Nepal

“I haven’t been everywhere……but it’s on my list”  – Susan Sontag

Nepal was on my list and I was fortunate to be able to visit the country in October. Known for being home to eight of the world’s tallest Ten mountains, it is so much more than that…..vibrant and colorful markets, villages teetering on precipitous cliffs, magnificent Buddhist Stupas, Sadhus (Hindu holy men), National Parks teeming with wildlife, an engaging cultural environment and frequent festivals.

Roughly 80% of the population are Hindus, 10% are Buddhist with the remaining population spread among eight other religions.

Nepal’s longest and most auspicious Hindu festival is Dashain. It is a celebration of good over evil and celebrated in Bhutan, parts of India and parts of Myanmar as well as Nepal. Celebratory activities include kite flying, card playing, swinging on impossibly tall bamboo swings, gambling and displaying new clothes. The local markets are bustling with sellers and buyers of food needed for the festival.

Shopping for Veggies

Early Morning Market Scene

 

Selling Garlic

Potato Man

Lastly and increasingly controversial, the festival includes substantial animal sacrifice.

Driven by the belief that offerings of fresh blood will appease the goddess Durga, scores of animals and birds are ritually slaughtered especially in the eighth and ninth day of the festival. Birds and animals that are traditionally eligible for sacrifice include goats, buffaloes, sheep, chickens, and ducks.

Selling Sacrificial Hens

Assessing Sacrificial Ducks

A number of buffalos are sacrificed in the main squares of Kathmandu and other surrounding cities. Subsequently the bodies are burned to purify the body and to rid the carcass of hair so the leather can be used. It’s important to note that the entire body is efficiently used as either food or other useful products (ie leather as an example).

Burning of the Body

Sugarcane Seller

Sugarcane is a very popular celebratory festival plant that families use in their homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Offerings

During the festival Hindu women gather at local worship sites to make offerings to the goddess Durga who fought and won the battle of good over evil.

Buddhism in Nepal started spreading since the reign of Ashoka through Indian and Tibetan missionaries.  Buddha was born in Nepal and although it has not been possible to assign with certainty the year in which Prince Siddhartha, the birth name of the Buddha, was born, it is usually placed at around 563 BC. Buddhism is the second-largest religion in Nepal. According to 2001 census, 10.74% of  Nepal’s population practiced Buddhism. In Nepal’s hill and mountain regions Hinduism has absorbed Buddhist tenets to such an extent that in many cases they have shared deities as well as temples. For instance, the Muktinath Temple is sacred and a common house of worship for both Hindus and Buddhists. (Wikipedia)

Moonrise over Boudhanath

Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Most likely built in the 14th century, it is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism.

Reading the words of Budha in the Temple

Offerings

In Buddhism, symbolic offerings such as these candles lead to the accumulation of merit, which hopefully lead to a better rebirth in the next life and progress towards the relief of suffering.

Young Monks

Preparing to Make Offerings

Lions, or lion-dog-like beasts, are among the oldest and most common temple guardians. Lions have appeared in Buddhist temple art as early as 208 BCE. The stylized lions―called shishi in China and Japan―are thought to have magical powers to repel evil spirits.

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Frank Binder

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Incredible India – Part III

What always fascinates me is how the people always seem to step into their own time warp. Each ritual in Varanasi is almost a festival of samridhi and samigri. And the pathways with their narrow galis and steps leading to top stories as steep as ladder, the staircase is itself a story.         Raghu Rai

Varanasi has been a cultural center of northern India for several thousand years, and is closely associated with the Ganges. Hindus believe that dying here and getting cremated along the banks of the “holy” Ganges river allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation, making it a major center for pilgrimage. The city is known worldwide for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Of particular note are the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, the last two being where Hindus cremate their dead and the Hindu genealogy registers are kept here. (Wikipedia)

Varanasi Ghat

Varanasi is a holy destination for many Indians who revere the purification qualities of the Ganges River. On daily basis, thousands of religious pilgrims bathe in the river, believing in it’s restorative nature.

Preparing to Bathe

Devout Hindus

You’ll notice the man in the white shirt offering to sell small candle/flower offerings that the bathers can float on the river to offer blessings to their Gods and to the sacred river.

Snake Charmer

I watched this interesting looking fellow amble along the ghat one morning. He was carrying a pillow case size sack over his shoulder along with his flute. He gradually came to a stop on a small platform on one of the mid level ghat platforms, sat down and started to play his flute while swaying slightly. So far….. nothing unusual in a place where dozens of photogenic activities are occuring on a constant basis. Then he used one hand (while still playing the flute) to open up the sack and allow these two very large cobras to emerge and rise up to the music and the swaying. Wow!

