Friday, 24 December 2010

Nihilism and Photography

Most places aren't really that interesting. I'm stating this as a fact. It's mainstream living and not- hing more.

But here's where photography makes a twist: it opens up a place. What used to be boring could suddenly become the only thing worth shooting.

I guess this is the main reason why photography has taken such a hold on me, although I sense something way darker underneath this enthusiasm, a kind of sadness, or nihilism, when an idea empties out and the photographs stops radiating.

Susan Sontag writes: "[...] essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." (On Photography, 1977)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Gray Whales

Before leaving San Diego I read about Grey Whales emigrating south. Colliding with whales are one of my major fears in sailing. Especially at night, trying to sleep, I sometimes find it hard not to visualize a sudden impact.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

3 am, west of Tijuana: Trying to sleep I forced my mind into something else than whales. I thought about my childhood, our new neighbors. They turned out to be vegetarians. We kids kept our distance at first, not knowing what vegetarians were, but they had a son my age who climbed into an empty trash can and got stuck. His father had to come home from work to saw him out. This happened the same winter my school dentist declared that I had eleven cavities. It was pretty much the end for me. He would be drilling my teeth until spring. I came to loath his big fat fingers in my mouth. This was before latex gloves and his nicotine stained fingers stank heavy of sour tobacco. In retrospect I would say the school dentist was bordering child molestation. His secretary was tall and skinny with ice cold hands that she seemed to put in my mouth for warmth. I was lying in that dentist chair, with tubes sucking, when a moose came into the school yard and got tangled up in the swings. Everybody expected the police to use anesthetic but they just shot it, a sharp flat crack, reverberating through windows and concrete, and later on they had to use a chain saw to cut the dead moose down, with blood squirting all over their faces.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
Nina called my name. It was my watch. I dressed up in wool and rain gear, but the night was clear and still. No wind. She'd just heard some strange sounds that we soon realized was a whale breathing. But there wasn't much to do about it. We continued drifting south, deeper into Mexico.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Modern traveling

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
Internet has changed the concept of sailing around the world. Actually, we have seen the change in all kinds of traveling. We go further, to more remote and exotic places, but at the same time we keep our friends and family updated. We keep in touch with the place we left. This has again changed the concept of leaving; there's really no point in crying.

But there's a serious downside to this. Emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc; it all means that the modern traveler brings along friends and family, in what is called 'hyperreality'. The traveler never really leaves his own bubble. And then the significance of a new place is never seen, never felt and never understood.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

I'm pulling ahead

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
I'd already been up for two hours, editing a difficult line in a poem, when the nearby military base sounded the reveille. I paused and looked at the clock, wondering if the American war machine was getting lax.

I'm pulling ahead, I thought, feeling suddenly uplifted. It might be a chance that poetry will win after all.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Along the Breakwater

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-HansenI rowed our little inflatable dinghy along the breakwater. A huge sea lion got interested, and followed suit. I felt a bit uneasy by the thought of an attack. I had no idea what these kinds of animals were up to.

I started to think about Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher. Watching tourists in Monterey had somewhat made me understand what Jean Baudrillard meant by 'hyperreality'. The fishing industry was replaced by the tourist industry, which simulated the fishing industry through toys and replicas; people took images that had already been taken from the past.

I scanned the concrete wall for a ladder but there were none. I kept rowing, thinking about Jean Baudrillard.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The fear of enthusiasm

I silently dislike Nina's enthusiasm when sailing offshore. Sure, I love dolphins or a good breeze, but I would never dare to say so.

It's my belief that enthusiasm brings bad luck. Forget about umbrellas, whistling or leaving on a Friday; outspoken enthusiasm could really sink a boat.

I never had this superstition while we stayed the winter at Tapawingo. We saw a black bear not more than ten meters from our cabin door, and my enthusiasm had no limits.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
But the fear of enthusiasm runs deep in the Canadian wild. Our story about the bear got played down, like "so you got to see the forest pig, aye?"

