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Cultural Visions Part Six: Summertime in the FSU

April 30, 2017
Swimmer, Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Siberia, 2008

Photographs © Frank Ward

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Former torpedo testing range, Lake Issykul, Kyrgyzstan, 2012

On my March blog, my favorite pictures were from the beach. So, I have posted more warm weather pictures for April.

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Odessa, Ukraine, 2005

The lady above just stared as I took her picture. A woman behind me asked to have her picture made, also.

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Lake Baikal, Siberia, 2008

The above women were busy cleaning carpets. The men below seemed to be showing off for the otherwise occupied ladies on the grassy knoll.

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Grass Beach, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2008

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Black Sea, Ukraine, 2005

As expressed in the above and below pictures, almost everywhere I travel in Russia and Ukraine has courting going on. Everyone seems to know that a public place is a space of potential romance. I guess it is true almost anywhere. In these countries, affection is not necessarily reserved for private moments. Maybe there is a greater sense of anonymity in a public place compared to a small, soviet-style, apartment with your family looking on.

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Moscow Fountain, Russia, 2008

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Lake Baikal, Siberia, 2010

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Lake Baikal, Siberia, 2010

The two fishmongers above were photographed in May proving that Siberia can be warm in spring.

I am naturally attuned to photographing gestures. The secondary details of the above picture, the wrapped plastic bags around the kiosk frame, attract me after the fact. I know I saw them when I framed the picture, but I didn’t know if they would support the overall composition or take away from the portrait of a woman and her smoked fish.

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Portrait of the artist and his smoked fish (omul), Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, 2008, by Vivian Leskes.

Cultural Visions Part Five: Bosnia, Kosovo

March 14, 2017

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Boy on the road watching our Humvee, Kosovo, 2000, Frank Ward photos

Twenty years ago I traveled with Glenn Ruga, founder of Friends of Bosnia, to Sarajevo and surrounding areas. A peace accord had recently been signed to curtail the three-way conflict between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. The country was in ruins and I would often end the day in tears after interviewing refugees and photographing bombed out towns.

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Celma, Bosnia, 1997

I am showing the portraits that compelled me through the intensity of the situation. The Roma, pictured below, had a camp by the river in Mostar. They were trapped between and within conflicting nations. They were the survivors who were not named.

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Roma Leader, Bosnia, 1997

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Roma Boys, Bosnia, 1997

These pictures were made on my second trip, in the summer, with Glenn Ruga and Barbara Ayotte from Physicians for Human Rights. The situation was still horrible, but the Bosnians were slowly rebuilding their lives after years of terror. I volunteered at Mladi Most, Youth Bridge. It was more than a youth center it was a place for the war children to eat, sleep and be teenagers.

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Bart’s Draft Party, Bosnia, 1997

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Roki Sings, Bosnia, 1997

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Bump, US Army Humvee, Kosovo, 2000

The following year, 1998, nearby Kosovo suffered attacks from Serbia. Glenn and I went to Kosovo in January 2000 and were imbedded with American forces; they drove us around Kosovo by day. At night we often ate at an Italian restaurant frequented by journalists and spies. I say that because the place seemed like Rick’s Place in the Bogart movie Casablanca. Instead of Sam, the piano player in the film, we had the Eagles. About once an hour Hotel California came over the speaker system. It seemed so appropriate.

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Cafe, Bosnia, 1997

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Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia, 1997

It took almost 20 years and an international court of law before the Serb fanatics in Bosnia were found guilty of genocide . The Serbs responsible for the atrocities in Kosovo are just now going on trial in the Hague. These were awful times. I selected a few pictures that I feel good about from those tense trips to the Balkan war zones. I’m not much of a war photographer. For example, an American military patrol, driving a version of a half-track tank, drove up to me as I was photographing with my 8X10 inch view camera on the Bosnia/Croatia border. One shouted, “What are you doing? I know you’re not a photojournalist because you are carrying a camera that is too big to run with.” That is still a good question.

For more of my Balkan pictures look here.

Cultural Visions Part Four: Cuba Rising

February 5, 2017

I am seeing so many beautiful portfolios from Cuba these days, especially on www.socialdocumentary.net and their magazine, ZEKE. All these pictures got me inspired to scan some more negatives from my time in Cuba 15 years ago. All photos ©Frank Ward, except the last one ©Susan S. Bank. Previously, I published pictures about Cuba here.havanaskylinesm

View of Havana from El Morro, 2002.

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A hitchhiker along the Malecon.

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Gas station, Havana.

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Solitude and Havana fit together like the pages of a great novel.

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The above b/w photos are from Trinidad de Cuba, a few hours drive from Havana.

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A welder taking a break from his work. Below, the bust of Cuban poet Jose Marti.

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My Cuba work was done over a three week period in 2002. Susan S. Bank has been photographing Cuba for decades. I recently wrote a review of her book, Piercing the Darkness, picturing her output from 1999 to 2010.

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Bank’s Cover photo for Piercing the Darkness.

