Today: Elle’s 18th Birthday

Today is our daughter Elle’s 18th birthday. We celebrated her according to family tradition with an early Champagne breakfast in bed – which, by the way, made the bottle of French bubbly Elle’s first legally consumed alcoholic beverage.

I still have very vivid memories of the day our baby girl was born. I suppose most parents do. We had been living in Malmö for a couple of years and started feeling at home in our spacious apartment on Erik Dahlbergsgatan in the center of town. I was working as a freelancer and Charlotte had her day job at Malmö Aviation as manager for the airline’s call center. We enjoyed a mostly carefree life with a lot of traveling, regular dinners with friends and family and what not. Before committing to the concept of parenthood, we promised each other that we’d continue our adventorous lifestyle and bring our new family member along with us as we explored new places – which was a promise we’ve kept ever since.

Sometime after midnight, in the wee hours of November 7th, 2000, it was time for Charlotte and I to get over to the maternity ward at what was then called Malmö Allmänna Sjukhus (MAS), I phoned a local cab company from our bedroom at the apartment and specifically asked for a driver who was fluent in Swedish and knew exactly where to pick us up and, more importantly, where the entrance to the maternity ward was. As far as I remember, the driver was on time and new his stuff.

Well there, it turned out that Elle needed more time before she was ready to grace us with her beautiful being. We had a fairly quiet night at the hospital, but just after 11:00 a.m. the following morning, Charlotte delivered Elle. I had the honor of carrying our newborn to an examination room where a nurse gently cleaned her lungs from phlegm and I nervously released her from the umbilical cord hanging from her belly button. Yup, it was surreal.

Fast forward 18 years later and here we are, November 7th, 2018. Charlotte and I have long been proud of what a wonderful human being Elle is. She’s got her heart in the right place and a good dose of street smartness to boot. And our daughter continues to inspire us in multiple ways. Not in the least being her ethical perspectives and views on animal rights.

Exactly where Elle’s biggest talent lay is too early to conclude. There’s a lot of stuff that grabs her attention and keeps her busy when not at work or school. Heck, I was closer to 25 before I realized that creativity in some shape or form was going to be my knack and calling. We’ll obviously be her biggest fans forever and whatever she decides to do.

If you’re reading this, Elle, know that we love you and congratulate you on the most auspicious of birthdays, the 18th.


The South Bronx

Here’s one of the first things I saw upon entering the South Bronx late last week with my excellent guide, Alexandra Maruri at bronxhistoricaltours.com. It had been close to 10 years since I was there to produce an article for a magazine (either Allt om Resor or Inrikes) and I was way beyond curious about how things had developed in the area.

While most of Manhattan seems to be under siege by construction companies renovating old buildings and erecting new and impossibly tall glass towers, in one of New York’s most legendary boroughs, the neighborhood called the South Bronx or SoBro, isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it needs and deserves. Not that nothing had changed for the better, just not as much as I (naively) had expected. Sometimes, I’m just way too optimistic (and impatient).

The good news is that I did see quite a bit of positivity, mostly from within the community itself. Spoke with police officer while I was visiting the 40th precinct and he seemed optimistic. And a rep named Joe for a developer called Somerset went into some detail about his company’s committment to developing a big chunk of land near the Harlem River and will be hiring locals for the commercial and residential property project.

The South Bronx a.k.a. Boogie Down Bronx is a survivor and I am confident the neighborhood will thrive once again – as it did when folks like Al Pacino, Edgar Allan Poe, Colin Powell, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and many others lived there.


The Impossible Burger with a Catch

I visit the States at least once a year. It’ll be three times before 2018 comes to an end and if there’s one thing I can almost always count on during my visits, it’s the excellent dining experience I have at the vast majority of American restaurants I eat at. Especially in New York where over the years I’ve enjoyed hundreds of absolutely terrific meals from high-end to low-end.

But then Catch came along…

Taking the elevator from the dark, ground level entrance up to the restaurant’s dining room is in itself a clever means to retain customers. I don’t think it was a deliberate strategy when the owners opened the place, but regardless, once there, you feel like you’ve already made a commitment and kind of give in to whatever awaits once the elevator doors close behind you. Especially when you’re hungry.

Our party of five were seated reasonably fast on the lush terrace but then had to wait about 10 minutes before one of the half-dozen servers showed up at our table. In the meantime, a friendly busboy provided us with water but couldn’t offer us more than that – and an embarrassing smile as the wait prolonged. Such is the hierarchy at most a la carte restaurants and diners in the US.

Once the 30 something server did appear, he offered us only a smile and a promise to return »in just a minute« before rushing off again. We all looked at each other in sheer disbelief. Was he joking? The restaurant had only a few other lunch guests, so we didn’t understand why he kept us waiting – or why customers that had arrived after us were being taken care of before us. Was it perhaps because the maître d’ assumed we were European (i.e. poor tippers) and intentionally un-prioritized us?

After an additional five minutes, (yes, I was timing his promise), the server finally showed up to take our orders. I politely let him know we were a little disappointed about the 15-minute delay. But instead of apologizing, he unabashedly decided to contradict me by claiming that no, our wait had been less than 10 minutes. As if even 10 minutes wasn’t pushing it already. WTF?

We all chose the much-hyped vegan alternative, The Impossible Burger as well as a few batches of truffle fried fries.

Personally, I found the laboratory-derived burger to be surprisingly juicy and flavorful. My taste buds might have been way off due to high expectations, but I don’t think most people would be able to discern whether or not an Impossible Burger is made from plant-based ingredients or USDA Prime Ground Beef. I know I couldn’t. Insofar of taste, texture, and smell, I’d easily guess it was the real deal. Which is a little scary and for some reson reminded me of the 1970s Sci-Fi dystopia, Soylent Green.

Perhaps our server was just having a bad day. Maybe he was a little hungover. Who knows, right? In any case, we felt that for our $200 lunch at Catch we should have received much better service and less attitude.

There are plenty of really good alternative eateries in the Meatpacking District and several places on Manhattan that offer the Impossible Burger for much less than the $19 they charge at Catch.

We all felt that the restaurant’s poor service coupled with an ambitious positioning on New York’s culinary map was nothing short of a total mismatch.

Catch certainly needs to catch up with its prestige.


A Wall in New York

I say forget about shopping in New York. It’s not going to be much cheaper than in Europe and much more importantly, we all need to chill out when it comes to our out-of-control consuming habit/addiction. The planet is already threatening us with some serious consequences if we don’t get our act together.

Anyway, after breakfast with my friend Siddarth at the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca this morning, I stumbled onto this fella in Chinatown. Apparently, a painting like this one can cost an advertiser up to $10k/week to expose their product or service on a wall. Shot entirely handheld on the new iPhone Xs Max.


Back in New York City

Back in Gotham. It’s been a couple of years…but it didn’t take more than a few minutes on the Williamsburg Bridge late last night for me to be in awe again. How can you not be? I’ve actually lost count of my visits to New York City. At least 20. Maybe even as many as 30. In addition to absorbing the art scene and an intention of revisiting the South Bronx and an artist friend in Washington Heights (where btw HBO’s The Deuce is filmed), I’m primarily here to shoot material for a travel story – and some b-roll for a music video I’ve been hired to produce next month.

I love arriving at this city at night. Especially when flying into JFK. After about 8 or 9pm, the lines through immigration move much faster and traffic towards Manhattan is usually wonderfully light. We took an Über XL to NoLita and got dropped off just outside the apartment we’ve rented which is literally right next door to the popular vegetarian restaurant Butcher’s Daughter and Black Seed Bagel. And just four blocks along Houston, at the north end of the Lower East Side, there’s a nice big Whole Foods. Which in itself is almost a good enough reason to visit New York?

That and the breathtaking diversity here. I often use New York as »Exhibit A« when talking about Malmö’s integration challenges. The sheer disparity in size certainly makes the two cities hard to juxtapose at first glance. But there are actually enough similarities, at least for me to predict that in time, Malmö will also take advantage of its tremendous potential – that lay within the current integration issues – and slowly see how they will metamorphize into extraordinary strengths. In time, perhaps a generation or two ahead of us, Malmö will ultimately become the envy of most other cities. Just like New York is today.

More photos from New York City here.


New site for my short films

Might need a few minor tweaks, but in essence, my new short film focused site, www.kortfilmsproduktion.se is now live. It’s in Swedish, because though I’d love to work even more abroad, the reality is my work comes from domestic, local companies and organizations, most of which are right here in Malmö.

Over the last few years, I’ve produced a bunch of advertising and marketing videos for my clients. Four that I know of have been broadcast on regional television (TV 4) and the rest were uploaded to corporate websites and pushed out through social media channels.