Working the Water

Vendors and boatsmen and boatswomen offer services all along the river; mostly taking pilgrims out on the river to view the city from the water.

Colorful Boats

As a result of its religious heritage, the city has a significant population of religious holy men (Sadhus). Some portion of these men are just donning costumes and playing the part to make a living selling portraits to photographers, but most (probably) are living ascetic lives honoring the Gods.

A Sadhu

This Sadhu was certainly colorful and photogenic but also a little testy at times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Dinner

Baba Gi

There are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India today and they are widely respected for their holiness. It is also thought that the austere practices of the sadhus help to burn off their karma and that of the community at large. Thus seen as benefiting society, sadhus are supported by donations from many people.

This fellow was my personal favorite of the dozen or so Sadhus I photographed. With an easy going personality and sense of humor, he was a pleasure to work with. He also demonstrated a remarkable level of physical flexibility with an easy ability to rise up and sit down without any support. His body was a pretzel!

 

 

Early Morning on the Ganges

Ganga Aarti

The Ganga Aarti is held each evening on one of the most prominent ghats along the Ganges. Lasting approximatley an hour and drawing hundreds and sometimes thousands of spectators, it celebrates the centrality of the river in Hinduism. But let me turn the description over to an expert:

“Ganga is not only a river. She is truly a Divine Mother. She rushes forth from the Himalayas as the giver of life, carrying purity, bliss and liberation in Her waters. Ganga is not only water. She is nectar – the nectar of life, the nectar of liberation. She is a source of inspiration to all who lay eyes on her ceaseless, boundless, rushing current. She irrigates not only our farms, but also our hearts, minds and souls. She is the Mother Goddess – giving freely to all with no discrimination, hesitation or expectation. Her waters purify all who bathe in them, all who drink from them. In fact, She is the remover of contamination.”

“Each evening as the sun’s last rays reflect off the boundless waters of Mother Ganga, we gather for Ganga Aarti. This divine light ceremony is filled with song, prayer, ritual and a palpable sense of the divine. Aarti is the beautiful ceremony in which dias (oil lamps) are offered to God.      Parmarth.Org

Ladies at the Aarti

These ladies were undoubtedly the most decked out ladies I have ever seen. The clothing, the jewelry, the tatoos, the various piercings ……. it all worked. They were amazing and gathered astonished looks from others who without these women, would have been outfit leaders by themselves.

Pilgrim Tour Boat

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Frank Binder

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Black & White

A few weeks ago I went to the Ansel Adams exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition had been drawing large crowds and my Saturday visit reinforced the reports…lots of people crowding around the photographs. The work was mostly drawn from a private collection lent to the museum and the curators added photographs from other photographers who claim to have been influenced by Adams and exhibited them sometimes side-by-side. Several of my favorite Adams’ images were in the show and for that reason alone the visit was worthwhile, but I have to say on balance the exhibition was disappointing. Most of the Adams images, and there were a lot of them, were printed in small formats and the accompanying photographs from other influenced artists were mediocre at best.

The two images that I have always loved were in the show: “Moonrise over Hernandez New Mexico” and “Clearing Winter Storm” and both were printed in a large format. And I learned something valuable from the backstory of Moonrise. The image as viewed by so many appears to be taken at night as the moon is shown rising in a dark sky. But in fact it was shot late in the afternoon with the sun lighting up all the cemetary crosses in the image and with the moon set in a bright afternoon sky. Adams printed this negative many times and over time gradually incremented burning in the light sky so that the sky became completly dark thereby leaving the moon much more prominent in the image that we are all familiar with.

I also came away from the exhibit determined to look for and shoot more black & white images. While I do so, here are a number of images either recently shot or re-imagined with a black & white treatment.

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Late Afternoon Clouds over Wachusett Reservoir

I was looking for a great sunset this afternoon. It eluded me but I did get this shot of a great cloud formation.

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Stripes

Is there a better black & white subject than a zebra?

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Strolling under the cumulus clouds

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A Cormorant Watch

Waves were pounding the South African coast and I took at least a hundred photographs trying to get just the right wave explosion. During the last few minutes of shooting, this cormorant flew in and added himself to my frame.

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On the March

This group of elephants ambled across the Amboseli National Park plains and I was lucky that they all fit into the composition perfectly. I later turned this into a B&W image which I like much better than the color version.

