Human Rights

Coffee in the old city of Jerusalem, Sore feet, and defining your why... by Cristian Geelen

Like I promised…

My feet are still tired… Writing this laying on my couch rolled up like a hamster ready for bed. Banging out this blog post that I have promised to you all.

But you have to forgive me. A lot has happened since I got back home. You know… Life… And all of it happened at the same time. Even squeezed in a couple of shoots and one of them was a lomography one.

But it is all for the greater good. Telling stories!

Heading straight for the coffee…

The time has come. Finally working again on my long term project “Neshama Sheli“. I was so happy yo be on the plane again.

As soon as I arrived I could not help myself my friend Issam. He has the best coffee house in the entire of country. I totally forgot it was Friday and that he is closed on Fridays. The stroopwafels I have brought him had to wait a day extra…

So that meant walking around Jerusalem until my feet hurt. That last part happened for sure since I walked 62KM in the first couple of days!

That does not seem much spread over a amount of time. But with all the hills up and down it was actually quite the walk.

Before I forget…

Since the reason why you have stumbled upon my blog probably is photography. Some of you might think it is interesting what stuff I have brought.

Well… That is easy. Not much…

Two bodies. One analog, one digital. The analog a Nikon FM2n. The digital, a Nikon D810.

I always prefer analog but sometimes digital is more practical.

Film, I bought that when I got there. The whole reason is that it is more practical and is also part of my research. The downside of that is that you have to do with what you find. I have found a lot of Kodak. That is not bad. I am a Ilford guy when it comes to Black and White. But I will never complain if Kodak Tri-X is the one that is available. And who cares in the end anyway. They both rule.

Oh, and only three lenses. Two 35mm’s. One Sigma Art for the D810. And a Nikon 35mm Nikon F1.8 ai. Also my Carl Zeiss 50mm.

This keeps it small. And even got room in my day pack for underpants and protein bars.

And in my opinion. If you can’t do it with one lens you need to be more proficient.

But enough about gear. It really is not important. It just does not need to break down and that is it. That does not mean I don’t love a beautiful camera. But getting your hours in and the reason why is way more important.

My why…

The first what I thought when I got back home was: Now I understand! Not the situation, but more the whole reason why some of my photographic heroes were working on a project for like ten years or something.

I guess that is also the whole reason why you “why” is so important. The “why“ is always important. Just to keep that perseverance to keep rocking when all your chips are down. Even Simon Sinek wrote his best selling book about that subject.

I do this because of: And fill in the blanks...

I frees my mind…

It gives my emotions a place…

I love him or her…

It gives me inner peace…

It is easy to do things when they are fun. But if you are in in for the long haul… Your “why” better be a good damn good one.

You still haven’t told me yours…

One of my favorite poets (Rumi) has a quote: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray” .

If you are following me for a while you know I do everything by gut feeling. But there is also a explainable part of this all…

Despite I am a social creature it also feels for me I am a little bit of an odd one. And fitting in is not really my thing, nor I feel I have ever did. I really don’t like stuff a lot of “normal“ people like. And I have the strangest urge to make sense out of that strange journey that is called life. If that makes any kind of sense at all…

So if I want to makes sense to any of it why not go to the region that is the origin of the three big modern religions… And so I did three years a go. It seemed like a good place to start.

Photography in the end is a search within yourself…

I never expected during the first time I went there it would become plenty of more times. Every country that I come I fall in love with. But somehow, this place…

The first time I stood in front of the western wall I even cried a little. And I am not even Jewish. I am as Dutch as I can be.

But also the Dome of the rock quiet down my ever going monkey mind. And the church of the holy sepulcher had certain calm.

So many stories… So many people… All of them with a why…

But there is more…

No worries… My passion of explaining things goes beyond Israel and the Palestinian territories. I want to see the whole world. And I have gotten quite far already.