Being born and – at least in my most formative years – raised in Hollywood (West Hollywood), I guess it was inexorable that I’d one day end up working with motion pictures. My parents did so for a while in the late 1950s and in the mid 1980s, my brother Tyko and I both worked on a few of that decadent decades most commercially successful TV shows, including, Cagney & Lacey, Moonlighting and Hunter. I particularly remember one episode of Cagney & Lacey that took place in a nightclub somewhere in North Hollywood and where one of my favorite musical artists, Chaka Khan had a cameo guest appearance. I was an extra on the set and my “role” was simple; get Chaka Khan’s autograph. We must of re-done the scene ten times and for every new take, I had to walk up to Chaka, who was sitting on a barstool next to a tall, round table just off the dance floor, and ask for her autograph. Before the eight or ninth take, I wrote on the cover of the autograph pad, “I’m going to go crazy if I have to do this again”. When Mrs Khan saw my little comment, she looked up at me, smiled warmly and wrote, “ME TOO!!! on the pad. I might still have that pad somewhere in the archives.

Working as a non-union extra and stand-in back in 1986 was interesting, albeit a bit boring. Hours were long and after a while, the dream of being “discovered”, offered a role as a cast member and membership into the Screen Actors Guild, waned. Still, the experience opened my mind to how intriguingly complicated it was to produce films, television shows and commercials. And just how much the initial, rudimentary concept of storytelling through moving pictures had evolved. Back in those days, everything was captured with either film stock or directly to video tape, all depending on what the budgetary constraints were like. I am convinced that my current iPhone offers better resolution and dynamic range than the video cameras used on Cagney & Lacey or Hunter did.

My unique selling point as a producer of short films is that I’m like a Swiss army knife, or, a Leatherman if that’s your preference. While most film production companies need up to a half dozen employees for each small assignemnt – and charging an arm and a leg to produce it – I usually only need one assistent to get more or less the same results. But I’m not comparing quality here. It’s just that when film projects get too complicated, i.e. overstaffed and exuberantly expensive, it’s usually because there are more people involved than the project really demands. So now I’ve got this website for clients that have come to this exakt same realisation.


When the leaves fall

Here’s my short film from two of Malmö’s adjacent parks, Kungsparken and Slottsparken. I shot most of it in the beginning of October and the scenes with the two extras, Andrea Pålsson (22 yrs) and Kerstin Holmqvist (82 yrs) about ten days ago.

I really want folks that view my work to interpret it for themselves. I think that’s the only reasonable position one can have as an artist. Any other expectation is bound to disappoint. That said, I still feel I need to contextualize a little (spoiler alert!).

The genesis of the film’s concept was to make a visually compelling connection between the transformation brought on by an unusually vivid and balmy autumn, and a seasonal shift of sorts that we all go through biologically as we age. When the young girl sits down on the bench, closes her eyes, puts on her hat, life fast-forwards and she is transformed to an older version of herself. It’s a cliché how life passes so fast. But true nonetheless.


Slow Fluid Progress

Sunday morning. It’s quiet and windless. Which is unusual for this time of year. I wonder if that too can be chalked up to climate change.

There’s a lot of stuff going on right now – most of it behind the scenes. It’s not more than I can handle, but a distinct increase when compared to just three weeks ago when most of my mental capacity was dedicated to yoga, perpetuating a nutritional life and absorbing creativity.

I’m still maintaining more or less the same mindset, but also spending a lot of my awake-time figuring out how to design, structure and consequently launch two new sites: one for my short films and one for my paintings. I’m also transitioning the contents of www.raboff.com to two language specific domains: www.raboffphotography.com and www.fotografraboff.se and letting www.raboff.com become the bulkhead/switchboard for all of the companies online properties. It’s going to take some time, but should be finished by the end of November.

The shot above is from one of last week’s visits to Kungsparken/Slottsparken here in Malmö where this most magnificent fountain resides.


Kata Hot Yoga

Here’s the video from my assignment for Airline Staff Rates on Phuket at Kata Hot Yoga in southwestern Thailand. In what was literally one of the hottest projects I’ve had so far, I was both surprised and grateful that the cameras I used didn’t overheat. On the other hand, I was completely drenched in sweat after just a few minutes in the studio at 40C /40% humidity.

I shot the bulk of the footage with the Sony A7III using three primes; 18mm, 35mm and 85mm. A few of the scenes were captured with a GoPro Hero 6.

Thanks to Goovert at Kata Hot Yoga and gracious instructor Alexandra for  allowing me into their classes.


Long exposures in the park

I shot this long exposure in the park of the wonderfully lit promenade – which is located along Regementsgatan across the street from Borgarskolan where Elle attends high school – last night at about 7:30 pm. For once it was completely windless in the park – which isn’t very far from the windy shores where we live.

I’d been meaning to return to this particular path before the leaves had withered or blown away, and last night was an optimal occasion for long exposures in the park. Have to mention that I did start the evening with a very juicy and tasty vegetarian burrito over at the Burrito Bar on Fersens väg. Probably the best I’ve ever had anywhere in Sweden. Aside from those I make at home…

Taking landscapes at night reminds me of analogue photography. I guess it’s the waiting for a long exposure to finish and the anticipation of how the photo turns out – which is not too dissimilar to what it was like developing a roll of film in a darkroom. You never knew for sure if you’d gotten all the settings right and if the image you had in your mind’s eye at the time the shutter button was released was what appeared in the tray. There’s more magic involved than during a daytime or studio shoot where instant gratification is, well, instant. My settings were ISO 100. f-stop 22 with an exposure time of 120 seconds.

Last night, I was focused on what is called “Blue Hour”, the hour that follows “Golden Hour” which in turn refers to the sunset hour. Whereas “Golden Hour” provides a warm, soft and flattering light with long shadows, “Blue Hour” is shadowless and colder but offers a gorgeous contrast when juxtaposed against a candescent light source or warm color hues, like fallen autumn leaves.

It’s clearly the case that I have fallen in love with Malmö’s public park with two names; Kungsparken and Slottsparken. It’s small enough to be walkable and offers astonishing variety that includes a moated castle, a couple of restaurants, a botanical garden, canals, beautiful bridges and even a casino. I’ve walked, biked, jogged and even paddled through the park – I was once a member of Malmö’s kayak club, which is also located there.

I spent about two hours photographing last night. It was the perfect distraction from my marathon video editing during the day.


Groove Salad

Here’s a shot of one of the three salad bowls I made for the family for dinner last night. I call this particular composition, Groove Salad – which is the namesake of my long-running, favorite Internet Radio Station. I’ve eating raw vegetables as far back as I can remember and it’s just about the only food I recall my mother ever making for my brother and myself. I mean, I’m sure she cooked other stuff, at least once in a while. I just seem to have lost the memories of what the other meals were. What I do recollect, however, is that for the most part, we ate frozen dinners (called, TV Dinners), take-away junk from a local fast-food restaurant or, just a very simple salad – but nothing as elaborate as the one pictured above. If I feel pretty sure that if I hadn’t eaten at school, I think my body might of suffered from nutrition deficiency. Not that any of the schools I went to served great food. Just better than most of what we ate at home.

It might sound like I’m touting my own horn here, but I’ve always make an effort to prepare healthy and tasty food for the family. I don’t understand parents that buy, nuke and then serve prefab dinners to their families. I get that frozen meals are relatively cheap and represent a time-saver. But look close enough at what they really contain, and it’s plain to see how little nourishment is provided inside. Which essentially makes them more expensive than what the attractive price-tag suggests. It’s a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the food industry. You buy a prefab dinner with the hope it provides sustenance. But what you get is crappy, over-processed, texturizing ingredients that taste better than they should – thanks to being doused with sugar, salt and a slew of chemically fueled enhancers.

Here’s the what went into yesterday’s salad: chopped cabbage, sliced carrots, diced tomatoes, finely cut rruccola, sliced leek, oven-baked sweet potato and asparagus, sweet corn, roasted sunflower seeds and black sesame seeds. I topped our salad bowls with a thick, feta cheese and avocado dressing.

More images of (less healthy but great tasting food) can be ingested here.
Listen to Groove Salad here.

How to Edit Video

Just thought of the old adage, “there’s no great writing, only great editing”. I’d argue that proverb applies to any creative process. As long as the material you’re editing is editable, that is. Shit in, shit out, so to speak. You can certainly package junk nicely and give the illusion that it contains something worthwhile. Like the Eurovision Song Contest which is absolutely beautifully produced, but is still shite.

I can totally dig that a lot of folks appreciate spectacles like the ESC. They’re packaged as premium quality goods, but the entertainment value is not based on the tremendous amount of talent on display. It’s the spectacle, the party and the world-class production quality that provides the illusive nature of big-ass, television extravaganzas. It’s so huge and popular, it just has to be good, right? Whenever I get a glimpse of so-called talent shows, what keeps me watching is the real-time editing that’s going on behind the scenes. Now that’s where the real talent is; behind the console in the control room and everyone running the show. I can watch a few minutes, just to learn more about how to edit video.

I’m currently editing video footage from my 10 day yoga challenge at Kata Hot Yoga. By noon tomorrow, I should have a rough edit of the final short film with material from a couple of the classes I captured. For documentary projects like this, I work organically and just try to go with the flow, gathering as much footage as I possibly can during whatever time I’ve been allocated for filming.

Editing video is much like writing or painting. You start with a clean slate and slowly create something from nothing. Choosing which video clips to use, picking the right words to express yourself with or selecting colors to use on a canvas, are all part of the same creative undertaking. These initial choices just have to be made. But you know from the get-go that you’ll be changing them, one way or another – once you’re in the editing process. And you have to give it some time to settle and simmer. Then go back and tweak it some more.

