Inventor of the döner kebab dies

Quoted from the highly readable Local, Berlin’s most interesting English-language news site:

In sad news for anyone who has been drunk and hungry at 2 am, the man who invented the döner kebab sandwich nearly four decades ago in Berlin has passed away.

Mahmut Aygün, the Turkish immigrant who revolutionised German fast food with his tasty creation, died at age 87 this week after a serious illness.

Aygün came up with the now ubiquitous döner while working at the “City Imbiss” snack shop in West Berlin in 1971. Cutting meat off a huge rotating spit, he was inspired to put it in pita bread and dress it up with vegetables and yoghurt sauce. Selling for two marks, the döner quickly became a staple of German street food alongside Teutonic favourites such as the bratwurst.

Although Aygün went on to considerable culinary success in Berlin, he didn’t make money from the thousands of kebab shops across Germany that copied him because he failed to patent his invention.

Still, he will be remembered by countless legions of döner kebab fans around the world.

Of course, döner kebap has existed for 250 years in Turkey… but Aygün was the first guy to make a sandwich out of it, and thus was created an easy and portable meal. And if you find a good busy place that sells a lot of them, they are actually pretty healthy. No preservatives, relatively lean meat, and a lot of salad.

I used to like the döner stand on Wilmersdorfer Strasse (right past the S-Bahn bridge) but Karen and I these days prefer the Pergamon Grill, a walk-in place in the Friedrich Strasse train station that also serves really good Turkish roll-up pizza.

Commitment

Found on the side of my Starbucks cup this morning:

The irony of commitment is that’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Quoted from “The Way I See It” – # 76

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Have a great day!

Annie Leibowitz

I know, I know…  The whole world seems to be talking about her, she’s the most recognized photographer in the world, her pieces are everywhere… and she’s got more media exposure than a Presidential candidate. I was at a point where I really thought that I’m over her, especially since she does so much celebrity photography.

But I must admit I’ve really come to appreciate her more than ever in the last few months.

All of this is probably due to her recent books, and the documentary about her. She released A Photographer’s Life in 2006, a fabulous book that really shows her range as a photographer. Leibowitz is well known for her celebrity photos, which is a genre I have zero appreciation for. But this book seamlessly interweaves her professional work, her photo journalism, her personal pictures, and her own creative imagery. It really shows her breadth as an artist. It could be argued that her celebrity enables her to pursue these different styles, but the fact is that she succeeds in creating memorable work. It’s really good.

In 2007, a film about Leibowitz was released called Life Through a Lens. My wife and I enjoy documentaries on DVD, and tend to watch a lot of photography films. We enjoyed this film tremendously. It’s shot really well, not unlike a narrative might unfold as told through still images. Although I don’t spend much time listening to celebrities, in this context it made sense. As a photographer we crave willing subjects, and it is fun to listen to famous people talk about photo shoots.

My friend Sasha just gave me At Work, Leibowitz’s newest book. It’s a real gem. There are many images from her career, and she spends a few paragraphs or pages discussing these pictures with the readers. Some of it is about the subject, the setting, or the shoot itself, but she also covers the gear she used, composition, and lighting considerations. It’s really a book for fellow photographers. At the end is even a “most frequently asked questions” section.

In the most recent book, she describes what it is like photographing people, and one’s own family in particular. I share her feelings. Some people are quite uncomfortable in front of the camera, and have been conditioned to smile and assume a slightly awkward pose. “Say Cheese” was invented in the 1950s, when everything was supposed to be happy and normal. It’s hard to break that habit, and virtually impossible to get a natural looking shot that way. Like her, I’m trying to get my children to ignore the camera, but it’s hard.

Annie Leibowitz is coming to Berlin, and I’m looking forward to meeting her. I’m actively involved with C/O Berlin, one of the most important photographic organizations. She’s going to be showing her work at C/O starting February 21st, and most importantly: she’s giving a talk – something she’s not done anywhere else.

Rock in the Red Zone

There seem to be a lot of people who don’t understand why Israel feels the need to go into Gaza and to root out Hamas there. Over the last eight years, terrorists have been sending missiles into the southern area of Israel on an almost daily basis. The city that gets targeted the most is called Sderot. The Israelis, being highly technical, have deployed a system which gives a 15 second warning to get to a safe place. Hamas in turn continues to build stronger and more accurate missiles.

Imagine, fifteen seconds in which to seek shelter. Sometimes 50 times a day.

Media coverage of this terror is low because fortunately the death toll has not been catastrophic. But it is terror, and no one can pretend it is a peaceful, civilized way of living. In what has become a well-rehearsed routine, Sderot’s residents run for cover when the Color Red air raid sounds. Every person in this close-knit community has experienced a Qassam exploding nearby, and has known one of the victims. Several thousand people are being treated for shock and other psychological effects. Sderot’s children, many of whom know no other way of life, show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. As the rockets continue unabated, however, “post”-trauma is not an accurate diagnosis, because these are not events isolated in time… it just goes on every day. Over the last seven years many people have died, many more have sustained life-changing injuries.

