Sunday, August 5, 2012

Amsterdam as seen through a Yellow Filter

August in Amsterdam without enough consecutive days off to do anything other than a day trip.  What to do? There are the museums, the plethora of summer festivals, the renting of boats, the joy of simply relaxing with friends at a canal-side bar- I partook in all of it and loved every minute of it.  But there was still plenty of time to fill, so I decided I would take a class of some kind.

I considered taking Dutch lessons but- no offense to the kind people of Holland- that language is nothing short of an auditory assault.  It is so bad that it makes German sound lyrical.  There is a part of me that is ashamed of the fact that I have now spent the equivalent of 14 months living in the country without learning the language.  To be fair, I have reached the point where I can engage in very basic niceties, read a menu or tell off a bicyclist with some adeptness but, sadly, I have not pushed myself to progress beyond that.  And this summer did nothing to change that. Sorry. Het is een lelijke taal.
I looked into taking Salsa lessons, which are offered throughout the city.  I love the music, it is good exercise, I'd get to meet people, so why not?  Well, I'll tell you why not.  Because I have seen the Dutch dancing Salsa and they are good.  Really, really good.  I, a Cuban woman, would be regularly upstaged by some of the whitest people on the planet.  This would not do.  It is bad enough I once had to fake a limp just to get out of a salsa club in Bucharest without dancing after the dj pointed me out to the crowd as an actual Cubana.

Then one day, I was wandering around my favorite neighborhood, the Joordan, and came across a sign offering lomography classes, 15 euro for a 3 hour class, including the use of a camera and a roll of film.  I went inside and asked if either my lack of Dutch or my total ignorance of all things lomographic would be an impediment and learned that they weren't.  I had found my class.

The particular class that I signed up was about working with colored filters.  On the appointed day, I met up with a good combination of locals and expats in a small second story meeting room.  Our instructor, a lomography enthusiast herself, gave us a brief history and explanation of the concept behind it.

Basically, it began when some Austrian art students visited Russia and purchased a bunch of cheap Soviet analog cameras, manufactured by the LOMO company.  The cameras were unpredictable, producing blurry pictures, over saturated colors, double-exposures and all kinds of other "glitches".  In an age when digital cameras were producing increasingly "perfect" results, the artists embraced these imperfections and thus a movement was born.

They formed a society and created a set of 10 rules. The gist of the rules demands that you act without thinking.  Do not focus on angles, do not worry about composition, forget about focusing, disregard the viewfinder- just shoot.  Behind your back, above your head, in someone's face...just whip that camera out and have at it.

There was a brief explanation of the various cameras, the two most popular being the Diana and the Sardinia, and we were given the opportunity to pick a favorite to play with.  I opted for a brightly striped Sardinia, which I thought paired nicely with a yellow flash.

You can actually see my Sardinia in the reflection.
And here came the wholly unexpected cultural lesson.  I assumed we would then go out as a group, shoot some photos under the supervision of the instructor, hand over our cameras and that would be it.  But no.  Having chosen our cameras, they simply requested that we return within an hour or so.  I thought perhaps there had been an oversight when I signed up because I knew I had not given them anything other than my first name.  They did not have my credit card info, my phone number, my last name- nothing.  Miamian that I am, I asked what kind of deposit they would like me to leave before I walked out the door with their 100 euro+ camera and they looked at me like I was a crazy person.  They laughed at me!  I was so shaken by this insane business practice that I felt compelled to leave a jacket and half the contents of my purse on the chair to reassure them that I would be back.

For the better part of that hour, I fought every single impulse that over a decade of shooting digital has instilled in me.  Limited by 32 exposures, I took only one shot per subject, where I would normally take 5 or 6.   Not having a screen to view my potential pic, I denied my strong desire to use the viewfinder.  I ran through the city, not stopping for such trivialities as focusing.  And I played with new possibilities open to me, resulting in my favorite photo of the entire roll- a double exposure featuring the opposing sides of Dam Square.

The Palace and the Phallus
It was all strangely liberating. Control freak that I can be, I actually found myself enjoying the lack of control.  When at the end of the hour, I returned the camera (as did everyone else!!), I truly had no clue what was on that roll.  The instructor asked me how it went and my honest answer was "I had a blast but those pics might all suck, for all I know."

But old habits die hard and while I had been denied immediate gratification by the analog camera, I had it my mind that I would walk out of the store that day with the developed results of my afternoon's foray.   Nope.  I got a little claim ticket and a promise that I would be notified within the week when they were ready.

When I did receive a text message six days later, I was surprised by how giddy I was to go and see my results.  I had forgotten this feeling from my pre-digital days, that excitement spurred by finally getting to see your photos, so long after you had taken them.

In the end, I was more than pleased with the results.  I went around recommending the class to everyone looking to similarly fill their time in our adopted city, or at least to the people I felt would actually return the cameras to the store.  Most importantly, now that I am home, I have gone on ebay and ordered an analog camera so that I can continue this particular adventure for some to come...


  1. Hi Berti, seems like Amsterdam was a lot of fun.... Who is that hot chic with the glasses? I heard that you did some soul searching in Amsterdam and you finally realized que El Obama es un Communista!!!!!! I have a NOBAMA magnet for you if you would like... Love ya, JP

  2. when I go down to Miami please tell el otro Democratico Fernie to do a show!!!

  3. You are just the coolest person EVER Berti.....LOVED the Moscow pics too...... MISS YOU!!!