Multiple Awards at 'Color Awards' Competition

I just found out from a friend that I got a bunch of awards at the recent international coveted 'Color Awards' (no pun intended). Can you believe they do not even send you an email to let you know when you are selected?!? 

So drinks on me next time we get together!

Here are the awarded images:

 

2nd Place in 'Silhouette' with an image from Tucson (AZ), from one of my long trips across the US Southwest. Those in turn are somewhere between a silent meditation and an homage to the childhood trips I would do with my mother and brother.

 

Nominee in 'Portrait' with my fire spinning buddy from Koprivnica in Northern Croatia (they actually put up an entire Renaissance fair for me to photograph: one off the dream list!)

 

Nominee in 'People' with fishermen on the Drava river in summer

 

Nominee in 'People' with an image of a welder inside the 'Viro' sugar factory in Northern Croatia. Incidentally, this image is also featured this month on ViewFind in an amazing article.

 

Nominee in 'Nude' with a portrait of Julia

 

Nominee in 'Nature' with an image from my regular trips through the US Southwest (this one in Utah). This image is now part of my just released new series '(Dis)Connected'

 

Nominee in 'Nature' with an image of reflections in the Lofoten islands in Northern Norway

 

Nominee in 'Architecture' with an image from the 'Viro' sugar factory in Croatia (this one also featured on ViewFind article)

 

It would seem that each image I submitted was selected as either 'Nominee' or 'Winner', which marks a new record for me!

A Night in the ER

January 4th & 5th

Four days into the new year and here we are already back in the UCSF Parnassus hospital ER (Seonok has intense abdominal pain and fever). After an hour drive in the rain, it is now 7:30 pm. 

One hour goes by before we even have the emergency 'triage', 8 hours or more wait time for a doctor, no beds available. This is not a war zone in a third world country, but it might as well be. 

In the waiting area with us in the late night: 3 same-sex couples, one old Chinese couple, 3 old women alone in their wheelchairs staring at the walls, five homeless (one of which is shacking uncontrollably), and a dude with blue hair and painted nails that looks like he just got beat up at a rave. All of us shoulder to shoulder on small chairs, coughing and sneezing. The smell of sweat and sickness overpowers the deodorants and strong air conditioning. And by the way, has anybody told site maintenance that summer has past, it is close to freezing outside, and heating might be much more appreciated inside the building at 11:00 pm?

Doctors and nurses walk by like construction workers at the end of their shift: dirty, bored, red eyed, dragging their feet, avoiding any contact. I get the feeling that they would show more interest in us if we were a group of stray cats, or cows with bowel movements? This must be how compassion dies, by slowly building an invisible wall of indifference. 

A homeless decides to cross the room to come sit next to me. A very pungent smell of alcohol and urines hits me as he leans over to whisper in my ear 'I had to move, some of these people really stink!'. He then removes one shoe only and within minutes is snoring on my shoulder. 

An old lady falls off her wheelchair and sits on the floor right next to a nurse that keeps talking on his cellphone. I go to help her and the nurse acts like he just noticed. 

More homeless walk in, there are about 10 now. It is cold and raining outside, only cold inside. Everyone is shivering, us included. AC still blasting. In a society that glorifies individualism, selfishness is the inevitable byproduct and no pity is reserved for the sick, the weak, the homeless. 

Midnight and after considerable negotiations, diplomacy and bargaining we are finally admitted in (four hours 'early'). Now we are inside the ER: blood, pain, fear and boredom in the eyes of those in the beds, lined along all the corridors. But hey, it's warm! And a lot more humane. Finally real nurses ready to help. I start to get the feeling they keep the waiting area cold on purpose, to make it unbearable for anyone to be there. 

It is 1:00 am when we finally meet the first doctor, for about 4 minutes. Then a long wait for the blood test results, while muted screams of pain surround us from every side. Then on to the CT scan with the Russian technician. Then back to waiting. A lot of waiting.

