The story of a pair of shoes

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I’ve owned these monk-strap shoes for over 10 years. I photographed them this morning for the purposes of this post. These are one of the pairs of shoes I use around the house for all kinds of work: home office, going to the cellar to fetch firewood, going into the dusty attic to put or get various things, renovation work, etc.

I used them last night as we mounted this restored door frame back in place, as I used a miter saw in the cellar, carried the various parts up to the house, used a nail gun to secure them in place and assemble the frame.

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You can see these same shoes in this video.

I also used them when I built our garden shed in Florida.

In spite of all the wear and tear I’ve put them through over the years, a little elbow grease always gets them looking great, and that’s a testament to the craftmanship of the shoemaker. The brand (Mario Calugi) isn’t as important here as the lesson to be learned from the experience.

Lots of people make a big stink about how wearing leather contributes to animal cruelty but the truth of the matter is, using every little bit of an animal that’s going to get sacrificed for its meat anyway, is the right thing to do.

Furthermore, taking proper care of your belongings, especially the ones made from other beings (because animals are beings, not things) is crucial and it is part of showing respect for the sacrifice of that animal, for the protection its skin profers you and for the hard work that went into making the finished good you now have in your possession.

Good leather lasts a lifetime if you take care of it. Great shoes also last a lifetime if you take care of them. Yes, it means changing the soles when they wear out, it means treating the leather and polishing it, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of being a good, responsible human being to take care of your stuff. Please do it.

Poze de la Raw Generation Expo Cluj, Ediția II

Here are over 500 photos from the latest edition of our Raw Generation Expo. It’s one of our worthwhile projects, an event through which we promote healthy foods and a balanced life. This one took place in Cluj-Napoca and it was the second regional edition we held there. We’re coming up on twelve national editions and this one makes six regional editions. Here’s to a good life for everyone!

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Raw Generation Expo Cluj a fost un eveniment extraordinar de bine primit, care a incununat cu succes seria expozitiilor de anul acesta. Am avut parte peste 40 de expozanti (mai multi ca la prima editie) si in ambele zile foarte multi vizitatori fericiti. Mai jos puteti vedea o parte din pozele de la eveniment. Multumim Cluj-Napoca pentru primirea frumoasa si ne revedem in toamna lui 2017!

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First snowfall of 2016

One of the first things I feel in the morning is my daughter kissing me on the face and whispering “Daddy…”, usually followed by a request for food or cartoons or playtime. She’s our alarm clock, whether we like it or not, though I have to say, no matter how tired I am, waking up to a little angel giving me a kiss and calling me daddy is a pretty good way to start the day.

Yesterday morning, even though I’d worked till 2 am and she was waking me up at 7 am, I got up and took her in my arms and started walking together toward her playroom. I looked casually out the kitchen window and (this happens every year) let out a “Yoo-hoo!” because the first snowfall of the winter had already covered our yard. Sophie did the same — after all, she wants to be like her daddy — and we both giggled as we looked out the windows at the pure, little ice crystals coming down in a hurry.

Still, I needed my sleep, so I got a fire going in her playroom, got her some food and shuffled back to bed. By the time I got up again, the snow was still falling, albeit in less of a hurry, and blustery winter winds had begun to blow. You know the kind, the chill goes right to your bones and makes you shiver no matter how many clothes you have on you.

After breakfast, I had to grab a camera and go out to photograph the snowfall. It had started coming down a little heavier again and this was a chance not to be missed, in spite of the cold weather.

I did just that. The streets were mostly deserted, which is just the way I like it, although the tracks of hurried morning traffic were visible in the snow. It was odd weather. The warmer ground had turned the freshly fallen snow to slush and yet high winds were blowing down, carrying more snow from up above and spreading it everywhere. It was not a good time to walk around with a camera in hand. My fingers began to slowly freeze and become unresponsive. I’d forgotten how this felt. A warm summer will do that to you. My nose and ears seemed to be in a parallel plane where the sensations consisted mostly of prickly pins being shot at them. The cold started creeping up my legs and in spite of the old saying that goes something like “I’m freezing my a** out here…” it wasn’t my derriere that was suffering, it was my kidneys. Weird stuff…

Anyway, I persisted, walked throughout the historic district and photographed what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos. It was a fun and partially frozen experience…

By the way, high wind advisories are still in effect throughout Romania. Meteorologists are saying that some regions are expected to have winds up to 60-70 km/h. Should be interesting!

