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The last few weeks I have been travelling a bit around urban environments.

First, it was Paris. I was attending Paris Photo 2013, one of the biggest fairs of photographic art in the world.

With more than 55,239 entrances this year,136 galleries and 28 booksellers and publishers participated to the 17th edition of the fair. Paris Photo draws every year an audience of collectors, exhibit curators, institutions, and photographers from more than 40 countries.

During the many hours I spent there, I saw wonderful photographs and books, absorbing deeply inspiring work and had the chance of meeting some really interesting people, gallery owners and book publishers. I was also struck by the general interest photography is raising among the general public. The place was really filled with people from all over the world.

That being said, and if I am honest with you, I got a bit saddened by the strong presence of fashions and trends in the art market. Here and there, many different photographic artwork was displayed showing the very same kinds of subject matter, style and mood, as if a certain number of templates had overrun the mind of many different artists at once. Huge prints, pastel colours, long exposures, great expanses with minimalistic human presence was one of those templates. Even bigger prints, interiors of derelict constructions full of detail in great colours was another one. Shocking images showing nudes with lack of taste another… etc. In a certain way, it seemed as if many photographers had received a bunch of similar phone calls…

If art is the expression of personal vision and how a certain individual relates to the world, how is it possible that so many individuals start showing the very same kind of expression, all at once? Too much a coincidence. Maybe in the art world sometimes things start the other way around. The market asks for something, then the artist photographers provide it. In any case, I will never understand that procedure. For me, photography opens the door to a personal voyage, a catalyzer to a deeper connection, understanding and respect for those universal questions that haunt and lure us. Personal style evolves slowly, and reflects who we are and how we grow. If that mixes well with the current trend or fashion, great. If not, why care?. In fact, photographing what the trend dictates is the best solution for never be doing something original, always trying to catch the wave crest but never being able to reach it on time. Maybe I am just an ignorant, but if I were a photography collector, I would always try to buy what is not in fashion. That might be a good start point to get closer to “truer” artists, who produce what the gut and soul dictate, not what the market wants.

Do not take me wrong though. I had a wonderful time at Paris Photo, and the positive really surpassed the negative. I will go again next year, and who knows, maybe represented or published?… and well, even if that is not the case, there will always be a good dish of “Canard confit” waiting for me in Paris.

The second urban incursion was in Venice. During 5 days, we held our annual Photo-Immersion trip “Timeless Venice”. We had the chance of having with us a group of 6 fantastic photographers. Day and night we walked along the streets of Venice, soaking up its mystery, magic and timeless character. We had the chance of photographing not only the more iconic places, but also many other quite out of the beaten track. Day, night, sunrise, sunset, dawn, sunny, rainy, dry, aqua alta… we had the chance of experiencing very different weather and light conditions. All participants had a blast, and as I could see during the critique sessions we had at the hotel, all of them brought fantastic images. From here, I thank them all for their enthusiasm, friendship and great laughs!

I have no photos to illustrate this trip. I was so busy helping the participants that I decided to leave the camera at the hotel during the whole stay. Here I am posting a photograph from last year… not published yet on the website. Hasselblad 500CM camera and a good piece of Tmax 100 black and white film.

I will be visiting the floating city still a few times this winter for my ongoing project “Timeless”. Then, during the month of December 2014 we will hold again the photo-immersion trip “Timeless Venice 2014″. If you are interested, we have already published the information and the trip is open for registrations on our website, here.

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

The Icon

I have always thought that a landscape photograph can only be classified as fine art when it essentially communicates information about the photographer and the way he or she relates to a certain place. A fine art photograph cannot be just  a mere representation of a place or the record of a moment in the photographer’s life, but needs to be a clear and personal statement of how the photographer understands, feels and imagines a certain place and a certain moment. Basically, a landscape photograph becomes a fine art photograph when its storytelling goes beyond the subject matter represented in the photograph and transcends a mere list of nouns which identify the different elements depicted in the image.

This might imply that we are likely to struggle if we want to create artistic and personal work out of an iconic landscape. How to enable our inner voice to be heard by the viewers when the subject itself is astounding? How to create a personal photograph from an iconic vista or subject which stands alone as original, different and genuine?

As I have grown and matured as a photographer and as an artist, my expectations from photography have equally evolved. In the beginning, I used photography to record places and as a way to illustrate my travel adventures. As years passed and I photographed more of the world, I realized how photography could be used as an artistic outlet to express not just what I saw, but what I felt. To communicate not what was around me, but inside me. That was a revelation which changed the way I would perceive photography for the rest of my life. I was not a photographer anymore, but an artist with simply another tool in his hands. A tool with which I could show others the wonders of the apparently banal, the mystery of the unclear, questions instead of answers and so become a medium for a world many others could not see.

