UNRWA

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

Digital vs Analog, Israel, testing stuff, and other project updates. by Cristian Geelen

Hey everyone!

This blog post is not really a dedicated story about something particular. But more of a quick sum up of everything that is going on. I will address my photography and I will be addressing a little bit of my travel plans and projects that I am preparing.

So I am putting on some Tool (The band) and just write away!

And at the end some images… And yes. Even some color… As a reward for reading through everything haha.

That analog life…

If you have been following me you probably noticed that I am getting more and more into analog photography. Not that there is anything wrong with digital, but I just think it is tons of fun!

For everything is a time and a place though.

It started out with just pure curiosity. How it works, and aesthetically it is just amazing. For me there are too many variables in digital photography if you are really into the whole mega post-processed stuff. But I am more of a documentary photographer anyway. So it is not that bad. But I remembered when I started and before I have found my voice photographically the amount of stuff what you can do and achieve are almost limitless. That can be a advantage… But for me… It is not… The less of distractions in my gear the better.

With analog I pick a film that goes with my subject matter. Of course you need to do some post processing. That part is not different. Unlike some people like to believe. But your base is just different. And because of that I can focus more on my composition instead of being a Lightroom warrior.

Sitting in a Ferrari…

The fun thing is. After you have shot analog for a while as soon as I grab my digital camera it feels like I am sitting in a Ferrari. Everything goes so quickly! You can review what you are doing, not to worry about a full roll, auto focus all of sudden… Man! Like a hot knife though butter!

I already mentioned this once before. But every-time it gives me more and more respect of the photographers from the golden age and all of my heroes. In comparison shooting analog is just goddamn difficult!

Shades of grey…

The world is not black and white like photographs, but situations are as grey as they come. Same in the case of photography. And specifically; what do I bring on my upcoming project…

I will be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories again at the end of April. Continuing with my everlasting story I want to tell.

And despite I want to shoot most of it analog. The thing that is going through my mind is.

Is it practical?

If you have ever been to for example Jerusalem. The amount of detectors you have to go though is enormous. And the last thing I want is that my film is getting screwed up by all the scanners and stuff. Of course on the airport you can ask for hand checks. And as you have read in my Vietnam and China blog, it is not really a problem. But I just don’t want to take the risk. Because if I lost any of my images again I definitely get a heart attack or something. It happened already to me last year and, I don’t want to happen it again.

In the end my heart will probably kick my brains ass and I will bring digital and analog anyway.

Lomography…

Speaking of grey… I have been picked by Lomography to test their new Postdam Kino 100 film. From what I have seen it looks like an amazing film. It is inspired by old German cinema. And from the images I have seen what they have shot I am actually really curious what it will give me.

The only thing is, because it is 100 ASA I need a lot more sunlight. And the Netherlands is still grey…

But as soon as I shot it I will dedicate a blog post to it. So stay tuned for that…

Developing stuff…

Lately I have written a lot about developing. Especially on Instagram. And filming it to and such. But I am trying to keep it on my own blog to a minimum.

The whole reason for that…

I just want this about the art of photography and my adventures. Projects I am doing. And even maybe a sort of diary with things that come to my mind. Not one of the many gear or technical blog that are out there.

I am a photographer first. The rest is just bonus…

I do like I said, share that stuff in my Instagram. That whole platform is as contemporary as it can be. It has it’s uses. So that seems like the right place for that.

Also you probably will on some guest blogs that I am going to write. And have written already. You can find one on 35mmc. I have written a 5 frames with. Go check it out if you like! Click here.

There are also some other ones in development. But I will let you all know as soon as that will materializes.

Searching for stories…

After I return from Israel and the Palestinian territories and processed all of my work I will be looking for another place to travel to. No idea which one yet. But I am doing plenty of research. Nepal, Papua New-Guinea and Uzbekistan are on my list. But it always can change.

I am open for suggestions though. So if you have some. The comment section is open, so you can always drop a comment if you want.

The stipulation is. I do need to have a story to tell. The main focus is that I want to steer my work towards that I create more depth in my images. Not only with composition. But also ,it needs to be about something. Otherwise it will be just one of the many millions out there. I need to get out of that street photography flow and more into my documentary photo-journalistic flow.

So I am looking for events that are happening. Some special festivals. Tribes or (sub)cultures. It’s a difficult task. But hey, if you want that your work means something…

Ramble on…

Not the famous song of Led Zeppelin, but this time it is me that is starting to ramble again. So it is time to close the lid of my laptop and go to bed. Because I am finishing this story up on a Saturday night…

Oh!

And I bought a “new“ enlarger for my darkroom. Time to print!

Alright. This really was it. For now at least!

- Cristian

Ilford Delta 400

Ilford Delta 400

Ilford Delta 400

Ilford Delta 400

One of my few color shots lately.

One of my few color shots lately.

And another color one.

And another color one.

Aida and Dheisheh refugee camp... by Cristian Geelen

April 3rd, 2018...

It was 09:00 in the morning... Sitting in the Arabic bus from Jerusalem...

Destination: Checkpoint 300...

I was supposed to meet Omar my guide at 11:00, but I woke up way to early and could't sleep anyway. Also a bit nervous what was on the schedule today. Not only I wanted to capture the way how most Palestinians head over to and from the West Bank but I made arrangements to get guided through Aida en Dheisheh refugee camps.