The drive is bigger…

The world is an amazing place. And we can learn so much from each other. If we somehow get those stories across imagine where we can be! Colombia, Japan, Indonesia! It is all still on the list.

So many people to talk to… So much things to learn… And ergo, so many stories to tell…

I use photography as my medium.

So that is sort of my “why“…

Things I ran into…

It is so super interesting how being social differs from place to place all across the globe. The whole plan was to talk to as many people as possible instead of just doing random street photography. Because street photography alone just doesn’t cut it.

It is cool to do. Of course! But if you want to give your work more depth talking to people is the only way.

Well… That part is easier said than done. There are of course plenty of people. But in comparison to for example Vietnam or India, or Iran it was a bit more difficult to start a casual conversation. I had to work for it… In other countries people somehow automatically come to me. But in Jerusalem it was more like home. Other areas were more easy.

But was I satisfied when I got back home? Not not really… But like I said earlier… Now I understand why things take so long!

Not that I have not met some beautiful people. I did! If some of you will read the blog you know who you are.

The story continues…

I focused mainly around Jerusalem and Bethlehem again. This mainly because my train of thought was because of it was just after pesach (passover), Ramadan started, and memorial day was also happening. And most of the stories were hopefully developing around those places. Plus it is just a nice place to be and Jerusalem is centrally located to everywhere you want to go.

But I think next time I will roam around a bite more. Or rent a car or something.. I don’t know. That is stuff for future Cris.

Aida and Dheisheh refugee camp…

I was here last time too. And I could of course not be in the neighborhood without saying hello to my friend, Omar. He lives in the Dheisheh refugee camp and is an artist and musician.

I went though the same checkpoint as last year. The same one where I have written about last year (link here).

It has changed… A lot!

Checkpoint 300. Instead of going though a regular gate there is a building now where you have to go through. Still turnstiles. Still the cattle like exit. And still the annoying cab drivers in the end.

We chatted a lot. About life, love, girls, music… His car that he had to turn in because it was illegal. That story was a bit funny. Sorry man haha…

It is so interesting how much our lives differ and in so much aspects are so the same. For him the water truck comes once every thirty days if he is lucky… I can just open the tap. But still, we both like waffles and are afraid of spiders.

He also told me he started working out. Better have some gainz next time I am there bro!

At the graveyard…

Apparently we are not only afraid of spiders… He wanted to show a martyrs graveyard. And like the name says, it is a graveyard where the local martyrs are being buried.

We had to be quiet because there was a young woman mourning. Here brother was killed not that long ago. And every day she was there because she missed him a lot. This was one of the moments you have to put your camera away and just let someone be…

We wanted to give our tired feet some rest so we sat down on a bench, but a humongous queen bee suddenly showed up and we both yelled like little girls and ran off. That beast was enormous!

After we came to a safe distance we pretended the bee had nothing on. Like the young cool kids do…

Memorial Day…

My blog post has no structure at all this time. But hey… what can you do!

A couple of days later it was memorial day… There are quite some similarities with the memorial day we have in the Netherlands. We just have one siren and stay quiet for two minutes to remember the atrocities of the second world war, and the fallen since then. In Israel you have two sirens. Because it literally is a day. First one was the preceding evening at 20:00 and the second one at 11:00 in the morning…

The entire city and country stops what they are doing.

This was also one of my moments of getting back to reality. If you stay somewhere for a while things start to get normal.

My lasagna theory…

Earlier that week about 250+ rockets were fired from the Gaza strip, and it wasn’t on my mind already.

I dubbed this my lasagna theory. I like lasagna a lot! But if you every day it starts to get normal and it is not special anymore. You get used to it…

From my own country I am used to stop the car or motorbike on the side of the road and everyone is most of the time respectful… And what I do is I try to remember the people that are important to me that are no longer here. And say thank you.

It was this moment where you realize that I was in an area where not everyone could get along. Of course the Israeli - Palestinian conflict is still active and that’s the reason not everyone participated in the moment of silence. You can probably can guess the reason why.

