Reflections of a wandering jet-lagged dude

Hello, friend. As I said I would in my last post in Berlin, I will explain why it is a good idea to get out and experience what happens in a city when everyone is still sleeping.

I want to preface this post by saying this is not always a good idea, but that I do enjoy and value breaking routines, stepping out of the mundane and into the different.

I have a friend who I'll refer to as K, who told me that she wants to experience everything in life, even those things that most consider bad because all experiences, bad and good, have equal value. In this sense, an enjoyable experience is not necessarily "better" or "more valuable" than a terrifying one. I think K was onto something here. Each of these experiences, when reflected upon in the right light, return an equal amount of awareness or open-mindedness.

Then there is the idea of diminishing returns. Every subsequent experience of the same kind returns a little bit less awareness than the previous experience. 

So this brings me to the idea of walking around where ever it is that you are during a time that you probably never walk around, say 3 or 4 AM. Since you may have not done it too many times (at least sober) there is still a lot you can learn from one walk around your town.

Three days ago I flew into Berlin extremely jet lagged, and at 3 AM I woke up and decided to photograph the city til sunrise. I try to do this whenever I visit a new city. This practice started out as a result of my desire to explore and being jet-lagged when travelling, then realized how cool and fulfilling it is. The following are the reasons why I find this practice valuable but want to preface it by saying I hope that you don't just take my word for it, but actually try it and see for yourself. 

1) It gives a raw perspective of the culture. It illuminates the faces behind the scenes: The clean-up crews that are miraculously able to clean up the nightly shit shows that happen in the Grand Place in Brussels, or the riot controls preparing for the forthcoming protests in Taksim Square in Istanbul, or the group of party people stumbling home in Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Whatever the case, I think it is an eye-opening and humbling experience that really shows a unique piece of culture. 

2) It beats sitting in your room. Scrolling through Reddit or Buzzfeed or any of the myriad of mind-numbing shit you could be doing really isn't worth your time and it certainly doesn't beat getting out. I originally started to do this "just because" then realized how cool and fun it actually is. Wandering the city, discovering things you never even thought to discover in the first place.  If you have a mild case of wanderlust, this just might give you a fix. 

3) It's the trail less traveled. I often In photography it's hard to stand out with the influx of digital photography. In fact 10% of the photos ever taken were taken in 2012, which comes to a grand total of 380 billion photos. It seems that for every photo that you've taken and will take there is a similar photo that already exists... which is pretty daunting to think about. On the flip side, no photo can be completely congruent to another, and there is a multitude of ways to personalize an interpretation. But to increase the chances of having a unique photo, shoot when 99.99% of people will never think of shooting: 3 AM. In locations that normally bustle this can create an eerie feeling by having only one or no people in the photograph. 

4) Just you and the bridge, monument, cathedral, etc. and nobody else is a sublime experience. I even consider it meditative. I like to get out into the backcountry because I feel that is a valuable opportunity to find solitude. You ever get that feeling that some of your deepest most important thoughts just come to you when you are immersed in the tranquil of nature all by yourself? It's just so natural for it to happen because instead of taking so much BS external stimuli from the "glowing rectangles" we affix our eyes to, our brains start to illuminate more important things that were hiding in our subconscious. In my experience, this also happens when you are all by yourself in the concrete jungle. 


6 AM, it's going to be a good day, in 24 hrs I will be in Berlin doing something touristy. 7 AM, arrive at John Wayne Airport. Flight delayed. Fly into SFO, connecting flight delayed. Fly into Frankfurt, miss connecting flight. Arrive in Berlin. Wait for luggage. Luggage lost. Jet lagged. Sleep the afternoon away (best sleep I think I've had in a while). 3 AM, wake up and explore Berlin. I'm not complaining just illustrating the comedy of my journey. This is my favorite part about traveling jet lagged: rummaging the streets like a hopeful flea market visitor, except your the only one there (important because I love flea markets but hate hordes of people which describes my love but primarily hate relationship with theme parks). I try to do this in every city I visit and highly recommend it (more on this in an upcoming post).

Berlin seems a bit quieter than Madrid and Brussels in the late night, but I do hear it rages so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt contrary to my experience thus far. In the other two cities I frequently saw groups of youngsters often with a half finished beer in hand stumbling back home at 3, 4 AM. Cheers to them, I'm what you call a lightweight.

From a photographic standpoint though, solitude paired with the eccentrically modern and massive architecture of Potsdamer Platz yields a subliminal experience. It was eerie... it felt a bit like I was playing zombies in Black Ops II and there was only one crawling zombie somewhere. But it was a cool experience nonetheless, and although the bed back at the hotel felt like it was crafted of Zeus's personal cloud, I wouldn't  trade my experience in a million years. 

As for the middle of the days, I had little time to dedicate to shooting and left the DSLR in the hotel (I took out a borrowed Leica D'lux which helped me cope w this fact). Taking the weight off my shoulders was incredibly liberating and had enough discomfort with the heat, I become a grumpy old man in heat. I'm just trying to record great memories, and those memories are less great when lugging around gear with a wet back in the heat of summer. If I really want "the shot" of a certain monument or building, I'll come back right before sunset w my D810 and shoot. That way I am not half assing it. I'm a devout whole asser. 

MY TWO CENTS: If you are exploring a really touristy place and will be venturing for 5+ hrs and are debating bringing a DSLR (aka a big camera), I say don't do it if all you are trying to do is record your time there and take snapshots. This is especially true if you are shooting in full auto. The iPhone 5 and 6 and equivalent phones are more than competent for taking great photos if you learn how to use them, I used to not believe this but I believed wrong. The camera on your phones are made to take great photos in auto, and while the DSLR is also great for that, a DSLR really shines when you take control of the camera and make decisions on how exactly you want the shot. Results from auto on a DSLR is very similar to the results from auto on your phone. The inconvenience of the camera is not worth the marginally "better" photos you get with a DSLR. My answer changes if you have a small mirrorless camera though.

MY RANDOM THIRD CENT: Buy books not gear to improve your photography. I am guilty of GAS (Gear acquisition syndrome) as much as anyone. It's a dangerously attractive thought, "If I get this new lens, I'll have way sharper photos, less distortion, the color rendition will be way more accurate." The truth is no one in your every day life gives a rats ass about that. 

Below are some shots of my time in Berlin. Next, stop Prague. I'll be "studying" there til December and writing and sharing photos about the experience in the coming months. Chime in if you feel so inclined!