Photo: Luke Byrne

25 Intimate Portraits of Place

Photo + Video + Film Galleries
by Hal Amen Aug 17, 2012
In travel photography, as travel writing, it’s important to start with what you know best.

WHEN WE PASS THROUGH a place, our cameras are constrained both by the matrix of hostel / hotel / tourist attraction we put ourselves in and, more influentially, the mindset we inhabit as travelers — to showcase ‘sensational’ photos of place. Pictures of people cliff jumping in Sydney, surfing big waves in Tofino, swimming with dolphins in Hawaii.

These are all valid portraits of place, of course, and are featured below.

But in the hands of a local, the camera takes on a different mission — to capture the potency of the every day, or the extraordinary moment that’s only extraordinary to someone who lives there. Men moving mattresses through the narrow streets of Istanbul. The window washer dangling from a Shinjuku office building. The night the cows broke out and occupied the streets of Bern. It’s the access, the knowledge, the temporality of the local that makes this collection special.

[Note: All images and photographer notes come courtesy of our friends at Global Yodel, who remind us that “one’s home is another’s destination.” Check them out.]

“Secret Spot” – Kona, Hawaii

Photo: Sarah Lee

Photo notes: In a secret spot on the Kona Coast, pods of dolphins come to rest after their nightly hunts. I had the honour to join some locals of the spot (pictured), on their daily swim to see the sleepy dolphins.

A perfect day in Kona? Dawn patrol surf session, a bowl at Basik Acai in town, sun bake and nap on the beach with friends, maybe get some work done, grab an early dinner at Da Poke Shack which is consumed on the seawall that overlooks a local surf spot where little groms shred it up as the sun is setting.

“Fourth of July” – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Photo: Colin Blakely

Photo notes: Ann Arbor throws a big 4th of July parade through downtown every year. However, the town festivities all end before sundown, so fireworks are a DIY affair. We have three or four people on our block who literally begin stocking up months ahead of the event. On 4th of July evening, we get all the kids out after dark, bathe them in bug spray and sit on the bleachers at the park while 3 or 4 dads put on an impressive display of fireworks. This smoke bomb was released at dusk as a prelude to the festivities to come.

“Currumbin Rock Pools” – Gold Coast, Australia

Photo: Sarah Lee

Photo notes: The rock pools in Currumbin are the perfect way to chill off during a stifling summer season in the Gold Coast. Natural rock slides, a rope swing, and no park rangers nagging at you for doing something a little dangerous. It’s a magical place to kick back with friends, reconnect with nature, and escape from the fabricated ‘Surfers Paradise.’

“Look Up” – Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Photo: Mari Kojima

Place you live: Shimotakaido, Tokyo

Can you sum up Shimotakaido, Tokyo? You can go to this tasty taiyaki (Japanese fish-shaped cake) shop, short bike ride to most of the main districts in Tokyo. The picture was taken at Shinjuku though, which is 10 minutes train ride from my nearest train station. Shinjuku is always super crowded and hectic.

“38mm” – Brownsville, Brooklyn

Photo: Reed Young

Photo notes: United Postal Service driver Hakeem Basheer delivered packages without a security guard for about a year, until he was robbed at gunpoint while walking into a project building. As a Brownsville native, Hakeem had felt secure that he would be left alone, but it didn’t take long for reality to prove him wrong. The stolen package was left in the hallway, but the robbery motivated Hakeem to ask the company for an armed security guard. Retired NYPD officer Curtis Walston accompanies him during deliveries in Brownsville and neighboring high-crime communities. Curtis carries two guns, a 38 and a 9mm, for protection.

“Wattamolla Falls” – Sydney, Australia

Photo: Luke Byrne

Photo notes: One of the things about Sydney is that it is surrounded by some of the most amazing coastline and national parks. This particular shot was taken in a place called Wattamolla which is part of the Royal National Park just south of Sydney, a sexy spot to go swimming and jump off cliffs.

“Occupy Switzerland” – Bern, Switzerland

Photo: Fabian Unternährer

Photo notes: Switzerland is known for its cows, mountains, chocolate, Swiss-army knives and so on. This picture shows kind of an invert world. The cows broke out and occupied the streets that night. I don’t know, they seemed quite abstract to me…

What is a perfect day in Bern? There is a river called “Aare” which flows through the city, it’s so proper you can swim in it. In summer you can have a barbecue next to it, chill out with friends, make music, and enjoy life.

