Monday, 2 January 2017

Smithsonian Magazine Photography Contest

A few weeks ago I took part in a photo contest organised by the prestigious Smithsonian Magazine. It was a hasty and a spontaneous decision. I had never participated in any important contest before. I was reading a scientific article on Smithsonian and out of a sudden I noticed that the annual 14th photo contest was open and that they  were looking for exceptional photography in the following categories: The American Experience, Natural World, Travel, Sustainable Travel, People, Altered Images and Mobile. The Smithsonian will select 10 finalists per category, a winner for each category, and a Grand Prize winner from the 70 finalists. Submitting one of my pictures, taken with low-budget Fujifilm camera, was an act of bravado. The picture I submitted is not exceptional but in my opinion, it gives you a food for thought. The picture is well-known to my blog readers as I set it up as my profile picture (it is my favourite picture, I have to admit that). I titled it: Solitude in La Colina, Amsterdam.  All in all, I have submitted my picture and it has been approved! The 70 finalists will be notified of their status by February 20, 2017 and will appear on Smithsonian website in spring 2017. I can't wait for the results.

Click on the link to view the entry I submitted and to read the caption describing the photo's content, my personal interpretation of the photo and the story behind it. 

Happy viewing! 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Franz Kafka Museum in Prague

 Crop of Charles Bridge (2009), by Paul Cook.  Charles Bridge (Karlův most) lies over the Vitava River in Kafka's hometown of Prague.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

The museum was an interesting and very revealing experience to me. Kafka Museum is  postmodern and interactive. It is different and unsettling. Through its labirynthine structure (dark narrow corridors, spiraling staircases) and the use of interesting visual and sound effects the museum creates truly Kafkaesque atmosphere: eerie, tense, complex, surreal. It perfectly recreates the sense of entrapment and enclosure so prevalent in Kafka's writing. The museum gives one a very good insight into Franz Kafka - the man and the writer, the things that influenced him: his childhood, his historical and cultural background, his friends, his relationships, his family. As the story of Kafka slowly unravels to us in the form of his letters, photographs, manuscripst we get to know him as an aliented writer, aspiring and ambitious artist (yes, I was surprised to discover that Kafka took up drawing as well, and produced many touching works) a sensitive loner and a genius. Selected museum exhibitions draw attention to Kafka's uneasy and complex relationship with the city of his birth: "Prague won't let you go, the little mother has claws," Franz Kafka once wrote. 

Kafka Museum is situated a stone's throw away from Charles Bridge, alongside Vlatva River in the Lesser Quarter. It was open in 2005 and boasts a vast collection of historical photographs and film recordings, manuscripts, diaries, drawings, sketches, newspaper cuttings, original letters, documents and publications relating to Franz Kafka's literary works, life, and cultural surroundings. 

The exhibition comprises of two sections: Existential Space and Imaginary Topography. The first part examines the impact Prague had on Kafka's literary imagination and writing. "Prague contributes myth, obscure magic and provides a magnificent backdrop" as the exhibition informs us. The second part of the exhibition, seeks to establish connections between Prague and its literary represantions in writer's novels. For example, there is a possibility that the anonymous cathedral which appears in the key chapter of The Trial, could have its origin in St Vitus Cathedral or that the mysterious river which flows in The Judgement narrative could have corresponded to Vlatva River. Kafka was rather enigmatic about the locations he incorporated in his creative discourse. He was not interested in producing an accurate portrayal of Prague. As the museum suggests, he sought to transform Prague into an "Imaginary Topography". He wanted to transform it beyond its physical self. Enigmatic descriptions of the urban architecture in Kafka's novels render the locations anonymous. His characters are not encircled or confined to a particular region, location or a city. They are confined to stifling emotional states, oppressive processes and inescapable situations. They are the states and processes everyone experiences and can identify with at a certain stage of one's life.

As mentioned before, the museum is arranged around Kafka's literary themes. Diverse items as photographs, audiovisual installations, letters, and music allow the exhibition space to simulate Kafka's or K.'s existential space. "Key passages from Kafka's diaries, novels, and short stories written in white block letters on dark, "muddy" walls, wooden pallets, or an ascending staircase leading nowhere interrupt the eye as one passes from exhibit to the next"(source: a review of "The City of K.: Franz Kafka and Prague," The Jewish Museum, New York, August 11, 2002 to January 5, 2003,Victor E. Taylor, York College of Pennsylvania, click on here to read the whole article). 

Writer's Biography

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. Kafka's work is characterized by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority. Thus, the word Kafkaesque is often applied to bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening. The first recorded appearance of "Kafkaesque" in English was in 1946 (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

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