New Blog Address

I have just transferred my blog from florinpopa.blog to florinpopa.eu. The old site redirects to the new one, as you can see in the address bar.

I would kindly ask those who want to keep on seeing my new posts to follow the new site. There will be no more updates at the old blog address.

You can hit the Follow button or register by email right here:

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Finding Peace

Deep in the forest, where sunlight miraculously reaches through a maze of branches and warms up the budding flowers hidden in the shadow of old trees. The footpath lies ahead like an invitation.

On the rocky ocean shore, watching the sunset and listening to the wind singing its strange incantations. A song of hope, loss, death, life, everything that ever mattered compressed in one long melodic whoosh. Like the song of a mother from a never discovered tribe deep in the jungle.

Lying on my back in the field, watching the clouds move across the sky and transform as they pass. A giant shape shifting show on display for anybody and for nobody. Just watching. Just breathing. Just lying in the sun along with all other life forms.

Peace.


Tina is hosting this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge on “Finding Peace”.

Interested in joining the Lens-Artists challenge? Click here for more information.

Carnival

Just before the first spring flowers pop out of the snow and before Lent, the 40-day fasting period before Easter, something colorful and outrageous happens in villages and towns across Belgium. It’s carnival time and people come together to celebrate in excess, just as later on they used to congregate to celebrate in fasting and penance.

While the fasting and penance part is on the wane, the explosion of joy and excess of the carnival is alive and well. The carnival of Binche, a town of about 35000 inhabitants in the South-West of Belgium, is the best-known and the oldest in the country. The first written record of the event dates back to 1394.

People from all over Belgium and beyond come to witness one of the oldest surviving street carnivals in Europe. Hardly anything about the dress, rituals and customs have changed since the 14th century, prompting UNESCO to list the Carnival of Binche as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Celebrations start on Sunday and culminate on Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras), just before Lent. The main characters of the event are les Gilles, with their tall hats with ostrich feathers, wooden footwear, wax masks and colorful costumes. The outfit features a linen suit with red, yellow, and black heraldic designs (the colours of the Belgian flag), trimmed with large white cuffs and collars. The suit is usually stuffed with straw, giving the Gille a hunched back.

Other characters, such as the Paysans and Paysannes, Harlequins and Pierrots, join in as the procession unfolds through the town.

They all throw oranges that the crowds try to catch in flight. Oranges fly in all directions and you really need to keep your eyes open and duck every now and then. The procession leaves behind hundreds of squashed oranges.

Here’s me, proud of having caught one while holding my camera in the other hand.

The celebration continues long into the night, after the Gilles have come out of their heavy costumes, after the big fire in the main square has raised its flames over the tipsy heads of the villagers and has consumed every last bit of winter wood.

Through the Looking Glass

It’s been a few weeks now that I’ve been working on my photo project focusing on autism. So far I’ve visited eight participants, some of them two or three times. I’d like to share some observations on how it is to actually do this as compared to what I imagined or expected.

M. is drawing an elaborate map of the city’s public transportation. He uses different colors for the different bus and metro lines.

I need to start with this: it’s amazing and humbling to see the willingness of people with autism and/or their families to make time for me and open their personal space and vulnerability to me. It takes courage to open up. It takes trust. I feel privileged to receive this trust. At the same time, this creates an expectation and a pressure on myself to be up to the task. “Don’t screw this up, man!” It’s my voice, nobody else’s.

Contrary to what I was expecting, most participants are not overly concerned about data use and data privacy once they’ve agreed to be part of the project. It’s my responsibility to make sure that they formally agree to have their pictures taken (signed consent forms) and that their personal information is not misused. This is all the more important when children are involved.

In the autism community there is a great need to be seen, to be witnessed, to share one’s story, to connect. Many families are socially isolated as their lives revolve around needs of the person with autism. Adequate support, from sport activities for kids to respite time for parents, are scarce. Caring for a child with high support needs is a lonely road. Health insurance covers therapy only partially. Some therapeutic activities are excluded from insurance altogether. There is a widespread feeling of not being seen, listened to, important enough to have proper support.

In my project, I want to capture what’s happening without scripting and moving participants around. In some cases, this comes naturally. During my visits, the families propose some activities to their kids. We move from one room to another. We go outside for a short walk. The interaction that develops spontaneously offers plenty of opportunity for photography. In other cases, my subject does not want to interact, play, hug their parents. They want to eat, sit on the sofa with their tablet, move incessantly through the room. This is also them. It’s part of their life. I take it as such and I photograph whatever is there. It does not have to be spectacular. It doesn’t have to conform to my expectations.

Most of the work comes after the visits. There are audio recordings to be transcripted, narratives to be written, photos to be edited. There’s the pressure of doing justice to each of my subjects by publishing things that depict their life honestly while showing respect and avoiding anything potentially demeaning. There’s also the self-questioning and self-doubt, the “am I really up to this” moments.

While all this is very much about autism, the relevance of the project is not limited to autism. What happens with my participants says something about the social acceptance of some behaviors and ways of being. It says something about the support systems we build and about the accessibility of support services, whenever they exist. It says something about the way we understand normality and they way we include or exclude people from our circle of concern based on this understanding.


I’ve titled this project Through the Looking Glass. I borrowed the title of Lewis Carroll’s book because it provides a good metaphor for the whole effort behind the project: exploring a world that is at once recognizable and unfamiliar, as if looking out from inside a mirror. As Alice travels thru time and ‘through the looking glass’, she learns how to make sense of the strange and unfamiliar, and her understanding of what used to be obvious and familiar also changes.

You can visit the project site here.

Shadows in Monochrome

I’ve been this forest once.

The majestic canopy silently growing in the night. The ever-changing winds of winter. The moon and the stars.

The deep shadows of trees beneath trees. The trembling leaf ready to fall. All life unfolding quietly.

The beating heart of the woods.

Sometimes I remember being the forest.


This week’s Lens-Artists challenge, led by Patti, is Shadows and Reflections in Monochrome. My small contribution is all about shadows.





Cultivating Attention

Photography cultivates a certain awareness and attention to detail. You walk on the street, all senses awake. There’s this detail here and that situation over there. You can see things developing into something that could be a good photo. You anticipate. You position yourself in the right place and wait for the right moment.

Sometimes (in fact, many times) that place was far from being the right one. And the right moment passed before you could react. Or never arrived. But the experience is still yours to enjoy. It wasn’t pointless.

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Photo Project: Autism Stories

There’s something miraculous about things that we dream of, that exist entirely in our heads, and that at some point become tangible because we act on them.

In fact, we do this countless times everyday. I wake up and I think about brushing my teeth. Then I actually do it (although it may take a while if I happen to have a hangover). It’s a small gesture but it’s out of my head and out there in the world. It’s so common. And yet it’s miraculous.

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A Year In 12 Photos

This is my last post for 2022. December is often a month of reckoning, revisiting, and trying to make sense of what happened.

I need to accept how things are in order to go ahead and be prepared for how they could be.

I need to make peace with how things are in order to be able to turn them into what they could be.

Aren’t we all?

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Bequest

Thank you for all the gifts
The ones that I asked for, the ones I didn’t ask for
The ones I didn’t even know were there

That cup of cocoa
That night train across the mountains
That uncontrollable anger 

Those boxes under the Christmas tree
The dark butterflies of helplessness in my stomach
Those uplifting words just when I needed them

Those crushing words that still resonate in me
You were doing your best, I know

I received them all
Bound as we were by this
Unbroken chain of transmission