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Elephants at Play

Also taken at Amboseli National Park in Kenya and also originally shot in color. I also like this image better in B&W.

Tribal Woman

I originally photographed this woman in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley in color. I think it looks equally good in B&W.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resting Leopard

Sabi Sands, a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the great wildlife areas for seeing and photographing Leopards.

Indian Camel Herder

I shot this at the Nagaur Cattle Fair in Nagaur, India. Doesn’t this fellow have a great face?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newfoundland Village at Sunset

Love the way the sun lights up the whitewashed houses in this image.

Moon over local Shell Station

And finally a shot of a local gas station a mile from my house. This was a night of a full moon and I was out with my camera and tripod looking for something interesting to shoot with the full moon as a backdrop. I couldn’t find anything that looked any good. On my way home I passed through this intersection and voila!  this scene presented itself.

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Frank Binder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Incredible India – Part II

“In religion, India is the only millionaire….The one land that all men desire to see and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”      Mark Twain

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Racing at sunset

From the jungles to the Himalayas India boasts such geographic diversity. The Thar Desert is in the north/north-western section of the country….not so far from the Pakistani border. Not as large as its African desert counterparts, but still steeped in the soulfulness that large desert expanses present, it is a playground for young Indians who delight in getting into 4-wheel vehicles and careening up and down the dunes to loud pulsating music. But somehow after the day is done and the jeeps return to their overnight stations, the quiet returns and camels and their drivers can enjoy the solitude.

Walking the Dunes

In Line

Getting Ready to Ride

These jockeys differentiate themselves sartorially from their brethren at Churchill Downs or Pimlico….but they are just as skilled. We witnessed several heats of camel racing and I can tell you the rides are hair-raising!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trimming your Camel

Nagaur, one of Rajasthan’s most charming desert towns, comes alive during the Nagaur Cattle Fair. Held in February, the Fair is one of the biggest events on the desert calendar and attracts people from rural communities all over the region. Although a quieter and more local event the famous Pushkar Fair, it attracts more participants and livestock than it’s more prominent cousin.

Camel Art

The Fair is a delight for photographers.  Everywhere you turn there are striking looking owners sprucing up their camels with haircuts, jewelry and colorful adornment.

No part of the camel is left unadorned……as is demonstrated by this handsome rear end.

 

 

 

 

 

For Sale

Early Morning Tea

Mornings come early at the Fair. Participants and campers arise before dawn to light their campfires and make their morning tea. And even though the daytime temperatures can be quite warm, the mornings are cool and it’s always nice to warm your hands by the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warming Hands

Warming Up

 

Looking Fierce

This guy would be a stern Father!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saddling Up

 

Looking to Sell

This owner was selling two camels and having no luck attracting buyers, but seemed of good spirits anyway.

He’s got quite the look!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smoking Man

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the middle of the right side of this page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank Binder

Shrewsbury, MA

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Incredible India – Part I

“When I first visited India, I was stunned by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds… I had been seeing the world in black & white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant Technicolor.” (Keith Bellows; National Geographic Society)

I made my first photographic visit to Rajasthan earlier this year and Keith Bellows’ quote above says it all. It’s a sensation a minute….women in bright saris, men with long beards and lined faces, colorful turbans, cattle roaming freely (and depositing freely!), camel herders, street urchins, Sadhus, snake charmers, local markets, massive cities, quaint villages, scooters, tuk-tuks, street vendors…..and the list goes on and on.

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Yellow Saris

 

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Color Splash

Sometimes I felt I was walking around inside a Van Gogh painting….splashes of color were everywhere. These two windows on this large wall were painted green and then surrounded by an outline of blue with the remainder of the wall left unpainted. Did they run out of blue?

Chasing the Light-9

Need some Cauliflower?

Not sure why….but I was surprised by the variety and voluminous offerings of vegetables in local markets. Meat based meals were a much larger part of local diets than I anticipated but vegetables were still central to much of Indian cuisine. 30% of Indians are vegetarians with the remaining 70% consuming fish or meat as a normal part of their everyday diet.

A morning cigarette

We came across this man smoking a cigarette while he was waiting for a local bus. He noticed us raising our cameras towards him and was eager to be photographed. He smoked continuously while we all intensely snapped away trying to get the smoke “just right”.

