost the Graeco-Roman texts and arts, having to literally reinvent its understanding of depth-of-field and proportion. (You can read more on this artistic and social regression here.)

The Met Museum offers a trove of information on its collections through its website. I would highly recommend perusing the online resources before visiting the galleries. For example, a brief overview of the Roman Republic or the Art of Classical Greece

Looking at the rise and fall of human knowledge between the Graeco-Roman period and the Middle Ages, I wonder: can one part of our world experience a similar regression in the future, or is human knowledge now so well documented and interconnected that such loss is no longer possible? I can only hope we're climbing a steady road upward, never to lose what we have learned in the past 2,000 years. 
Yours truly, one objet d'art at a time,

Met Museum
1000 5th Ave. at 82nd Street 
Admission: $25 suggested donation for adults, discounted rates available for students and seniors. You can purchase tickets in advance here... But if you live within the greater New York City area, just get yourself a membership and skip the lines to all special exhibitions.  
Dining: If you're on a budget, either bring your own lunch and picnic on the front stairs, or venture down to the cafeteria, where the self-service options are decent.

Parts of Remaining Berlin Wall Under Threat of Demolition

A note on goings-on in Berlin this morning: I was surprised to learn that the municipal authorities responsible for the land surrounding what remains of the Berlin Wall - which is now a national monument - have granted Living Bauhaus, a real estate development company, the permission to construct luxury condominiums near the Wall... and to remove parts of it in order to provide access to the new development.

It strikes me as odd that a national monument, a memorial of global significance, would be unprotected, but apparently there is no law prohibiting this type of removal. It does not, however, strike me as odd that the district would grant permission for the removal - economic development is a genuinely important priority for any municipality, but it has to be balanced against cultural and historical concerns. 

I imagine the municipal authorities believe that the luxury condos will bring in residents with a greater disposable income, and will spend said income in the surrounding neighborhoods, revitalizing the economy for the benefit of all. Real estate projects of this type can be, when well designed, a legitimate means of promoting economic development for neighborhoods as a whole (albeit at the risk of gentrifying them), and isn't it worth making a compromise between keeping most of the Wall (thus honoring the past) and promoting development (thus honoring the needs of the present)? However - and this is a crucial point - if the district reaffirms the removal, the remaining monument must be protected under the law from further demolition.

In the end, as an avid traveler (and someone who has never visited Berlin but looks forward to doing so in the future), I wish the remnants of the Wall would remain intact, and I'm curious to see how this story unfolds in the coming days.

What are your thoughts?

Yours truly, one crumbled stone at a time,


Sunday in Sofia: A Hike on Mt. Vitosha

"Hike" may be a strong word to use for the leisurely stroll we took on Vitosha one Sunday over the holidays, but it does make me feel like we accomplished more than sloshing lazily through the snow for thirty minutes. 

Vitosha is a quick drive from Sofia's city center. In not time, you can go from the smoggy, traffic-ridden bustle of urban life to a lung-cleansing oasis of cool air, crunching snow, and breathtaking views. We chose to visit "Kopitoto," an area marked by an old television tower that looks like a giant warning finger over the surrounding landscape. It is oddly beautiful in its concrete glory, especially when it basks in the hazy glow of the setting sun.

There is something so necessary in visiting nature. Never mind the cleansed lungs and ruddy, fresh-air cheeks. Seeing little plants thriving under a pile of snow, or trees reaching with their stoic limbs toward the sun, or the sky floating above you in its incomprehensibly vast expanse is just as much food for the soul as for the body. Your mind starts to wander along calmer roads, leaving behind the frenetic energy of daily life. Your breathing slows (except when you're huffing and puffing up tiny little hills that put you to shame). And you start to feel that little (or not-so-little) knot in your chest being to unwind like a coiled spring, leaving you with a sense of calm and pure, unadulterated joy.

This is how life is supposed to feel. 

One freeing breath at a time,


Sofia, A Tale of Two Cities: Part II

When you're a half-stranger to a city, everything in it is simultaneously familiar and uncomfortably foreign. I was born in Sofia but grew up in the U.S., and my yearly visits to my birthplace are little treasures of discovery and exploration. I see the city through a lens of dusty childhood memories and new experiences, amassed little by little each year, but mostly it feels new and foreign to me. I don't know many street names and couldn't possibly give anyone directions even through the neighborhoods I'm most familiar with, but I know the place with the kind of fondness and intimacy you feel for your hometown, where memories bind you to a shared past even if the city is no longer your home. 

On my last trip to Sofia, I decided to play tourist for a day, and my mom and I set off with our cameras for a free-styling photo exploration of the city. We didn't visit any landmarks or popular tourist destinations. Instead, we focused on the most minute details along our walk, exploring the city's character through its colors, textures and forms. The end result was a collection of photos that blur the line between place and time - at times, it's difficult to know where the photos were taken, which city they represent, or even which decade. 

My mom has a keen eye for photography. It was so much fun to see the city through her eyes, too.

This is Sofia as I saw it, caught between my experience as a native and a stranger. I looked at half-familiar buildings and felt adrift in an unfamiliar world, but in focusing on the little details, I found myself comforted by the sameness of all big cities; whether you're in New York, London, or Sofia, the little details are surprisingly similar. Rusty metal on a lamppost. Graffiti on a weathered wall. Cafés named "Soho." All of these things combine to create the essence of a place, and if you happen to be a designer, they can provide endless inspiration.

You'll find some very naughty graffiti in Sofia. Parents beware.

So the next time you find yourself in a new city - or wandering through your own backyard - pay attention to the little details. Beauty hides in the most unexpected places. 

Yours truly, one stroll at a time,


Sunday Morning Reads: "Marie Colvin's Private War," Vanity Fair August 2012

The term "travel" has, in the past decade, become associated almost exclusively with the pursuit of pleasure, with the search for the perfect photograph, the most delicious, authentic food, and for the sort of self-discovery described in books like Eat Pray Love. As a result, within the narrow and - let's face it - mostly hedonistic confines of the food and travel writing world, we often take for granted those who travel not for personal pleasure, but to shed light upon conflicts and crises across the globe, intrepid reporters who put their lives at risk in order to bring attention - and help - to the voiceless.

Vanity Fair's August 2012 issue features a heart-shattering article about Marie Colvin, a Sunday Times journalist killed in Homs, Syria, in 2012, while reporting on the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian civil war.  She traveled out of a burning desire to expose the truth, combined with a complicated personal history that left her incapable of living a "normal" life, sitting safely behind a desk. This, from the last days of her life: 

"In a nearby village [in Syria], Conroy had watched her trying to get a signal and file her story for the next day's paper on her vintage satellite phone. 'Why is the world not here?' she asked her assistant in London. That question, posed by Colvin so many times before - in East Timor, Libya, Kosovo, Chechnya, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka - was the continuing theme of her life."

Her journeys were unlike anything that we, the average globe trotters, will ever experience. She lost an eye from shrapnel in Sri Lanka, had nightmares about the atrocities she witnessed, and yet ventured out into absurdly dangerous situations again and again.

So let us not forget that traveling encompasses much more than exploring the world for pleasure's sake, that the news we read each day comes from people, like Marie Colvin, who put themselves at risk in the name of the truth. We owe it to them to read just as much about the places we can't visit, for safety reasons, as those we dream of visiting.

Yours truly, one story at a time,