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A Tiny Village Fair in Belgium("Kermis")

"Kermis":  A small fair on a market, near a church, in s small old and charming village in Belgium is certainly one of my happy places. It's the ambiance, the friendliness,  the community sense and camaraderie, the delicious smells, the colorful market stalls, the innocent mischiefs, the joking and laughter, the thrill and the memories.  Hope this may bring a smile to you too!

A Small Glimpse of the Netherlands

The Netherlands:  a tiny country, very flat, some parts below sea level, water, boats, clouds, open markets, fries and croquettes, bikes, flowers, old dike houses and modern structures...

This past fall I spent a few weeks there.  It's where I was born and raised but I didn't think much of it when I was growing up. I see it through different eyes now! I travelled the same routes travelled long ago by bike, boat or hike.  All very Dutch!

Here's a small glimpse.

Threatening clouds and rain showers don't get in the way of a friendly chat!

Threatening clouds and rain showers don't get in the way of a friendly chat!

Rainy day during the weekly market in Oud-Beijerland.

Rainy day during the weekly market in Oud-Beijerland.

Ultra new market hall in Rotterdam.  The ceiling consists of 4000 painted panels, printed on metal sheets in the United States.

Ultra new market hall in Rotterdam.  The ceiling consists of 4000 painted panels, printed on metal sheets in the United States.

Sky-scrapers in Rotterdam, a city that was almost completely destructed in the second world war.  

Sky-scrapers in Rotterdam, a city that was almost completely destructed in the second world war.  

Dike houses ("dijkhuisjes") in Oud-Beijerland.

Dike houses ("dijkhuisjes") in Oud-Beijerland.

Very old harbor in Puttershoek. Not visible:  an old cafe overlooking the river.

Very old harbor in Puttershoek. Not visible:  an old cafe overlooking the river.

"Platbodem"

"Platbodem"

Biker crossing a bridge called the Swan by locals in Rotterdam.

Biker crossing a bridge called the Swan by locals in Rotterdam.

Bicyclist in Rotterdam.

Bicyclist in Rotterdam.

Typical polder dike in Strijen.

Typical polder dike in Strijen.

Colorful fields in Heinenoord.

Colorful fields in Heinenoord.

Fall foliage in a garden center in Numansdorp.

Fall foliage in a garden center in Numansdorp.

Sunset from my childhood home.

Sunset from my childhood home.

There's no logical reason to include the following image in a blog about the scenery in the Netherlands.  Only the Dutch would understand!  It's just that one cannot go anywhere in this country without seeing, smelling and/or eating "friet en een kroketje"!  

Fries and a croquette.  Missing:  mustard and mayonaise.

Fries and a croquette.  Missing:  mustard and mayonaise.

How the Dutch Park Their Bicycles

I'm back for a visit in Holland.  My daughter commissioned me to take an artsy photo of a very common sight here:  bicycles!  So far I haven't succeeded.  It's not that there aren't enough bikes. Believe me:  there are!  It's feeling the pressure to create something stunning and possibly overthinking it.  

Yesterday I decided to try my luck in Rotterdam, the city where I was born and home of the very best Dutch soccer club Feyenoord.  I thought that for sure there'd be many bicycles at the train station "Centraal Station".  When I got there I saw a brand new, ultra modern, striking building but NO bikes!  That just couldn't be right!

I walked around the building and definitely saw many people with bicycles. What did they do with them? Curious now, I followed them to this escalator specifically designed for bicyclists.

And the mystery was solved.  I had never seen this before: an entire, huge space devoted to a bicycle-parking-garage with numbered lanes, arrows, mirrors, signs stating number of free spaces and two-tier bicycle racks.

It was an amazing sight! 

I spent a wonderful day photographing the rest of Rotterdam. Unfortunately I still haven't produced a beautiful, artsy photo of bicycles for my daughter to put on the wall of her new apartment.  Unless she thinks this will do:

Labor Day Parade

Labor Day!  Sigh!  Bigger sigh!  Huge sigh!  

For all of you who experience the Labor Day blues:  here are some photos of the Gaithersburg, MD Labor Day parade that might evoke a little smile, a warm feeling, a fond memory or just a moment reprieve from the daily routine that has us all in its grips again at the start of a new cycle of seasons.

Source: https://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/Eve...

The Firecracker 5K...raining cats and dogs but still such a fun and festive (and competitive) race!