I see editing as a reductive phase. Similar to when reducing a sauce or cooking a broth. The objective is to cut the fat, get lean and focus on the essential. Tell the story in the shortest possible way. Respect the viewer’s time.


Cilantro Burritos on my mind

Not always, but often enough, it takes time for me to fully appreciate how good something is. I can’t explain it, but evidently, just like most other folks, I have a fear of the unknown, anxiety of the untried and an unwillingness to abandon my comfort zone. I’m fully aware of this and continuously try to overcome all of the above.

The older you get, I wager that it becomes even more important to quite literally force yourself into new experiences. Keeping the mind and intellect agile and fluid will fend off neurological decay and decrepitude.

I recently heard an interview with Adam Cohen, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s son. I’ve never been a fan of the music, but as of recently, I started appreciating a level of soulfulness in his lyrics. In the interview, which you can listen to hear, Adam Cohen shared his admiration for his father’s strength and determination to continue writing new material, and, unlike many of his contemporaries, not just regurgitate his greatest hits.

Jokingly, I like to compare the enjoyment of sex with the taste of cilantro or coriander. Both are a little weird at first, but can eventually become an acquired taste – once you figure out the compatibility equation.

I made vegan burritos for dinner yesterday and served them with a deep bowl brimming with homemade salsa verde. The tidy bush of fresh cilantro, like the one above used for my salsa, wouldn’t have been part of anything I would cook when I was younger. Before I got a penchant for the herb, I thought coriander tasted and smelled strange – like a soap. But after a few really good cilantro laden dinners in Cancun and my native southern Cal

Not always, but often enough, it takes time for me to fully appreciate how good something is. I can’t explain it, but evidently, just like most other folks, I have a fear of the unknown, anxiety of the untried and an unwillingness to abandon my comfort zone. I’m fully aware of this and continuously try to overcome all of the above.

The older you get, I wager that it becomes even more important to quite literally force yourself into new experiences. Keeping the mind and intellect agile and fluid will fend off neurological decay and decrepitude.

I recently heard an interview with Adam Cohen, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s son. I’ve never been a fan of the music, but as of recently, I started appreciating a level of soulfulness in his lyrics. In the interview, which you can listen to hear, Adam Cohen shared his admiration for his father’s strength and determination to continue writing new material, and, unlike many of his contemporaries, not just regurgitate his greatest hits.

Jokingly, I like to compare the enjoyment of sex with the taste of cilantro or coriander. Both are a little weird at first, but can eventually become an acquired taste – once you figure out the compatibility equation.

I made vegan burritos for dinner yesterday and served them with a deep bowl brimming with homemade salsa verde. The tidy bush of fresh cilantro, like the one above used for my salsa, wouldn’t have been part of anything I would cook when I was younger. Before I got a penchant for the herb, I thought coriander tasted and smelled strange – like a soap. But after a few really good cilantro laden dinners in Cancun and my native southern California, something happened and I started to dig how well it went with all kinds of other ingredients. Today, I would have no problem whatsoever muting down a salad bowl full of freshly cut cilantro. 

Read what Wikipedia has to say about Coriander/Cilantro/Chinese Parsley here.

ifornia, something happened and I started to dig how well it went with all kinds of other ingredients. Today, I would have no problem whatsoever muting down a salad bowl full of freshly cut cilantro. 

Read what Wikipedia has to say about Coriander/Cilantro/Chinese Parsley here.


Filming & Badmouthing

This is model Andrea from yesterday’s film project shot at Kungsparken/Slottsparken here in Malmö and themed on autumn and on change. While work is piling up on my desktop, I’d almost be committing high treason if I didn’t take advantage of the breathtaking weather and outstanding color pageant we’re being treated to right now.

Just to get a feel for the light, gear and milieu early yesterday before I started filming, I composed the portrait above (and few others) using my primary lens, the Zeiss 85mm at f2 and a shutter speed of 800.

The rest of the morning’s shoot with Andrea (22) and Kerstin (82) went really well. We wrapped at noon and as soon as I have a little time to start editing the material (captured on the Sony and the Mavic), I’ll publish the autumn themed short film here. So stay tuned!

And now a little note on something that’s been lingering for a while…

I love taking portraits. Both on location and in a studio environment. Over the years, I’ve shot several hundred portraits, and though admittedly, there have been a few duds, everyone bombs once in a while, the vast majority of my clients have been very pleased with my work and returned over and over again. The praise I received for my portraits in last year’s 240-page interview/portrait book about the folks working behind the scenes at Malmö Opera was constantly positive.

I mentioned this only because I have a former client I’ve heard has badmouthed me by claiming I shouldn’t be hired for anything other than photographing buildings and landscapes. That I am terrible at taking portraits. I’m assuming that he’s been saying this because of his discontentment with portraits I’ve taken of him in the past. As experienced as I am and as untrue as such a bold statement is, it’s nonetheless hurtful to hear it. Especially when you hear it second hand – both on a personal level but also the implications of shoveling bullshit like that could have on me professionally. I think the guy’s critique is unfair and unjustified.

Now, I don’t mean to be mean, but this fellow has really bad, but certainly not irreparable, teeth. They’re all over the place and regardless of how he smiles with an open mouth, his choppers just stand out like a cluster of sore thumbs. He’s a tall, athletically built dude with a reasonably good posture and hairdo, but as successful as he is at what he does, the thought of having his teeth fixed/straightened/whitened has apparently never come to mind. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a scrooge or just doesn’t want to acknowledge that his smile would look so much more pleasant if he just invested a few buckaroos to fix them. I’m surprised that no one close to him has suggested, or, at least hinted, that he should perhaps talk to a dentist about this.

Just to be perfectly clear, I’m not saying that fixing the guy’s teeth would instantly improve him photogenically. But I don’t think his self-confidence would suffer from such a procedure. And I think it’s just that, his insecurity, that makes him such a difficult client to please. And more importantly, at least from my point of view as a photographer, a little dental work would make the life of anybody shooting him a helluva lot easier.


Not so Hot Yoga

Woke up at 05:00 am again this morning, right before my alarm’s snooze reminder set in. Slept well and felt refreshed as I went through a 75 minute yoga session in our home office. I’d rolled out the yoga matt last night to help remind me (and motivate). Starting the morning in an energizing way usually makes all the difference to how I mentally tackle the bombardment of the day’s challenges and accomplishments.

This morning I practiced Bikram yoga with two sets of the 26 designated poses and integrated a couple of Hatha and Ashtanga positions as well in my usual mixtape fashion. I’d turned the room’s heater up to max, but it was nowhere near as hot or humid as it should be. I might have to invest in a small heater to put the “hot” back into hot yoga.

I’m still in awe of how much better I feel after a yoga session. After so many years of running myself silly outside or on a treadmill at the gym and lifting/pulling/pushing weights. I might not be building much muscle mass with my not-so-hot-yoga session – but the benefits are certainly paying off by flushing lubricating fluids throughout my ligaments and joints. For me, right now, anyway, it’s all about reducing stiffness and allowing me to feel flexible and agile.I took the image above at Kata Hot Yoga in Phuket a few weeks ago.


Blackkklansman

About a year ago, on the parking lot where Washington Boulevard ends and the Venice Beach pier begins, at the most western point of Los Angeles county, I happened to walk pass the film director Spike Lee. As our eyes connected for a second or two, I heard myself say reflexively, “Love your work, man”. Mr Lee acknowledged me with a nod, smiled and said, “Thank you, man”. Visit L.A. often enough, and you’re bound to brush against famousfolks in the film industry from time to time.

I continued walking across the lot with the surfboard under my arm towards the north side of the pier where steady sets of crystal clear, four foot waves were beckoning. By the time the cold Pacific Ocean had reached the wetsuit’s waistline, thoughts of my brief encounter with one of the world’s most respected directors, had been replaced with anticipation of the curling waves in front of me. Fact is, I hadn’t thought much of the short episode until yesterday evening when a friend and I saw Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman.

The movie’s plot centers on Ron Stallworth,(played by Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington) the first African-American police detective in Colorado Springs, who came up with a genius way of going undercover to investigate a local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The movie takes place in the late 1970s and is based on Ron Stallworth’s experiences written in his memoir, Black
Klansman.

I thought the movie was really good. It was funny and suspenseful and had a brilliant cast. It’s a Hollywood studio film, but one with more sensibility than I’ve seen in many, many years. Some might find the depiction of the klansman as clichéd, but from my limited experience of talking to folks that have bought into contemporary conservative rhetoric, it’s now really just a fine line that separates the two.

Slowly paving the way for discriminatory values to become acceptable opinions was the film’s most important message.

The epilogue, with scenes from the Charlottesville demonstrations and murder of 32 year oldHeather Heyer by neo-nazi James A. Fields, left the entire theater completely silent. I’ve never experienced that before and I think it was a bold idea by Mr Lee. It sadly reminded us that though progress has been made, there is no doubt that racism in the US is still rampant. And I’d have to be mentally impaired to not see how the current president is directly and indirectly fueling a fire that should of been extinguished long ago.

