7. October 2018
It’s two weeks now that I am back from Moscow.
It was a journey through time…
The plane – an Aeroflot plane, one of the worst airlines to take travellers to the skies as the seemingly indestructible era of Soviet rule was nearing its eventual end – shook heavily and was pushed side to side as I was about to touch down on the airfield of Moscow Airport in the winter of 1988. Early evening, darkness, snow and storm. I had wanted to see our descend through the window as I always loved to do – and still do today, but I could not see beyond the plastic bulls-eye next to my – back then long-haired- head: snowflakes were rushing through the air, hurried along by howling winds weaving an impenetrable blind that twisted my gaze in all directions until it resigned itself on the darkness in the distance.
There was a white field, there was deep snow, there was darkness folded around the coldness of neon lights – and black buildings that were swallowing the night hole.
Travelling is a journey to a destination long imagined, made familiar through stories heard from others about far away lands, told through books by characters we befriend and learn to love as they visit our world from distant places, brought to us by the moving images of the films that touch our soul and imprinted on our consciousness by the pictures we have seen with wide eyes open or in passing as we dream.
Not so when flying behind the iron curtain in the late 20th Century.
I had booked a trip to Moscow via the Hamburg division of the YMCA who had advertised a trip to attend a Rock Festival in Moscow that winter in a local paper. It sounded alluring – out of this, out of my world. And so I decided to go.
I had no idea of what lay ahead of me, no vision of what I might find, no Shangri-La already constructed to test against reality when I would get there – the Iron Curtain weight heavily on the imagination even from afar. The red line that marked the border to the Eastern block dividing Europe into friend and foe ever day in the evening news back then didn’t just demarcate the geography of ideology – it also ran through all of our heads and minds. Beyond the red line the topography of our imagination, the conjured up landscapes and places that make us knowledgeable about lives, people and events we have only ever visited in daydreams – beyond the red line this topography was blank. And heavy, grey, cold, hungry, scared and angry… – that was all we knew.
When my plane shook and swayed and slid side to side and roared with relief as it came to a halt deep behind the curtain that evening, I was not at all surprised that there was nothing there except darkness, wind, the whitest of lights and the coldest of snows .
Nothing quite compares to arriving at unimagined places.
To be continued…
4. June 2018
This is my first film…
SOAK is the debut poetry collection by poet extraordinaire Isadora Vibes.
To be published this September by Burning Eye Books.
written and performed by Isadora Vibes
cinematography, edit, sound design by Claudio Ahlers
concept by: the magic of a moment
1. June 2018
This morning at 7.30am as I was leaving the night shelter after my first over-night shift, I saw a shy, African man who had spend the night in the dorm, now sitting on a bench over-looking the square where the shelter is.
It promised to be a warm sunny day, but as he was sitting there it seemed obvious that he would have nothing to do, nowhere to go – nowhere to be.
We waived a warm good-bye…
on the street your heart beats
flutters in the city
early morning hope
a dream not yet broken
warm in stillness
save in observation
tranquil in limbo
wandering in invisibility
a siren song
jealous lovers from the past
your self holds on
you do not notice
you pay no heed
you seek no comfort
as it gently separates
down your skinny frame
onto the pavement
still your dark skin
glows a promise
you do not care to know
while all the while
your sunken eyes
desire eyes like mine
to bathe the power that this holds
your heavy feet
your hardened hands
and I to know
never heavy on your shoulders
blessed are those who see
beneath your heavy coat
the flurr of feathers
on the tips of my fingers
a sad shining shimmer
on your palm
28. May 2018
I have received a review for my submission to the LensCulture Street Photography Awards.
You can read it in full below:
Dear Claudio, thank you for your submission to LensCulture.
It is a pleasure to review your series.
I like your images!
I think you employ a unique style, particularly in how you approach post-production. The images you present here have a gritty and atmospheric-haze quality to them. I assume you photographed these with a DSLR, but the grainy quality of the frames causes me to wonder if it’s the result of high ISO film. Based on your “background” section comments, I think the gritty quality is an effect you added in a digital environment in post. Regardless of the process, the resulting images are a rare example where grain and a lack of tack-sharpness operate perfectly to reflect the subject matter and mood. Very generally, I’m a stickler for smooth, sharp images, so I don’t offer this compliment about work like this often.