Autumn has visited our home

I’ve been hearing our trees calling out to me these past few days, particularly yesterday, when it rained and their leaves were wet, a beautiful kind of colored, almost translucent wet brought on by the autumn winds. They were saying, “Raoul, come out and admire us, you know you want to… Take your camera and come outside.” And I’d say to myself, “Yeah, I really need to set some time aside today to do that,” and then I’d get to work on whatever project was most important and lose all track of time.

I didn’t get to go out yesterday but I did it today and it was worth it. Our entire courtyard is peppered with sour cherry and cherry leaves, paulownia leaves, “platan” leaves (it’s a big tree, grows as big as oak trees, but I can’t find its name in English as I write this), fig leaves, lilac leaves, grape leaves and of course my favorite, delicate white birch leaves.

What’s left on the trees is sheer beauty, bunches of leaves hanging on here and there, some dappled with many colors, some filled out completely with just one hue of autumn’s palette, ready to be admired, lessons in meditation and slow, peaceful focus. Autumn is truly a wonderful time, a time to be enjoyed slowly, savored in little vignettes that we tuck away in the precious corners of our heart and pull out later when we want to feel cozy and nostalgic.

I suppose we feel that way because the passing of these temperate four seasons of ours is a good preparation for life (its beginning, progress and ending). It’s hard not to look at autumn leaves and realize they’re saying goodbye to the world they’ve known for many a day. Some will stick around a little bit longer, most are already on the ground, but they know it and we know it; it’s inevitable. Winter, that time of hibernation, of natural pause, of a rest that explodes back into glorious life as spring arrives, will soon be here.

We too, have our autumns. We know, as we get older, that the time is up ahead. We start to feel it in our bones, our joints, our skin. We turn a little more yellow, the bones become a little brittle, the skin on our faces and bodies begins to tell the story of the experiences we’ve had. We have long autumns, we humans, but somehow they’re still not long enough. We always want to do more, even when we can barely move, when we should be preparing for the transition into the next season of our lives, that great hibernation that no one really knows anything about.

The plants are teaching us that every day matters. They show us how to make the most of the days we have, because sometimes all we have is one year, perhaps even less than that. We look at them and admire them for having accomplished their purpose in life, which was to act as complex, integral parts of a whole, for a while. Created by the whole, they rejoin it as they slowly re-integrate into the earth that gave life to the tree itself and is still providing for it.

Perhaps natural beauty is more beautiful because of its intrinsically ephemeral nature. And perhaps human beauty and human life are meant to work in the same way. Enchant us for a while, like blossoming flowers, then give up their life force in order for other creations to exist.

Don’t take these thoughts of mine too philosophically. They’re merely passing glimpses of subjects we don’t understand and possibly cannot even grasp. The only takeaway here is that we should be beautiful in our lives, to possess a beauty that shines from within and colors us in happy hues. We should bring joy and peace to others. We should make positive contributions to the working of the world in general. And we should learn to give up gracefully what was given to us for just a while, when that time comes.

The dawn

It’s not often I wake up early enough to see the dawn. I usually work late into the night, because I find that’s when I can gather my thoughts and be at my most productive — when I’m alone, the noises of the day have subsided and the only sounds I hear are the reassuring churning of the hard drive platters in my Drobo and my own breath.

When I do manage to wake up early (or work through the night and into the dawn), I get these gorgeous, glorious views of the Earth waking up as that huge fireball called the Sun starts to light things up. Mind you, I’m not talking about the sunrise. It’s the dawn, also known as the daybreak. It’s when the darkness of the night starts to fade away and shapes begin to form out of the mist. It’s when things unseen become seen.

