René Braun was born in Czechoslovakia and now lives in Maine, US. Below is his photographic diary from the trip to Wiesbaden, Germany. For more of René Braun’s photography from this event see the slideshow and his blog .
A Fair Night
(a meaningless document of an outdoor music fair)
I’m standing on a street corner waiting for my friend Petr. Petr is parking his Volkswagen in downtown Wiesbaden. It’s Friday. I flew in from Boston about 2 hours ago. The last 16 hours of traveling left a toll. I’m tired, yet I don’t want to go to bed at 6pm only to wake up at 2am feeling fresh like a raspberry. I need to combat this jet-lag. It’s time to battle the change from Eastern Standard time to the European time zone. My way to combat jet-lag was to take my camera and try to shoot some pictures in Wiesbaden.
Wiesbaden looks like a typical German city. Clean, sleek, old buildings preserved, blending with the modern architecture. I wonder whether I will photograph anything interesting today. The setting feels too clinical. I’m not worried, however, I’m on vacation. I feel at ease.
Petr is taking his time. I’m looking around, but I resist the temptation to shoot. The light is not right. Unless I see a “must take shot”, I learned to restrain myself from shooting in bad light. Instead I think about the character of the city. I check my camera and switch my usual Black and White profile to my custom color profile I use to photograph night streets of Portland.
I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes. I begin to worry about Petr. The sun is setting. Light is great to go out and shoot. I’m leaning against a stop sign on the corner of two streets.
An old Volkswagen Beetle pulls up to the stop sign. A convertible. I notice a bouquet of flowers on the back seat and an older lady at the steering wheel. I snap two shots. When I put down the camera I notice her smiling at me, then she drives away. I chimp the LCD. In the photographs the lady casts a frowning look into the camera. I wish the flowers were more prominent in the picture but the framing of the convertible roof make me think of street photographs from the 50’s. I’m keeping the shot.
I look for Petr. I find him in a store photographing a rug merchant. Snap, snap … I shoot a few through the shop window. We start walking through Wiesbaden, talking about photography and what else happened in the past 12 months since I saw him. Petr shows me places where he shot some pics, we see kids playing, people dating…the city is awaking with all sorts of stories to be told. The shops are closing. The evening approaches. The streets feel empty. Where is everyone?
When we get to the center of the city square we notice a festival in full swing. It’s packed with people, chatting, drinking and having a great time. There is a great lawn littered with concession stands and souvenir tents. I suggest, “Petr, let’s split for an hour. It’s 9:30PM. Let’s meet at this fountain around 10:30PM ,ok?” We split and I feel the excitement in me. Street photography is a lot like hunting. Ehm, I never hunted. Street photography is a lot like fishing.
I blend into a stream of walking people. Snap, snap; an individual walking next to me looks interesting.
Ahead of me two young people embrace to kiss, oblivious of the crowds. I snap three shots. First shot, the girl opens her mouth in anticipation, second shot the boy opens his mouth, third shot they lock up in a kiss. I love capturing the passion of the moment. I no longer think of clinical Wiesbaden. People are here to have a good time, among colorful lights of a summer festival.
Everywhere around me, lives of others are unfolding in a cacophony of sounds, colors, reflectors and smells. In my home town of Portland, Maine I usually bicker of not enough going on in the city, but here one has to be careful to not include too much.
The fountain is our meeting point. It is an ancient looking enclosure with a healing spring inside. Behind the iron bars I frame a couple sitting inside. They are enjoying a cigarette. Quietly.
I ponder what to photograph first. I hear music in a distance. Blues. I start moving towards the stage, through the crowds, passing beer stands, observing and photographing sometimes by instinct and sometimes after deliberate observation. I’m getting into a zen like state of mind. It usually happens when I’m unencumbered, moving through a space with plenty of subject matter to shoot, thinking simultaneously about framing and telling a story. I’m documenting the night. I’m the reporter that nobody hired. A freelance photographer. A street photographer photographing people in public, hoping to document something and loving every minute of it.
I cheer for shots I get and curse myself for missed shots. I spend more than usual time composing a shot of heads behind a counter. I love how the heads of people stare at me from among the busy beer stand patrons and their equipment.
I used to live in Germany in the 80’s. I feel like I’m absorbing the culture again. This time I’m photographing it. The beer, the way the people dress, the openness of drinking and socializing in the public. In my home state we would be serving in Styrofoam cups or just selling canned drinks from a bucket with ice. Here we see beer poured into a real glass. Same with mixed drinks or coffee. I love how the colors mix and my finger keeps capturing it frame by frame.
The band plays. The stage provides nice segmentation of the band and spectators. Snap-snap. People dance. Life is good.
I start walking away from the music looking for interesting people and situations. A tough looking guy looks at me after I photograph his pierced nose. I give him the thumbs up as to say: “Thanks for being a part of a great shot!” The silent thumbs up with a smile usually work on people who might feel apprehensive about being photographed. He returns the smile. I’m already moving away somewhere else. I find it important not to dwell at one place for too long. I like my photos candid. People are important part of the picture but the shot is not only about them. It is about what they do. It is about the life around them.
I see a couple smiling at me checking out what I’m doing. I say hello, and ask to take a picture of them. They agree. It seems, always a mistake to ask for a picture to be taken. Usually people stiffen up, start acting out of their character. The shot is taken. It catches their youthful twinkle. The older I get, the more I love to see young people having a great time.
I keep moving through the masses snapping a few shots in a dark alcove with merchant stands positioned around an ancient sulphur spring. The hot water creates an interesting fog. The word Baden could be substituted for Springs. Colorado Springs would be called Coloradobaden in Germany. A young woman holds a single rose while her mate picks for her a memento from the jewelry stand.
It’s amazing how easy it is to mess up shots. With so many people walking in and out of the frame one has to be quick to capture just the right combination of people and elements to create a decent compositional document. It is much easier to get a heap of humans like a ball of snakes in a bucket. The low light with the bright reflectors are also pitfalls to consider. Slow shutter speed, wide open aperture, exposure compensation … I keep adjusting on the fly.
I check the watch. It’s been 50 minutes already. I have to get back to the fountain to meet up with Petr. I snap a couple who look like they are about to eat something in a synchronized, ceremonial fashion.
Nearby a group of people gorge themselves on sausages right next to overflowing garbage can. The garbage is also part of the story. I focus on the garbage and try to get a silhouette of someone eating.
I get back to the fountain. The couple I photographed is still sitting there, only this time they are joined by a third person.
I haven’t realized it before, but the man I photographed is also a photographer. He is trying to shoot his friend’s foot on the cobblestone. I watch the passersby and frame a few shots when the conditions are right.
It has been an hour. I’m on time and waiting at our designated meeting point. Nearby a lady is trying to unthaw another package of bratwurst. I snap three frames, carefully underexposing. One of them works out quite well, I think…the picture creates curiosity. The ambiguity of shots like this makes me excited. It’s on the edge of true and implausible. My kind of shot.
I spot Petr. We both have this boyish grin on our faces. We talk about the photos we have taken, while we order a beer at one of the stands. The beer I gulp down tastes SO good! We order another beer and snap more pictures.
I sense some tension from the people around me. The two of us photographing, shutters clicking left and right. The situation isn’t right. We attract too much attention. I think about moving on from here.
“Let’s go home”, I say. “Let’s go”.
All photographs © René Braun 2007