Reading your statement, I appreciate that this is where you call home, and that you hold it in high regard. I like how you describe the neighborhood and city as typically busy, but hauntingly lonely on these two nights. I’m also curious why you elected to shoot on major holidays, rather than capture Bristol on an ordinary night. I’m curious to know how the visual elements would change. Regardless, I find myself intensely interested in these cityscapes, and the people who populate the frames. I feel the psychic energy you hope to capture, so bravo.
I like the way you’ve sequenced the series here. It opens with a dark and desolate view of the street and unfolds to other mysterious views and unidentified people. When you transition to New Year’s the photographs become a bit lighter in mood, and we see faces of individuals, rather than unknown outlines. The final image of the shop owner, free of customers, looking out into the street is a nice a way to close the project. Along the way, I’m drawn into each frame. It is an odd phenomenon for me to be interested in each scene equally, but you’ve done it. The emptiness of image 2 is as spectacular as image 6, where two lovers kiss and throngs of revelers walk the street. I’m also interested in image 7, as the handicapped man sits alone outside of the “Love Inn”. The contrast between the language and the subject is stark.
Photographing in bad weather at night brings a tone of gloom to this place. It has a melancholy aspect to it that is surprising, given your love of this place. Perhaps you don’t see the melancholy, or perhaps you embrace it. I’m not sure. What I do know, is that you’ve created a bit of magic in this work, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to see it.
I typically have points of constructive criticism, where a frame might benefit from a crop, or I point to a technical problem that is reducing the quality of a picture. However, despite my attempts to find helpful advice for improvement, I’m stumped. I think you are presenting a highly resolved body of work in terms of craft, content, and creativity. It is a project as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen. I think you should look for opportunities to exhibit and publish this work.
Additionally, you might consider participating in portfolio review sessions. There you will receive additional professional feedback while expanding the audience for your images.
Thank you again for your submission.
14. May 2018
Time has travelled painfully slow through my perforated drain pipes, cold and wet and slow, aching from the darkness of grey skies, faces and bleak dreams. Where have I been and why was there no blue sky for so long, so long, so long…
The sun has washed the sky, my feet, my soul and all the people I meet.
Now it is May.
Music is light, floating on the breeze – light is music pulsating on my retina: the electrifying dance in my eyes.
The People of the Croft all around me, past and present – in the street, on the gallery wall.
THE SPACE, Stokes Croft
Here I invigilate, contemplate and hesitate what to make of it all.
Memorable magic of 24 hours spend in deep December on the street now hangs in print on the wall. People come, look, they go, passing through much like pedestrians – only glancing, not stopping on their way to gather other glances from which they weave a day at the end of the day.
The photos I took are nothing but fragile thread – impossible to hang the resonance of these brief encounters on the wall.
They’d run down the steep gallery walls, down onto the flat, hard, gallery floor – washed away without any notice, out of everyone’s grasp but mine. I cannot pin my memory to these white walls (not yet) but I can pretend to distill it, force it on paper, I defy gravity and time with pins and blue tag and I can make people believe that they bear witness… – when really they have come here to pin their own memories onto each and every picture they see, to create new, momentarily present ones in the depth of their minds as they wander past, wander on and barely notice as these moments sink away.
Now though, the music of my memories fills the air.
And I dance, still, enchanted…
26. December 2017
I was on my own this year for Christmas and after having spend Christmas Eve in the company of my great friends Chris Harper and Victoria Bourne (aka incredible The Husky Tones) sampling dark ales in the centre of Bristol. I knew Christmas Day was going to be very quiet for me. Having been spared by the angry angels of hangovers and with the taste of dark, sweet expresso ale still lingering on my tongue, I had spend much of the day editing photos from my 24H OUR CITY shoot.
I needed to walk and and I needed air. As the rain came and as dusk began to fall I took my Canon and my 50mm lens, wrapped them in my (my until then never used before rain cover), put my skiing jacket and a pair of waterproofs on and walked into the falling night, over to Stokes Croft. I am glad I did.