It has been eight years since we were hit by a drunk driver and yet the painful memories overwhelm both of us like it was just a few days. 

3:00 am and I am getting sleepy, down to taking selfies in the corridors corner mirrors. The loud beeping of some alarm being ignored is echoing in my head, 20 minutes ago another one started. Feeling like 'The Shining', slowly going insane. 

4:00 am and Seonok is finally sleeping peacefully in her cot. Me on the plastic chair on the other hand... Can you believe there is no coffee or food or vending machines at all? Luckily I had a coffee 16 hours ago! We as a society think it is normal to spend billions to develop phone apps and gadgets nobody needs but cannot afford one coffee machine every 30 nurses on night shift?

At 6:15 the nurse drops by to tell us that Seonok will be moved to a different hospital in a few hours, and that the small caffe is finally open. Warm drink feels amazing. Cancel all appointments for the day, then R&R is over: back to the chair designed by the (unknown) fan of de Sade. Or just an accountant somewhere in the Midwest trying to save a few cents in all the wrong places. 

Another hour goes by. The beeping is back. 

Then another hour goes by. 

Finally around 9:30 an ambulance brings her to Mission Bay hospital, treatments are performed, in a few days she should be back on her feet. The new hospital feels totally luxurious.

The great mystery of life: one moment celebrating with friends, the next fighting pain. No matter how many plans we might make and how strongly we feed our own illusions, the truth is none of us has any control. Existence above survival is somewhere between meaning and celebration, neither alone will get us there.  

Jumping Off the Pirate Ship

I am fascinated by the latest book I am reading (‘The Meaning of Human Existence’ by Edward O. Wilson): ants communicating with an alphabet of some twenty pheromones dialed at different intensities and combinations, butterflies that see ultraviolet light, elephants that talk at frequencies below our hearing range, birds that sense the earth magnetic fields, plants that talk to each other. There seems to be immense realities that we are just starting to discover, dimensions of our own world we did not even know existed, surrounding us every moment. I am in awe at the inter-connectedness of EVERYTING. The two cypresses in front of me might be whispering love poems through the embrace of their roots, while the cicadas’ hiding in the branches seem to be battling sex wars fought with tunes and pitches. The little bird puzzled by my presence feels the call of the sky through the slight breeze that carries the scents of many more worlds, all unknown to us.

The destruction of industry during the somehow recent homeland war here in Croatia has given a little repose to nature. An ephemeral instant, already vanishing in front of my eyes: oil from the giant yachts starts to coat the sea waters in the tiny harbors, plastic bags and bottles invade the inlets and coves, the sea is emptied to feed the masses of tourists, each one feeling entitled in his or her own way. There is the father of two that has been coming to this place for many years, the group of young Spanish girls discovering independence for the first time, the teenager fueled by hormones heading to the ‘Ultra’ music festival in the next town, the old fisherman smoking with his pals at the park bench, the Russian sex doll kissing a man twice her age that buys her jewelry and vacations on a boat the size of a couple of average homes. We all feel the center of the universe, blind and deaf to all realities but one. But really, who needs another financial executive, or another flavor of Fruit Loops, or another Netflix or Uber or Pokemon Go?

Individualism and personal freedom if left unchecked inevitably lead to greed and resource consumption. Collapse is closing in each day. It will be just like the Easter island (I am sure the guy that cut the last tree thought that was HIS tree), except now at a global scale. I confess I had my part in this, working for years for a large corporation that pushed me with a golden stick to ‘turn a blind eye’ to my moral, social, political, ecological values. But since leaving some 13 years ago I have stubbornly refused to continue to be part of the problem. The first response has been to jump off the ‘pirate ship’, to seek peace and answers within myself, to find ways to live a peaceful life without hurting anyone else. But recently I have started to wonder if I can continue to whisper in a world that screams. The same goes with my photography, in which my ‘complex simplicity’ philosophy just seems to go un-noticed most of the time (although to my critics I grant that I still have some ways to go). The answer I seem to be finding in this place is a stronger call towards my conscious community. I am not talking about another ego-inflating workshop or ‘consulting’ business or ‘community-based’ start-up or NGO. My answer might simply be to bring people together, to build awareness and discuss issues, to shed my/our masks and attempt to create authentic connections. If there is one lesson I have learned in California it is that I feel much closer to the meaning of life when I am running around naked in nature with other beautiful strangers then when I sit in a conference room devising ways to ‘increase internet traffic’ and make more money. Or put differently: I rather walk around with my camera doing the work than build Instagram followers and talk about the work. So forgive me if I do not post as often as you expect me to and if I do not call or email you every other week. But our door (that is: the real, physical one) will always be open to you, as long as you approach us with the same integrity.

