Thursday, December 18, 2008

Damn London Fog: Flight Delayed from Heathrow, but home at last


I'm typing this in front of the family Christmas tree in my living room after a vicious 72-hour long hall from Lviv, Ukraine to Rockford, Illinois. I took the overnight bus on the night of the 15th at about 9:30 pm, Ukie time and arrived in Warsaw, Poland early the next morning. My flight to London was scheduled at 12:30, but because of heavy fog in the London area, they held the flight for 2 hours. We didn't take off from Warsaw till almost 3:00 pm, and despite the great time that we made, I missed my 4:25 flight to Chicago. I still had 15 minutes left, but they wouldn't let me on.
Me and 5,000 other people. Literally. That's the figure the officials gave me when I asked. I was given a hotel and and meals for the night and a flight out the next morning at 11:30 am. I arrived in Chicago at 3:00 pm today and my mother picked me up. I had a Jamba Juice Immunity Booster and a Chipotle Burrito at Woodfield, mmm, mmm. 
All is well with the world, but I am exhausted and perhaps a little under the weather. Love you all, it's great to be back!

Monday, December 15, 2008

students, grades, the end of the world and then home!

As I type this, I am only 5 hours away from leaving for the United States. At 9:30 pm, I will board a bus for Warsaw, and arrive the next day in the capital of Poland where I will get on a plane to London. I'll fly British Airways to Chicago and arrive around 6 pm. 

It will be glorious. I spent all day today handing out grades, finishing tests, and figuring out the end of the year. For some students, it was great. For some, not so much.

I am thrilled to be done, I literally just handed the grades to the office secretary, and now I'M OUT!!!!

Love you all! I'll soon be home in the states, so you can stop holding your breath! Love you all!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

This is (Polish) Jazz

Above: the members of Fortuna Bartholomew International(FBI) Jazz Project toot, blow, strum and drum their way to a standing ovation, encore and arguable the best jazz show I've ever seen in Club Picasso on the evening of December 10th, 2008 in Lviv. Five different musicians from Lviv, Krakow and England, they sound brilliant just one year after their formation. You can find their music here:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bye, bye Tribune Co: why a journalism degree is still smart despite the collapse of my industry

Dear journalists, readers, editors, and anyone else who is interested in the news,

Here's a slightly dated list of Tribune Co. assets:

The Wall Street Journal just blew the whistle on a collapsing Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Baltimore Sun and various assets around the country. It recently went private underneath billionaire Sam Zell, but the Tribune company is still shedding profits faster than Indian terrorists are killing hostages. Long story short, there's not enough advertising to support the newsroom staff of the 90s, and there's not enough income to support a news industry's largesse of stories.(witness Google News'  4901 articles on the Pakistan connection to the Mumbai attacks. Who's going to read all of that? Google is eliminating the need for multiple news sources)

So what do you do when you graduate from college a year over schedule with a degree in an industry that is flopping like a Spice Girls' reunion? You teach english abroad for a year and stall. Well, almost. The better answer is that you exploit, exploit, exploit.

Journalists, this is the greatest opportunity of our lives. The world is in turmoil, economies are failing, stocks crashing, jobs disappearing and opportunities are supposedly drying up. And if you're an aspiring photojournalist/journalist like myself, who is encouraged because of his talent but finds that recent newspaper layoffs have left the photography business flooded with out-of-work talent, you feel even more out in the cold. Yet, this is still the greatest opportunity we have ever been handed.

Yes, there is no work right now.

Yes, we are all going to suffer.

Yes, there are no jobs and *gasp* we may have to work for free for a bit just to make our names.

But yes, things are going to get better. If 4 years of journalism school has taught me anything, the vast majority of old hands in the industry have no idea what is going on and are just as confused as we are. Worse, they may be more in the dark. That's why now is the time to pounce! Now is the time when the new leaders of the industry will make their names, develop new directions and theories, new ways of selling and creating content for news. If history has taught us anything, this fall of the Old Ways is making room for the New Order.

Newspapers are still trying to make sense of the internet and how to use it effectively. Too many of them seek the same content control they are used to in a print form, but fail to use the internet's tools like google, youtube, facebook, and twitter to their advantage. Many of them are trying to win subscribers on a macro level, when they should be focused on the micro level made so easily available by the web. The old methods aren't working anymore, and the industry is still struggling to confront the problem. Perhaps it's just the economy dropping another egg, but the results of the news industry's tactics are showing: we're losing, big time. 

If you are a writer, a journalist, a photographer, or anyone who is out of the job because of the economy, now is the time to work harder than you have ever done in your entire lives. Now is the time to exploit the weaknesses, the holes left by companies like Tribune Co. There is tremendous opportunity for the next generation, and the old is going to make way for the new. 

