It is entirely Anthony Bourdain's fault that I saw Vienna in black and white. The strong presence of "The Third Man" - a gorgeous film noir set in post-World War II Vienna - throughout his episode in the city intrigued me enough to watch the film in preparation for the trip Elger and I had booked for the week of his birthday. While this week in the city was the hottest ever in its history and was full of scorching sunlight, Elger and I sought shadowy refuge in the Belvedere awed by Klimt, on the Riesenrad with sweaty palms (and the people really did look like ants), in the tunnel-like underside of the Hundertwasserhaus, and in our poshly Viennese room at the Grand Hotel Mercure Biedermeier (our second stay in an Accor hotel - our first time was last October in Berlin). It was so hot that it looked as if the ice cream cake buildings would melt under the relentlessly blue sky, and we were immensely grateful for the U-Bahn when the shade disappeared from the streets in the afternoon. We had magical German (Schneider-Weisse) beers and wiener schnitzel of epic proportions at Rochus and the most refreshing iced tea outside of the South at the Museum Quartier cantine. Even with a week of days of very deliberately full schedules (which admittedly should have included the heat as an event unto itself), we saw so little of this densely historic city that I am already finding myself dreaming up a wishlist of places we have to see when we go back. Ideally, a return trip will be much, much colder - the Christmas market sounds dreamy right about now. For now, here is how I saw Vienna:
When I first came to Groningen in 2005 to study abroad, I decided I had to join a choir. That choir was Bragi, and it was one of the best decisions I made during that semester (dating my now fiancee was obviously the very best decision, which relegates Bragi to a slightly lower position in my decision-making). Every two years, the musical group - consisting of a choir, an orchestra and an a cappella group - goes on tour somewhere in Europe. In 2005, it was France and Belgium, and in 2013, our destination was Croatia.
Croatia felt like Italy in a parallel universe with more blond people. Like Italy, the largest religion in the country is Catholic, which was easy to see in the nuns crossing the street in Zagreb and the arches inside the sweltering cathedral in Pula. The Adriatic Sea was astoundingly clear and so salty that you have no choice but to float on the surface, hearing the Pop Rocks-crackle of the smooth white stones clicking against each other below. The beer and wine are good and cheap, the heat was dry and the sky was almost always cloudless. As a singer and as a photographer, getting to perform in inspirational settings and to take photos of those venues was about as good as it gets.
I also put together this promotional video for the musical group, for any students (and recent students/former students/grown ups) who would like to play with us.
The Netherlands is undergoing a paradigm shift from the finite to the infinite. As nations struggle to meet responsible environmental standards while refusing to compromise their economic growth, European nations - most prominently Germany - are embracing the potential of modern technology to harness natural sources of energy. The Netherlands stands on both sides of this shift: accepting the risk of man-made earthquakes in the province of Groningen in order to extract a massive natural gas reserve, yet lining its coasts with wind turbines and solar panels becoming a common sight on red-tiled Dutch roofs. “Energy of Groningen” depicts this Dutch dichotomy by showing the consequences of the earthquakes on the residents of the province of Groningen and highlighting the ways the Dutch are looking to the future. These photos are representative of the sources and side effects of energy here in the province which, through its natural wealth of a non-renewable resource, is transforming itself into a hub for renewable technology. These photos were commissioned for the Nacht van Kunst en Wetenschap in Groningen, and are therefore on display for one night only - Saturday, June 1 - at the Universiteits Bibliotheek. All of the photos are also available for purchase on Photoshelter.