July 4:  the best American holiday!  It embodies everything I envisioned about America and its people before I moved here from The Netherlands. What's made it even better the past few years is photographing =PR= Races' Firecracker 5K and Fun Run in Reston, Va. Imagine thousands of runners, dressed in the colors of the flag or sporting a similarly cheerful patriotic outfit with little or big hats, glued-on mustaches, gigantic colorful glasses, tutu's, necklaces, etc.  Imagine beautiful American songs over the loudspeakers and later live charging up the athletes.  Imagine face-painting, food and lots of activities for the crowd that came out to cheer on the runners.  Imagine kids and adults alike waving little american flags on short sticks.  Imagine all the military groups good-naturedly participating in the "Battle of the Branches" competition.  And imagine beautiful blue skies and nice warm temperatures (well: a little hot and humid maybe!).

All that was true last Saturday except for the very last part!  It was raining and not just a nice little summer sprinkle.  It was pouring rain or in the words of the British:  it was raining cats and dogs!  But it didn't damper the atmosphere nor spoil the fun.  Indeed, like always it was yet another fun and festive morning. 

My job is to photograph the runners and take some candids.  When that's done I go home for the post-processing part:  download to a photo software program, apply rough edits and upload to Potomac River Running's flickr account (which takes hours).  When that's done I leave  the photos on my computer and go about my normal Saturday routine.  A few days later I go back to the photos and look at them one more time before deleting them forever.  But that's never easy.  I always get attached to them and I compromise by keeping just a few.  I just want to show you the photos I kept from this last race.  I don't have a specific explanation about this selection but I think they resemble the spirit and the gist of a typical July 4th Firecracker 5k!

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima in DC.

This morning I did all things Dutch.  I rode my bike for a few miles to the Metro dressed in the red, white and blue of the Dutch flag.  Then I used public transportation (Dutch people do that a lot) and finally walked (Dutch people do that a lot too!) up hill and down in searing heat.  While walking I mingled with many Dutch people, also dressed in red, white and blue or wearing a huge orange flower.  Our destination? Arlington National Cemetery. Why?  

Their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima are in town for their first visit to the United States after ascending to the throne two years ago.  And they were going to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 9 AM sharp.  DC Dutch ("the best Dutch club in the greater Washington, DC area", according to its Facebook page) and the Embassy of the Netherlands in the US sent out mass invitations to the Dutch community to join the Ceremony.  

So I went.  I had not arranged for a press credential thinking that I could probably wriggle my way into the press corps but it wasn't as easy as I thought.  In fact I was relegated to some spots far away from the action.  Nevertheless I got some photos and in retrospect I'm glad that I was off the beaten path because the photos I got are more my style - not too posed, not too perfect and in candid style.

Tonight the Dutch Royal King and Queen will attend a baseball game, the Washington Nationals against the Toronto Blue Jays.  A special section of the stadium is reserved for the Dutch community.  I have tickets but kind-heartedly (not!) gave them to my youngest! It's going to rain "cats and dogs" with a potential flood warning in effect and I can't find my red, white and blue or orange umbrella!

Photography Classes at the Local Shelter and more...

In the past year I taught photography at a local shelter through the Back-to-Work vocational program.  Class size was limited to five.  The group of students varied each class.  Some men participated because they were truly interested in photography.  Others were just looking for a distraction. They all had a story to tell and more than anything I wanted for them to express that through photography.  And if they acquired some helpful skills in finding their path that would be a bonus.

Since I never knew exactly who would participate beforehand I would bring with me a mixed bag of stuff:  cameras (lent to me by a local community college), newspapers, books on a variety of topics and a flexible lesson plan from which I could pick a specific one depending on the students who would show up that day.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

I soon learned that after teaching the basics of a camera and photography each student had different needs.  One student had a Masters of Fine Art in journalism from Columbia University and we therefore focussed on taking photos that would illustrate his written words.  Another student took photos to help him express his innermost thoughts.  He always just took three or four photos and then during class discussion left everybody awestruck when he explained what he meant with them.  Yet another student whose fine motor skills caused severe limitations and therefor couldn't handhold the camera without shaking nevertheless was able to explore his creativity by taking abstract photos with a little plastic bag over the camera lens scribbled with different colors sharpies.  There was also a student who used to be a photographer and took the opportunity to refresh his skills.  He always surprised me with the way he came prepared to class.  He helped me cover a few events through the shelter.  And finally there was a student whose sole purpose was to take photos that could express the turmoil and misery he felt.  He would spend lab time at the computer writing long letters for each photo.

