I heard of the Berlin photomarathon first from my friend Boris (see his series here). Photo marathon, what's that then? Quite easy: you meet up with around 400 other enthusiasts, get an overall theme (this year: "What a surprise"), the first four topics and the first stopover location. After 4 hours, you get a stamp, the next four topics and the second stopover location. Same thing there, and at the finish, after 12 hours, you deliver exactly 12 photos in the order of the topics given. Best ones will win prizes, everybody gains pure experience. No post-editing, no raw-files. Basically, everything else is allowed.
Now, this is the more relaxing version (so I hear). In the years before they asked for 24 photos in 12 hours, and in former years, there have been more than 2 stopovers as well. Still, for me that was only hearsay, it was my first time and I feared that I just had not enough good ideas and not enough time to realize them. Before the event, I toyed with the thought of building 1:87 (or H0 for model train lovers) scenarios. I have experimented a bit already, inspired for example by London street artist Slinkachu and Seattle based artist Christopher Boffoli and have a decent number of little, but very patient models under contract already. But would that be a good idea? Once start with this style, I had to stick with it until the end. So it went back and forth, and in the morning of the marathon, I could not imagine going through with it.
Of we go, Saturday morning and I felt equipped but not prepared. As a beginner, I probably made the typical beginners' mistake: too much equipment. The backback was filled with cam (a Sony Alpha A77) and three lenses, the bike bag had another few kilos of equipment, like a mini tripod, flash, beanbag, bottle of water, and some other things from the checklist. Ok, the bike is going to carry it, that's what I thought. The bike! Can you move faster in Berlin? I don't think so.
Registration near the Nordbahnhof (thats not too far from my home), meeting Boris and his group, watching people showing of their equipment, waiting for 11 am to get the topics. The weather was very nice; all good. However, once I had the first four topics in my hands, I - well, how to put that mildly - did not have a rush of brilliant ideas in my head without those little helpers. Three of the four topics quickly triggered scenarios with 1:87 models in them. And if you have something NOT at a photo marathon, it is plenty of time for planning, thinking or preparing. So I went home and went for it. See the results in the slideshow above or within the report and some of my thoughts as the day developed below.
Note: in accordance with the photomarathon rules, the photos shown here have not been edited after they were saved in the camera; only the watermark was added.
Photomarathon Berlin 2013 - My Report
Topic 01: Eintauchen / Submerge
The no. 1, the start of the series, the one that determines the rest, the one that the jury sees first. And I couldn't stop thinking of yoghurt! The clue of no. 1: the starting number had to be part of it. So, there is no bus line 317 in Berlin. There are not so many streets with that many houses (house number!). Nothing really obvious came into my mind. Except M&Ms in yoghurt like rocks in a lake. Two swimmers dipping in and getting surprised by the head of a (jelly baby) devil. Somehow I did not get the Loch Ness Monster out of my head and this is the result.
Learn: low fat yoghurt melts chocolate. I probably like this photo the least of all 12. Well, but no.1 was in the box and the starting number can be seen.
Topic 02. Irrwege / Meanders
Now, on the bike, towards Brandenburg Gate. You may remember that June 15th is only a few days before President Obama was visiting Berlin and some areas were already closed for traffic, like the Brandenburg Gate. Nearby, the US embassy. Barries can be like a meander, or a maize. So here we go: two craftsmen trying to bring out the red carpet for the president, misled by the barriers away from the US embassy (quite surprising if you think about it!), which is in the background with some real barriers, not put out yet though. How do you like that? You would not believe how light those little thingies are. Every wind produced by a passing car or a bus would make them fly away and it took me around half an hour and a backpack wind barrier to the right to get this. Quite ok I think. If you can follow the thoughts above ;-)
Topic 03. Ausgetrickst / Outwitted
The toughest one for me in the first set of four topics. But a scenario I already had in mind before. What if a little man calls for a taxi, but only large taxis are available? Well, outwitted by a small taxi. A bit of a stretch? Well, maybe, but I like how it turned out. Here I had to glue the man to the stone block in from of Berlin main station.
Topic 04. Hauptgewinn / Jackpot
By now it was 2:30 pm, 30 minutes to the first stopover, not really enough time to take on topic 4, so I went straight to the first intermediate stop for the stamp and the next topics. It was about a 15 min ride, but they turned out really strict and let us wait for 3 pm straight, not rewarding those who had been there early. Next four topics and not really a good approach to them, topic 4 was still on my mind. So I rushed back to the area near the main station (where also my flat is - near, not at the station) and I kneed into some pitch of sandy green to have my gardner find the the jackpot. And what would be a jackpot for someone that small? Right, one Euro cent (actually, the material is worth more than 0.01 Euro!). Finding a jackpot, the surprise is a bit intrinsic. Have a look. I was bitten by ants btw...
Topic 05. Wie gewonnen so zerronnen / Easy come, easy go
Now, already 4 pm and I only had 4 pics in the bag so far. On we go with topic no. 5. Now this came easy to me as I had this figure of the poor baker falling down with his bread. I put him on a BBQ grill and a pice of bred with butter in the back (butter, you know, that will melt on a BBQ? - you'd get that if you knew that the German word "zerronnen" translates to "melted away"; a photo marathon is a game with words really). Couldn't get the grin out of my face while shooting this scene. The baker clearly was surprised by the muck-rake, don't you think?