Everything works here…..the background is sufficiently blurred, the colors pop because of the foggy soft light and the smoke adds a lot of character to the portrait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing

As a developing country, India’s level of sophistication in many infrastructure arenas is wildly eclectic. In some places you’ll find the latest in computerized transportation technology and in others a way station or midpoint on the way. This man is loading his cargo from a donkey cart to a bus and somehow the juxtaposition of using a transportation mode that is at least 2,000 years old in conjunction with a modern motor vehicle informs much about India’s developing economy.

A Man and His House

On a wandering around visit to a small village, this man invited us to his home for some tea and some Indian hospitality. This is really the raison d’être for travel. It’s always thrilling to see legendary landmarks wherever you go but connecting on a person to person basis changes your relationship to the country and its people and allows you to rise above all of the formal government to government folderol.

Jumping for Joy

These kids were in the same village and it’s a common tale among photographers that if you walk down the street with a camera in a developing foreign land you will soon be followed by children wanting their photo taken. One of my favorite gimmicks is to get them all to jump up at the same time which releases any inhibitions they may have and I am able to capture a “true” moment. And of course you always get the one kid who can’t follow directions! The payoff comes when you show them the LCD image in back of the camera and they break out giggling.

Going Places

I enjoy wandering around the streets or back alleys of new places and waiting for a scene, a person or moment that captures the essence of the place I’m visiting. It’s almost the opposite of a normal tourist experience where one wanders around appreciating the “big picture” and the entire landscape; where one looks for an integrated experience with a new place. I’m usually focusing on something smaller and narrower…details and scenes within the scene.

This woman was with a few friends getting into a local Tuk-Tuk. Her friends were unremarkable but she had an exotic interesting look and when she stared right back at me I snapped the shutter.

 

 

Knife Sharpening

Indian cities and towns are filled with local shopkeepers and craftsmen who offer their goods and services in open air shops and small cubbies. This fellow was sharpening knives for his customers.

Heena Anybody?

These ladies were available to apply a traditional Indian skin tattoo practice for their customers. It’s actually probably not a tattoo but more of a skin painting technique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanging the Laundry

Looking closely, this clothes line contains both traditional Indian saris and shawls plus jeans and other clothing familiar to all western developed countries.

Standing Guard

This fellow is a greeter at a local hotel and I persuaded him to pose in this scene which needed some local color.

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the middle of the right side of this page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank Binder

Shrewsbury, MA

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How do you pronounce Newfoundland?

I frequently daydream about new adventures and places to visit. And in these wandering around (mostly in my car) daydreams they are always places that are a bit untrod, underexplored, a bit unknown, possessing untouristed natural splendor, sport a vibe that has not quite caught up to our 24 hour a day news cycle, and have the ability to expand what I think I know about the world.

Of course on a more fundamental level it always helps if they are economic and easy to get to. So I was thinking Canada…..so near and the Looney so weak against the Dollar. So I’m thinking Nova Scotia and then I read about the new spectacular world rated golf course built on the Cabot Trail. Once you are at an airport and the baggage claim people are unloading hoards of golf travel bags…..you are no longer at a place “a bit unknown”.

That’s how I spotted Newfoundland…..further north of the more popular Atlantic provinces and I knew hardly anything about it….perfect!

Newfoundland at Night

Having pronounced Newfoundland…NEW-fund-lund all my life but being uncertain about it, I asked our car rental clerk how to pronounce the province’s name.  Here it is from a native……New-fa-LAND.

Atlantic Kingfisher

St John’s, Newfoundland’s capital, is a vibrant small city boasting a large protected harbor filled with all kinds of shipping much of which resembled the Atlantic Kingfisher. St John’s size and Newfoundland’s population seemed inconsistent with the substantial amount of shipping capacity and logistics at the port. It turns out that much of this capacity is there to service the oil drilling platforms sitting out in the Atlantic off the eastern coast of Newfoundland.

Jelly Bean Houses

The city of approximately 100,000 people, sports several long residential thoroughfares on which the row houses are painted very bright colors.

Painted Blue

Many of these homes have riotous displays of color in planters and hanging baskets. You’ll notice the mailbox design showing off the Jelly Bean coloring of the homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Downtime

Because of restrictive fishing regulations on fish and catch sizes, the industry in Newfoundland is substantially smaller than in previous decades. Cod is still a prized catch and served in every restaurant in town in virtually every preparation imaginable. Fisherman are concentrating on the ocean species that are still abundant and have commercial appeal…..Snow Crabs are a huge harvest.