We were limited to the premises around the shelter and furthermore limited by the fact that only objects, not subjects (except for classmates) could be photographed. There wasn't much in terms of beautiful scenery.  But something worth photographing could always be found.  And there never was a dull moment!  One time I wanted to explain about capturing motion and we spent the entire time photographing twirling umbrellas and scarves.

Photo by James

Photo by James

After about an hour of photographing we'd go back to the lab to upload the photos on the computer.  This was the highlight of the class. It was gratifying for the students to see their work.  And it was gratifying for me to hear their narratives.  What especially struck me was how supportive and encouraging the students were to each other.

Photo by Suk

Photo by Suk

During all this I got to know a lot of men at the shelter.  So when I was asked to create a series of dignified portraits needed for a fundraiser I had no trouble finding men willing to be photographed and agreeing to sign a photo release.  In the following weeks I spent a lot of time at the shelter.  Some students from my class assisted me with the lighting and paperwork.  When the project was done I gave each men a large print of their photo.  The entire series can be found here:  http://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/Portraits/DignifiedPortraits/44944617_c6c33L

Sometimes a resident of the shelter would ask me to come take a headshot for a resume or a photo for a christmas card (below) for family and friends abroad.

Another project for the local Coalition of the Homeless actually involved house visits.  The assignment was to portray formerly homeless people in their new homes holding up a sign of what home meant to them.  I cannot begin to tell you how much that project meant to me: it embodied happiness, excitement, laughter, positiveness and many joyful tears.  These photos can be found here: http://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/Portraits/Meaning-of-HOME-to-Previously/46814354_wBjpFh

An especially emotional moment during this assignment was when this beautiful women (below) gave me her last copy of a book of poems that she had written while she was still homeless and alternately living on the streets or in a shelter. 

Back to photography classes.  Here's the first group of students I taught and following that is some of their work.  The photo credit only mentions first names.  They were MUCH more than names to me - I bonded with these men in a very special way.

Photo by John

Photo by John

Photo by Charles

Photo by Charles

Photo by John

Photo by John

Photo by Daniel

Photo by Daniel

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

Photo by Daniel

Photo by Daniel

Photo by James

Photo by James

Photo by Charles

Photo by Charles

Cherry Blossom Parade...this is how I experienced it!

The National Cherry Blossom parade in Washington, DC encompasses just about everything good about spring in the Nation's Capital:  festivities, lots of happy people, gorgeous scenery, monuments providing a beautiful setting, stunning cherry blossoms, boundless activity and joyful excitement.

When a dear friend asked me to go to the parade with her, I was game!  We loaded bicycles on her little lime green volkswagen beetle and drove into the city.  Once there, we rode through the bustling city until we reached our destination:  the Cherry Blossom Parade.  It was crowded, very crowded!  Thousands of people were already lined up along the parade route.  We were early, yet we were late:  all the good spots were already taken.  But as we were intent on photographing the event, we struggled through the crowd and finally found a very small space directly along the street.  

While watching the parade most of my senses were in high gear:  hearing, smelling and seeing were battling each other and begging my attention.  In a good way!  The following images represent how I experienced the parade:  motion, blur, organized chaos, joy and excitement.

Halfway through the parade we took our bikes for a quick ride to the Cherry Blossom Tidal Basin and found a rest stop along the water among my very favorite trees:  the weeping willows.  Beautiful motion and liveliness there too but of a different nature!

Finally we were back at the little lime green volkswagen beetle and loaded the bikes back up.  It was a great lively Saturday morning! 

Paying Attention is Hard

When covering a track and field meet I always like to hop in the holding area where athletes check in and await their turn to race. It's especially fun when the area is filled with young kids.  Chaos, loud chattering, rambunctiousness and lively excitement reign. The race officials who are in charge have a hard job at that!

Here's a young boy (number 269) listening attentively to the official.

Hershey Youth Indoor 3-14-15-1749.jpg

But it didn't last for long!

Hershey Youth Indoor 3-14-15-1751.jpg

The Woman Behind It All!

I spent a joyful Sunday morning at a Salon and Spa.  Not as a customer (unfortunately) but as a photographer documenting a Cut-A-Thon, a fundraiser benefitting local women undergoing cancer treatment.  The atmosphere was wonderful, many hairdressers, even more customers, good food, colorful balloons, beautiful silent auction and lots of laughter.  It truly was very well organized.  And it was all thanks to this woman behind the desk and -I suspect- behind it all!  A charming and gracious hairdresser and multitasking manager.