The photo above is fitting insofar that it was shot right outside of Venice Beach police station one early morning a few years ago as I was heading to or from Breakwater, one of the most popular surf spots between Santa Monica and Vencie piers.


Broadchurch

It’s getting darker for every day here in northern Europe now. Temperatures are still relatively humane and I hope the colorful foliage on our garden’s trees and in Malmö’s parks last for a few more weeks. I’ve been shooting a lot in Slottsparken recently and have a neat little autumn film project in the works.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber like me, mid-autumn means it’s a great time to discover and binge-watch a couple of drama series – as means to sneakily ease yourself into accepting that we’ll all be spending more time indoors than outdoors for the next 5-6 months. 

A Brittish friend on our street recently recommended Broadchurch and I’m already halfway through the first of three seasons.

The plot isn’t spectacularly original or terribly riveting, the opposite is probably a more appropriate discription. Which is concurrently exactly what makes the show so intriguing. Like many Brittish dramas that unfold somewhere in the Brittish countryside, or, in this case along the southeast coast, near Dorset, it’s the amalgamation of mundanity coupled with the privilege of unbridled voyeurism that pulls you in to the town of Broadchurch and the well-played characters seemingly ordinary lives. Like a good Agatha Christie novel or film, the show spends a generous amount of time establishing the main characters and then allows for ample time so they can be self-implicated suspects in the ongoing murder case

Fans of the The Night Manager and The Crown will enjoy yet another wonderful performance by Olivia Colman in Broadchurch as tough but warm-hearted detective Ellie Miller. The image above is from a small lighthouse not far from where we live.


Twenty Years of Email, Oh My!

I shot this dramatic storm front a few years ago. It hovered over our street for a few minutes and then moved on, dropping a torrential downpour just a few km north of us. I don’t think I’ve ever published the photo here on the site and as I’m soon about to rearrange our company’s domain structure a bit, I figured why not use it to illustrate some nostalgia.

I registered the domain www.raboff.com in 1998 without thinking too much about what I was doing. It just seemed like a good move to secure my last name before anyone else did. I’d bought an expensive network-enabled Macintosh Performa 630 a few years earlier and had found loads of uses for it. It allowed me to scan photos for art projects, research subjects I was lecturing on as an instructor at Gothenburg International Hospitality College and it helped me prepare for classes I taught as a substitute teacher at Vuxengymnasiet. I loved that little computer and it served me well for a few years. It was my second Mac after the portable but less useful Powerbook 100 that I’d bought six years earlier. If I had to guess, I’d say there have been at least 15 Apple branded computers since the Performa.

Anyway, back to the mid 1990s. This is when I collaborated a great deal with Johan, a Swedish-English fellow who was much more web savvy than I but both us felt super excited about all the possibilities the Internet could unleash. We weren’t visionaries by any stretch of the imagination, except perhaps in our own minds, but there was no doubt that we saw the seemingly unlimited potential of what could be accomplished with so many people connected to each other.

Where most of the domains on the World Wide Web were still in a very primitive stage insofar that layout and design was terrible to look at and sites were clunky and unwieldily to navigate, Email was a powerful communication tool that was graphically mature, sleek almost, and most importantly, offered a user-friendly means of communicating to friends and family all over the world. After logging on via the modem’s blinks, blips and beeps, emailing someone felt relatively instantaneous and therefore tremendously gratifying. You couldn’t use your landline simultaneously once you were online, though.

I vividly remember how launching my dedicated email application Eudora and then watching new messages pop up in my inbox was hypnotically exciting stuff. And above all, when compared to message boards, an email could be made endlessly personal by attaching photos, illustrations and even dingbats. I could easily spend hours on end writing and editing emails and waiting for answers to arrive with Eudora’s tinny chime.

Somewhere in the depths of our storage room, I know Charlotte has archived a tidy collection of printed emails that I sent her in those early days of our relationship. And I’m sure Elle will love reading through a few of them sometime in the future. I think my very first email address was burp@pp.telia.se

Hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that email address meant anything.

Sadly, email seems to be heading towards the same pasture as the dodo bird. I’m sounding like a crumugeon now, but I can’t see how the various chat and messaging apps are worthy replacements for a well-crafted email. Which is likely exactly how folks feel that prefer handwritten letters over those written digitally.

 

Eudora Email

 


A panic visit to IKEA and why I’m not a fan of the retail experience

When Apple launched their own brick and mortar stores several years ago, like many other curious visitors and potential customers, I thought their concept was blissfully brilliant. I’ve used Apple computers as my tools of choice for close to three decades. My main argument for paying the premium “Apple tax” has always been that their computers (and other gadgets) have facilitated my creative expression without getting in the way of it. Theoretically, you could run a marathon in wooden clogs. But who the fuck would want to do that?

It was easy to get seduced by the new Apple stores. Unlike any other computer retailer, they were sparsely furnished and roomy, beautifully lit and had giant hands-on tables for trying out the company’s shiny new computers and iPods. I loved the idea with the Genius Bar and the Theatre (found mostly in flagship stores) where Apple experts would demonstrate and teach how to use the company’s software. Interacting with Apple’s retail staff was usually pleasurable, if a bit weird in a “Truman Show” kind of way. The store’s locations were always great, too. Like the Apple store in the old post office on Prince Street and the glass cube on 5th Avenue in New York. Of course, as Apple’s hardware became increasingly popular, the stores got really crowded. Especially during peak shopping hours and throughout most of the holiday season. Overall, I think the retail experience has become increasingly unpleasant and burdensome. There’s too many people and way too many colors, signs and bling trying to grab my attention – and mall/store layouts that are convoluted and confusing to navigate through (obviously designed to keep you in the store as long as possible and thereby increase spending). I see it as a necessary evil when I’m “forced” to get something at a shopping center. Adn it only takes but a few minutes for me to feel mentally saturated from all the stimuli.

For several years now and on an almost daily basis, I’ve been an avid online shopper. I buy all kinds of stuff, including (but not limited to) food, clothes and shoes. I even buy furniture, cameras and related gear and book flights and make hotel reservations – all online and always at my convenience using just my fingertips. My family insists that I’m addicted to shopping at Amazon UK and to a lesser degree at Ebay UK. And they’re right. Unlike the stereotypical male, I actually enjoy shopping – as long as it’s online where the experience is both calmer, easier and faster. And even if I can’t feel the products being browsed physically, I think it’s a tremendous benefit to be able to read reviews from folks that have already purchased and tried them out. Given that many of Amazon’s reviews are bogus and probably written by the company selling them (or, if negative, by a competitor). Shop online long enough, I find that you’ll eventually hone in on which reviews are real and the fakes. It’s all part of the online research process that I’ve become accustomed to and enjoy. Admittely, I screw up once in a while. Maybe in a year I’ll have 3-4 returns. That’s all.

Yesterday, I had to return a few things to IKEA that Charlotte had bought for my new art space. It was Saturday and marvelous weather, so we figured most folks would be outdoors, enjoying what might just well be one of the last sunny days of the year. Nothing could have been wronger than that figuring. The store was so swarming with visitors, that I had to continually dodge, lunge and leap to make the slightest progress along the “snake” (IKEA-speak for the arrow marked path that wiggles customers through the store).

Ironically, the amount of visitors at IKEA yesterday afternoon was negligable when compared to just about any department store in Asia. But after the morning’s long run along an empty beach, I suppose I was taken aback by the slow-moving crowds at the furnishing giant’s behemoth warehouse. So, I had a mini panic attackk and just wanted to get out of there asap. For some reason, maybe after quitting coffee over 5 weeks ago, my sense of smell has improved considerably. And as I was passing through the various departments on my way to the cashiers (where Charlotte was waiting patiently for me), I sensed a strong odor of plastic and glue, as if much of the thousands of products displayed had just arrived from the factories without having been aired properly. It got me thinking about the scale of such operation, the turnover of products and all the micro-particles of solvents, paints and adhesive fumes that must be constantly flying around in the warehouse – and inhaled by the many young and old, unsuspecting visitors and workforce. I wonder what the lungs of those that work there look like after a few years. Where is Hans-Günter Wallraff, by the way?

About a decade ago, I spent 5-6 years consulting on various internal projects at IKEA, primarily in Älmhult, but also in Delft/Holland. I worked mostly as a creative coach helping out with communication and marketing campaigns. It was interesting, but in the long run, more taxing to my health than fiscally rewarding. I met the founder, Ingvar Kamprad on a few occasions. The guy had huge hands and a friendly smile.

I’ve always thought of IKEA as the McDonalds of the furniture world and that the humble tone they want customers to hear is a really genious marketing ploy aimed at adding artficial heart and warmth to their sales pitch. Kind of like the Ronald Mcdonald clown. At its core, IKEA is like any other multinational corporation, no matter how hard they try to humanize the brand with a sweet voice that sounds caring and thoughtful. The bottom line is and always will be; profit first.

On the one hand, it’s hard not to admire IKEA’s enormous success. They are by far the largest and most successful furniture compnay in the world. But when you step back a bit and allow yourself to contemplate the real price for their long-term goals and the extremely negative environmental impact their concept of, “providing a range of home furnishing products that are affordable to the many people, not just the few”, and how the implications of such a bold mission statement imposes enormous resource demands on the planet, it’s kind of disgusting. Read the lastest report from the United Nations on how bad shape the planet could be in as soon as 2040.