But here’s what’s so interesting:

Laura Bialis, a film maker from Los Angeles, moved to Sderot to document this life. But what she discovered was an incredibly vibrant music scene that has grown there. In some weird way Sderot turns out to be the Seattle, Washington or Athens, Georgia of Israel.. at least musically.

As Bialis explains:

Musical sounds and instruments from all over the world meld together in this place at the crossroads of East and West. As they try to live normal lives, and realize their careers, the musicians write about their daily struggles and the harsh realities of living in Israel and especially, Sderot. Their music captures their fears and challenges, the feeling that the world has abandoned them, the uncertainty of this place. Through Hip-Hop, Folk, Middle-Eastern, and Rock n’ Roll, they express their desperation and determination.

To many, the questions about Israel and the Middle East are abstract. But the people of Sderot are at the tip of the spear — they live the battle on a daily basis. To them, peace in the Middle East is not a question of roadmaps or diplomatic initiatives, it’s just a day that goes by when they don’t have to run for cover.

So check it out if you can. Below is the trailer, go digging around the movie’s website.

Clay Break

For months now I’ve seen pieces on various image and art sites of “The Clay Breaks” as I’ve come to call them in my mind. I finally had some time, and searched the internet to learn more about them.

Nothing.

The image seem to be hosted on some anonymous data dump site, and there is no information about the artist, or the process. In many ways, this has been a recurring topic of my all-time favorite author William Gibson… art that appears out of nowhere, enters the collective consciousness, and then gets tracked to the most unlikely of sources. Just read Pattern Recognition, for instance.

I love these images. I like how the fragile breaking of these Hummelesque figurines undermines the poses of strength – the characters are all in classic Chinese warrior stances.

I’m sorry I’m unable to credit anyone with this work. Please write me should you know who makes these.

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The last one is my favorite.

I don’t know the process – are there multiple figurines that the artist makes, and then drops until s/he captures the right image? Are these entirely created as drawings on a computer? Or does the artist hand-break the pieces and then collage them using an editing software?

If I could get prints of these works, I would want them relatively small, and framed ornately, so that they maintain the feeling of the little China dolls they originate from.

Nothing is Original

Something to remember when I agonize about photographs, and I think “Hmmm…. I can’t do this, it looks too much like so-and-so’s work….” but I really love it.

It’s ok to be a thief.

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Pro-Reli vs. Ethik

The longer I live in Berlin, the more pleasantly surprised I am by how sensible and enlightened some of the laws are in this town. In 2006, following years of debate, Berlin mandated Ethics be taught from 7th through 10th grade. In a pluralistic and post-religious society, it makes sense that students be given a moral framework that transcends the usual faith-based teachings. These days religion tends to be used to separate and isolate people, and in its most extreme form serves as a foundation for hatred.

There is a ballot initiative (“Initiative für ein Volksbegehren”) currently making the rounds that would force religion classes back into schools, instead of leaving people to make their religious choices at home. The Pro-Reli movement positions the argument cleverly, saying that mandated religion classes would allow everyone their choice – the various forms of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Atheism. It all sounds very open-minded, but there are several problems with it: in a multi-cultural society like Berlin the schools do not have teachers for every religion in the building – heck, they can barely find language or music teachers. The other issue is core to religion: it separates the students, and instead of finding a common ground, it spells out differences and tries to cement those.

Leave religion where it belongs: in the church, or at home.

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Click HERE to read the Humanistische Union’s rebuttal on the various arguments being made by the Pro-Reli movement. In German, of course.

JPG calls it quits

A bit of sad news on this first business day of 2009. JPG Magazine is shutting down. It was a brilliant concept from a creative point of view, and I am proud to have been part of it.

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JPG was a hybrid website & magazine that was based on monthly thematic photo competitions. Topics like “Travel” would get hundreds of submissions by various talented amateur photographers. We would then vote and comment on the images, and the best ones were published in the monthly magazine.

It’s a simple concept, but I’m not surprised that it didn’t work as a business. The participants (us) weren’t that interested in a magazine subscription because we’d already studied every conceivable image ad nauseum. And the typical consumer buying magazines off a news stand is looking for “gear porn” – which camera has the most megapixels and the newest lens. These buyers are not interested in the art of photography.

So go peruse the site while it is still up and running. The email I got this morning says that JPG will even take down the site, they don’t even have the resources to keep it going.

Below is one of my own favorite images that I had submitted to JPG.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

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Woman at Berlin Hauptbahnhof waiting for train

EDIT: Jan 11th late at night:

Just got this email:

We couldn’t ask for a better community. In the week or so since our last email, the outpour of support has exceeded our wildest expectations. Your efforts, such as starting SaveJPG.com, writing blog posts, commenting on Twitter and Flickr, and generally making your voices heard, have provided exciting new opportunities for us.

We’re thrilled to say that because of you, we have multiple credible buyers interested in giving JPG a home. We will be keeping the site up after all, and hope to have a final update in the next week or so on who the acquirer will be. Thank you for making all of this possible.

Laura Brunow Miner
Editor in Chief