A young tree appears in the midst of a complex system of pipes and filters at a natural gas refinery in Zuidbroek. In 1959, the Groningen gas field, with an estimated 2.9 trillion cubic meters of high-quality natural gas, one of the largest in the world, was discovered. The Dutch market consumes low calorific gas, due to this being the quality of the gas in the Groningen field, but high calorific gas is in demand throughout the rest of the European Union. Groningen has become a hub for refining gas from nations like Norway and Russia and then exporting it outside of the Netherlands. Extraction of the gas field has been underway since 1963, and projections based on current technology forecast that 97% of the gas can be extracted by 2059. Hans Overdiep, manager of the energy transition department of GasTerra, posits that 30,000 wind turbines with a 5 megawatt capacity would have to come online in order generate the same amount of energy that can be derived from the entire gas field. However, that is based on all-time energy potential. Shell and ExxonMobil both own 50% of NAM as shareholders, and NAM employs 1,800 people, but the well and refineries across Groningen are largely unmanned, and most of the jobs related to the technology and refinement of these resources lie at NAM’s headquarters in Assen, in the province of Drenthe.
A long, jagged crack runs through the brick walls and wooden moulding of a home built in 1871 at Onderdendamsterweg 13 in Toornwerd, one kilometer away from Middelstum, in the northeast of Groningen. While generous amounts of GasTerra’s €36 million in profits are reinvested in research and development for sustainable energy, thousands of residents of the province have been forced to question the costs of this operation on Groningen. Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschapij, NAM, is the company responsible for exploring and producing oil and gas in the Netherlands, and they have publicly acknowledged that increasingly strong earthquakes in Groningen are being caused by the gas extraction process. The gas primarily lies at a depth of three kilometers underground, and the layer above is porous sandstone. The open fields, lack of building density and trees around many of the small towns of northern Groningen mean that the instability created by gas extraction causes a broad concentric wave that moves rapidly and unmitigated by obstacles, causing damage across a wide area. While smaller earthquakes have been occurring since 1986, in the past several years, the frequency and severity of the earthquakes has dramatically increased. According to Daniëlla Blanken, secretary of the Groninger Bodem Beweging organization, up to 30,000 residents of the province have had moderate to severe damage to their homes, and find themselves in a sort of limbo: selling a home in this region has become nearly impossible due to the strong likelihood that the earthquakes will continue, but many of the residents of two of the most impacted towns - Loppersum and Middelstum – are reluctantly forced to consider moving as they see their hometowns becoming earthquake-prone through man-made causes. Blanken said that thousands of people are living with a level of paranoia and fear that bears resemblance to PTSD – even normal sounds like a car door slamming or a distant helicopter cause people to briefly panic, wondering if it is another quake.
Two nearly identical business men consult with each other in one of many meeting spaces inside the recently opened GasTerra building on the Stationweg in Groningen. GasTerra handles the selling and shipping of natural gas refined in the Netherlands, and is owned by three parties: 25% by Royal Dutch Shell, 25% by ExxonMobil, and 50% by the Dutch government. Until 2005, GasTerra was a part of GasUnie, which now handles infrastructure and transportation, and the companies became two separate entities as part of a European Union-wide initiative to encourage competition in the electricity and gas markets. While natural gas is not a renewable resource, GasTerra has made it a priority to reinvest some of the profits from its sales into research and development of sustainable technologies - notably the EnTranCe and European Energy Academy facilities at Zernike. Additionally, according to Areke van der Sluis, communications advisor for GasTerra, the company takes seriously its investment as a “stadjer” or city-dweller of Groningen by sponsoring sports teams, such as GasTerra Flames basketball, and donating annually to the Groninger Museum. The new location of GasTerra near the Centraal Station of Groningen is itself an extremely energy-efficient building which, through renovation, was brought up to an A+ energy label status and utilizes renewable energy sources. The architecture of the building deliberately focused on the theme of energy, with bright yellow, M.C. Escher-esque staircases and an open central cavity reminiscent of a bee hive full of buzzing drones.