It was a teaching moment for myself and made me more curious. Is it ever going to end? Will they ever get along? Will there ever be an end to the conflict? And what can we learn from all of this in the rest of the world?

But what now…

By now it is already three days later since I have started writing… The rain has started falling down. Thunder is coming. And there are plenty strips of film waiting for me to be printed… And the official project page needs to be updated. All the editing…

Believe me. I have plenty of anecdotes.

But writing long blog posts always leaves me with more questions. And I will write more on a later moment.

All I know is I had a great and interesting time again. And I have met some beautiful souls along the way. Bracha, Issam, they woman from television in Japan, Omar, Jared. The dudes from Japan. And all the other people I spoke to. Thanks for everything.

Jerusalem. I hope to see you soon again… You give me a home away from home…

Neshama Sheli. You are indeed important to me. You are a part of my soul…

One last thing…

One last thing that remains… Is figuring out what the band was I was dancing to at the Mahane Yehuda market in the evening… “Feel it in my brain“ and plenty of others songs. I danced my ass off! So if anyone has a clue… Please let me know! That song made me happy. :)

- Cristian

The one about how photography is looked upon across the world. A sour market salesman. And you and your work are important. by Cristian Geelen

Ah Sunday morning...

The day I am finishing up this blog post.

Getting through some world news. Having some coffee. And listening to some vynil. Perfect conditions to finish this story up. It is going to be a long one, so get ready to challenge that millennial attention span! 

We will touch a couple of subjects like GDPR (law), differences how photography is viewed around the world, and that your work is important.

So let's start...

I wanted to write this article for a long time. And my encounter with an incredible sour market salesman in one of the busiest places of Amsterdam sped it up a bit.

I was so happy last Friday. It was finally raining again... Oh boy I waited for that moment so long! Rain for me is the ultimate photographic aphrodisiac. I write about it sometimes in my captions. Rain makes the masks fall off from people. People wear multiple masks. Especially here in the rich west. As soon as it starts raining they disappear and start getting real.

Some get angry, some get happy, and some just don't want to get wet. For me as a photographer that is important because you can document how they are. Not how they pretend to be. That is a big difference in the story you try to tell.

I got on the train and started walking. It was not a bad day, and I think I walked around 12KM or something. My usual distance...

Unfortunately the rain was not as present as I hoped. And it took a while before I got in the flow. But after a while I started to warm up and gotten more and more shots in. 

After a couple of hours I was almost done for that day. But I made small detour because there is always a market in Amsterdam on one of the squares in the city center. And market is a good opportunity to work with layers and lines. 

So I walked around a bit. did some layers shots. Walked to the end. Shot some more. And looked for some interesting scenes, stood still for a bit, and decided to walk back because I was in the mood for a beer.

The moment I decided to walk back I got spoken to by a market salesman sitting on a stool. Apparently he noticed me and he made a very weird remark. And instead of letting it go, or even worse, get affected or angry, I decided to start a conversation with him. 

The reason for this; a couple of weeks earlier the lady of flower shop not far from there started yelling at me because I took a photo of her shop from 20 meters away. And that is quite the distance with the focal length I am shooting with haha.

For your info. I use a Fujifilm X100F at the moment. That one has a fixed focal length of 23mm on a APS-C sensor. That means 35mm Full-Frame.

Normally nobody notices me, or they just don't care. Or they like what I do. Especially when I talk to people. I actually never had any bad experiences before. There are four I have ever had in all the time I have been photographing. Including the sour market salesman.

Once I got a message from someone who thought he could get rich of me. A junkie somewhere in the middle east tried to shoot me, but I think it would have been the same if I walked around that neighborhood without a camera. The flower lady. And the sour market salesman.

Three out of four incident happened in Amsterdam.

Let that sink in...

So before that last situation happened I started thinking about that subject matter. And what it means and let my whole monkey mind go nuts on it.

