Guggenheim Museum in the Evening, Bilbao

I was fortunate to spend the early part of this year traveling in northern Spain, where the city of Bilbao served as my gateway to the country. It’s a fascinating city filled with incredible architecture, and the countryside beyond Bilbao is equally striking.

Salbeko Zubia Bridge and Guggenheim Museum in the Evening, Bilbao, Spain
March 2018, crop from panorama from 5 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

The coastline of northern Spain is as breathtaking as one would imagine — I find the contrast of intricate harsh rock formations against the deep blue of the sea to be especially beautiful. I was enchanted by this rugged edge of Europe and as you’ll see in the coming weeks, it was very much a working holiday for me. I was drawn again and again to the coastline, camera and tripod in hands, and I hope you enjoy my upcoming fine art collection as much as I enjoyed photographing that striking landscape.

Within Bilbao, it was the architecture that most interested me. Once an industrial city, Bilbao transformed itself over the last couple of decades into a sleek, modern city known for its innovative architecture. Principal among the city’s landmarks is the Guggenheim Museum, the work of acclaimed American architect Frank Gehry. With its shimmering titanium coating and soaring lines and curves, the Guggenheim is instantly recognizable, an iconic city landmark.

One of my first photographs of the Guggenheim was in early evening against a slightly overcast sky. I wanted a photograph that captured two of the city’s landmarks — not only the museum but the Salbeko Zubia Bridge as well — with night slowly falling over the city. I think the lights of Bilbao reflected in the facade of the Guggenheim are particularly lovely, and an appropriate way to remember this inventive city.

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Cape Khoboy at Sunset, Lake Baikal

Places like this are the natural birthplaces of intense religious beliefs. Remote and forbidding, life can be precarious, even today. In the summers, the earliest inhabitants here must have believed themselves blessed because of the lake’s bounty. Perhaps they judged the winters here — forbidding and often deadly, even now — as the price to be paid for the lake’s largesse.

Cape Khoboy at Sunset, Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, Russia
March 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 20 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

There’s a curious energy here and the lake tends to have a powerful effect on people. It’s known for its volatile weather — a summer day that is almost preternaturally quiet can become a windstorm with little warning. The winds at Baikal have their own names and they are not for the fainthearted.

It’s no wonder, then, that this place has been associated with shamanism for centuries. The Buryats, a subgroup of the Mongols, view Olkhon Island as the most sacred space in the lake. It’s the largest island in the lake and is surrounded by some of the purest water in one of the world’s cleanest lakes. On the western coast of the island is Shamanka, or Shaman’s Rock — it is one of the most sacred spots in Asia and is believed by some to be one of the five global poles of shamanic energy. For centuries, superstitions have surrounded the cave at Shaman’s Rock; healers practice their most important rituals there. But for tourists — and photographers — the cave’s interior remains a mystery. Only shamans are allowed inside.

I made the trip to Baikal in winter. It’s the most treacherous season on the lake, but also the most beautiful. When it freezes, Baikal doesn’t turn white. Instead it turns a deep, glassy blue, streaked with cracks and fissures like inclusions in a gemstone.

I’m no shaman, but there is a mystical kind of beauty to Baikal and Olkhon Island. Catching the last wisps of a pink sunset over the ice, I couldn’t help but feel some of the ancient wonder this place inspires.

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Isle Elenka in the Morning, Lake Baikal

One of the great privileges of my work is that it takes me around the world to far-flung locations that I might never otherwise see. Like a child seeing the world for the first time, I’m frequently wonderstruck by the places that I photograph. Whether natural or man-made, they often leave me awestruck.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
March 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/13, shutter speed 0.8 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

So much of my time is spent in other countries that it can be easy for me to overlook the incredible beauty here at home. Russia is vast — much more than the most intrepid traveler could take in over the course of a lifetime. Most tourists only scratch the surface of Russia with excursions into Moscow and St. Petersburg. They’re beautiful cities, but I am most moved by the natural beauty of Russia, the vast countryside that stretches out beyond the cities and its forests, impenetrable and enigmatic.