Grass grows long on one of the four sloping roof sections of the Linnaeusborg building on the Zernike campus, along with a series of solar panels. Insulation is the greatest energy-saving benefit of a grass roof, which on average reduces energy consumption for heating by 23% - based on average Dutch energy costs, that reduction translates into approximately €415 savings over a year. Another notable example of grass roofing in Groningen can be found on the office building at Paterswoldseweg 811, and a series of vacation homes in Zuurdijk also incorporate this energy solution into their architecture and the landscape. The Netherlands is undertaking more grass roof projects and city governments are providing grants for their development. Using grass roofs in urban environments reduces carbon dioxide levels as well as mitigating the “heat island” effect which can occur in cities during the summer because of an overabundance of asphalt. Many of the innovations in the field of sustainable energy are centered at Zernike, and the Linnaeusborg building is a flagship component of the self-sufficient Zernike initiative. Henk Jan Falkena, founder of Falkena Milieu, authored a report about the feasibility of Zernike’s implementation of sustainable energy in order to power the campus, and discovered that the combined facilities of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen account for 5% of the energy use of the city. While the project is ongoing, and the Netherlands overall is still warming to the idea of grass roofing, the increasing visibility and incorporation of this technology into architectural projects helps to normalize a natural method for energy efficiency.
Four different models of wind turbines spin on a rainy day at the renewable energy testing facility, EnTranCe, on the Zernike campus of the Hanzehogeschool in Groningen. For centuries, windmills have been an icon synonymous with the Netherlands. Modern wind turbines now cover large swaths of the Dutch coastline and landscape, converting the ever-present wind (kinetic energy) into mechanical energy. The largest wind farm in the Netherlands is located at Eemshaven. According to Noe van Hulst, director of the Energy Academy Europe, the combination of resources and facilities in the province of Groningen - offshore wind turbines, the power station at Eemshaven and natural gas refinement - will eventually provide the majority of electricity for the entire Netherlands. Edwin Smeerdijk, sales support coordinator for Vestas, shared that there are approximately 2,000 wind turbines in use in the Netherlands, and they provide for 4% of annual Dutch energy use. The Dutch government has set a goal of producing 16% sustainable energy by the year 2020. For perspective, a 3.3 megawatt onshore wind turbine such as those produced by Vestas (with an average of 25% efficiency) running non-stop could produce 7.227.000 kilowatt hours of energy a year. An average Dutch household with two inhabitants consumes 3.500 kilowatt hours of energy annually, which means that each wind turbine could meet the average energy needs of 2000 households. To provide energy for the Netherlands purely from wind power for one year, 8,000 of these top-of-the-line machines would need to be activated and constantly running.
On the roof of a home in Hoogkerk, a suburb of the city of Groningen, employees of De Mol and Awizon begin mounting frames on the front of a home to install more solar panels in collaboration with Grunneger Power energy cooperative. The owner of the home had previously installed an array of eight panels on the southeast side of the roof, which provided nearly half of his home’s energy needs for a year, and decided to install more panels on the front, along with persuading his neighbor to do the same after seeing such positive results. Solar panels are one of the most efficient sustainable energy alternatives on the market, to the extent that households that install them are able to harness enough surplus energy to be resold to other electricity suppliers on the grid. Solar panels provide a level of independence that consumers are finding increasingly appealing: in 2008, 4 megawatts of electricity were provided by solar panels, whereas by 2012, 130 megawatts were in use. 130 megawatts can produce 1.138.800.000 kilowatt hours, meeting the average energy needs of 325.371 two-person homes, approximately 2% of the Dutch population. While solar panels and wind energy are widely considered the two most popular sustainable energy sources, even in the Netherlands where initiatives and subsidies have been put in place to encourage consumers to pursue energy independence, only 6% of the Netherland’s annual energy requirements are met by both sources combined.
In keeping with my apparent streak of theatre photography, here is a selection of photos from a production of "The Singer," an original adaptation of a novel of the same name. "The Singer" (the book) was published in the 1970s, and it sought to retell the Biblical story of Jesus in new language, renaming all of the well-known characters from the story of Jesus and thereby making its audience reconsider the story anew. Joyce de Ruiter-Kremers, a friend of mine and a fellow international Groninger, adapted the novel along with Hester Nijhoff, Anke Kolbe, Mark Speirs and Matthijs den Dekker, nearly all of whom also portrayed the iconic characters in the play. Vineyard Groningen, an international church with services in English, presented the play, and after the long process of adaptation, I was glad to be a part of seeing it come to life.