Even if we forget the massive amounts of fosil fuel needed to produce and transport the company’s wide range of offerings, most of the products from IKEA are in one way or another either made from or dependent on really bad-for-the-planet plastics, glues, paints and other toxic materials and ingredients. Then add that most, but not all, of the company’s 10,000+ products are designed and produced primarily for large-scale production (to keep prices low/increase profit profit margins) and that the company still doesn’t have a serious recycling policy in place, it becomes crystal clear that IKEA is not genuinly interested in being a Earth-friendly corporate citizen. The company’s management just doesn’t care enough to warrant changes that might decrease profitability and hinder their ambitious growth strategy. I’m not saying that Walmart, Amazon, ILVA or other furniture companies are better than IKEA. But it’s sad that the leader of the pack isn’t doing more to show sincerity and take leadership in environmental issues that impact us all. If the most well-known and profitable furniture company in the known universe can’t come up with a few truly innovative ideas to substantially reduce their pollution and increase sustainability, we’re pretty much screwed.

Like many consumers these days, we’re trying to make a consistent effort to refrain from shopping goods that haven’t been recycled or are manufactured in a way that is considerate of the planet’s limited resources and our environment. Yet I’m the first to admit there’s still plenty of room for improvement on our part.

Unlike IKEA and most other successful consumer-oriented brands that I can think of right now, only just a few companies like Patagonia and Apple own a clear vision and have taken a firm stance with their environmental policies. Their eco-friendly positioning adds value to their brand, their products and services as well as makes such good business sense that it’s apparently worth pursuing full-on. Incidentally, most of Apple’s efforts have been implemented under Tim Cook’s leadership. I don’t think Steve Jobs really gave a shit about the environment. And I don’t think that Ingvar Kamprad did, either. Not really. Not sincerely.

Where IKEA uses clever PR fluff and barely measurable, incremental efforts (in the grand scheme of things) to try to convince us they are in fact doing their veru best and really, really do care about the planet, Apple has been pushing the sustainability envelope for several years and just recently announced groundbreaking commitments that will lessen their environmental footprint even more – like improving the quality of their products so they last longer. So, yes I admire Apple for more than just the quality and thoughtfulness they put into their products. For a corporation, they have soul and heart.

We talk a about stuff like this at home. Not every dinner, but the topic of sustainability comes up now and again. And when it does, it often pertains to food and clothes. We travel a great deal for work (and pleasure) and there is no denying we should at least fly less if we really wanted to reduce our own carbon footprint. Being consequential isn’t easy for a mere consumer. That said, I think it’s important to be mindful about companies we buy from and the food we eat and clothes we wear. Hopefully Elle will absorb some of our discussions and create her very own mission statement.

Shot the beautiful Malmöhus Slott above yesterday afternoon. There’s something about that castle that I love. Maybe because it was where Elle and I spent so many weekends when she was a child. Maybe it’s because the structure itself somehow represents an echo of historic sustainability that resonates with me.


Post Asia xsMAX 10k

Mrs Raboff and I went for a wonderfully energizing 10k run this morning in what I think was the best possible weather; zero wind and 12 °C/53 °F with a little sunshine – just to add some color to our path along the beach. It was my first run in a while and though relatively slow paced, I feel good to have completed the challenge. Running with 6kg less around the waist seem to make it a little easier on my knees and ankles.  Could also be my imagination. We’ll see later today how sore they arenike-run-club

The beach run here in Malmö is nothing short of phenomenal. Especially on days like this when it’s so sublimely placid. After being utterly immersed in hyper-intense Bangkok – where over 8 million people dwell – an early morning run on an empty beach felt surreal. By the time we reached the halfway point, in Limhamn somewhere, and were on our way back to Västra Hamnen, we met dozens of colorfully dressed joggers of all ages and strides.

I ran with the new iPhone Xs Max in my pocket and took the above/below shots with it. The new dual camera’s larger sensors, new image signal processor and neural engine chip produce images with an astonishing amount of dynamic range. Face ID unlocks the phone seamlessly and though a whole different UX (user experience), I’m already up to speed navigating throughout iOS12 using the intuitive swiping gestures.

ribersborgs kallbadhus

 


Hotel Beds & New Art Studio

At hotels, I often find myself thinking about all the thousands of folks that have slept in the exact same bed that I’m going to be sleeping in. Thankfully it’s a fleeting thought, because by indulging too much on this topic, one might feel less inclined to stay at hotels.

Over the last five weeks, I’ve slept in five different beds. Interestingly, each one has been much better than the previous. The mattress I slept on during my 10 day Bikram Yoga challenge just barely qualified as a bed. It was hard as hell and had pillows that were anything but comfortable. I have no idea what they were stuffed with. Shredded cardboard? But I just sort of added the sleeping discomfort to the rest of my ongoing challenge.

Unsurprisingly, none of the five beds I slept on came remotely close to offering the same level of repose as our bed at home does – though the king size mattress at the Peninsula came fairly close, mostly thanks to linnen that was softer than what we sleep on/in. But on the other hand, we never use softeners or mangle our linnen.

I think one of the key factors to our bed’s luxurious feel are the two extra thick, double mattresses and the top layer mattress, all from Hilding Anders. We enjoying sleeping a bit elevated and so both Charlotte and I have to literally jump a little to get up on the bed.

Our sleeping kit didn’t cost as much as even the least expensive from Hästens, but far exceeded the most costly (but not nearly as good) solution from IKEA. We’ve also invested heavily on quality pillows. A couple of years ago I discovered (via Amazon UK) that the best reviewed, eco-friendly and hypoallergenic pillows were those filled with shredded bamboo fibers. So we have two of those, four extra large down pillows from Swedish brand Stunda and two wide down comforters from Danish Illum Bolighus – just to ensure our bed offers a pleasurable 360 degree experience all year round

After more than a year of working out of our home office, I’ve now moved into a new art studio/gallery about a 7 minute walk from our condo on Sundspromenaden. The space is considerably smaller than all of my previous places, but it’s only a temporary solution until we’ve figured out what part of the world we want to relocate to next year. So for now, this place will do nicely. I’m quite excited about working in this new space and the creativity it’ll hopefully facilitate.

I’ve owned a bunch of easels over the years. Might even have bought my very first one as far back as in 1986. I bought my latest easel from a art supplier in Germany via Ebay UK (while on Phuket Island) and it arrived ahead of time – while I was still in Asia. I assembled it yesterday afternoon relatively easily and it feels stable enough to hold a sizable canvas. Paints and brushes arrived a few days ago and all I need now are a few canvases. And some ideas…

The flowerpot and surrounding nishikigoi (koi or carp) above are from the hotel Shinta Mani in Cambodia where we stayed one week ago and where the bed was good if not great.

Han Solo on Thai Airways

Home again after an eventless night flight home from Suvarnabhumi Airport on a Thai Airways Boeing 777. The cabin was almost full, but Charlotte and I got really lucky and each had three seats to ourselves (and sat right behind one another). We both managed to sleep for about 6-7 of the 10,5 hour, 8640 kilometer distance. As we filed through “monkey class” and then saw how relatively small and cramped the pricey Business Class seats were (the 777 was a bit long in the tooth), I think we actually slept more comfortably.

During a couple of the flight’s remaining hours I re-watched “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, the franchise’s spinoff prequel tale of Han Solo, the charming scoundrel, daredevil pilot, and captain of the spaceship, the Millennium Falcon. Despite Ron Howard directing, Woody Harrelson starring and mostly solid performances by a cast of live action and CG actors, the film’s still gotten mixed reviews. I thought it was entertaining and provided an interesting backstory for a few of the original trilogy’s characters. Then again, I’ve been a fan of most of the Star Wars feature films ever since I was a kid.

As the plane descended and started its path towards Kastrup International Airport, we could see that the rainy autumn weather wasn’t too different from when we took off from Bangkok, ten hours earlier. Aside from the sun peeking out for a few mintues and the 20 degree drop in temperature, that is. It’s nevertheless good to be home. I’ve signed a lease for a new creative hub/gallery/art studio. and can’t wait to get started working on it.


Yoga & Breakfast thoughts

Soon time to move on. Back to reality. However that’s defined. It’s been an amazing journey with plentiful of cerebral and physical challenges. I’ve not only discerned how to modulate my eating habits, in the process I also added a slew of demanding new yoga poses to my growing collection.

I’m finally at a point where I can either keep true to what I’ve learned from classes in Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin or Bikram yoga, or create a “greatest hits” with poses from each. I love being free and independent with my training and not always having to adhere to class schedules and poorly curated playlists.

There is no singular yoga teachings, though there are definitely some that try to institutionalize yoga as if it was yet another religion. Being the sceptic that I am, I refuse to see yoga as being anything more than a great physical workout. Plain and simple. Any other benefit that you feel afterwards – mentally, spiritually – is a result of the exertion you put your body through. And to not see how all of the different types of yoga schools originally stem from an ancient collection of poses and breathing techniques, is just naive. Yoga is believed to have been created some 5000 years ago by so-called yoga masters. There is some research that argues yoga is actually even twice as old but was for several millennia guarded and held secret, dense with mysticism and hokus-pokus.