Take advantage of the gaping holes that are being left by traditional news and attack them head-on, forging citizen journalism networks and alternative ways of telling stories. The internet is affording people the opportunity to report stories themselves, and although that isn't very profitable right now, it will be. Now is the time, folks. Pounce. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our Kitchen

The Vasa, Pride of Sweden

Above: several views of The Vasa, a swedish warship that sank right after it launched from Stockholm's harbor on its maiden voyage in 1627. The ship is in great condition and most of the parts are genuine, with some portions of the ship being replaced after it was recovered in 1961. More on Wikipedia.

I was convinced that I would not like Sweden, mostly because I come from Rockford, Illinois, a city known for having one of the highest immigrant swedish populations in the United States, and because Sweden and Poland fought a series of wars from the 1600s-1800s. Knowing that my reasons and cultural convictions were both ridiculous and immature, I decided to stubbornly hate Sweden like any American hating France for reasons he/she cannot identify. I've never liked my hometown, and I knew that I could always count on this prejudice to back me up. And I could never openly admit to anyone that I didn't like Sweden because of some silly war, but I could bash their obnoxious accent, the lack of daylight and those ridiculous swedish white shirts with the frilly cuffs. 
My dislike of Swedes paled in comparison to my dislike of Russians(justified, of course, by Russia's previous transgressions against Poland. And being roughly 25-50% Polish, it's easy to hate a group of people who have offended half of you), but I was determined to dislike Sweden nonetheless. What public monuments could I litter on? Could I break some law to irritate a passive Swedish police force? Could I 'liberate' some silverware or towels from my hotel in defiance of the establishment?(I became infamous in college for sneaking into the memorial union and refilling my soap dispenser in the bathrooms)
By the end of the first day, I just wanted to stay in Sweden. The country was so well organized, clean, and friendly that it instantly reached my top 5 list for European countries and I didn't want to leave. In truth, I never really hated Sweden, but I did develop a strange, quiet prejudice against the Swedes before even arriving in the airport. 
Sweden makes 27 countries for me, and even today I fly to new places with thoroughly ridiculous notions and prejudices about the countries and people I am going to meet. I am eager to go to Russia, because I feel conflicted about the place. My grandmother raised me with a healthy hatred of the Soviets, Stalin and anything red. But I have no real convictions or experience of my own to base this on. I just hear things, see things and have been conditioned to believe that this country/people are somehow bad. 
We need prejudices/stereotypes to survive in some sense(or we convince ourselves that we do), but quite often our prejudices are unfounded. Sweden was great by all accounts and I had a wonderful time. By the power vested in me as Prince of Poland, I forgive Sweden for all its transgressions against the Poles. Or, at the very least, I'll be back.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Did you do your Black Friday Christmas shopping while eating chocolate waffles? I did

Above, top to bottom: Karl serves up a tasty chocolate waffle with extra whip cream at the Christmas market in downtown Stockholm; a panoramic view of the market from the steps of the Nobel Museum; a woman works the game booth where you can win candy bars the size of small Swedish children; I might have bought one of these ornaments for a relative, but maybe not. You'll have to wait till Christmas, mom; a typical Christmas booth's inventory included ornaments, bowls, candles, woodwork, meats, breads, clothing, and gigantic heads of elk and huge salmon fillets. Mmm, mmm.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Above, top to bottom: Brett in front of a Polish billboard in Warsaw that says "and what do you know about the European Fund?" We can't figure it out, either but we like the guys; Brett wearing his swedish scarf wtih his swedish bike; Thumbs up, Stockholm!; Brett seems a little too excited to be reading a National Socialist Party flyer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What I want for Christmas, and what the D3x means for travel photographers

I'm a traveling photojournalist who's always on the move, and shooting on the road isn't always easy. So when I saw that the release of the Nikon D3x, the next installment of the pro Nikon bodies, was leaked online, I jumped at the thought of trying to shoot with one of these on the road. Would I?

In a nutshell: probably not.

I currently carry a NIkon D300, a 17-35 mm lens, an 80-200 mm lens, a 50 mm(portraits), a flash, a light meter, a rain cover and the grip for the D300. In other words, any time you see me with my camera bag, I have about 30 pounds of photo equipment strapped to me. It's a pain. I am going to spring for a lightweight camera backpack soon, as the side pouch I currently use, while great for lightweight assignments and easy access, is going to give me major back pain in the future. I can't imagine trying to stuff a Nikon D3x in there with everything else and lugging it around.