I say it a lot, but I consider myself so lucky to have such talented friends. This week, Stranger Things Have Happened Black Label put on a production of the intense, reality-questioning and skin-crawling play "Bug" by Tracy Letts. I have been to many, many plays, sketch shows and productions by my friends here in Groningen, but I have to say, "Bug" may be my very favorite to date. These photos hopefully capture some of the experience of being in the audience for the show - major congratulations and all my respect to everyone involved.
Directed by Jeroen Vandommele and Henriette Poelman. Cast: Mathilde van Steeg, Chad Bullock, Sarah van Steenderen, Rob Sanders and Jamie Brown. Production by Emma Linders.
While the photos from this project will be on display at the Openbare Bibliotheek in Groningen through mid-May, I am happy to share the selection from the exhibition here for readers who may not be able to make it to a fairly rural province of the Netherlands just to see the project in person. All of the photos from Nepalese Sisterhood: Sustaining Empowerment are available for purchase on Photoshelter and 50% of the sales will be donated to Ideal Home!
Pride. Having a sense of pride in your work and accomplishments is, at least to me, very unfairly classified as a sin. In the life of a person who has suffered greatly, of a person who has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, pride is a great virtue.This past Friday, March 8, was International Women's Day, and as a woman, as a photographer, and as a human being, I was proud to share the stories of other women who have so much to be proud of.
Starting at the beginning of how I became connected to this story, in the summer of 2007, while doing a different photo project in the Netherlands, I met Wike Been. Wike and her sister Renee are superheroes in their own right. They were traveling in Nepal the previous year, and Wike spent two months working with a Nepalese NGO, Ideal Women Development Center. The women (and men) who work for IWDC had long recognized the need for a shelter for victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. The status of women in Nepal is systematically marginalized by the taboo nature of openly discussing domestic violence. Wike and Renee, once they returned to the Netherlands, felt they could find a way to contribute to the betterment of Nepali women, and in 2007 they started the Didi Foundation. Along with classmates and friends, over the past five years, the Didi Foundation has helped to secure €50,000 for the development of one of the first dedicated domestic violence shelters in Nepal, which officially opened in 2009 and has completely changed the lives of hundreds of women.
The women and children who enter the program typically stay for a year and a half, during which children are enrolled in school and the women are given counseling, legal guidance and training in crafts by which they can earn a viable living. After they have completed their stay in the home, they are in a better position mentally, emotionally and financially, rightfully taking pride in their achievements and deriving confidence from the unwavering moral support they receive from their fellow women. Meena Kharel, the founder of Ideal Home and a social worker, is the sun at the center of the shelter and it's organization's universe. Through her carefully cultivated connections in the local community, Meena is able to provide a safe environment for those who, in many cases, have been abused and abandoned by their families and society at large. With her team, and by the women supporting one another within the home, whether by example of having lived through neglect and now finding a way to thrive or by literally helping to teach one another useful skills, Ideal Home is just that for the many lives that have been touched by its influence: the ideal home.
When I met Wike in 2007, I was so impressed by her motivation, and I understood the courage that it took for the women in Nepal to leave their lives behind in favor of a hard-earned future. From that day, I wanted to go to Nepal and share this story through documentary photography. However, I was still in college in America, and it would be another six years before I was able to move to the Netherlands and do this story the justice it deserved. Last summer, I ran a short IndieGoGo campaign to raise the funds for equipment and travel expenses, and thanks to the generosity of many of my friends and family, Lianne van den Brand and I booked our flights in the fall and spent three weeks in Nepal in January of this year. Lianne and a friend spent nine months biking to Nepal in 2008, so she was the best possible travel companion I could have hoped for. Her calm and experience, and on several occasions her medical supplies, were so greatly appreciated, and I am so grateful that we had this experience together. By the end of our two weeks staying in the home, we had Nepali names and had spent our days alongside the women helping in whatever ways we could and dancing and singing with them as much as possible. On our last night, we exchanged contact information and letters with the women and children in the home: it felt like leaving at the end of a summer camp whose campers need each other in order to live.