When yoga became more mainstream and less occult, the yogis of the time created a system of practices designed specifically to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the ancient teachings and embraced the idea that it was through the physical body one could finally achieve a clear mind.

This morning I went to the gym hoping that I’d find a place where I could roll out my thick rubber mat and start the day with an hour long Bikram yoga session. The gym here at the Peninsula is well-equipped, but somewhat compact. There was just no way it could have accommodated me. Luckily, the manager for the hotel’s fitness and spa happened to be there and he chaperoned me to the tennis courts where I found a sunlit spot perfectly suited for sweaty yoga.

After my session, a shower and shave, I met Charlotte down by the river restaurant where the Peninsula’s grandeur breakfast buffet awaited. As I sat there, eating from a full plate of local fruits and sipping on freshly made, chilled mango juice, I noticed an elderly American couple pass by a few times as they retrieved food from the voluminous buffet. I’d spoken with them in the elevator the day before, so I waved to them during one of their round trips.

Looking at them got me thinking about all the hotels I’ve stayed at in the US and how most American hotels don’t even offer a breakfast option, let alone include one that would come even close in quality or scope of what the Peninsula (or, any of the other nearby hotels) offer for breakfast. And if you were to stay a night at an equivalently plush hotel in midtown or lower Manhattan, near the beach in Miami, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles, the comparison, the room rate would be astronomically higher. Obviously you can’t compare the two places. But I still find it remarkable how here in Asia and in most of Europe, breakfast is almost always included in the room rate, while in the States it ain’t. Strange.


River Timelapse

I still get excited when I see timelapse clips. There’s something that just grabs my attention and spellbinds me. So, when I saw the crazy river view we have from our room, I couldn’t resist throwing up my suction cup with a gopro mounted on the room’s panoramic windows and start capturing timelapses from a few different angles. As can be seen, the bustling Chao Phraya River still plays an incredibly important part as a transportation throughway for Bangkok.


The Peninsula Bangkok

Back now from a four day assignment for Hotell Addict in Cambodia where we documented one of Bill Bensly’s smart, quirky and immensely comfy design hotels, Shinta Mani in Siem Reap. As part of the gig and to add some context to the hotel, we re-visited Angkor Wat and a few of the many temples in the UNESCO area. Visits which we shared with so many, many others…

Today we’ve spent most of the afternoon by the pool after having unpacked our stuff in a spacious room on the 18th floor at The Peninsula Bangkok. Up until today, this was the only hotel with 5 stars along the Chao Phraya River that we hadn’t stayed at. So it feels great to have checked in here so we can check off the Peninsula from our most wanted hotel list. Just remembered that Charlotte and I stayed a few nights at the Peninsula Beverly Hills about 15 years ago. The river view here in the Thai capital is far superior than what we had in Beverly Hills.

Having worked at several hotels in a previous career, none of which came even close to Bangkok’s premium properties like The Peninsual Bangkok, I can still totally relate to the workplace as such. I distinctly remember the sense of camaraderie and working together within a large team. The Peninsula has a staff of roughly 1000 and so, wherever you turn, there’s always a friendly smile and someone to lend a helping hand if you need it.

This morning, during breakfast at Shinta Mani, Charlotte and we experienced a young fellow whom went so extraordinarily overboard with his willingness to be service-minded, that I finally felt compelled to tell him to take a break and leave us alone for at least ten minutes. That’s never happened before and though I was as polite as could be, I didn’t try real hard to veil my displeasure. I was convinced that he’d catch my drift and pull back a few steps. But no! A minute or two later there  he was, right back at it, pouring our tea cups full to the brim – even though we’d only had a sip since the last time he refilled them just a minute earlier, and trying to clear off plates from the table that we clearly hadn’t finished eating from. Had it not been so darn early, we might have seen the farcicality of this over-zealous waiter. But in my mind, there was just no question that someone in HR had totally screwed up when they hired this strange fellow.

I wholeheartedly hate when staff in the hospitality industry are submissive and subservient. Which is why I like it so much here at the Peninsula and the 140-year old Grand Dame (aka the Oriental) just across the river. The team working in public spaces have so much integrity. They’re pros, but seem to be encouraged by management to retain their distinctive personalities and not in any way, shape or form act subdued just to please me or other guests (though over the years, we’ve unfortunately experienced when guests seem to expect and demand a master-slave relationship from staff at 5-star hotels.

This is going to sound a little strange, but because of my background in the hotel and hospitality industry in Sweden, Thailand and for a short while the US, I feel compelled to be extremely humble and friendly towards those that serve me and do their best to ensure my stay is comfortable and memorable. I even tidy up our hotel rooms so that the cleaning staff isn’t unnecessarily given more work just because I’ve been sloppy or a lazy-bone-jones.

I shot the image above from our room around midnight tonight – after we had nice dinner with friends, Peder, Lotta, Lena and Thomas at Swiss Alain’s Cabana Garden on Sukhomvit Soi 75.
Image below is the daytime view from our room and the kind bellhop that greeted us when we arrived earlier today.

Peninsual Bangkok


JAT, Ko Samui and Mass Tourism

Here’s an interesting comparison. The round trip airline ticket I bought to and from Bangkok a few months ago cost more or less the same in 2018 as it did back in 1988,  i.e. $700. The only difference was that in 1988, I flew with JAT Yugoslav Airlines via Belgrad – a flight which included a 24hr stopover and a double room with all meals at legendary, if somewhat dilapidated, Hotel Belgrade. I remember clearly how the service onboard the flight was surprisingly good and that the female flight attendants wore plain uniforms but had accessorized themselves with large, round earnings and noisy bracelets. About as diametrical to what dress codes dictated at airlines like, SAS or Lufthansa as you could get.

My brief stint in what is now Serbia was uneventful, aside from being shadowed at the airport by what I assumed were two government »handlers«. See, my visit took place during the last couple of years of  paranoid dictator Tito’s regime and less than four before the third Balkan Wars began. As a visitor holding a US passport – I didn’t become a Swedish citizen until 12 years later – I had to endure a tiring visa application process which involved buying some kind of stamps at one end of the airport’s dark and dim arrival hall and then proving the purchase at a completely different end of the building, where a military rep in full regalia looked suspiciously at me before finally stamping my passport and letting me into the country. Shortly thereafter, I sat on an old rickety airport bus, heading into Belgrad’s old town. On October 11, it’ll be 30 years ago since that happened.

I was heading to Ko Samui and Lamai Beach where a fellow I’d met at a nightclub in Gothenburg had offered me a full-time position as both »Artist” and »Guest Relations Manager« at his bungalow place on a paradise island in southern Thailand. My responsibilities included painting and illustrating signs and organizing activities for guests. In practice, this meant getting a volleyball game going each afternoon and making sure that there was a party or event once a week, or so.

Golden Sand Bungalows, as the place was called, had two rows with 22 bungalows on either side of the property with each row leading from the main dirt road (that passed through Lamai) and down to the beach. In between both rows was a small reception facing the road and a rather large restaurant area facing the beach. Down at the beach was a small bar.

I spent about 6 months working at Golden Sand’s together with a friend from Sweden, Magnus Ekström, who was also employed there, but primarily as an electrician. In exchange for our services, we were provided with a bungalow as well as food and drink. I vividly remember how this was a tremendously fun, carefree existens. During our stay, several friends from Sweden flew down to visit us on Lamai Beach.

To give those of you that may have visited Ko Samui in the last 10 or 20 years an idea of what it was like back then, I can begin by telling you that the only way to get there was via ferry from either Surat Thani, Ko Pha-ngan or Koh Tao. The airport hadn’t been built yet and if my memory serves me correctly, there may have only been a single hotel on the entire island. There were literally dozens upon dozens of bungalow places, though. Some were dirt cheap, like beach lined but bare-bones Bungalow Bills and White Sands, where you could stay for as little as 50 baht per night. Others, like Golden Sands, cost up to 200 baht per night, or roughly $8.

To say that the tourism industry has been booming since my very first visit to Southeast Asia, some thirty years ago, would be a momentous understatement. It’s not like I think of myself as a pioneer. From a backpacker’s perspective, Thailand was already a very popular destination. But things have certainly changed. I mean, the sheer volume of group holiday travelers has unquestionably exploded and it’s becoming harder and harder to experience anything worth experiencing without having to share with hundreds of others. Even if you do get up ridiculously early in the morning which was when I took the above shot at Angkor Wat here in Cambodia.

Once in a while, I’ll see a couple of backpackers and think to myself, and yes, with a huge dose of nostalgia, how great it was to have experienced traveling so independently and far removed from much of the tourism I see today.

I suppose I’m slowly turning into the curmudgeon I once promised never to become.

Siem Reap Reprise

Currently in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. We experienced Phnom Penh a few years ago, but haven’t been to Siem Reap in over a decade. It’s cozy here, just as I remember it. Not much seems to have changed. Everything still feels scaled down and manageable, from a visitors perspective. No looming highrises like in the Cambodian capital. Yet now there’s even more of an abundance with really good, reasonably priced restaurants, pubs and cheap foot massage shops, hairdressers and spas.