Oh, around this time I figured out that I never gonna get ready if I keep driving around Berlin, looking for the right place for the next scenario (and picking up the next mini-models at home with the right props. So it was living room arrangements from there on. Not what was planned, neither the actual a-day-in-Berlin-spirit of the photo marathon (although certainly allowed), but at this point of time, the only chance for me to finish the marathon. Plus, the wind problems can be much more controlled at home (but not totally eliminated, as you will see at no. 10).
Topic 06. Verschwommen / Blurry
Now, with swimming/water/diving being a bit of a theme in the topics, you could've taken (the German translation of) the topic literally, which would mean something like "swam in the wrong direction". But blurry in the photographers' sense seemed a bit more logical. I found the guy on the ladder, putting a poster up. I made a little "photo marathon" poster. And we are in Berlin - so the cover of a streetmap-jigsaw turned out to be the perfect background. Together with a LensBaby, the blurry topic meets the photo marathon, clearly the organizers would be positively surprised to see their logo in a photo ;-)
Topic 07. Das Schicksal nimmt seinen Lauf / Fate takes its course
This one was in my mind as soon as I saw the topic sheet. Pure coincidence had made me buy this pair of model figures who I always intended to put in the same scene. A colorful lady on a shopping spree and a homeless woman with all her belongings in the same supermarket trolly. And what surprise would make this change? Right, the plunge of the stock markets from 2010 (you remember, the Lehman Bank thing that started the financial crisis we are in?). This has determined the fate of many people. Put on the German stock index (DAX) on an iPad (the internet bubble bursting being another occasion of stocks market turmoils. iPad, internet?), and with a nice light effect also showing the declining line, I thought this one is a really good picture for that topic. Actually, my favorite of all 12 later on!
Topic 08. Froschkönig / Frog King
After my favorite, the one that triggered basically no idea for quite a while. What was the fairy tail about exactly? Was it the one with kissing the frog (actually, no it isn't, at least not the version I quickly found). It's one the brothers Grimm collected, maybe drive to the Grimm library of the Humboldt University, near Friedrichstraße? That would have been possible. At the very last moment I found an old bottle of cleaning liquid, made by a company called Frosch (Frog). I put it in the sink, the modern day well (remember, the frog saved the golden ball for the princess, the ball that had fallen into the well) and had two canal workers look down into the sink looking for the golden ball. Not finding it in MY sink, surprisingly. Water running in the back, to make clear that it is actually the sink. Well, better than nothing.
Topic 09. Verzaubern / Enchant
At least I had done all topics before the next meeting meeting point had to be reached. This was in Neukölln, quite a ride from my home. It took me 45 minutes to get there, and I brought a bunch of H0-models with me, just for the case. But it was clear pretty quickly that I had more ideas for living room scenarios in my head than anything else, so I headed back home. I didn't like the 90 minutes in the train, but this time I already thought about the scenarios on my way back and could start right away when I got home.
Enchant. Well any enchanting would be surprising, especially for a scientist like me. So the overall topic was not so much of an issue here. What could be enchanted, or shall I say, "magically" transformed? A dead plant to a green plant, something they call a green thumb in German (like many other idioms, it probably doesn't translate well). I arranged a second gardner (they come in a set ;-) ) besides a plastic tree and a green little thing growing between the tiles on my balcony (ahem...), here we go. There is a little tendency for simpler arrangements, do you notice?
Topic 10. Halbwelten / Demimondes
Although not directly in the word, I immediately thought of underworld, criminals and police catching them. I had a few policemen (the type with shields that we see on May 1st a lot in Berlin) and - you couldn't make this up - I live across a prison (I said "across"!). The arrangement of the policemen in a semi circle (well, it is HALB welten after all ;-) ), and the prison in the background. That's all I have to say to this. I was actually surprised that the four green men and women were on their feet long enough for me to make the picture, two others had given up already. Damn you, wind!
Topic 11. Verflucht / Cursed
Now, "verflucht" in German could easily be understood differently from "cursed" (also a reoccurring theme in the topics, don't you think?). It also is an expression in German that you use when you mean "dammit". I had nothing for cursed, so I thought of a situation where someone had the surprised dammit on the lips. How about the old man, pushing his arms towards the hips, enraged by some nudists? That was my best shot, placed on a light box I still have from my scientist days (people used to watch blots or x-rays on those light boxes), the puristic approach in the 11th hour. Lighting could be better, despite the lightbox ironically.
Topic 12. Abtauchen / Plunge
Finally, this was a bit of an obvious one, given the set of swimmers I had used at the start and therefore also completing the circle of topics (as I suppose it was intended). This diver in the champagne glass certainly didn't expect the jelly baby dino in the water and got trapped. While I was at it, I used the lightbox again, now with a red t-shirt in the background which made a quite nice color theme I thought. And here we go, no 12. Boris, Eva and Bianca liked this one most.
Still only 9:30 pm, 90 minutes to select the best shots, delete the rest from the memory card, change the shirt and drive to the finish line, now happy to have the marathon completed. It was a great experience and I want to thank all the organizers who have been super friendly and encouraging all the time! Well done, I will certainly be back next year. But almost certainly with a more street approach to the topics, using one of the many events going on every weekend in Berlin, and definitely with much less equipment.
Annex, July 14th 2013