Superficiality of the Big City

A glance at the stream of postings on social media will quickly show you that the focus is on immediacy and superficiality for very fast consumption; ‘likes’ are focused on happy couples, cute pets, little kids, food dishes, and vacations. Any text longer than a paragraph tends to go unread. I do appreciate the connectivity that tools like Facebook allows, but if it is to become our main source of information, then the emerging consumption model has big consequences on our capacity for complex thoughts and ideas. Is it the natural result of our urban lifestyles? I myself find it harder to read books or to meditate when I am at home. The challenge, at least for me, is that faster pace and more options do not equate with higher contentment. Here I am on a small island far far away, with very limited connectivity, and after the first few days of restlessness a ‘new’ peace emerges. I find myself shying away from big crowds, busy restaurants, fancy bars. The whole social show that might normally fascinate me now starts to feel foreign. It makes me wonder if in our big cities we are all gradually becoming superficial, one click at the time?

On the other hand, it might just be me: my several brushes with death and my almost constant ‘not fitting in’ might be the roots for the need to always look around the next corner with the thirst for something more. And it is not easy: I just wrapped up a very successful show of my work and I am already obsessing about what comes next, I rip myself apart regularly, not a week goes by that I do not want to throw all my work away and start fresh and/or get a meaningless but steady job. I thank (and resent) the incredible friends that keep me on this path; providence always seems to throw me a bone when I most need it, and so forward I go. I am never more keenly aware that fear, doubt, pain are the foundational building blocks for courage, drive, pleasure.

Yesterday I was reflecting on how in the USA we are at risk of electing for president a criminal ego-maniac because we lost faith in the system: we sit feeling powerless and angry and disenfranchised, witnessing the whole elections process as one big sad reality TV show. Thus we become easy preys to those that see the world as their own.

My father recently reminded me that wisdom lies in between the brutality of poverty and the dumbness of wealth. So what happens when the middle gets squeezed too thin? Historically the two extremes end up crashing into each other. Looking at the news this past week I am left wondering if this might already be happening. The only path forward I can see is a stronger engagement with our family, peers, and local community: I now believe that a sense of belonging brings a sense of meaning, which in turn brings the courage (and desire) to stand up for what is right.

Three Huge Shows Coming to Croatia!

 

Nicolò will be showing two different series, together for the very first time; ‘Once we were here‘ and ‘Rest Areas of US South West’.

There will be 45 large prints (36″ wide) displayed at the show.

This show will then move to three different cities in Croatia:

  • May: Koprivnica art museum
  • July: Split (Diocletian’s palace, set of ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series)
  • September: Virovitica Art Museum

Projects will also be featured June this year at the 24th general conference of the International Council of Museums in Milan, IT.

Nicolò will be providing a workshop: Photography in the Age of Social media, and give several talks, including the Antun Nemcic Gostovinski’ Elementary School as well as developing a new project: Croatian Castles.

Art And Artisans: Photography, Portraiture And A New Way Of Seeing

MAR 13, 2012

Art And Artisans: Photography, Portraiture And A New Way Of Seeing

Text by SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda

Images by Nicolò Sertorio

 

The light streams in through a darkened window, lighting up a block of wood. Embedded within the wood is a shining circle of silver. A long finely pointed pin in his hand, a man is tracing patterns on the metal. He is peering closely in concentration, totally wrapped up in his work.