One would think that this different approach would steer me away from iconic places for the rest of my life. And indeed it did, at least partially. Having the opportunity of exploring the “unknown of the well-known” and discover myself through photography in the solitude that ‘banal’ places offer was something I started to appreciate immensely. I was free from the tyranny of external factors like subject, light or technique, and the strength of my photography became increasingly due to internal factors like vision, feelings, memories … I could photograph my local forest for the rest of my life and be content.

However, I did not stop photographing icons, not completely. Doing so would have made me a victim of the same human preconceptions which made them iconic. Indeed, iconic places were banal at the beginning, and became iconic due to their extraordinary appeal once we tagged them with such a label. I realized I could still photograph icons in a highly personal way if I approached them with a clear mind, free of expectations, free of preconceptions and free of existing visual templates seen from other photographers. Most of all, I realized I could make a personal statement if I focused not on the subject matter, but on its essence, the way an iconic place represented something bigger than itself.

Living in Switzerland, I have visited the Matterhorn on countless occasions. This could have created such a familiarity that it became banal to me. However, over time, I have stopped seeing the “Matterhorn” and I have started to see in it a symbolic “mountain” value. The evening I took this photograph, banner clouds had started to form. The sun was setting behind the mountains and the last rays of light diffracted along the Matterhorn ridge. I saw the symbolic value of the scene; the mountain as if it was a volcano, creating its own weather where light seemed to emanate from the mountain itself. I framed tightly, set up a neutral density filter and took a long exposure photograph, allowing the clouds to soften and to increase, by contrast, the jagged nature of the mountain. I could barely take two photographs before the Sun sunk completely and the light was gone.

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

A couple of days ago we came back from our annual photographic trip “Lofoten: autumn moods”. Beyond the arctic circle, we shared with an incredible group of 6 photographers the magic of the Lofoten islands, truly a paradise for landscape photographers. This was one of those trips where everything turns perfect… We enjoyed a wonderful and varied weather, full moon, peaking autumn colors and even some bright auroras danced for us on a couple of nights.

Following our philosophy of our photo-immersion trips, we were based during the whole duration of the event in a same place, three comfortable and cozy huts by the ocean, from where we could visit many different places depending on the weather and light conditions. Our Photo Immersion trips offer a slightly different approach: to slow down our pace, to forget about running after photographic trophies and to focus on creating highly personal work about a specific area for a certain number of days. We minimize the travel in space to focus on travel in the light, travel through the changes in the weather, travel in time. Every day, we photograph a certain “playground” where you will notice that conditions are never the same. Every day, we get a little closer to the spirit of the place. Every day, we make a better friend. In a way, we focus on a type of internal travel, rather than an external one.

I have been quite a few times to the Lofoten islands already, and the truth is I never grow tired of it. There are few places on Earth where the juxtaposition between mountain and ocean is as strong and dramatic as here. Vertical cliffs of granite rise from the depths of the cold waters of the Norwegian Sea, like ancient monsters stranded on the beach and the rocky coast. Granite; eroded, sculpted and shaped by the elements during eons of time, sets the stage for this Wagnerian landscape, where the sea and the land battle with each other forming fjords and creating a paradise of negative and positive space at both sides of the shore.

We will be organizing this photo-immersion trip for next year 2014. In case you are interested, you will be able to find all the information about the trip and book a place here. We are really looking forward to sharing with you the light of the Valhalla!

 
NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

Almost a year has passed since I visited Venice with my old trusty Hasselblad camera. Months later and after hours of developing, scanning and post-processing, my new on-going portfolio “Timeless” has been added to our online gallery. You can see the photographs here.

I still remember the first time I visited the floating city almost two decades ago. At that time, nothing could have prepared me for the surrealistic view of a city rising from the water. No matter how many photographs I had seen from Venice before, there I was frozen with a mixture of surprise and awe.

My photographic interest in this city might come as a surprise to some. For some reason, I have always preferred getting lost in a forest rather than wandering around a city… But Venice is not just a city; it is also a visual metaphor about the dual qualities of time and space. On one hand, there is a timeless character which seems to reign over the entire place. Due to the lack of references and its uniqueness, Venice seems to be an architectural mirage that defies the conventions of reality and seems to have been there since the origins of this world. Wandering around its canals and squares, it is difficult to imagine that it was all built by man, where once natural islands nestled in the middle of the sea lagoon. On the other hand though, Venice is the perfect metaphor for the passing of time, of change, of decay, of the ephemeral  existence of a banal world anchored to reality. Rubbing shoulders with amazing palazzos and glinting cathedrals, a myriad of deliciously derelict buildings show the scars of time in their peeling facades full of character. Like a living organism, the whole city is aging… and dying. Silently, the floating city might sink in the future as the level of the sea rises.