If your into beer, several places here will pour you a tall glass of local draft for as little as $1. A tasty and almost filling Khmer dinner will only set you back about $4 and to enjoy an hour long foot massage, most places will charge just five buckaroos.

Why I’m referring to prices in US dollars, you ask? Well, because even if the local currency, the »riel«, is the official method of payment, the de facto and widely preferred unofficial second currency is for whatever reason the US dollar. Sad in way, but it makes paying (and tipping) here very simple and straightforward. Siem Reapians are easy-going, generous with their smiles and ever-so-polite, without being subserviant. It’s about as safe here as anywhere else I’ve been in Southeast Asia. Never feel unsafe in this part of the world – as I unfortunately do from time to time back home in Malmö.

We spent yesterday’s sunset and this morning’s sunrise climbing the steep steps of stupas, walking down long palatial corridors and wandering into enormous prayer halls at Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng. And today, we explored the giant trees that have reclaimed the temple of Ta Prohm. What should of been a fairly serene visit to this ancient and sacred buddhist site, was anything but. We shared most of our excursions with some of the most rowdy, loud-mouthed, flag-waving, selfie-taking, ill-dressed tourists I’ve ever had the displeasure of rubbing elbows with. Not all, but most were from the Middle Kingdom. A forebearer of things to come?

I’ve been shooting travel photos professionally for close to 20 years now and have had hundreds (if not thousands) of my images published in dozens of magazines and newspapers in Scandinavia, Europe and the US. So I can say with some assertiveness that I don’t find it particularly hard to photograph temples here. Quite the opposite. With the right lens arsenal (primes, in my case), shooting at the optimum time of day for the best possible light (and perhaps lugging around a travel tripod), it should be hard to screw up. The only entirely uncontrollable, capricious factor that has ruffled my feathers, is with the many others I have to share the scenes with and how insensitive or uncooperative they turn out to be.

I totally get that there is no real reason for me to think I should have priority over anyone else. It’s not that which I am referring to. I’m talking about plain and simple politeness and a reasonable perception and consideration of what’s happening beyond the group’s tireless flag-waving. That’s all.

To say I’m not a huge fan of institutionalized religion would be a massive understatement. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I get that religion is important to many, many billions of people across the globe, and as long as the faith is personal and practiced unjudgmentally, I have zero problems respecting it.

Walking through Angkor Wat’s massive temple grounds made me think about religion again. How complex a role it has played in human history –  in a way that no other species on this planet could even begin to comprehend. Not even dolphins, I think. So, to see all the trees do there outmost to reclaim the temple ruins and expand the forrest around Angkor Wat, as if there actually were Ents from Tolkien’s ring saga doing the reclaiming, was somehow soothing.


Thoughts on fitness & beating my food frenzy

My 4 week strategy of eating a fastidious, plant-based diet, aligning my meals with a intermittent fasting regimen and getting at least an hour of intense exercise per day, has proven to be a successful combination. I’ve shrunk my waist’s girth by 4cm/1,5in and reduced about 5kg/11lbs of excessive body fat. It’s nothing short of an amazing accomplishment and I feel pretty fucking proud of myself.

Honestly, I don’t think I have ever eaten so much fruit and vegetables as during this past month. Above all, I don’t think I’ve ever been so successful at avoiding crappy food – or, stuff I know will only satisfy my tastebuds – including ice cream, popcorn or other snacks, no pastries, candies or other processed junkfoods. I’ve calculated that I skipped about 60 meals this past month, i.e. most breakfasts and lunches. Not a single food frenzy for a month. It’s been such a relief just to not  have to think about food so damn much. At home, I feel it’s a constant worry about what to eat and when – as if we’d all starve to death if we didn’t put our meals on the very top of our priority list.

It was Charlotte’s suggestion that I kickstart my journey with 10 days of intense Bikram Yoga at Kata Hot Yoga on Phuket. I did, and it turned out to be an excellent way to get going. And after the first few days when a nagging – but not debilitating – headache subsided, it was surprisingly easy to adjust to the new daily routine. I complimented each morning’s sweat-dripping yet energizing yoga class with afternoon beach walks and when there were waves, some surfing, too. And I continued with long, daily walks and pool laps whilst in Bangkok. On top of this, I also practiced Qigong and/or Yoga 4-5 times a week, either at Suananda Studio in Bang Rak or on my own (image above). Losing weight around the waist has also let me go much deeper into several poses.

While morning diets have consisted of fruit, vegetables and nuts, I’ve been keeping to a more flexible, pescatarian diet for evening meals and avoiding eating altogether for at least 8 hours during the day. Which of course means I’ve enjoyed dinners tremendously and eaten a wide range of dishes, including pad thai with tofu, hand-rolled tuna nigiri, spicy fish tacos and plain ol’ fish n chips. I’ve sorta seen dinner as a way to reward myself for keeping my daytime intake so lean.

It’s hard for me not to sermonize about how triumphant my journey has been. As with everything that inspires me, I can’t help but share my findings – so that friends and family can also enjoy the blissfulness that I’ve experienced. I’ve always been excited to share my views on music, food, travel, photography gear, whatever.

And so, there’s now no doubt in my mind that the only realistic and natural way to get in better shape and lose excess body fat is to calibrate a balance between what you eat, how much you eat and what your body really needs to function, endure, repair and regenerate.

I like to think of it like this; if your body isn’t able to make use of what you eat, that it takes more energy to digest than what you gain from it because the food is crap or you’re system can’t handle all of the day’s intake, you’re quite literally using your body as a garbage disposal and allowing your tastebuds to make judgment calls it is incompetent to do.

Folks, we’re living in an era of food frenzy where the abundance of food has led us to an extremely unhealthy relationship with the planet we exploit so thoroughly to produce it on. Eating excessively has become an addiction and a natural, yet unquestioned, part of our need to constantly entertain our tastebuds

The hundred thousand dollar question: will I be able to withstand temptations upon returnng to “normal life” back home in Malmö?
The trillion dollar question: how the hell do we rid ourselves from an addiction that could eradicate us as a species and practically annihilate our planet? Or, should we just let everything take its course and assume that Earth’s self-healing will eventually realign everything?


Sunflowers in Benjasiri

I’ve loved sunflowers ever since attending art college in Visby, the capital of Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. While there, I read a few books about Vincent Van Gogh and was – like so many others – completely mesmarized by his series of earthy hued paintings and thick, rough sketches inspired by sunflowers from around the town of Arles in Provence, France.

I discovered these sunflowers just the other day in Benjasiri Park, one of Bangkok’s most beautiful urban oasis.

I used Moment’s wide angle lens attached to my iPhone for the majority of the shots and was blown away by how close I could get to the flowers and the shallow depth of field the puny albeit sharm glass provided.


On the move in Bangkok

I can’t help but be mesmerized by the intensity of traffic in downtown Bangkok. I’ve experienced some heavy-duty congestion in Hanoi, Hyderabad and Nairobi. Even PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) can get clogged up during rush hours. But those places don’t come anywhere close insofar of the fierce force and magnitude of all of Bangkok’s cars, trucks, buses, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, skytrains, subways, cyclists and pedestrians heading somewhere simultaneously.

Yesterday, I walked from the shopping district at Siam Center/Siam Discovery/Siam Paragon via Sukhumvit Road all the way to Thong Lor, soi 23, which is about a distance of 10 kilometers. There’s always street-level activity going on along Sukhumvit Road and yesterday was no exception. The noise level is almost deafening and the air thick with fumes. Still, I always get a few good shots and decent footage during my urban treks. Yeah, I know, Bangkok is certainly not the healthiest place to powerwalk.

As I was hittting the pavement down Sukhumvit, which is the city’s main artery, I reflected now and again about the complexity of Bangkok’s current traffic situation. And it made me wonder if in the future all the buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks could likely be replaced with fully autonomous electric vehicles. Most street-level traffic seems to consist of solo drivers in cars, trucks or on motorcycles. So ride sharing alone would for sure help to reduce traffic.

The obvious caveat would be that the prosperous and super-influential petrochemical industry would fight to the very last drop of oil before allowing such a scenario. Unless of course, we all use fossil fuels to generate electricity needed to charge all the batteries.

Before the Skytrain was inaugurated 1999, getting around Bangkok was a tedious and an unpredictable activity. At times it could be a real nightmare. Back in the late 1980, depending on the time of day, taking a cab from Silom or Sathorn to Asoke or Thong Lor in the Sukhumvit district, could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. It was absolutely nuts.

Today, the Skytrain is very popular and has become the preferred way to move about in Bangkok. Which means that during rush hours, it’s almost as crowded as on Tokyo’s morning subway along the Ginza line. They might need to hire official pushers and shovers soon.

I shot the clips for the above short film during these last couple of days. Mostly with my iPhone and a GoPro.

More images from Bangkok can be enjoyed here.


How to take Street Portraits

Taking street portraits of random, everyday folks I meet during walks in any part of the world, is inspiring but can also certainly be a multi-level challenge. To be able to capture a series of unstaged, authentic portraits, I need to be prepared on a technical, emotional and creative level.