Showing off a Snow Crab

Old Cape Spear Lighthouse

Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America. The above image is the old de-commissioned lighthouse with the tip of new lighthouse seen in the distance.

Cape St. Marys Ecological Reserve

One of the many reasons for visiting Newfoundland are the nature and ecological reserves. On the day we arrived at the Cape St. Marys Ecological reserve the jutting cliffs visible in the above image hosted over 400,000 birds, the large majority being Northern Gannets. If you look closely you can see some of the 5,000 birds in flight over the reserve.

Building the Nest

The local ranger told us that there were over 60,000 nesting pairs of Gannets who built their nests with ample supplies of the local grasses. These birds are adept fishers and circle above the water until they spy prey and then dive at a high rate of speed (up to 60 mph) to capture their lunch.

Napping

Gannets are monogamous. After raising a single offspring, they will part until the next mating season and then re-connect to raise another chick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Legged Kittiwakes

A number of other avian species reside at the Reserve and raise chicks during mating season.

Looking at you!

One of the major photographic pursuits in Newfoundland is photographing Atlantic Puffins and you can see why from the above image. They are impossibly adorable! Because they usually reside on islands, photographing them from a distance can be a challenge and one needs really big lenses. However, patience is a key virtue because if you sit quietly in the viewing areas, they will come visit you…..at one point as I was sitting quietly one landed less than a foot away from me…..amazingly… too close to focus with my big lens.

Talking it Over

And once one of them lands, it signals to others that this is a safe landing area and many of them will follow. At one point there were 25 of them all within 20 ft. Only 10 inches tall, they are endlessly fascinating.

Atlantic Puffin

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Frank Binder

Shrewsbury, MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Istanbul….the World’s Crossroads

Long international flights leave ample time for ruminations and contemplations and my Nairobi to Istanbul flight last year accorded me seven hours to think about how I was going to soak in and appreciate 2500 years of history in a 3 ½ day photographic journey to what is undisputedly one of the world’s great cities. Many of the currents and themes of world history run through and were vividly shaped by the events in this crossroads metropolis.

Known as Byzantium prior to the 4th century, the city was the western terminus of the ancient Silk Road trade route linking the Mediterranean to China and Japan.

At its modern inception in the 4th century, Constantinople (named after the Roman Emperor Constantine) was the eastward extension and new epicenter of the Roman Empire and adopted what became the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, constructed in 535 AD upon the order of Emperor Justinian I, was the gleaming focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the largest church in the world for over 1,000 years (until the Cathedral of Seville was erected in 1520).

Hagia Sophia Nave

In 1453 Mehmed “The Conqueror” led a conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks and converted the Cathedral to a Mosque. The Ottomans removed all the christian icons and attempted to obliterate all of the christian murals. For reasons unknown, a number of the original christian murals…some now well over 1,000 years old….remain in the building.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Looking at the above photograph, you can clearly see a remnant of the Cathedral’s christian origins in the mural of the Virgin Mary just above the upper windows. You’ll also observe the Islamic placards on the left and right side of the image. The Mosque/Cathedral was converted to a museum in the 1930s and is today the city’s most visited site.

Sunset over the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus Strait running through Istanbul is the dividing line between Europe and Asia and is the only outlet from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. All of the sea-going traffic to and from Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and the northern portion of Turkey pass through this straight so it is always clogged with freighters.

Sunset in Istanbul

Just as we sailed past this mosque the late afternoon call to prayer was being broadcast over the loudspeakers located on the two visible minarets. It was a haunting moment at this time of day with this light.

Warming Hands

Mornings were cool and these scenes of small fires surrounded by early morning workmen warming their hands were ubiquitous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Istanbul Viewpoint

The city is quite hilly and spreads out into Europe and Asia.

Jewelry Maker

I was fortunate to be with an Istanbul photographer who knew the back alleys. This jewelry maker’s machine shop was in a maze of small industrial shops that I would never have found on my own.

Warming Up II

I really like this street portrait ….the graffiti on the wall, the cigarette, his cap and the flaming fire. It all really works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset over the Galata Tower

The Romanesque style Galata Tower was built as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. The Galata Tower was the tallest building in Constantinople at 220 ft. when it was built in 1348.

The Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque in the city. A popular tourist site, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque continues to function as a mosque as men still kneel in prayer on the mosque’s lush red carpet after the call to prayer. The Blue Mosque, as it is popularly known, was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes.(Wikipedia)

Blue Mosque at Night

 

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Frank Binder

Shrewsbury, MA

 

 

 

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