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The Story Behind That Picture: "Human Bath"

By: Thorsten Overgaard

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The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard practiced every day at 2 PM to walk in Copenhagen back in the 1840's to take his daily "human bath".

On any given day he would stumble into fifty or so people, he claimed, of all ages and walks of life. He would actually remember them next time they met.



New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4

 

This inspired his writings and he would return to his apartment and put his thoughts down on paper. "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced," he wrote.

Most famous of course is his "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards".

I thought of this when in New York back in January, and again yesterday when I walked straight over the main street here in Denmark because there was not a single car out on the road. "Where is everybody?” I thought!

The only people I met on my walk to get some bread and fish for dinner was people who were still doing what they did when I left them four months ago. The guy selling fish, as he always does.

 

Doorman Edwin Dominguez on way to work Brooklyn. He was Doorman of the Year on Manhatten. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
Doorman Edwin Dominguez on way to work Brooklyn. He was Doorman of the Year on Manhatten. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

"I like to be alone but I am never lonely" as another Danish poet, Jørgen Leth, said just a couple of years ago.

I like to distinguish between working on your writing or editing your pictures which is best done alone. But when you need inspiration or simply reassurance that your life is not the only one being lived, the "human bath" is a refreshing activity.

When in New York in January we lived in a new neighborhood in Brooklyn and it actually felt a little lonely in the apartment. Some times you just feel like you have been thrown into a lonely place on the planet where you know nobody.


Indian film producer Rajesh Krishnan photographing our new friend, Leonard Goodstein, Prophecies Gallery Inc with him and his four sons.
Indian film producer Rajesh Krishnan photographing our new friend, Leonard Goodstein, Prophecies Gallery Inc with him and his four sons.

 

When I get to a new country this is usually how it feels. I know nobody.

But then you go out to find some coffee and some food, and perhaps a battery or something less significant in life. The places you see and the people you meet become the anchor points in the area. Like a mountain climber that puts anchors into the cliff wall as he climbs up it.


Brooklyn intermezzo. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0.Brooklyn intermezzo. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0.

 

L. Ron Hubbard wrote an article about writers block where he suggests a writer lacking inspiration simply goes out and look at things. Then there will be things to write about, and in his case a visit to an airplane factory just on the other side of the lake inspired two bestselling stories.

In essence, that was what Kierkegaard did every afternoon and also what you (have to) do with a camera if you want to take pictures.


Joy Villa and Robin in Brooklyn. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
Joy Villa and Robin in Brooklyn. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

I some times joke that home is where you know a few good places. It is actually true in the sense that when I think of places I like, it is places where I know a good cafe and a nice street. For a long time, when I arrived at a new city, I made a visit to the Apple Store and a good coffee place. Then I felt home.

 

New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.



Yesterday when I flew low over Germany on my way home to Denmark, I noticed that one after the other small city are organized with the tall buildings in the center and then the buildings gradually becomes lower in the outer areas of the city.

From the air a smaller city is simply a pathetic looking small square with green fields surrounding it as far as the eye stretches, with a few roads connecting the city.

 

Making the streets of Brooklyn more colorful. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Making the streets of Brooklyn more colorful. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4


I looked at one of those small squares from the airplane window, separated by green fields as small islands down there, and I thought that if you were born there, your first reality probably would be just that house there in the outskirts. Then when you get a little older, you start to know other kids a few houses away.

At some stage when you have lived there maybe 15 years or so, you may get to know most of the houses and streets in that little square.

 

         
 

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Some times people don't get outside that square.

I remember my grandmother believed her little square out in the Danish countryside was the best place on Earth. And I remember that I - who was a teenager - thought that was an interesting viewpoint because why did other people think the same of their home?

 

Jacob Jonas is a inrternational dancer I met in a hat store in New York. He asked if I would take a picture of him outside.
Jacob Jonas is a inrternational dancer I met in a hat store in New York. He asked if I would take a picture of him outside.

 

I think it is simply a matter of expanding your sphere by start exploring. First you take a walk, then a train and then an airplane and you will find that any place can become familiar.

In the case of Brooklyn we lived in an apartment there for a few days and then left. Next time I come back I know a few people, some good places and in that way it is another home.

It also inspired this article, which I hope you found joy in reading.


New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

You know the feeling that you see somebody and you don't know anything about them. It makes their life seem dull and unimportant. Have you realized?

Joy and I will some times sit and look at people from a distance and have fun inventing a person’s life. Recently we were looking at a guy for a while whom we decided looked like he could be a record producer in London. We invented his whole career and life since the 1960's till the moment. It was much fun.

After a while I simply had to ask him what he did in life, and he told me he did swimming pools! We laughed about it and he thought it was fun we had casted him a record producer.

 

As always, feel free to mail me comments, suggestions and ideas to thorsten@overgaard.dk

 

           
 

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Stranger in Brooklyn, New York. January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.   Stranger in Brooklyn, New York. January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 



 

Thorsten Overgaard, March 18, 2015

   
   

   
   
   
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Above: Taking a human bath in New York, January 2015. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.


 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

Feel free to e-mail to thorsten@overgaard.dk for
advice, ideas or improvements.

 

 
           
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