I say this to illustrate a point about my style of travel and how I photograph: less is more. I need to be comfortable when I travel, and an extra 25-30 pounds doesn't help. Plus, one of the greatest pains of on-the-cheap travel photography is checking in your bag. If I go on a backpacking trip across Europe and don't bring my photo equipment, I can haul my bag right onto the plane and never check a bag, never pay a fee. But once I bring the camera, I have more weight, more liability, and I have to check something.

I'm a young photographer who shoots with a D300 and a D2x. I didn't bring the D2x to Ukraine this fall because of liability, and because it's just too damn big.

For those photographers reading this who know the specs of the D3x, you also know this is entirely impractical for anyone but serious landscape and portrait photographers who want to move into medium format.

For guys like me who need lightweight gear that can bang out images fast, this is mostly useless. Not to mention the $8000 price tag

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You want that pancake with lingonberries or pickled herring, lars?

Above, top to bottom: A candle globe holds dozens of candles inside the Storkyrkan Cathedral, a Lutheran Church in Stockholm, Sweden on the evening of November 28th, 2008; A swedish bachelor party gets rowdy with mullets and Burger King crowns near T-Centralny station in downtown Stockholm; Members of the National Socialist Party stand outside parliament to stump for representation with signs, flags, suspiciously close-shaven heads, and a lot of white people; on a bridge near parliament, from left to right: Amanda Sheaffer, Brett McCaw and Theodora Dryer; Skaters enjoy an afternoon on the ice near the bay in downtown Stockholm. The sun rises after 9 am and sets by 4 pm, leaving most of the day dark.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Above: shots from election day a month ago, hard to believe it went so fast! Notice the menu items in the last shot.

Friday, November 28, 2008

View from my window

Above: a panorama view from my balcony of lviv after a fresh snowfall.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Khutorivka Seminary Panorama

Above: a panoramic assembled in photoshop of Khutorivka Seminary, where I took these photographs. If you look at the lower right hand corner between the towers, you can see the beginning of my old neighborhood. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What First Snow on a Ukrainian Doorstep Looks Like

Above: Various Ukrainian apartment buildings that are on my route to work in the morning. I live in the center of the city, and woke to a blizzard blanketing the city in close to a foot of snow. Just lovely. Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow and watching the snow fall. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Faith in the East and What the West Has Wrong

Above, top to bottom: A Dominican monk waits with a basket for alms after the Youth Mass at 7:00 p.m. outside Holy Trinity Church in Krakow, Poland on November 23, 2008; Bozena Hrycyna, an english teacher in Lviv, Ukraine, explores Holy Trinity Church, which is connected to a Dominican Monastery, before the Youth Mass; the halls of the monastery are open to the public during the day. 

Coming from an American Catholic background, I usually expect church pews on a Sunday evening to be half full with last minute churchgoers, the church to echo with watered-down, feel-good hymns from the Oregon Press, and the sermon to be less than engrossing. In the spirit of the confessional, I'll admit that up till about a year ago, my sisters and I would often challenge each other to thumb wars and regularly break into the church giggles. I consider myself to be a fairly devout catholic that goes to confession if he misses mass on Sunday, but I'm no saint. After Krakow, I want to be one. 
As the splish-splash ring of polish hymns drowns out the howl of a blizzard outside, it seems like the poles might have a monopoly on piety in the Roman Catholic Church. They are here in droves on a Sunday evening, packing the aisles, the stairs, even the altar, and surprisingly, they are almost all under 25 years of age. It might be the famous Dominican Church Youth Mass from George Weigel's book "Letters to a Young Catholic," but it surpasses all expectations. This mass will change your life. 
Poles get it. They seem more alive and comfortable as a catholic culture than any group I've ever had with the pleasure of praying. Sure, they have their problems. Not everyone sings, not everyone goes to church(more than 95% of the country is catholic, and almost all of them attend church on a weekly basis), and they don't always do as they pray. But they are a far cry from France, where the Catholic Church is openly ridiculed, Notre Dame is like the Batman ride at Six Flags, and the people are proud their culture gave birth to secularism.
I've never been in a Catholic Church with open-mic intentions. Churchgoers of all ages walk up to the pulpit to state their intentions, and everybody keeps it short and appropriate. No one laughs, and everyone listens to the sermon. I was struck how the church was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, and during the transfiguration(when the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood) you could've heard a pin drop. I realized that there is almost always background noise in American Churches, and rarely is the congregation silent. 
I love Poland, and in Krakow, where John Paul II(then Karol Wojtyla) was a student, priest, then bishop and later cardinal, you know you've seen the soul of the country.  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Your friendly Polish tour guide