The month of February was spent carefully editing over 3,000 pictures and videos made in the home for exhibition at the Openbare Bibliotheek in Groningen, deliberately timed in coordination with International Women's Day. The Nepali women who stay in Ideal Home can be proud of their achievements: their artistic embroidery skills, their ability to open their own small business, their courage to dare to think they deserve better and to seek it out. The members of the Didi Foundation can be proud in knowing that their tireless efforts have resulted in a home for women to take control of their lives. I am proud to share their stories.
It was beautiful - the Himalayas are incomprehensible, even in sight of other smaller ranges, and flying into Kathmandu at golden misty sunset felt nothing short of magical. It was chaotic - smoke and exhaust and paint colors screaming to be heard over one another, unpaved roads and never a sense of peace. It was peaceful - the rusty rhythm of the water pump outside our window every morning, the necessary patience of accepting that everything happens in its own time. It was strange - to be stared at for being the minority, for being tall for once, for feeling that my very presence was remarkable. It was familiar - the build up of the heat and humidity, leading to my sunburn and a thunderstorm that I swear would have felt just the same in North Carolina. It was loving - the kids gently playing with my hair and calling me "sister," helping them with their homework and teaching them to play Uno, and having flowers from the front yard brought to my bed while I was nauseous. It was frustrating - trying to play the role of the photojournalist during the Buddhist prayer ceremony in the house and the children and women just wanting me to sit by the fire with them, and wanting to do both. It was freezing - sleeping on a thin wooden box and putting on every pair of socks I brought. It smelled like burning plastic and cloves and hand-washed clothes, it was curry-stained fingernails and embarrassment at realizing I don't know how to wash my clothes by hand. It was intense and exhausting and incredible.
It is fall break here in much of the Netherlands, so Elger and I took a long weekend trip to Berlin, where we ate too much delicious food, drank plenty of golden hefeweizen, walked until our feet wanted to fall off, and just marveled at the colors in the sky, on the trees and even on the buildings. It was just beautiful.
... means "everywhere," in slang. On the island of Terschelling, it meant artistic installations of varing success and accessibility hidden amongst the dunes and trees, and sometimes on the beaches themselves, during the annual arts, music and theatre festival. Most importantly, it meant a chance to go back to the island for the first time in four years, and to give Elger's brother, Eelke, a big hug while he was on land. He spends more than half of the year at sea working on all kinds of ships, and will set out again on Tuesday, so we all took advantage of the weekend in the sun, wind, and strange sounds.
Over the past hundred years, the province of Friesland has hosted a grueling and heroic ice skating race when the winters are harsh enough to freeze the canals, named the Elfstedentocht, or the Eleven Cities Tour. Calling them "cities" is not really dependent upon their population, so much as hundreds of years ago having filled out the appropriate paperwork to be deemed a city, and therefore many of them are really just towns. Nice towns, to be sure, but towns all the same. These eleven cities lie along such a nice route in Friesland that doing the tour is not just limited to sternly skating people, and all other modes of transportation have gotten in on the action throughout the year. There are sailing races, car races, and yesterday, the most ubiquitous Dutch way to get around, the bike Eleven Cities Tour. There were 30 cyclists riding to raise money for Amnesty International, and as a volunteer I got to spend the beautiful day in Bolsward with several other Amnesty workers, gathering (in my case, only a couple) of signatures and taking lots of photos of this endless stream of 15,000 cyclists.