I had another great morning exploring my new hometown yesterday. I hit the streets at 4:30 a.m. so I could have the most beautiful sites to myself – or at least me and a few other photographers. Particularly at this time of year, early morning is the only chance to have the city to oneself. I took photos of every beautiful bridge, alley, building, and tram I came across. But, as always, I end up drawn to the people.
As I walked through Old Town Square for the last time of the morning, I noticed this gentleman sitting not far from the astronomical clock which was already drawing the day’s tourists, cameras in hand waiting for the show. No one else seemed to notice him, or at least didn’t acknowledge if they did. I walked over and we exchanged smiles. He is originally from Ostrava, in the far eastern part of the Czech Republic. We did our best to communicate through various languages. I told him he had a beard for photography, and he laughed. I asked if he minded if I took his photograph. He then stared at the lens with the look you see here. It always amazes me how the people I stop and talk to seem to have a way of expressing their life through their eyes. While he didn’t tell me his life’s story, I feel like I know it partially, just through seeing him through the lens.
I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful attractions in the entire world. And, they are amazing. But I am always drawn to the people who inhabit it, and, usually the less fortunate. There were hundreds, and soon to be thousands of tourists around this same spot, all of whom obviously have the resources for a Prague holiday. I doubt they would look into my lens the same way this man did. I find that interesting. It’s a part of life that seems rich to me.
I am starting to understand the saying “like a kid in a candy store.” I’ve been in Prague about three weeks now, and it is a photographer’s candy store. Every time I pick up my camera, there are a hundred different places I want to go, three hundred sites I want to photograph. As those who know me appreciate, I’m not the most patient person in the world, so this is torture!
It makes me stop and ask what makes a great photograph, or a photograph great. While having subject matter may be part of the equation, it can only be a small part. I’m in what I believe to be one of the best places on earth to take pictures, yet I find myself needing to slow down. When faced with so many beautiful places, buildings, bridges, castles, etc. it seems like every snap of the shutter should be a framer. But, that’s not how the whole thing works. There were thousands of tourists here today with their cameras, looking at the same views, snapping away. What does it take to make a photograph that lasts, one that touches others, as opposed to one for the family photo album? I think the answer to that is patience. It’s the willingness to see, not simply the desire to. I want to see, but I have to slow down and be willing to see. I have to see it in ways others are too hurried to see. I have to slow down and see what others miss.
I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. last Sunday to have the Charles Bridge to myself – or almost. I got to see it when few others do. I got to witness the first sun of the day begin to light it. It was incredible. The Charles Bridge is probably one of, if not the most, famous site in Prague. Its construction was started in 1357, and it truly is incredible.
I want more experiences like this one. I want patience to see. I will slow down. I am willing to see.
As most who know me are aware, I love black and white photography. I prefer to shoot in black and white, and try to see the sites that way. I’m learning that Prague may not always agree with that philosophy. As I wandered around the city at sunset last night, I stopped at a spot along the Vitava River and watched as the city woke for the night. I did my best to capture the moment on film, but I’m not sure that’s actually possible. Standing there made me ask myself how one describes such a scene in words. I know I certainly cannot. Perhaps a great poet or author could. Maybe a musician once composed a sonata or concerto with this view in mind. I have my camera. While I know a single photo cannot capture a moment, I hope this one gets close. If you had been standing there last night, however, you would know it doesn’t. It cannot.
The complex on the hill is Prague Castle, which is the oldest ancient castle in the world, dating back to the 9th century. The largest building with the spires is Saint Vitus Cathedral. The complex also houses Saint George’s Basilica, the seat of the Czech President, and the royal jewels. As impressive as the Castle is, the most famous of Prague’s sites is the Charles Bridge, which spans the Vitava River in the foreground. Construction of the bridge started in 1357. It is composed of Bohemian sandstone.
I arrived in Prague a little over a week ago, and have spent much of my free time simply wandering the streets of Old Town. As you may imagine, during this time of year the streets are filled with tourists. As I’ve strolled silently through the squares and alleys I’ve heard languages from every corner of the world.
While I usually stray from the touristy spots, I am, after all, new to the city and need to see each and every beautiful site. I certainly can’t blame the travelers. This city is one of the most beautiful in the world – it has also been my favorite since I first visited six or seven years ago. It was one of only a handful of European cities that was not bombed during World War II. Instead of amazing reconstructions, the buildings here are original.
While there are many spots you really need to visit, Old Town Square is probably second only to the Charles Bridge for “must see” sites. On Saturday, I wandered around the square, admiring the buildings, observing as the multitude of travelers photographed the buildings and astronomical clock, all of which are more than worthy of a picture. In the distance I heard the soothing sounds of a saxophone and wandered its way. When I arrived, I stayed. I couldn’t tear myself away from Vladimir Pinta, pictured above, playing some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. It was almost surreal to hear jazz while surrounded by buildings hundreds of years old. Just minutes before I’d been in the midst of hundreds of tourists in the square. Few had found the real attraction I had. A passer by stopped now and then, but few stayed to listen. It struck me that possibly many had their “agenda” and needed to stick to it, possibly missing another, unplanned treasure. I figure it’s their loss in the end.
Vladimir the first of what will undoubtedly be many amazing discoveries in this amazing place.
I love traveling. I love seeing the rest of the world. And most of all, I love meeting the people who live in those places, often remote and forgotten. I have found through my years of traveling and photographing others that I learn so much about myself when I take the time to meet random people. The most rewarding of those experiences have come when I took the time to talk to people others frequently ignore. I am quickly reminded that we, as humans, are so similar, despite language, cultural or geographic differences. I find Desmund Tutu’s quote is so true – that my humanity is bound up in others’ and realizing that is the only way to be human.
In April, I will move to Prague. I anticipate the opportunity to see and photograph new, beautiful places, and to meet amazing new people – and to share them with you!