My review for ZEKE Magazine:

A photo book is such a precious object in this age of picture-saturated cyberspace. At its best, the photo book stands as an artist’s statement in dialog with history. In the case of Susan S. Bank’s Piercing the Darkness, not only is the book a beautifully designed and sequenced telling of the first ten years of the 21st century in Cuba, it is a highly personalized view created with 20th century intent, style and processes. Bank’s Leica, her black and white film and her choice of lenses create a world apart from her contemporaries’ colorful Cuba travelogues. I have never seen Havana with so few old cars. Bank also skirts the seductive pleasure of the elegant, decayed architecture. The Malecón, Havana’s boulevard along the bay, is in only a few compositions. Her camera prefers to look down at the pavement and into the buildings. Fortunately, Bank does acknowledge the thousands of dogs to whom Cuba has granted the freedom to roam.

Piercing the Darkness begins in shadow. We see slumped workers with backs turned in chiaroscuro. Faces are hidden or masked. Bank masterfully photographs arms and hands, letting them direct the viewer’s eye across the frame. Many pictures are about Cubans in contact, sizzling with gesticulation and assertion. Bank is present when they argue or embrace, and often, these vignettes reveal the scars of Cuba’s crimes committed in the name of ideology.

I found myself viewing each page like a detective at a crime scene. The details unfold slowly, and the most telling evidence lies in the shadows. She certainly named her collection wisely. Like Robert Frank’s Americans, Bank’s Cubans are people with a shared mythology best expressed through their sense of solitude. We are viewing the work of an artist who knows her subject well and refuses to make simple pictures about complex lives. Bank is not telling the story of Cuba; she is telling the story of humanity through pictures of Cuba.

Cultural Visions Part Three: His Holiness the Dalai Lama as Kalachakra

December 31, 2016

hhdl103Photos by Frank Ward, Thomas Laird and Bill Hamilton (We worked as Research Group Triangle and I don’t recall which pictures are whose).

My first direct experience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism came in January 1974 at the Kalachakra Initiation in Bodh Gaya, India. This was the third Kalachakra given outside of Tibet and the first that matched the crowds of the first Kalachakra empowerment given by the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1954. Over 100,000 practitioners converged to experience this tantric initiation next to the tree descended from the original Bodhi tree- the tree under which Siddartha Gautama first became Buddha, the enlightened one. That was around the year 589 BCE.

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The Bodhi tree is at the top of this picture, thousands of monks are seated before His Holiness.

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On January 3rd to 14th, 2017, the 34th Kalachakra Initiation will take place in Bodh Gaya. This time they expect well over 200,000 attendees. The teachings are free and open to everyone. Register at the website so they know you are coming.

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The Mahabodhi Temple adjacent to the Bodhi Tree.

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Kalachakra, 43 years ago, represented the beginning of a major shift for me. This initiation became an experience of consummate clarity. I did my first vipassana meditation retreat a week or so later, and a couple of months after that Tom, Billy and I were in residence at Takshindu Monastery in the Himalayas, renting a house for $4.00 a month.

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During Kalachakra, evenings are a time for lighting candles, lots of them.

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Tonight, New Year’s Eve, is an appropriate time for candles to illuminate the consummate clarity we all need to make our way through 2017.

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Cultural Visions Part Two: Portraits from Tibet

December 4, 2016

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In the 1990s, I took three trips to Tibet. Above- Man in a Basket, 1994.

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Chinese military at the Lhasa Airport, 1992.

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Man at the Latrine in the Lhasa Ghetto, 1992

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Girl with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Photo, 1992

I gave the picture to her in exchange for her portrait. This photo and most of the following pictures were made with my 8X10 inch view camera (70 pounds of equipment). Below, Tibetans taking a look through my dark cloth, 1992.

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West Gate, Lhasa, 1994.

This was the celebrated entry point leading into the heart of Lhasa. When the Chinese invaded in the 1950s, they blew up the ancient gate allowing their tanks into Tibet’s largest city . In the 90s, the former gate was still a flashpoint. Tibetans would string prayer flags across the road almost every night. The Chinese soldiers would tear them down during the day.

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Rambo guards the door to a Lhasa tea house, 1994

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Pool Players with the Potala in the Background, 1994.

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Monks in the Gyantse Kumbum, 1992

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Lama Gyurme at Dreprung Monastery outside of Lhasa. 1992.

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Girl from Amdo near the Lukhang Temple behind the Potala, 1992.

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Mother and Child on the Ferry to Samye Monastery, 1994.

More of my pictures from Tibet:

www.socialdocumentary.net/photographer/frankward

It is time for Social Documentary Network’s Call for Entries. This is an opportunity to have your photo work reviewed by some of the world’s top practitioners, photo editors and all around humanitarians. Show us pictures that matter.

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Nuns in their temple in Lhasa, 1998.

