By: Thorsten Overgaard. August 29, 2016.
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Mostly I look for light and aesthetics when I walk with my camera. But I learned a few years back that sometimes you should take pictures of what you see. I’m trying to get better at it.
The harbor in Vancouver. Leica M-D 262 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
The story is this. I came back from Shanghai some time ago and wanted to write an article about my experience. One of the amazing things I saw that I didn’t expect,was that Shanghai has more Starbucks than I’ve ever seen in any other place. I didn’t expect that in a communistic country.
I looked through my pictures, and I realized I didn’t take a single picture to document this fact. How come there are so many and there’s not a single photograph?
So much for the adventure. I go all the way to Shanghai, just to realize I didn’t take any photos of it. The justification naturally is that I wouldn’t take a photo of a Starbucks. On the other hand, there were so many that I could have been able to find one that would make an interesting photo.
Girl out and about with her Fuji Sunday morning in Vancouver. Leica M-D 262 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
I decided to be less lofty with my selection of subjects in the future. I recalled people in my workshops that would take photos of anything they saw that “was interesting”.
Obviously, if you do so, you will end up with a lot of photographs to edit that might not make it into a gallery or book.
On the other hand, should you want to tell your kids how Shanghai, Bangkok, Hamburg or Vancouver looks, you might want to have some pictures to show, not just the fancy, well-lit aesthetic sceneries you picked. You should also have something that shows elementary facts such as how large and what type of buildings there are, how wide the roads are, how much traffic there is, how people look, and so on.
Otherwise known as reportage, a word that originally means to “carry back” (an account of how things were).
Promenade of the classic car on Water Street in Vancouver. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
Reportage can be done artistically and aesthetically, or it can be done without any considerations as to composition, color mix and all. The typical iPhone style. It may not be as pretty, but it does tell the story.
Currently I’m in Vancouver where I have a few days to myself, writing, testing coffee and “not photographing”. Of course I wear a camera, just in case, and I’m proud to notice this has changed my ways so that now I will actually take pictures of “this is fun” and “hmm, interesting” scenery.
Just for the record.
Nice tower with the Canadian flag. Not perfect light, but at least I got it. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
Of course, some of it leads into what I would traditionally do. But I do things “just for the record” and I’m sort of proud of myself that I take the time to stop and frame a tower with a Canadian flag. I don’t know the tower, but I’m sure it has some sort of significance for the city of Vancouver.
It feels good to have captured it. Just in case it turns out to be one of those towers that “everybody knows”. With my new policy on taking photos of things, it would be embarrassing to have walked by it without noticing it.
I stumbled into the famous steam clock. Through my cloud of lofty, artistry ignorance I recognized the famous tourist attraction when I saw it in the middle of Gastown. So I stopped and took some pictures of it.
Just for the record.
The famous Steam Clock, also known as "The Worlds Oldest Steam Clock". Leica M240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
The steam clock is actually built in 1977 and not, as the look of it would suggest, in the 1800’s as a celebration of newly invented steam as power-supply. The steam clock was made as a chimney to lead steam from underground and up. An artistic solution that has been copied in Japan and other places since.
A mother and her three kids were taking pictures of the steam clock. The mother asked the kids if they would like to move on and get some food. As they left, she said “it’s the world’s oldest steam clock”.
“And it’s still working,” as her bright 8-year son noted.
Reading a real book in Revolver coffee bar. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
Coffee and cameras
The Revolver café in Vancouver is rumored to have the best coffee, so not surprisingly – in so many ways – it’s the place you will see people with cameras visiting for inspiration and good, strong coffee.
I met a handful of photographer’s every time I went there, so we decided to make a meetup Monday August 29th at 7:30 – 9:00 AM for all in Vancouver who care to talk cameras and drink coffee.
I also stumbled into Clive at Revolver who and he volunteered to show me the nearby neighborhood with the less glorious side of Vancouver
Cooking with the Miles Davis Quintet in Revolver coffee bar. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
The dark side
Through three blocks the concentration was intense of hundreds of homeless, drug addicts and a variety of psychiatric patients out and about after “successful recovery” as it could be categorized with some irony over the psychiatric systems lack of workable technology.
It’s not a scene of apathy but an all day and all night circus of yelling people jumping around as ballerinas or crumbled over, zig-zagging on the roads or racing in wheelchairs(!). An expensive circus empowered by legal psychiatric drugs mixed with illegal street drugs. All the crooks are making money on this, it didn’t happen by itself.
Hars Times Soup in Vancouver. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
A light in the dark
My guide Clive happens to work as liaison between the public health system and the government. He had told me about the “needle café”, so we went by it to see it. The concept is that former drug users work in the place that is open to users who come with their own drugs and is supplied clean needles and a clean space. The name of it is InSite. There is also a nurse present, and according to Clive they have had no deaths in the clinic since it opened. Also AIDS and other side effects from dirty needles has been reduced in the city.
If I had walked by the place myself, I would have considered it a place that promotes the use of drugs. With the story Clive told me, I realized that it’s removing some of the problems in a troubled area of society. Good job.
There is also the detail that the former drug users manning the place easily can spot if someone is coming in who shouldn’t be doing drugs in the first place. They can talk young people out of trying drugs – something that would never happen in the back alley.
So I took a photo of the place from outside. Not because it’s pretty, but how else would I show how it looks?
Just for the record.
It's not pretty, but this is how it looks. The InSite. location that is open 24 hours. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
As we walked out of the bad areas and through a small street, I stopped to take a photograph of the small wooden tower with all the modern concrete and glass towers behind it. The wooden tower added some aesthetic to an otherwise uninspiring skyline of predictable modern buildings.
I waited to get a couple of people in the photo. I didn’t have patience to wait for a bicycle. I decided the people would add some proportions and atmosphere to it, and that would have to do.
I was happy the hear when Clive told me he had never noticed that little wooden tower, even though he had walked by there many times.
That way we both got something out of the day. Thanks Clive.
Alexander Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Leica M240 with Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
I hope you enjoyed this Story Behind That Picture. Above is a photo Lawrence Hui took of me at Revolver. As always, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com with ideas, comments and suggestions.
Other related stories
The Story Behind That Picture: "Photographing your own town”
The Story Behind That Picture: "The Chinese Empire” (and Shanghai Starbucks)
Crab Park in Vanouver Sunday Morning. Leica M-D 262 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.