Putting the pin down, he takes up a light hammer and a thick, solid chisel. Relying purely on his eyes and his hands, he begins hammering out the patterns he has just traced. A light tapping sound fills the room. The noise is constant and repetitive, yet the hands do not tremble and the fingers remain steady. As the hammer rings out, the patterns take shape before our eyes.

Beside the man, lies an open wooden toolbox. It is a glimpse into his craft and his life. Spilling out is a collection of saws, chisels, nails and razors. In the softness of the morning light the lines stand out sharply, an amalgam of different shapes and forms. Some of the tools have cutting edges, others are long and pointed; some have blunted points and flattened ends, one or two are shaped like keys. It is a way of working and a way of life which has not changed for centuries, a culture which is still alive today.

E. N. Wimalasooriya is one in a long line of hereditary craftsmen. For generations his family have been the metal workers, silversmiths and jewelers of Sinhalē, the last independent kingdom of Sri Lanka. Known to outsiders as the Kande Uda Rata, “the Land above the Mountains,” to its own people it was Sinhalē, the last bastion of more than 2,000 years of culture and tradition. A hidden, guarded realm, surrounded by rugged mountains and steamy tropical jungles, it lay at the very heart of Sri Lanka. For nearly three centuries, the people of Sinhalē held the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British at bay. In 1815 the ancient kingdom was betrayed to the British by its own nobility. Today this whole region is known as Kandy, British shorthand for Kande Uda Rata. Wimalasooriya is a quiet, gentle man, soft spoken and unassuming. He is a master craftsman, yet he is humble to a fault. Shy and hesitant before the camera, he mumbles “There is nothing special about me, there are so many others.” His life has always been his work and he has been working since he was seventeen. He is now in his sixties but his teacher, he tells us, is still alive and working. Wimalasooriya’s workshop adjoins his home, which lies next door. Everything he needs is within arm’s length or walking distance. He does not have to go out and sell, people come to him. He is very much his own man. He cannot be hurried, he works at his own pace and names his price. He is so trusted that quantities of gold, silver and precious stones are left with him for months on end. With quiet pride he tells us that no one has ever been able to point out any mistakes that he has made.

Wimalasooriya’s only child is his daughter. Although not yet twenty one, Ashani is a school teacher. Her world is one of books, children and classrooms. Yet she has inherited his ability to draw, capturing curving, complex patterns with easy skill. As her father gets older it is she who does the sketches. “Yes”, Ashani admits with a shy smile, like him, now she can draw almost any pattern. One day perhaps, it will be she who carries on the traditions.

Photographer Nicolò Sertorio, an Italian and an American had never been to Sri Lanka before. Although he had spent several months in India, for him Sri Lanka was a very different experience. The picture of this part of the world, he observed, had come mostly from photojournalists and tourists. The photojournalists often saw only struggle, conflict, poverty, war and disaster. Tourists however, often saw the beauty but what they really focussed on were the differences. Things often seemed so strange and so foreign that this was all they saw. People were not connecting with the person anymore.

Nicolò recalls one of his first impressions of India. “Hundreds and hundreds of rickshaws massed together.” His first thought was survival. “How can we get home safely? How can people live like this? How can they make sense of it? How can I make sense of this?” It took several months before he could accept what he saw as a part of a way of living. “As I started to talk to people, I began to see beyond the superficial. Only then did I begin to see the rhythms and the stories, to understand them as a different way of life.” Only then did he become aware of how much time and how much desire it took to go beyond the superficial. “It also took opportunity.