Cultural Visions Part One: Himalaya

November 20, 2016

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Monk, Ladakh, India, 1974

Back in the ’70s, Thomas Laird, Bill Hamilton and I formed Research Group Triangle. We were supported in part by an Italian philanthropist in Geneva, Switzerland. Our mandate was to document Buddhist culture in India and Nepal. Over a period of several months,  we photographed, filmed and recorded audio in Buddhist temples, hermitages and monasteries.

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Listening to the ting-shah, Bodhanath, Nepal, 1979

Five years later, in 1978, I returned to Asia with my wife, Vivian Leskes and spent several more months with the Sherpas and Tibetans.

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Group Portrait, Junbesi Temple, Solu, Nepal, 1974

I’m the guy with the beard and Tom is standing behind me.

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Funeral, Junbesi, 1979

A sick woman arrived in Junbesi one evening trying to get to her Buddhist teacher, Tulshig Rimpoche, before dying. She didn’t make it. She is on the right tied to heavy stones for a river burial. She did not have the money for a traditional sky burial. The ritual was performed by a village lama, with chendar drum in the foreground, and Nyingma Dzogchenpa Lhakpa Drolma, the funeral shaman, reciting prayers to the left. Vivian is sitting on a rock in the background.

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Nyingma Dzogchenpa Lhakpa Drolma at the Dumji Festival, Junbesi, Nepal, 1979

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Takshindu Lama Leshe in his Monastery apartment, Solu Region, Nepal, 1974

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A puja in a village home, Solu Region, Nepal, 1974

The monks and lamas often supported themselves by performing ceremonies for villagers.

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Annual Dumji Festival, Junbesi, Nepal, 1979

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Monk and Chung-Chung at the Kalachakra Empowerment, Bodhgaya, India, 1974

My first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my first experience with Tibetan Buddhism happened at this Kalachakra Tantra ceremony soon after I first arrived in India.

9monk-eyes This initiation took place in a field beside the Bodhi Tree. The original place of the Buddha’s enlightenment 2500 years ago.

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I will continue this series of my early photography of Tibetan culture with a posting about three trips I made to Tibet in the 1990s. Thanks for looking.

HOLYOKE>ZEKE>CUBA

October 11, 2016

THE MAGAZINE OF GLOBAL DOCUMENTARY

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My HeyLook HoLyoke show is now off of the gallery walls. If you want to see an article about it, and me, look here.

ZEKE has just released their fall issue in digital and print. I am on the ZEKE Advisory Board and I say, we need more subscribers to help keep documentary growing. Check it out here. In the most recent issue, I review two books about two cultures. Here is the first review.

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Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 9.14.46 PM copy.jpgOnce in awhile a book comes along that is so beautiful to look at and so painful to contemplate that the mind gets entangled somewhere between the art of seeing and the subject matter being seen. In Paula Bronstein’s devastating Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear, what is seen is not all about beauty. It is often shameful, criminal, repellent, and it is mesmerizing.

Afghanistan, with its open deserts and looming mountains, is stunning. The population, comprising about 14 ethnic groups, would offer a dream casting call for any Hollywood movie. Afghanistan’s recent history, beginning with the Russian invasion of 1978 and continuing through the regime of the Taliban and into an unclear future, presents an endless unraveling of despicable events. Both Kim Barker’s Foreword and the Introduction, “Afghan Women,” by Christina Lamb provide some much needed comprehension of Bronstein’s heart piercing photographs.

Kim Barker describes the pictures as “arresting,” “inspiring,” “contradictory,” “compelling,” and “complicated.” Barker also says of Afghanistan that, “Photographs are almost the only way to prove the reality of life there.” Rather than “reality,” Bronstein’s pictures seem more like a fine art re-enactment of an Old Testament fable during the aftermath of World War III. That is not a criticism. Bronstein’s visual effort is the most successful illumination of Afghanistan’s ongoing circumstances yet published. To quote Bronstein’s question from her Afterword, “If conflict is all you ever experience, can happiness ever be defined without it?” Under such circumstances, one could also ask, can beauty ever be defined without it?

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Waiting in line, Coppelia, Havana, 2002. Possibly the largest ice cream parlor in the world.

All Cuba photos by Frank Ward

There is a great portfolio about Cuba by several artists in the new ZEKE. The above picture is not included, but there are wonderful, more recent pictures that you should check out. I have not shown my Cuba panoramas in decades. Now’s the time.

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Spandex, Havana, 2002

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Vegetable Market, Havana, 2002

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Pio Lindo, Havana, 2002

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Cafe, Havana, 2002

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Cigar Factory, Cuba, 2002. Cuban cigar factories are places of higher learning. During work someone is assigned to read one of the great books of literature. Anna Karenina anyone?

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Trinidad de Cuba, 2002

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Visiting the Pinar Family, Cuba, 2002

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Playing Ball, Trinidad de Cuba, 2002

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Photographer taking our portrait, Havana, 2002

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Here is the photographer’s portrait of Vivian and me with several friends. We sat on the stairs of the Capitolio, and because the photographer couldn’t get the dome in his picture he added the capital’s dome in-camera. I also have the paper negative which was developed inside his box camera.