Let me explain.

Technically. Since I don’t possess Spiderman’s lightning speed and can switch setting and dial in optimal settings on the fly, I have to prep the camera before approaching my subject. Sneaky style, if you know what I mean. Often I’ll recognize someone I want to photograph, make a 180 degree turn so I can get all my stuff in order before he or she notices me and then turn back around again and start working the shot.

If you’re shooting with autofocus and auto ISO enabled, then all you’ll really need to decide on is depth of fied and how to compose the portrait. As long as the capture size in the camera’s preferences is set to a large enough size (JPEG or, even better, RAW), you should be provided with a big enough photo to allow for recomposing (by scaling up/cropping) in your preferred image editing software. All of the photos above were shot with an iPhone 7+ using Apple’s standard camera app. All of them have been cropped to bring forth what I felt was the best composition for each subject.

Emotionally. I try to be both humble and decisive when attempting to photograph interesting people – or, people in interesting situations – that I come across during a street walk. Above all, I always smile just before conjuring up my camera and looking ever-so unassuming as I ask to take a photo of them. The real trick is to startle folks a little and hope they feel charmed and flattered by the very thought that someone actually wants to take a photograph them. Hopefully, I’ll get the shot before they start analyzing the situation too much. If I can only get a subject to freeze physically (and intellectually) for just a few seconds, I’ll usually be able to capture a few frames. Subjects who are standing still are much, much easier to shoot than getting those on the move to stop in their tracks and let some stranger point a camera at them. I also find reading the mood to be a key variable. Statistically, about 70% of everyone I ask agrees to let me take their portrait. Especially if the camera I’m using is small and discreet. Like a cellphone…

I’ve just ordered the new iPhone Xs Max and though it comes with a bigger screen, the phones physical size isn’t bigger than my current, two year old iPhone. What has gotten much bigger, though, is the camera sensor. Apple’s camera team has increased the sensor size by a whopping 30%. In addition to all the benefits a larger sensor provides, like better lowlight sensitivity, better color rendering and wider dynamic range – thanks in part to larger pixels (Apple opted for larger pixels of higher quality instead of increasing the amount of pixels) – the new iPhone models have vastly improved optical image stabilization. To me, the latter is really interesting. See, if the camera sensor can move to counter-balance a hand’s shake, the shutter speed can be lowered without introducing blur in the photo or having to increase the ISO level – which inevitably adds noise to the portrait. Sure, I can always reduce noise during the editing process, but the cleaner the image is when captured, the more leeway I have to make adjustments after the fact. In short, shit in, shit out.

Creatively. Taking street portraits can at times be pretty stressful. Even if I’ve seduced the subject into letting me take his or her portrait and my camera’s ready to go, at best, I still have only but a few seconds to compose and make sure there’s not too much going on in the background or on either side of the subject. Unless of course it’s my objective to contextualize the portrait using the surroundings. As with the female motorcycle taxi driver pictured above (center).

Like many other photographers I’ve talked about this with, taking street portraits is a heck of a lot easier in Asia than most other places. Especially in the US and Europe where urbanites tend to be so abnormally self-concious about their “image”, they often freak out when I approach them for a street portrait. Where as in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos, folks are generally un-shy and happy as can be to pose. And they’re also easy to get smiling, which is isn’t a prerequisite, but after all, a smile does make for a nicer portrait.


Live Jazz on Sukhumvit Rd & Quincy Jones

Enjoyed a set of jazz classics by local musical quartet, Jook-kru Brass who were performing on the sidewalk of Sukhumvit Road the other afternoon. I admire the brass band’s tenacity – competing with the pandemonium emitted from Bangkok’s indisputably busiest street takes some real artistic courage. I met them on my way to dinner at the Japanese restaurant Isao and they were still playing on my way back to Thong Lor about an hour later.

Last night I saw a riveting new documentary on Netflix about multitalented musician and producer Quincy Jones. What a tumultuous life he’s lived! I knew about some of the world class musicians the man had worked with. But the film really provides new insights as to both Quincy’s genius and fragility as a human being. I just found some of his many brainy quotes here.

Aside from having several of his solo albums in my Apple Music collection, including the outstanding »The Dude«, the only two remote connections to »Q« I have is that my late father also worked with Frank Sinatra as an actor in a film called “The Man with the Golden Arm” from 1955 (my dad’s wearing a hat and sitting immediately to the right of Sinatra at the poker table) and younger brother Tyko who during the mid 1980s was good friends with Quincy Delight Jones III, Quincy Sr’s son from a marriage with model, actress and photographer, Ulla Jones from Sweden. They stayed in touch until Tyko eventually left Stockholm and moved permanently to L.A.


Meanwhile, stomy back at home…

It’s been mostly fair weather since I arrived in Southeast Asia close to a month ago. A few monsoon showers, but no flooding or unbearable heatwaves, either.

I would perhaps not extend the meteorological description to include adjectives like cool or even pleasant, but from time to time, a soothing breeze sneaks its way through Bangkok’s myriad of skyscrapers and blows gently on your face. Excuse the double negative, but for a moment, the weather is not entirely disagreeable.

Meanwhile, in Malmö, one of autumns first storms arrived yesterday. The footage is from late August last year, when I storm rolled in to southern Sweden and Västra Hamnen where we live. More visuals from Malmö can be viewed here.


Roasting Coffee Beans

Shot this during a return to Bang Rak a couple of days ago. I eventually walked into Warehouse 30, a cluster of vintage storehouses near the Chao Phraya River and which have been repurposed as a hub for local artists and designers. The owner of one of the dozen or so vendors, The Fox and The Moon Café, had just installed an industrial scale roaster which he said had set the café back some USD$17,000/€52,000.

To me, it seemed like a hyperbolic investment for such a relatively small – albeit cool – café. But then again what the hell do I know about coffee roasting? Especially now when I’m not even drinking the stuff.

Fact is, I haven’t had a cup of coffee for close to a month.

At home, after some form of exercise and a shower, I usually begin the day with a smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal and then start hitting the coffee straight after. By the time the rest of the family is up and about, I’ve already poured a second cup of French press. And by ten, I’m at my third cup and sometimes even a fourth, if Charlotte’s made a new brew. I don’t think my level of consumption was abnormal for someone living in Scandinavia where coffee is an integral part of society’s social fabric.

Still, I have to say that I’m surprised at how easy it’s been to kick that particular habit – without being tempted by the multitude of trendy coffee bars and cafés here in Bangkok. Do I feel any effects of not drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day? Hard to say, really. But if nothing else, it’s one less thing my digestive system has to deal with. And since I add cow, soy or coconut milk to my coffee, I’ve also reduced my calorie intake. Do I miss the smell and  taste of coffee? Absolutely. But as it turns out, coffee isn’t quite as addictive as I’d thought. Or, maybe my character is stronger than I gave myself credit for.


This is from last night’s sumptuous Mexican dinner at Barrio Bonito where as an appetizer, I ate DORADITOS DE GUACAMOLE, which is a set of six small crunchy cones filled with salsa and guacamole (served in an egg carton!) and then, TACOS DE PESCADO, three fish tacos in soft shell corn wrappers as an entrée (presented in a small wooden crate about half the size of a shoebox).

The venue where Barrio Bonito is neatly tucked into a corner is an indoor and outdoor foodcourt and shopping mall called The Commons. This is where a wide range of eateries and bars serve some of the best food and drink you can get in Bangkok here. Several of the city’s most popular vendors have also set up shop here, including Absolut You, Bangkok’s popular fitness and yoga studio chain.

I’m a little curious as to what the name The Commons is supposed to imply. I read there story, and it seems they want to be a community or at the very least, a part of the community.. Thing is though, you don’t see a lot of Thai commoners here, that’s for sure. If you don’t count cooks, servers and cleaners, that is. It’s mostly well-to-do patrons that can easily afford to spend more or less what an equivalent dining experience would cost in L.A., Manhattan, Paris or London. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept, backstreet location, assymetical architectural style, laid-back ambiance and all that. But let’s be upfront about who the Commons are really catering to: a demographic that usually doesn’t care an awful lot about their community. Just sayin’…

It was busy last night, but still enjoyable and despite the large crowd of hungry/thirsty locals, tourists and expats, I thought the service was really good. We all ate different stuff, but the consensus was overwhelmingly positive. From left to right, Lena, me, Peder, Lotta and Thomas. Next time we gather for lunch or dinner, Charlotte will hopefully be among those smiling faces.

Can’t remember her name, but I spoke with the woman that owns Barrio Bonito the other day. Turns out she’s from Mexico City and has been cooking authentic Mexican food (not Tex-Mex) in Thailand for close to 11 years. That’s stamina.

After dinner, we crossed Thong Lor and headed over to a beer garden called Beer Belly where a few of us played a round or two of table tennis and chatted some more. I walked a few meters shy of 15k yesterday’s filming in Talad Noi, Worachok and Chinatown, so by 10:30, my body was exhausted and ready for bed.

There’s a couple of nearby galleries I want to check out today and then have dinner at what used to be one of our favorite sushi restaurants, »Isao« off of Sukhumvit, about halfway down soi 31. Might even take in a movie. We’ll see.