Not only had the city fallen into a deep, exhausted silence – a silence as if it had waited for these past three hundred and sixty-four long, frantic, endlessly tiring, dogged and laboured days to finally be put to bed by the Spirit of Christmas as it dutifully descended upon each and every home and every one: the ghosts of Stokes Croft had also taken hold of and cast their spells upon every slab of pavement, the bricks, the mortar, the dark, aged roof tops and the glistening street.
They had thrown a light made of absence and memory, like a veil made of a melancholic alcoholic’s delerious dream around every corner, over every building and through each and every window and my camera and I were determined to catch some of it as it fell on these so familiar places, into my willing eyes and my grateful lens…
There was no-one but me so it seemed for a while, but then shadows of strange men began to drift past me, many looking as if they did not really have a place to go to, balancing on the precarious, wet pavement as if they might fall off it at any time: down, down, down – down to the end of the world, determined yet carefully rushing from a close-by nowhere place to a far away somewhere place, un-known in time, to them and to us.
Khair at the 365 day a year chippy SLIX – open even when no-one comes just because someone will, some time – Khair and I stopped to talk. About religion. Islam. Christianity. Judaism. How they are all the same. Jesus. Mohammed. Abraham. Peace be upon them. And the message is love and respect. And he let me take his photo and he gave me a can of tango.
Jeff Knight, the 365 days a year Big Issue vendor – much loved by many of us for his hugs, his fist pumps and his indomitable spirit – he is the Living Spirit of Stokes Croft: Jeff was there, selling his Big Issue to the ghosts of the night street. They passed him by, unforgiving. But Jeff did not care and kept on selling. He gave me a fist pump. This, is his street.
An old man, sitting down on the wall by Turbo Island, resting.
He walked the slowest of slow walks. He and his silver walking frame, crossing by the lights at the junction to Jamaica Street over to Hamilton House, stopping again to rest, making his way towards Café Kino, the junction with Ashley Road, always staying close to the tall walls of the battered buildings he passed. He never turned around as I followed him on his way. I could not get enough of his silhouette as it battled the darkness, the rain and the headlights of occasional, oncoming traffic. I lost him when he turned the corner at The Arts House Café, wondering if he too was coming from a nowhere place to make his way to a somewhere place or, whether – at the pace he was proceeding – whether he might indeed eventually fall off the pavement: down, down, down – down to the end of the world. But, he was more determined than all of the others. He knew where he was going.
I found the grim reaper embossed on a wall in crack alley. Colonel Sanders smiling down at me from the window of a ripped open telephone box near Lakota. A cash point doing what only cash points can do in the abandoned darkness of Jamaica Street. And the Spirit of Christmas imprisoned in the glow and haze of Christmas lights, slowly penetrating the fogged up windows of the houses I past as I walked home through Montpelier. When I arrived, even my flat was in an embrace with the blackest darkness.
All there was, was the pitter-patter of the wettest, heaviest rain on my windows – the loneliest I had heard in a very long time.
17. December 2017
It’s been two weeks now since I finished my 24-hour portrait photography shoot early on the morning of 6. December 2017 in Stokes Croft here in Bristol.
I first had the idea to do 24hour portrait shoot with the people of Stokes Croft around five years ago. I wanted to reflect in the photos a sense of belonging, a sense of the people passing through or living in a unique urban space that plays a pivotal part in their lives – much like our homes and in particular living rooms do in our private lives. What could could be better than building one then right there on the pavement where people walk past to work, to go shopping, to spend their nights out, to come and create or indeed to live like many of the homeless people who live on Stokes Croft.
I ran the idea past my friend and installation artist Sarah Middleton, for whom I had worked in the previous years as a photographer on a good number of art events she had organised. Sarah was immediately taken by the idea and we agreed to make it happen. Initially we had planed to make it happen in the spring of 2015 but it took until December 2017 to realise our plans.