“Incisive Light” – Madrid, Spain

Photo: Celia Gómez de Villavedón

Photo notes: This picture for me is one of those days where you observe the static movement of the big city, from the inside. It almost seems to be all the same cars, all the same faces, and all the same dogs. But through that window comes the light, and the sunlight of Madrid is really incisive. You can’t ignore it. You are forced to let go your comfy duvet and laziness and run away to any park of the city. This way, you can destroy your demons thanks to the illuminated nature.

“Miles & Miles” – Tofino, British Columbia

Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Photo notes: This is surfing in Canada. Pictured is my friend Peter Devries, who was surfing with our friend Raph Bruhwiler during a camping trip we did last winter. There were no other surfers around for miles and miles.

A perfect day? Any day out on the water around Tofino. Ideally fishing!

If someone was visiting what must they do? Go to Hotsprings Cove.

“The Land of the Living” – Newcastle, Australia

Photo: Joe Nigel Coleman

Photo notes: These photos are a biproduct of bike riding, beach going, and bush walking in Newcastle over the last 12 months.

If someone was visiting what must they do? Have a swim at Susan Gilmore Beach. Find out where Magic Mountain is and make sure they are there for sunset. Head out on a bicycle after dinner and take a ride through some of the old industrial neighborhoods.

“7-11” – Taipei, Taiwan

Photo: Sean Marc Lee

Photo notes: This really captures the spirit of Taiwan as a whole. There is a 7-11 on every block here in Taipei, and you can find dancing ladies like this around the city. To the average local here, this is probably the norm. I believe an image like this appeals to our western sensibilities because 7-11 in the US is nothing but a place to buy Slurpees, lotto tickets, and cigarettes. In most of Asia, it actually serves as a functional convenience store where proper food can be purchased (bentos, tea-eggs, rice-balls, noodles) as well as a capable place to pay bills, recharge your cell phone, make copies, print photos / documents, banking / ATM as well as pretty much having the basics of everything you need compressed into a small brightly lit nicely air-conditioned store.

“Motorway Bridge” – Salford, Manchester, England

Photo: Jordan Carroll

Photo notes: You could probably look at this image for some time and pull out a long winded theory about existentialism or human nature but it’s really just a window into the boring realities of a dead end town.

A perfect day in Manchester? Definitely in the city, I’d say spending the day looking around the secondhand / vintage / clothes shops. There are a lot of record stores and nice cafes and bars too, particularly around Northern Quarter and especially during the summer.

“Rainy Human Oasis” – Bergen, Norway

Photo: Anna Wergelius

What is the best thing about your spot? If you refer to the exact spot I stood on when I took the photograph, I would say that the best thing about that spot is that it is really close to a food store. That can be a good thing. If you want to buy something.

What is the worst? The store is really expensive. That can be a bad thing. If you want to buy something.

“Tang & Spam” – Guam

Photo: Katie King

Photo notes: Sometimes while living in Guam, you drive past the dog on top of the caribou and think oh yeah that’s just the… oh wait! I better pull of to the side of the road to take a picture. It’s amazing what you can start to take for granted living in a place like this.

A little known fact? Guam is big on Tang & Spam. You heard that right. They are big winners here. Oh, and we have the world’s largest K-Mart. Beat that!

“Lost on Some Back Roads” – Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo: Alana Paterson

Place your photo was taken: North of Vancouver (Squamish, B.C.) Looking for a campsite for the night.

Can you sum up Vancouver? Vancouver is where to live if you want to live in a major city and not have to stay in a major city. 20 minutes out you can be in pristine wilderness. That’s not important to everyone. But it is to most people who grow up in the Pacific North West.

“Cukurcuma” – Istanbul, Turkey

Photo: Andres Gonzalez

Photo notes: I was shooting an assignment, exteriors of buildings in this neighborhood. These guys swept by me, I saw them out of the corner of my eye. It’s just one of those wonderful Istanbul moments.

Can you sum up the place you live? It’s an invigorating place to live, youthful and ancient at the same time. There are over 13 million people living here. It can get oppressive in the summer months, but luckily there are always the ferry boats to look for a breeze and some space to daydream.

“Parque Rodó” – Montevideo, Uruguay

Photo: Antonella Moltini

Photo notes: I live in Montevideo, a city with a lot of water. We have a long stretch of shore in the Río de la Plata, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the south coast of Uruguay from the north coast of Argentina. We have a lot of beaches that you can visit when the weather is warm enough.