Remember my monkey mind?

Back to the conversation with the sour market guy.

Because of I was so intrigued by his remark and why he and the flower lady reacted like that I engaged the conversation.

So I stayed very polite. I explained him who I was and what I do. And asked him why he reacted the way he reacted.

The sad thing is, he could not give me a good explanation...

He just kept saying it was not allowed to take pictures. And after I told him what I do with the photographs. A brief history lesson about photography in Amsterdam and Ed van der Elsken. And actually that I am allowed, he still didn't get it.

His buddy who was sitting next to him did get it. And actually was very interested. Thank you sir. You were actually very kind...

After that he started getting mean. He told my I would fail in all of my endeavors, did some additional cursing and some other very rude remarks that were completely unnecessary. And I don't need to repeat to get my point across with this blog post. I giving the situation enough attention as it is already. Also some bystanders came to support me and tell the guy off.

The thing that stood out most from that conversation is he could could not explain himself.

Besides that. The market in that area is based upon selling artwork. So why don't you understand that photography is art?

From a commercial standpoint you are hurting your own business by making a scene in front of your shop. So why do you want to do that?

And I think most import. You are in one of the busiest sections of Amsterdam with your stand. You know that there are a lot of tourist there that just want to have a good time and take photographs. Why in the hell do you think your ego is so important that you can get mad at someone for taking a photograph?

I could go on and on... But I guess I need to start getting to my point before it becomes more of a rant instead of a informational piece.

One of the explanations I gave was that I am documenting life and when I am not traveling I document Amsterdam. His response was; photograph somewhere else.

Of course there is a lot more nuance in the whole conversation. But still...

And I did not even take his photograph. And even if I did, and he didn't like it. He could have told me in a normal civilized matter. I can totally understand that.

But unfortunately being angry and rude to people is a trend see evolving in the city. Espacially bikers yelling at tourist. Come on! You know that you are riding your bike in the city center. Most tourist have never seen so many bikes in their life. So why be angry at them? Just take the other lane one more street further where there is nothing to yell about...

But back to the core of the article!

On "How photography is looked upon in the world"

I was curious; Why!?

It is so strange that of all the places I have been the one back-home is the one with the weirdest reactions?

In Japan for example photography is a big part of the culture. Everyone likes it. Same goes for the entire South-East Asia. You will not have any trouble there. I know tv shows from Korea which are totally dedicated to photography and they follow heroes like Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey.

Northern Africa is a bit more difficult but if you use your common sense you will not have any trouble. But you can run into that sometimes people cover their faces. Same goes for the Middle-East. But that should not give any problems if you are just polite.

And of all places Iran has been the most photo friendly country I have been so far! People want to be in your frame! In Tehran I have gotten so many nice responses. Who would have thought that!

I still have to go to India. But I will be there in October so I can tell you more when I get back.

So why here...

Is it because of the paparazzi that ruined photography for us all?

Is because everyone has a cellphone with a camera on it and we see so many crappy photographs?

Is it because the west is getting less and less educated in art?

Or is it because we have became so wealthy that with all the technology and living in a  "Garden of earthly delights" like society  (the painting by Hieronymus Bosch ) that were are so into instant gratification  and are just motivated money, lust, and ego?

I sincerely hope that someone can tell me that answer. Or maybe I will find out myself in the near future...

It is fascinating how big the difference is from country to country.

It is not all bad. And maybe it even differs from city to city.

For example: In the city of Scheveningen. Which is a small town next to the Hague. There is a huge exhibit going on about Street Photography / Social Documentary which has been shot and exhibited on the beach. And everyone likes it!

The exhibit is on the big pier BTW! It is worth it so go check it out... 

The other things that I took from that conversation is the "I hope you fail...", and "You are not allowed..."

On "I hope you fail..."