Guided by his friend, Sri Lankan artist and designer, Nisansala Karunaratne, Nicolò set out to explore the art and traditions of Kandy. Struck by the differences between the worlds, he wanted to portray the craftsman in a new light. The question he asked himself was how could he convey it visually. “In America we watch television every day but we don’t really see.” There is a form of indoctrination in the filtering of any image. America is such an overwhelmingly visual society, so full of television, film and vivid color that the eye has become habituated and desensitized. “In a way we have to see again, to distance ourselves from habituation and preconception.

Nicolò began to think about using portraiture as a way of seeing. Portraiture in the western style was usually very high end. It was very visual and technically very well executed.

It is well lit and well done, so that we focus only on the person, not the environment. What I wanted to do was to take out the environment. To remove the element of judgment, to create a visual image which would connect eye to eye.

****

Not far away from the silversmith’s home, hidden away in a maze of leafy overgrown lanes, was another village of craftsman. This area was home to the weavers of Sri Lanka’s famous Dumbara mats. They too had once been royal craftsmen. Before 1815 they had made wall hangings and mats at the direction of the king to decorate his kingdom. The material which they use is hemp.

Once the leaves and stalks have been gathered together, they are scraped against a log with a wooden tool. The scraping removes the fleshy part of the leaf, leaving a yellow green fibre. The fibre is then oiled and brushed and spun into a thick, fluffy thread, like cotton. This thread is then woven on a small simple loom which is placed on the floor.

This is one of the most traditional of crafts. It is a long and painstaking process. Sitting on the floor, the weaver’s concentration is intense as he picks out the lines with a very fine needle. Long years of poring over his work have meant that he too has to wear spectacles. Inch by inch the mat takes shape and the design starts to appear. It can take anything between three to ten days to make just one mat.

Like the silversmith, Dharmadasa also works at home. His features are sharp and his face alert. He too seems to be well into his sixties. Starting just after he left school, he had learned his craft from his father. In the tradition of most Kandyan craftsmen, his family were also farmers and like his father before him, Dharmadasa still farms his lands. His mats have won him national recognition and today he works with some of Sri Lanka’s finest designers. Now he has begun teaching his son, so that he can pass the custom on.

The weaving of cloth was once widespread throughout the provinces of the Kandyan kingdom. Today it is only practiced in the remote hamlet of Talagune, hidden away amidst the mountains and valleys of the Kandyan countryside. Narrow winding roads climb up and down the side of rocky peaks, passing through forests, gushing streams and gleaming paddy fields; even today Talagune seems lost in time.

This is the one and only village which has been weaving since royal times. Whole pieces of cloth are woven on large wooden looms. They are worked by pedals, whose movement throws the shuttle across the loom. This too is a farming society. Unlike the craftsmen of medieval Europe, the artisans of Kandy did not live in towns, they had no shops and did not work for hire. Sirisena and his family still work the paddy fields which lie nearby.

His grandfather had taught Sirisena to weave. He has been weaving since he was sixteen. Both his sons, Chandana and Saman, had learned from him. One of them, Saman, had lost his leg in Sri Lanka’s long, unending war against the Tamil Tigers. During wartime, there had been little work and they had all had to do other things. Saman had joined the army and gone off to the war. Although he could no longer use the looms, he works on the smaller pieces, such as wall hangings and table mats. Since the end of the war in 2009, things have changed. “Now there are lots of people coming.

As the pedals are worked, the clanking begins and the bars begin to move. Glistening, brilliant threads are thrown to and fro across the wooden beams, creating dazzling geometric forms. The pace of work is leisurely, everyone stops to chat and there are peals of laughter. In the background is the sound of the radio.

The colors may vary but the designs remain traditional. The old is used to cater for the new. However, to weave just one piece could take as much as five and a half days. “It all depends,” says Sirisena. Many of the designs are still unique. Up till now, he says no one has been able to do them on a machine. Nisansala asked about the design which Nicolò had commissioned. “When could he have it?” Sirisena smiled. “I’ll give it to you when it’s ready.


SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda

Writer, historian and art historian, SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda is an authority on the art and culture of Sri Lanka. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on India and Sri Lanka.