I wanted to photograph this double nature of Venice. I was after photographs which would capture ethereal views of an empty city which seems to float in time and space. Photographs where I could show the solitude and the silence of a place where human presence is never shown, but hinted, where extraordinary elements juxtapose with the banal and anonymous subjects found in the labyrinth of alleys and squares stand proud against the indifference of the world. As Minor White would have said, I was not seeking to photograph Venice for what it is, but for what else it is: a theatre stage of squares, canals and alleys where the very duality of human existence is performed. Dream versus reality, permanence versus decay, memory versus oblivion.

I knew from the beginning that I would use black and white film for this project. The quality and look of negative b&w film would help me convey that timeless character of Venice. Therefore, its wide latitude and non linear curve would allow me to photograph at ease during the night, in the high contrast of the dark canals lit by the lamps. I would also make the most of the reciprocity failure of film to photograph with very long exposures, erasing all moving elements, simplifying the compositions and giving the images a certain dreamlike and surrealistic look, as if the city were empty of inhabitants.

I have always loved the graphical strength of the square format, and this project became the perfect opportunity to use my Hasselblad system. No batteries, no LCD screens, no distractions. I got lost in the maze of canals, squares and hidden alleys and I quickly forgot I was using a camera. The goal was to focus on the emotional connection with the place and the moment. I opened my eyes and soul to the floating city, and the photographs came.

I will visit again Venice next November, but this time to lead a group of fellow photographers for our Photo-Immersion trip “Timeless Venice 2013. If you want to come with us you still have the chance. At this moment, there is one place left.

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

In just three weeks I and Anca will be leaving for the norwegian arctic, where we will be leading a group of fellow photographers in the peak of the autumn magic in the Lofoten islands, one of the most photogenic and incredible places of this planet.

Our 2013 edition photo-trip sold out in a few days, and for good reason. We cannot think of a better place for landscape photographers: Mountains, sea, northern lights, autumn colours in the forest and the moss, dramatic weather and light conditions, wonderful villages nestled between granite and water.

We have decided to repeat this photo-trip next year. Our new edition of the Photo-Immersion trip “Lofoten: autumn colours 2014″ has just been published on our website and is now open for registrations.

You will be able to find all the information, photos, itinerary, details, full PDF brochure and clients’ testimonials on our website, here.

We are looking forward to sharing with you the light of the Valhalla!

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

Dans quelques semaines, Anca et moi partirons vers l’arctique norvégien, où nous encadrerons un groupe de photographes au milieu de la magie de l’automne des îles Lofoten, l’un des endroits les plus spectaculaires dans le monde.

Notre édition 2013 de ce voyage a été rempli dans quelques jours seulement, et cela avec juste raison. On ne peut pas imaginer un endroit plus fort pour les photographes de paysage: des montagnes effilées qui tombent à pic dans l’océan, des aurores boréales, des forêts habillées en or, une lumière et des conditions météo impressionnantes…

Nous avons décidé de réaliser à nouveau ce voyage photographique l’année 2014. Notre prochain voyage Photo-Immersion “Lofoten: couleurs d’automne 2014″ vient d’être publié dans notre site web et est déjà ouvert aux inscriptions online ici.

Vous trouverez toutes les informations, photos, détails, brochure PDF de 25 pages ainsi que des témoignages de nos clients sur notre page web, ici.

Rejoignez-nous. On sera vraiment ravi de partager avec vous les lumières magiques du Valhalla!

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

Imagine a place of infinite sand beaches, tidal flats, and endless dunes covered with grass swaying in the wind, waves crashing on deserted shores and in the background, sensual mountains rising from the water… Now, add some of the wildest and most dramatic light conditions you can imagine and a delightful sense of remoteness. That is the Isle of Harris.

Join us on our new photo-immersion trip to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, “Isle of Harris, Hebridean Watercolours 2014″, which will take place from the 2nd to the 8th of November 2014.

During a whole week, we will photograph a constantly changing landscape where the magical brushes of light and weather paint over a canvas of sand, water and grass in this gem of the Outer Hebrides.

This will be an All Inclusive Photo Immersion trip conducted personally by Rafael Rojas and Anca Minican. During the entire week we will be based at our comfortable hotel from where we will be able to easily reach all our chosen photographic areas and adapt ourselves to the different weather and light conditions.

If there is a place which seems been made for landscape photographers, it is the Isle of Harris. By far our favourite location in Scotland and one of our preferred places on this planet.

You will be able to find all the information, photos, itinerary, details, full PDF brochure and clients’ testimonials from our website, here.

We are looking forward to sharing with you the light of the Hebrides!

NOTE: This is our secondary blog. Our main blog can be found on www.rafaelrojasphoto.com/blog

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