Besides it is just very mean to say. I think we as photographers. Or as artists in general we have an very, and I repeat very Important job. We are story tellers. Either it is through photos, painting, music, or sculpting. It is made to move people. Make them happy when they are sad. Heal them or giving a feeling that they are understood. Or even educate people and hold a mirror in front of them. Or maybe even a critique to society...

Also! Art is a way to tell how life was during this time. How it was perceived. I see photography as the only way we have a real life time machine. The one thing that can stop time itself. Other ways do not exist. And there is no way the most important moments in life can be relived than through this medium.

So yes. To everyone that reads this that is a photographer or a artist in general...

Your work matters!

Especially now. In a time when there is more polarization than ever. More conflict among each other. From the Netherlands to the United States. More people dictating each other what they should or shouldn't do. Racism and segregation.

Sometimes for me society feels like we are repeating history and have not learned a damn thing!

So continue to inspire others with all the beautiful work you are making. And never ever do not let someone else tell you otherwise!

You matter!

Not only as a artist. But as a person too...

So ergo. You matter to me...

On "You are not allowed..."

Of course you are!

*Small disclaimer: I am not a lawyer

Besides from that we have established that social documentary is an art form and not paparazzi. And ethically you are not doing anything wrong.

Laws in Europe have changed. GDPR is now in affect. But after I have done lot's and lot's of research on the matter. Nothing has changed actually...

If you are in a public place you are allowed to take photographs. And you don't need to ask for permission in doing so. 

As soon as you press the shutter button you own the copyright.

But! There is always a big but...

You do have to do it from a journalistic, artistic, or educational standpoint.

Some might even think that you have to erase your photograph. But depending on the country you literally don't have too if you don't want too. That goes for European countries and Northern Parts of America. Remember that the copyright is yours.

You cannot use it for commercial purposes. That means you can not sell it to a big brands and say: here, use this one in your marketing campaign. You have to get model releases.

But you can use it as fine art. Make a print. Or a book.

Like always. There are some nuances in play. But I will link some sources (In Dutch) below. So you can read it yourself.

That of course does not mean you can walk around and being an ass and annoy people with your camera. Remember that you have an important job? That can only be done with ethics and a good heart.

My final conclussion...

This experience raised more questions than answers I am afraid. But more about how we treat each other than about art itself.

And maybe even how hypoctritical we are as a society. 

And when you have gotten to this last part of this article probably means you are a photographer yourself. Or a lover for photography.

So let me explain myself with a question I get sometimes.

"Do you ask for permission?"

Well... Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. And if it is not personal work but commissioned or a assignment people know in front that they are photographed.

We look at pretty pictures and all enjoy the works of Steve McCurry, or attend a World Press Photo show, or read the National Geographic... But how do you think those photographs are made?

The decisive moment is once and it disappears in a heartbeat. And you will never get it back. Photographers or artists are the only ones who can make sure it is captured otherwise it is gone forever.

It is not easy to document life. And tell how beautiful the world is. And sometimes very sad...

Let that sink in for a moment and go on by your day...

I guess it is time that I put up another record. I have spend to much time behind the laptop already...

- Cristian



Arnound Engelfriet (Internet Lawyer)

Ivor Rackham

Freelancer Club

RAW Photo Tours

Nothing About Us Without Us. Syrian refugees. And a human rights organization named Kompass. by Cristian Geelen

Hey all!

No deep philosophical blog post today but a short and sweet one.

I shot the event "Nothing about us without us".

Because of refugee day, human rights organization Kompass organized a meet-up for 15 new young Syrian leaders and also refugees to take the stage. After a crash course in leadership they were now ready to face the public and tell their stories.

The 15 young leaders represent the diversity of Syria, and its diaspora, and overcame the memories of conflict and war. Not only that but also addressing the current state of the labor market, integration, mental health, and a possible future return to their country. By making their voices heard, they contribute to making the Netherlands an even more beautiful place. 

You can find out more about the human rights organization Kompass over here.

*Click on the sides of the gallery to cycle through it.