Lake Baikal is one of the most evocative places in the country. Like Russia itself, it is vast and ancient, perhaps one of the oldest lakes in the world. An enormous lake formed by the shifting of tectonic plates, Baikal’s blue depths contain roughly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It’s staggering in its size and depth, and stunning in its beauty.

At any time of year, Lake Baikal is bathed in an unfathomable, mystical aura, but in the winter, the lake is more than that. With the jagged promontory of Isle Elenka looming over the lake’s icy surface, my mind wanders in a more ominous direction. This is a formidable landscape. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Beyond the rift that Isle Elenka tears into the horizon, I imagine White Walkers. There is beauty here, but it is a beauty laced through with a sliver of dread. In this place, it isn’t difficult to imagine the steely-eyed undead coming for me. I am far beyond the relative safety of Westeros and far north of the wall and I can almost hear the White Walkers in the distance.

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St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland

Many of the destinations that I photograph are justifiably popular with tourists. I can’t blame them; they’re drawn to the same beauty that I am, after all. But sometimes, especially when I’m working, I like to escape the crowds. I like to see a place as it is, free of crowds and free of the commercialization that often intrudes into beautiful places.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
January 2018, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 66mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 200, tripod.

St. Moritz is actually a small town; its fame far exceeds its size. But we were there just on the cusp of the main ski season, a time when the number of visitors to St Moritz may triple the town’s population. I quickly found that one of the best times to photograph the city was in early morning, before many of the guests were up and about.

I wanted to capture St Moritz — the actual, authentic place. I walked to a different part of the town, away from the center where most of the hotels and resorts were located. Then I walked a short distance away, just enough to give some perspective on St Moritz and its relationship with its environment.

From that vantage point, I could see the true scale of the mountains that surround St Moritz. It was the Alps — formidable and breathtaking — that gradually turned a pilgrimage spot into a holiday destination. From my spot just outside the town, I could see how tiny and insignificant it all is when juxtaposed against the mountains. It’s a theme I return to often in my work — our small place in the world — but viewing a still – sleeping St Moritz against the backdrop of the Alps, it wasn’t difficult to find myself thinking along those lines again.

I set up my tripod, and while St Moritz slowly came to life, I framed a shot that captured the majestic scale of the Alps.

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St Moritz in the Evening, Switzerland

As a photographer, I am almost always working. Even when I’m “officially” on vacation with my family, I can’t help but be drawn to beautiful, interesting places. I always have a camera with me, so even my down time usually results in at least a few photographs.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
January 2018, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 38mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

My family and I made a trip to St Moritz for the holidays. Skiing is one of my favorite pastimes to share with my family, and St Moritz lives up to its reputation as a beautiful winter retreat.

But St Moritz is, as we quickly learned, much more than a winter ski destination. In St Moritz, it’s possible to experience any number of weather extremes — snow, storms, mist, and even sun — over the space of a day. Every day seemed to bring totally different weather than we’d had the day before. And there were more brilliantly sunny days than most people would ever expect.

In fact, the large number of bright, sunny days in St Moritz is one of the things that made the resort. For centuries, it was a popular spot for religious pilgrims who made the trek to drink from the area’s mineral springs. Pilgrims who made the journey to the springs were granted absolution from their sins. It was only in the mid-1800s that a pioneering entrepreneur, Caspar Badrutt, realized the unique appeal of a place that offered snow-covered natural beauty with 300 days of sunlight each year. Badrutt invited a handful of English friends to St Moritz during the winter, promising that if they loved the place as he expected, they could stay at his expense. If they didn’t like it, he would reimburse their travel expenses. The English tourists came, and as Badrutt expected, they loved the place, and a major tourist destination was born.

Like Badrutt’s English guests, I find the juxtaposition of snow and sun strikingly beautiful. But the most beautiful days in St Moritz were the ones when we had a snow storm followed by brilliant sunlight. The light that fell over St Moritz on those days — when sunlight broke through an atmosphere still heavy with snow — was enchanting and bathed the town in a fairy tale glow.