Above, top to bottom:  Krakowians navigate slippery sidewalks on the evening of November 22nd, in Krakow, Poland on Ulica Sienna; Me in the Rynek Glowny; Bozena Hrycyna, a fellow english teacher at UCU, and Robert Marko, a fulbright professor from Michigan, outside the Franciscan Church in Krakow; Josh Marko trying to not get smothered by falling snow near the Sukinnice; the dark, candlelit underbelly of Awaria(Avar-ria) Bar was filled with smoke and the sound of an old gravely voice singing softly over piano music "see ya lata, alligata. In a while, Croc-o-dile," while we smoked Cuban cigars and sipped spicy hot wine. My lens was fogged from the cold. 
I left for the First World on Thursday night, otherwise known as Poland. A member of the European Union since 2004, Poland has held the title of 'fastest growing economy' within the E.U. and the home of Pope John Paul II, who once served as Archbishop of Krakow. We took the overnight bus from Lviv to Krakow, an all-night fiasco that starts at 10 pm and ends at some cold, dark outpost in the early morning. 
Ukrainian border crossings are like a peek into an oppressive childhood: you're not really sure what you did wrong, but by God, they are going to find something. Ukrainian border guards vacillate between two extremes: bitter, corrupt, ex-soviets and the prissy, drop-dead attractive women wearing strong floral perfumes that burns your eyes. Hey, don't you have to frisk me? Or did you want to bring me in for further questioning? 
The poles, by contrast, might actually go out for a drink with me if I asked them. They are always polite, addressing everyone in the light southern polish accent that I admire so much, and are quick, business-like and punctual. They don't have the hard edge of the germans, but retain the organization. 
This trip, I was taking a fulbright professor, his son and another english teacher on a tour of Krakow. They raved about the city by the time we were done, and just as my friend Amanda Sheaffer, and she'll tell you just how wonderful Krakow really is, and how much of a surprise Poland can be. 
I feel so alive and happy in Krakow, and I fit in so well, that I think I just might move there. After this weekend, and after going on a tour with a Pole who spoke near perfect english, I think I can be a travel guide. I would love to live in Poland for a year, or even a summer, time-permitting. If the opportunity should arise, I think I would pick Krakow, move there, and spend a year learning polish, teaching english, giving tours and freelancing. I love the people, I love the city, and I'm an American speaking better english than most poles. Come the 2012 EuroCup that will be hosted in Krakow, there will be a great need for guys like me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Backyard

A huge slap sound sends me jolting out of bed, and I realize it's the sound of my phone crashing into the floor. The obnoxious rhythm of the 'everlasting' ringtone style thumps at me mockingly from my bedside, and for a moment, I consider just leaving the phone on the floor and rolling over. But mind and hand are too distanced by lack of sleep, and I find the phone at my ear before my brain can protest.
"You up?" It's Irene, my American neighbor from upstairs.
"Yeah yeah yeah, been up for hours," I say, smacking my face. 
"You wanna go for a run? I'm going to show you the park," chatters Irene in her upbeat Seattle accent.
Jeans, sweatshirt, fleece jacket, hikers and skullcap come barreling out the door with me and my Nikon D300. We go soaring up a hill as Irene explains the gothic building to our right was the meeting place of the Ukrainian militia, named after Hutzel tribe leaders. Her father was one of them. 
I shake off flashbacks of our old apartment that was firmly entrenched in the Soviet nightmare we called Hasheka Street. Marveling at the woods around me, I realize I've swapped concrete buildings and rotting sidewalks for towering pines and oaks, a forest floor covered in brilliant shades of fall, and the tallest hill in Lviv which is literally right behind my apartment.
"Wysoki Zamok is that way," says Irene, pointing off to the left, "and Shenchivski High is over to the right." 
Wysoki Zamok(High Castle) is a huge lookout point and has the best view in Lviv. Just 15 minutes away is Shenchivski High, a tourist park filled with Ukrainian cultural houses, animal pettings zoos and another gorgeous forest. Did I mention the main square is just 5 minutes walk from my door? 
We reach the top of a hill in the thick fog, a sort of look-out point for us. 
"This is what I wanted to show you," says Irene. "This is our backyard."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Krakow again!

Above, top to bottom: A remake of a photo I took in 2005 on my first trip to Krakow when I was studying the polish language at Jagiellonian University through the University of Iowa, before I transferred to Marquette that fall; A couple posing for wedding pictures in Wawel Castle in Krakow, September 28, 2008; The grounds of the Wawel; and Wawel Castle from the outside(we declined to climb the bell tower, which I think I've done 3 times. What a number on my back); And finally, Jagiellonian's main courtyard in the old campus near Krakow's center.  
I'm going with a fullbright professor here at UCU to meet his son in Krakow for the weekend. Should be a good time. I plan on taking lots of Krakow pictures, finishing my story on my grandmother, and planning my photo class for next semester.