This was typical among the trappers and fishermen at Bistcho Lake; they loved wild animals, but would never dare to say so. Black bears were often called 'forest pigs', squirrels 'tree rats', and once we heard a trapper call a flock of snowy-white ptarmigans for a 'bunch of ducks'. But the lack of enthusiasm didn't seem to be for superstitious reasons.

In the wilderness you'll gain your respect through nonchalance and coolness. You have seen it all before.

Monday, 18 October 2010


I'm rowing in the fog. I have my camera in a watertight bag. I'm empty and ready and I'm turning around to find a landing on the beach. The swell breaks slow and heavy.

I'm carrying my shoes while walking barefooted towards the pier. The sand is cold and moist. The overhanging trees are dark and inflamed.

I'm thinking about the Norwegian photographer Kåre Kivijärvi. I'm thinking about his pictures, and nothing about his alcoholism, his troubled life.

The pier is almost empty.
Whatever goes on here has almost come to a stand still. I can see a few dark shapes of fishing boats. Single cars and men are creeping around in the gray light.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Friday, 15 October 2010


It's semi dark in the two rooms with jellyfish. The glassy creatures are dancing in slow motion. It's meditation just to watch.

There's grace in the aquariums, something strangely serene that make most people silent.
It's a miniature drama that unfolds slowly in front of us. Poisonous tentacles are arching like long distant missiles, and there's a texture to some of them, like thick orange smoke.

Then I'm watching silhouettes of people watching jellyfish. They're standing still in front of the illusion of a deep blue ocean.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
I suddenly recognize the silhouette of Thomas Quick, the famous Swedish serial killer. But then again; it can't be. He's in psychiatric confinement, convicted for 7 murders (although he confessed more than 30).

I watch him from behind. I can see the jellyfish angled through his glasses, the baseball cap as he slowly pans the aquarium. It's a silhouette look-alike; the tall figure, the way he straighten himself but still hunch forward.

He leaves the room and walks slowly towards the balcony. He opens the door and heads for the railing.

But when the weird excitment is gone, I don't know, it's like I feel sorry for us all. Especially the lone man at the balcony.

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Moss in the morning

I'm reading about Moss Landing in the Wikipedia: "Prior to 1981, the community suffered from grave water contamination, severe septic tank failures, and public health problems."

I'm troubled by this as we leave in the morning. I'm also troubled by the fact that Moss Landing is one of those places without a face; one of those places that 'failed to make an impression'. This is, of course, not true.

Truth is; sailing around the world means a lot of skipping and cutting short. We can't see it all. And some places are left behind: without impressions, without stories, without friends.

But I tried to compensate in the blue morning light. Patches of fog were lingering around houses and structures. Moss Landing has its own beauty. Not to behold.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Moss in the evening

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
The only thing we'd heard about Moss Landing was that "there's really nothing there." It sounded appealing to me. It sounded exotic, even.

Maybe the incitement for stopping at Moss Landing was the possibility to experience something authentic: the only thing that the tourist industry can't sell on a big scale.

'Come to Moss Landing - we have absolutely nothing for you to see or do.'

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
We landed at the guest dock and had a look at the abundance of harbor seals and sea otters. An elderly man seemed slightly provoked by our enthusiasm. "It's like an infestation," he stated. "They stink."

We went for a walk. The main road was right there. I could see cars, the power plant.

Nina came back to where I was standing next to the road. I was thinking about the way certain memories get stuck while traveling; it's never really the big things, like mausoleums or grand waterfalls. She shouted something through the deafening traffic. It was dark by then. Her face lit up by passing cars. Her face lit up in intervals, all white and twisted in dust and light.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Friday, 1 October 2010


We never did take a tour to Alcatraz. I guess we've sort of been there already. Through fiction, that is.

We sailed past the prison Sing Sing three years ago, in a nice breeze. And this summer we've passed San Quentin several times. I don't know the full meaning of this, but it somehow feels significant.

Is it fair to say that sailing around the world is a direct opposite to spending years in jail? Maybe, but there's also something in common; in our kind of pocket-cruising we're living most of our time with less space than in a cell.

But the argument is halting. We're moving. We're moving in the extreme. And the whole point of doing time is to stay put; the inmates are only moving through time.