So this October Sarah went to work and bought up used furniture that she would paint and modify to make our set. While she also acquired the necessary permissions and police consent I went to look for volunteers who would be willing to work with me in six hour shifts over the 24hour period. Having contacted the University of the West of England here in Bristol, I met a fantastic group of volunteers who are all studying for their Photography Degree at UWE. We were also lucky to graphic designer Eva Gilder and photographer Marco Cedrola on board who were also both very generous with their time and talent.
On the day of the shoot everything went as we had planned: Sarah’s set was a perfect fit for the location and with the help of our volunteers the photography element went extremely well with sitters being ushered into the set, having their picture taken, leaving their contact details and having conversation with us about what we are doing. When these conversation went a little further than the what and why of our project, we often had the chance to quite quickly learn a lot more about people’s life stories.
There was the humble and very likeable, animal rights campaigner who had been sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment for conspiring against a multinational corporation and had only recently been released on probation.
The homeless lady who came to be photographed four times, drawn back each time to our pop-up living room:
” This is something I don’t have in my life…”.
From being antagonistic to begin with she grew quite fond of us and heartfelt warm words and embraces were exchanged in the end.
There was the white-haired old man who stopped to tell me about how he used to work just round the corner from here – born and bred in Bristol, he now lived the other side of town, the recovering addict on his way to rehab which he was so enthusiastic about, the graffiti artist who invited me to a secret interview who would only be photographed with his hood down, the two young men who had spend time behind bars and told us much about what life is like in prison
Thankfully other than drunken stupor and drug infused deliriums of the late, late night regulars we didn’t experience any of the dark side of the Croft and stayed safe. I do say though that the witching hour begins around 3am and ends at 6am. Trying to move on a group of hardcore drug users and alcoholics will remain forever an impossible task!
It was a great experience to see the street change as the hours went past. To see it as a very busy commuter street in the early hours, a relaxed communal walkway through-out the day, to meet the people who work there, those who return home in the evening, the ones that go out to party into the night and those who live there on the street hustling for money, food, drugs, attention and company.
I did enjoy the shoot very much, despite being tired for days after and look forward to editing all of the photographs over the Christmas holiday!
25. November 2017
At the beginning of October I had a shoot with Chloe Wykes with whom I had worked before in 2016.
Her and I had no particular plan but I knew that I wanted to shoot using daylight in my studio and photograph her against black. Chloe came with a quiet intend to give herself over to the direction of the photographer and so she created an atmosphere, where we both could look in earnest at ways to photograph her. Working with her was beautiful, because she was so attentive and willing to feel herself in the places that I found for her and I love the depth and honesty of the resulting photographs very much.
Chloe had also recently begun studying Japanese Butho dance and when I asked if we could also produce some video together she very naturally begun to perform. The soundtrack that was playing in my studio was a perfect blend of slow electronica and organic sounds – I wish I remembered what it was now!! – and when we started filming Chloe just gave herself over to the movement and the music. The resulting footage is stunningly beautiful and I really look forward to editing a little film from it.
Chloe has now left Bristol to keep on travelling but I do hope we will get the opportunity to work together again.
5. November 2017
Welcome to my blog.
Outside, cold winds and wet skies ring the bell for autumn and the winter ahead.
After sending off two of my photographs to be shown at Nude Nite, Miami, USA next weekend they arrived safe and well in the hands of the curator Juliana Davidson on 30. October. So far un-wrapped from their layers of bubble wrap and cardboard everything appears to be OK. I hope that is still OK when the box is opened and the framed photographs are taken out to be hung. Broken glass would be a sad sight. Fingers crossed…
Two weeks ago I had the honour of photographing my friend, inspirational person and poet extraordinaire Isadora Vibes for the cover of her poetry collection soak which is due to be published in 2018.
We arranged to shoot in her bathroom – in her bathtub to be precise and we were both mesmerised by the luminous images we created on the day. A single, steady light was fantastic – gifted by my friend Duncan Parker from Falcon Productions for the day. It sculpted Isadora’s features beautifully and bathed the scene in a glowing light that gives these photographs just the kind of radiance that is needed to introduce her powerful poetry…
I will also be releasing a video of Isadora re-citing one of her poems floating in a milk bath.
You can see more images from the set in the New Work section of my website.