A view like this one, taken over St Moritz as the sun broke through the snow, is the reason that my family vacation became a semi-working holiday.

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Copenhagen Opera House in the Evening

Copenhagen isn’t just a city with an appreciation for the arts. It’s a city where design is a national obsession and architects are celebrities. One of the city’s most acclaimed — and controversial — structures is the Copenhagen Opera House. Located just across the canal from the Royal Danish Playhouse, the Opera House is built on a former navy pier and is part of the city’s forty-year-long redevelopment of its waterfront.

Copenhagen Opera House in the Evening, Denmark
September 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 60 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

Once a gritty naval and industrial space, the waterfront is now the centerpiece of Copenhagen’s cultural life. The city’s success in transforming its waterfront has become a model for urban planning around the world. And the focal point of that development is the Opera House, which was designed by Denmark’s most well-known architect, Henning Larsen.

It’s a striking and very modern — even futuristic — building. It was controversial from its inception, because of its design as well as its cost. The building, which is estimated to have cost $500 million, sits directly across from the royal residence, an audacious decision that did not go over well with everyone in Copenhagen. Larsen, as it turned out, was himself troubled by the building; he and Arnold Maersk McKinney Moller, the building’s sole financier, disagreed over virtually every detail of the building’s design.

I can see how the Opera House would have both its admirers and its detractors. It’s strikingly modernist facade is quite a contrast from the more Old World appearance of the royal residence. Still, on a pleasant early evening in Copenhagen, in the blue hour before night falls, I found the Opera House and the light it cast over the canal captivating. It was — to me — emblematic of Danish creativity and ingenuity.

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Performing Arts Theatre in the Evening, Copenhagen

I believe that you can tell a lot about a society by the importance that they place on the arts. I’ve sometimes been amazed and disheartened to find that in some cities, it was all but impossible to find a museum, a gallery, or a performance venue. Those places always seem somehow empty to me, as if something essential were missing, some critical part of the city’s soul.

Performing Arts Theater in the Evening, Copenhagen, Denmark
September 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 121 seconds, ISO 64, ND 10-stop filter, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

In other cities, the arts are given a prominent place, signaling to anyone who enters that the artistic life of the city is just as essential to the well-being of its people as the world of business and commerce. I find that I feel more at home in those places, I feel that I am among kindred spirits.

Copenhagen is one of those places. The arts aren’t tucked away in Copenhagen; they’re a vital part of the life of the city. The city is full of museums, galleries, and theaters. It occurs to me, thinking of the well-known happiness of the Danes, that perhaps the two are related.

One of the newest and most significant developments in Copenhagen’s arts scene is the Royal Playhouse, a strikingly modern building that almost seems to levitate just over the waterfront. The building, which was just completed in 2008, is already considered an architectural masterpiece and is a designated City Landmark. It’s no wonder that the building is so highly regarded; the city began planning a building to replace the original playhouse in the late nineteenth century.

Perched at the water’s edge, the playhouse’s blue-green glass shimmers with reflected water. I see it as a monument of sorts, but not only to the arts — to the Danes themselves, a people who would spend more than a century designing a theater.

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Happy Holidays from Anshar Photography

The holidays are approaching, and I would like to thank my subscribers and friends for your support throughout 2017. This year, I was able to explore and photograph beautiful destinations in Europe and in Africa, and it has been a privilege to share those places with you.

Solden Ski Resort Skyline in the Morning, Tirol, Austria

I believe that we live in an incredible world and that travel has the power to open both minds and hearts. My work isn’t only about my love of photography or travel; it reflects my desire to share moments of peace and transcendence with my friends around the world. Remember to take time to see the beauty in life.

Thank you again for your support. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographs this year. Happy Holidays!

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The Round Tower, Copenhagen

I’m fortunate in my travels to see some of the most beautiful destinations in the world, and I often find myself lost in my own thoughts at these places, mesmerized by their beauty. But sometimes, especially when I visit manmade structures, I can find myself transfixed not only by their beauty, but by their stories. I think of the human spirit that went into their construction and how stone and mortar often contain untold histories.