As soon as I got passed the checkpoint I was officially in the West Bank. It went easier than expected. Only realizing later that it would be easy getting out of Israeli territory. Getting back in is where the difficulty lies.

Bus stop at checkpoint 300...

Bus stop at checkpoint 300...

I went through the doors and after getting some annoying taxi drivers off my back I gave Omar a call that I was already there. He was still asleep... Btw, if you read this sorry I woke you up too early man haha!

I waited a while.. The sun started shining harder but I refused to get into the shade... I didn't want to him to somehow at the point where I was waiting so he could easily find me.

The taxi drivers left me alone... I told them for whom I was waiting and they understood. Something that normally never happens. Usually they rip-off some lost tourist, ask 200 shekels for a ride and some sight seeing but drop you off around the corner. Omar confirmed that to me later when we finally met up.

When he arrived we finally went walking.

Path that leads to the turnstile at the checkpoint...

Path that leads to the turnstile at the checkpoint...

My first impression of him was a young and intelligent young man. Reminded me a little bit of myself when I was his age. That makes me sound old, although I am only 35. He was wearing a t-shirt and a necklace with two photographs on it. Both in memory of his uncle and cousin.

Later I also discovered that he is an amazing artist. He made a beautiful painting about the whole situation in the LAYLAC center that is in front of the Dheisheh camp.

He started telling me about life behind the wall. Where he was allowed to come and if he crossed a certain area he would get shot... That sank in... Made me realize and reminded again how fragile life is and how good our life over here is...

Right after we crossed paths with someone who went to work illegally...

That would mean throwing a rope over a part of the wall where there are no camera's and hop over. It is some sort of Russian roulette where you don't know if the army is waiting for you or your friends. The latter is good.. The first means jail or death...

Later we passed the street where most of the clashes happen on Fridays. Friday prayer is the first part of the day, and after that protest happens. You could still smell the tear gas the has been used earlier in some parts...

After we walked through that area we saw a guy selling some fresh juice. Not only it is a totally random place to sell some juice. But hey, why not take a glass. Exactly what I needed.

Part of the road next to the wall where most clashes happen...

Part of the road next to the wall where most clashes happen...

Omar told me he hadn't seen him for a while because he suddenly disappeared and after a while he found out he was in jail. 

Just a short walk from this place we arrived at Aida camp...

Even though I did my research I still did not knew what to expect. And actually after two days it is still hard to describe how it is...

The camp felt more like a favela you will find in for example Brazil. It has been there since 1948, and the tents got replaced for more solid temporary but also permanent housing at the same time.

The thing that stuck to me the most was the big netting above the playground / soccer field. The whole purpose of it is when tear gas is being fired it does not fall on the kids playing and they can get out...

We talked some more about about life...

After I did my photography it was of to the second camp... Dheisheh.

Rear entrance of Aida camp...

Rear entrance of Aida camp...

We took a taxi to the other side of town and arrived at Deisheh.

But before we went in we went to the LAYLAC center. The center is a place for youth development and they work on projects. Omar showed me one of his works and it is amazing! the young man really has some talent. Not only graphically but it also had a beautiful message on a deeper level. All about your roots...

I shook the hand of the director of the center and a young girl who was there and we had some small talk. It was good to be in this place. It gave me a positive feeling again.

Enter Dheisheh...

We turned the corner and got into the camp. Like I wrote about Aida that it looks more like a favela is also true for this one. Once started out as a tent encampment and now it turned into this.

Street in Dheisheh...

Street in Dheisheh...

The whole situation in Dheisheh looks worse than in Aida. It was build around 1949 and according to the UNRWA it is housing at this moment around 15000 people.... But only was build to house around 3000 people on a surface of 330 square meters...

Try to imagine this...

The streets are covered in pamphlets are murals of martyrs. To us in Europe that sounds weird. Because we got a association with this concept with the things we hear in the news. For the people that live there they are friends and families, brothers and sisters...

One thing that also drew my attention was the caricature named Handala. You will see him painted on numerous wall. If you want to know more on him just click on the link. It is a cartoonist symbol for the deviance of the Palestinian people in general and his alligiance to the poor.

Handala...

Handala...

We walked some more... Talked some more... About the situation and about life... And than it was time to go... Back to Jerusalem...

But man...

I wish I just had some answers how to make some sense out of this. And that is the whole reason I became a photographer. Just to make sense of life in general!

But in the end for now it raises just more questions...

I am not taking sides. That also is also not my job. My job is being a story teller...

And my experience with the Israeli people is nothing but positive. If you see them in every day life the are kind and well educated, well mannered , and just very nice. So this is NOT a article to bash the Israelis. Remember that... I also gained a very close Israeli friend last time I was in the area. You know who you are. ;-)

The thought that is going through my mind most now is how this could just happen and how this is possible...

And hopefully one day there will a solution for what I think one of the most complex situations in the world.

And maybe with my photography I make a small difference... Or at least can get a conversation started in a civil way...

 

Street in Dheisheh...

Street in Dheisheh...

One of the martyrs...

One of the martyrs...

Netting above the soccer field...

Netting above the soccer field...