Now it’s winter and winds from the South Pole are freezing our ass off, but in summer we love to go to the sea and enjoy the fresh air and the water. It is better if you go east (for example Maldonado or Rocha) because the water is cleaner and more transparent, but here it is great for a city. After a hard working day, you can go to the seaside and relax.

This picture is about one of these days, a warm afternoon at the end of December with my friends, at a dock near my house.

“Stage of Myths” – Miyazaki, Japan

Photo: Mutsumi Makino

Photo notes: If you can enjoy an ever changing nature, I’ll bet you find Miyazaki is an amazing place. Miyazaki is a stage of some myths. So I sometimes feel aura of mystery from everything that is here.

“Phil’s Place” – Sandholm, East Yorkshire, England

Photo: Dom Wilson

Photo notes: Part of a larger series documenting the lifestyle and surroundings of my 89-year-old Great Uncle ‘Phil’. The project took the form of a book. I took the photographs over a 6 week period, luckily for me he paid very little attention to the camera during the whole process.

Can you sum up Sandholm? A typical sleepy little English village, remote, ‘off the beaten track’ rural, very flat, very green, agricultural land.

“Lake’s Spirit” – Port Baikal, Russian Federation

Photo: Maria Nikolaeva

Photo notes: Lake Baikal is considered the biggest fresh water lake on the planet. It’s also a place with an insane amount of energy that you will definitely feel as soon as you’re there. The port is within a 35-40 min car drive from Irkutsk + 15 minutes on a ferry. Best time to visit is July-September but for those looking for some more extreme experience – you can come in January-February (when the air temperature gets as low as -35 C). Freedom, wild-life and crazy locals are included. Port Baikal to me is the place where the very essence of the lake’s spirit lives.

“Without Forecast” – Reykjavík, Iceland

Photo: Júlía Runólfsdóttir

Photo notes: Living in Reykjavík can be described as a life without a weather forecast, a life without sunshine 3-4 months a year, a life without McDonalds, and a life where you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. The downtown area in Reykjavík is my favorite place in Iceland. You can get the best coffee at Kaffismiðjan in Kárastígur and the best bite in town would be at the Deli, where you can get the best pizzas and pastas in iceland. Another great thing about Reykjavík is the music. The annual Iceland Airwaves Music Festival attracts hipsters from all over the world to enjoy great music. It’s awesome!

“Shale Mines” – Prague, the Czech Republic

Photo: Petr Boruta

Photo notes: Prague, its surroundings, and the whole Czech Republic is full of bizarre places. Makeshifts which somehow have made it; to be out there for their purposes forever. Like this barely-standing hovel, made back in the Communist era. You can even see how unevenly the windows are placed. And for decades people are missing the stands for bikes. Nobody cares. For some reasons, I love all these quirky things.

“Nothing to do Here” – Sicklerville, New Jersey

Photo: Jesse Jacobs

Photo notes: This is my friend AJ, we’re at a community center not far from where I live. The thing I love about it is that it looks and feels so different from what I’m use to where I live, which is nothing but the suburbs and places to shop. It’s right on the Delaware River so you can see Philadelphia right across the water, it’s a gorgeous sight. It’s filled with hills and lots of space that I enjoy photographing. It’s a very peaceful place.

“Broadway Market” – Hackney, London

Photo: David Walby

Photo notes: This shot is from Broadway Market, Hackney, close to where the Olympics are happening. They have finished renovating the street, but during the process restaurants lining the road placed diners in the construction zone next to diggers on under-construction tarmac. With the Olympics going on, it’s great to see London still doing its thing, and before the Olympics people found ways around all the construction work going on in this part of town.

“Mt. Davidson” – San Francisco, California

Photo: James de Leon

Photo notes: It’s an exhilarating feeling to be completely surrounded in fog. There’s that sense of being in a dream. A feeling of floating. And possible danger. This photo was taken on a forest-covered hill on Mt. Davidson. You know you’ve reached the top of the hill when you see the giant white Christian cross which stands surreal and tall. Several yards away, moving downhill, you’ll find an old tree, something straight out of a fable. Before you know it, the fog is clearing, and you can see a cityscape in the distance. You move towards a clearing and there it is. San Francisco. There’s the Bay Bridge. The TransAmerica building. You’ve been there but you’ve never seen it like this before.

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