Panorama of the Round Tower in the Morning, Copenhagen, Denmark
September 2017, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 2 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

Copenhagen’s Round Tower is one of those places. It’s not an easy structure to miss; it’s one of the most distinctive buildings in the city and is located in the city center. The tower is popular with tourists, and a climb to the top reveals some of the best views of the city, making it a staple of guidebooks.

But as I prepared to photograph the tower, I found myself thinking more about its history than its striking facade or the views from the observatory.

There was a time when Copenhagen was one of the world’s leading centers for the study of astronomy. Astronomy was a newly popular field of study, and countries across Europe established national observatories to further study the new field. Denmark’s preeminence in the field was due largely to the work of Tycho Brahe, a nobleman, astronomer, and writer.

In the late 1500s, Frederick II, who had an interest in astronomy and an appreciation for Brahe’s contributions to the field, ruled Denmark. During his reign, Brahe was something of a darling of the Court; Frederick even funded two observatories for Brahe on the island of Hven. The observatories, Uraniborg and Stjerneborg, were the most advanced of their day.

Following the death of Frederick, his son became king. The new king — Christian IV — did not share his father’s interest in science and Brahe, whose political beliefs put him at odds with the monarchy, soon ran afoul of the new king. The famed astronomer was exiled from Copenhagen and the grand observatories, Uraniborg and Stjerneborg, were demolished.

Years later, perhaps realizing the mistake he’d made, Christian authorized the construction of a new observatory, the Round Tower. It was completed in 1642, nearly a half century after Brahe’s death in exile. Brahe eventually resigned himself to his new life in Prague, but still wrote with sadness of the experience of exile: “Denmark what is my offense? How have I offended you my fatherland?”

I think of this as I photograph the tower. I think of how the tower was born of a petty dispute, that the shame and sadness of Brahe are etched into the tower’s facade. I imagine the old astronomer, if he were alive today, looking out over the city from the top of the tower, amazed at its changes but grieving for what was lost.

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Panorama of Amargertorv Square, Copenhagen

My work as a photographer often takes me to the world’s most beautiful places. I’ve been fortunate to see incredible works created by human hands and breathtaking wonders created by nature, and occasionally I’ve visited locations made beautiful by their history — sometimes a noble history and sometimes a tragic one. All of these places, in their own ways, are dear to me.

Panorama of Amagertorv Square and Stork Fountain in the Morning, Copenhagen, Denmark
September 2017, panorama from 4 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 0.5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

But sometimes the world surprises me. Sometimes I find myself deeply moved by the simplest of things. Sometimes my travels lead me to places that manage to capture the spirit of a people in a simple and endearing way. Copenhagen was one of those places.

Danes are consistently ranked among the world’s happiest people. It’s true that Denmark is an affluent country and the government offers more social protections than many other countries. But the Danes seem to have a sort of inborn happiness, a lighthearted, easy approach to life that inures them to the stresses of life. It’s difficult not to be envious of their relaxed take on life.

Walking the streets of Copenhagen — which can indeed become congested and busy, like any other large city — I still felt that life somehow moved more slowly and deliberately there. The Danes’ lighthearted approach to life agreed with me. And as I walked, I eventually made my way to Amagertorv Square, the city’s central square, as well as one of its oldest.

The centerpiece of Amagertorv is the Stork Fountain. Created in 1894, the fountain honored the silver wedding anniversary of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Louise. Over the years, it became a tradition that newly graduated midwives gather and dance around the fountain.

I don’t know the significance of the storks, if there is any. But I found the fountain charming, whatever its meaning. The idea that the Crown Prince and Princess would be honored through three storks poised to take flight seemed to me to be emblematic of the Danes and their slightly quirky, carefree take on life. And the image of young midwives dancing around the birds which, in myth, deliver their young charges, made me smile to myself as I setup my tripod. Denmark may or may not be the happiest place in the world, but on an early morning in Copenhagen, as I prepared to photograph three bronze storks, I felt quite content.

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