I thought I’d publish a gallery of various photos I’ve taken in recent years of the dawn. Some of the photos are from places where I’ve lived, others are from places I visited and most are from the road. My wife and I would often just get in our car and drive to some town where we had business in the middle of the night, so we’d be there in the morning. The roads were quiet and it was an experience unto itself to be in the middle of nowhere, our car a capsule of civilization and warmth in an otherwise cold place at a cold time, its headlights eyes, peering out into the darkness and making sense of it. Now that we have a small daughter, there’s no night driving. We’re too exhausted. We’re happy to take any and all sleep we can get. Which is what I’m going to do after publishing this post, because it’s way past midnight here.

This gallery isn’t exhaustive, it’s a work in progress (I hope I’m around for a long, long time to capture countless more dawns on bits and bytes) but I think it’s beautiful to look at and I hope you do too. Enjoy!

My favorite vantage point for photography

I was invited by the folks at Light, who are working on some pretty interesting camera technology, to write about my favorite vantage point. I explained to them, as I’m explaining to you now, that I don’t have one. I get bored with shooting the same locations and I’m always on the lookout for new things to shoot.

Then I realized that over the past few years, I’ve been working in the exact same location, putting in lots of time and effort, being happy with the challenges offered by that very same spot and enjoying the beautiful results. But you didn’t know about those photos, because I haven’t published them on my website, and it didn’t occur to me earlier that it was a vantage point. I’m talking about my studio work for my wife’s printed books, in other words, about my food photography.

My favorite vantage point over the past few years has been the whitebox (the official name for it is a seamless tabletop background sweep cyclorama). Here’s what it looks like:

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That’s where I’ve been spending my time. Lots of my time. Here’s one example of my work:

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This is one of my wife’s raw desserts. It’s a raw vegan whipped cream, mint and strawberry cake. You can find the recipe for it in her Raw Desserts book.

And here’s another photo from the same book. I apologize if it leaves you drooling. It’s a raw vegan brownie with a raw chocolate glaze.

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Here’s how I work. I don’t have a set position for the camera or for the speedlites. I work handheld and I vary my camera position, angle and lens until I find what I think is a good frame for the photo. Then I’ll shoot a few photos to see how the lights fall on the subject and whether I need to vary their positions as well, in order to bring out the colors and sculpt the dimensionality of the photo with lights and shadows.

I use three independent speedlites triggered by the on-camera flash, which I sometimes choose to also fire or to only have it act as a remote for the other speedlites. For this photograph, I worked with my Canon gear: one of my three Canon cameras, an EOS 60D and three Canon speedlites. I love my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and I tend to use that a lot for my studio work. I also use ambient light from within the room itself (I turn on wall and ceiling lights) and I use a mix of warm and cold lights. I know most people say you should use the same temperature lights, but I prefer to mix them in order to get a warmer ambient light. The speedlites overwhelm the subject with their cold light, but there’s a hint of warmer light all around the photo, which I like, and this comes out when I edit the photo as well. I suppose I started doing this when I began to shoot video. People leave a lot of work for post-production, but I do like it when I capture the mood light of the video live, as I shoot it, so I fiddle less with it in post.

I’d like to say I’m the set designer as well, but for my food photography, I leave that to my wife. She’s the award-winning raw chef with seven published books and I’m the photographer. Sometimes we’re inspired and we love the results, and sometimes we’re not happy with what we get. So we re-do the photo shoot at another time. There have also been instances where we’ve re-shot certain recipes for later editions of her books, because we weren’t happy with the photographs and as our skills improved, we knew we could do better.

I wish I could be more helpful than this but for me, every studio photo is a new challenge and I vary my angles and lighting in order to get what I think are the best photos of my subjects. My wife and I then cull through them and pick the ones that’ll go into her books. I then edit each one carefully, add it to the collection designated for that book in my Lightroom catalog and carry on doing this until we’re ready to turn things over to the publishing house.

An evening walk through Sibiu’s historical center

Here are a few photos from a recent visit to Sibiu, where we walked through the two main piazzas in its historical center.