I read Edward Bunkers 'Education of a Felon' some years ago. This is the only biography I've finished. I kept visualizing Alcatraz while reading, although Edward Bunker did most of his time in San Quentin, further down the bay, as the youngest inmate ever. Later he wrote several books, and appeared in numerous movies, such as Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

What does all this mean? Nothing, I guess. But I kept taking pictures of Alcatraz when we left some days ago. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by this place.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The letting go

Offshore cruising is one of the few situations where the importance of letting go become crucial. If you can't let go - you're getting nowhere.

I was thinking about this when I stood on the bluff close to Golden Gate, and wondered why I kept looking towards the next bluff; the distant trees, the drifting fog.

This is all mental. We've met several cruisers, mostly elderly cruisers, who have stayed too long in a port. I guess they fell in love with a place, but it often goes together with a gathering of horror.

In most situations we can't let go at all; we cling to hopes and memories. We know the world is uncertain and that everything is in flux, but we still build our lives around these mental fixtures.

But the ability to let go is important. We have to let go of rude remarks, lousy drivers, or people we just find irritating, for whatever reason.

We have to let go of the past: ex-lovers, former spouses, or a really unfair treatment at work. We have to let go of fear: fear of getting cancer, a sudden heart attack, the fear of dying in our sleep, of crashing in cars or airplanes.

Offshore cruising take this to the very core: you start by the dock, and let go of the lines. Later on you let go of the coastline. Then you let go of your country.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A shot of Misery

I'm standing on the beach in Aquatic Park. I'm waiting for Nina to see me, to row over. I keep looking towards our boat at anchor. My mood is on an ebb. I've been on a long walk with the camera, I'm cold and tired.

I'm stirring at the boat, the grim breakwater. I'm stirring out at the wet fog, feeling low and mean. There's someone in my head who feels like having a serious shot of rum.

I'm thinking this is the downside of cruising. I'm thinking most people are indoors by now, or in their cars, with the heater on.

But then one of the Aquatic Park swimmers pass by, and I can feel my mood change for the better. These swimmers defy wind and fog.

I know that living close to the elements is a teaching in change. There's nothing personal in it, and there's no one really who deserves a drink for being miserable.

Monday, 20 September 2010

City of steel and fog

I've always found it kind of strange that cities, and even whole countries, can be reduced to simple psychological terms. As if we're talking about a single human being.

Say, a person could be suffering from paranoia, a delusion which often comes with hubris, and I sometimes find this a perfect match for a certain superpower, namely USA.

But San Francisco will not be pinned down as easily. It has a beaming smile for the tourist, but this will start to weaver if anybody are in for a prolonged stay. In fact, San Francisco seems have some serious mood swings. There's a distinct gloomy side. And this could very well be the reason for why I find the town so interesting.

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
I left Nina on Market Street. We had a transfer ticket, but I wanted to walk. I had been waiting for the town to change.

It was late in the evening. Fog rolled in and obscured the sun, the tall buildings. Fog drifted like smoke through the structures. The last bit of sun set a facade of glass and steel on fire.

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
Architecture may be the language of economical and political power, but buildings often grow into something unforeseen. I was wondering about this as I walked. How could downtown San Francisco be so powerful and yet so transient?

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
Clerks and executives crowded the sidewalks. Cars where backed up in Sutter Street. But I kept looking up at those tall buildings. The upper floors seemed peculiarly lofty. Like dreams. Like something that's not really there. I had never seen steel and concrete like this before.

I often have this vague feeling while dreaming; like a neutral surrounding that's about to change for the worse.

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
It was getting darker. People had cleared the street as I walked up Mason. A cold, moist wind was blowing.

photo Henrik Nor-Hansen
I passed a corner shop with three Chinese men standing in the doorway, smoking. They seemed somewhat depressed. Most windows where dark and empty.

The lights were on in a yellow kitchen. I spotted a little boy drumming with chopsticks. It was like a racket in total silence.

And on the next block, in a bleak and desolated window on third floor, was it an old, Chinese woman grinning? Did she really hunch closer to the window frame? Was she grinning down at me?