Monday, December 10, 2018


© jmse
By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

November 30, 2019. It is dawning on the platform of the train station at Wetzlar (Germany), one of the most beautiful villages in the world, and the place where between 1914 and 1936 a genius of mechanics and industrial design called Oskar Barnack laid the foundations of agile modern photojournalism and documentary photography with the implementation of an exceedingly brilliant photographic philosophy whose fundamental tenet was very small, light and sturdy Leica cameras coupled to tiny and highly luminous top-notch interchangeable lenses and small 24 x 36 mm format miniature film, all of it with an unswerving aim : to get great pictures shooting handheld with available light and without using any tripod whatsoever.

In addition, the Barnack format would subsequently become the most widespread one of the photographic industry on being adopted by vast majority of firms manufacturing cameras and lenses.

© jmse
Now, between October 11, 2018 and March 1, 2019 (one hundred and four years after the invention by Oscar Barnack of the Ur-Leica and its raison d´etre whose most important goal was the creation of meaningful pictures shooting handheld with available light), a milestone photographic exhibition whose pith is likewise the photography with available light, shooting often at the limit, under very dim luminous conditions, is being held at Lars Netopil Galerie in Wetzlar (Germany):

Athos, with black and white images made in Mount Athos (Holy Mountain), situated on a rugged and remote peninsula in northeast Greece, by the Dutch photographer Paul Robert in 1979 and 1982, and unpublished till now.

 The photojournalist and documentary photographer Paul Robert in deep introspection 
during a dinner in a Wetzlar restaurant on November 30, 2018.
© jmse
Throughout an amazing career of 40 years (split in two parts, a first stage between late seventies and 2003 in which he was both a writer and photographer, and a second one from 2003 to nowadays in which he has mainly devoted himself to his activity as a photographer, keeping on making essays with his own pictures and texts, exhibitions and sale of prints) he has worked as editor of AP Dutch service and as editor-in-chief and European regional editor of the Dutch Interpress Service and as a photographer for such magazines like Reader´s Digest Selections, De Reisgids, Financieel Dagblad, De Volkskrant, Islands, Origine, Lekker naar de boer, Puur and others.

He has made a raft of illustrated reportages with his own images and words like :

- Falling and Standing Up in Iceland, a reportage with pictures and text published in Vakantie magazine.

-  Montana and his Copper Mines, a reportage published in Financieel Dagblad magazine.
- Reportage on Mushrooms in Lekker naar de boer magazine, a specialized publication on cuisine.

- America Roots reportage in Memphis (Tennessee) and Missisippi area in the number of September/October 2014 of Reisgids magazine, with images on Indian tribes celebrations with people wearing old clothes from their Navajos and Apache ancestors, gorgeous restored very old gas stations from forties and fifties, jazz concerts, Amish inhabitants, jazz clubs, crops of different products, vintage cars, etc.

- Behind the Yellow Wolf, reportage made in Yellowstone National Park for Het Financieel Dagblad, Dutch financial magazine, in August 21, 2010.

- 10x Echt Curaçao, with images of beautiful beaches, different hotels, tropical markets, Dinah´s Botanic Garden, Westpun, etc, published in Puur magazine.

- Reportage on the Faroe Islands in Life Here magazine, with great pictures of landscapes, local inhabitants and puffins in their natural habitat in 2012.

- Reportage on Burdeoux and its 30 year development project published in the April 2018 number of Valitut Palat magazine, Finnish edition of Reader´s Digest

- Reportage with black and white pictures made by him and text by Brigitte Bormans on the Fishers of Muscles in the Dutch coast of Oosterschelde, published in Reader´s Digest Selections magazine of October 2018.

- Reportage on Jerusalem, firstly published in De Groene Amsterdammer magazine in May of 2018, with pictures by Paul Robert and text by Rolf Bos, and in Het Beste, the Dutch edition of Reader´s Digest Selections, in June of 2018.

He is also a remarkable photographer of landscapes, having got top-notch images of the Colorado Grand Canyon, Greek classic theatres, Iceland sceneries, etc, and has likewise photographed a number of celebrities in the scope of music like Miles Davis during a concert at North Sea Jazz in 1984 shooting b & w Ilford HP5 film and the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1985 and B.B. King also in mid eighties, both of them with Zenza Bronica 6 x 4.5 cm medium format camera and Kodak Tri-X 400 b & w film.

In addition, he got in 2016 some of the most beautiful black and white pictures ever made of the iconic Flatiron Building in Manhattan, New York City, designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham.

He is likewise author along with Peter Weil of a fabulous 224 pages book : Typewriter, A Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine, published by Sterling New York in 2016, a must have for any lover of classic typewriters, many of them legendary Imperial, Underwood, Dean Jones Chromed Corona, Olympia, Remington, etc. It is a masterful and beckoning work on their history and technology, featuring a very good layout, fascinating and in depth texts and above all 125 sumptuous colour pictures printed at 400 dpi and building up the everlasting beauty and elegance of these antique widgets.

Lars Netopil talking to Paul Roberts inside Lars Netopil Leica Shop.
© jmse

Located at Baugasse, 4, Wetzlar (Germany) at very few meters from the place where Oskar Barnack made his famous picture in Eisenmarkt with his 24 x 36 mm format Ur-Leica prototype in 1914, Lars Netopil Leica Shop is a shrine of top quality Leica cameras, lenses and accessories (from analogue Leica Model A from 1925, analogue screwmount Leica rangefinders from thirties, forties and fifties, analogue M Leicas made between 1954 and 2002 like the M3, M2, M4, M4-P, M5, M6, M7 and others to modern digital ones like the Leica Monochrom, Leica M10, Leica M10-P, Leica M10-D, Leica CL, Leica SL and others, in addition to an exceedingly comprehensive assortment of old vintage and contemporary aspherical lenses to cover every need of professional and connoisseur photographers).

In a very short elapse of time, this gorgeous shop has turned into an international hub and meeting point of Leica enthusiasts (with visitors from all over the world) and a dream come true for every lover of Leica photographic gear, collectors, professional and advanced amateur photographers, thanks to its second to none customer service and the frequent mint, A and A/B condition of many of its vintage items on sale harking back up to mid twenty of XX Century and still working flawless and getting pictures with chemical films and a unique image aesthetics, which speaks volumes about the impressive quality of old Leitz products, manufactured according to handcrafted parameters resulting in masterpieces of precision and reliability.

The shop oozes elegance and class to spare and is wisely complemented by the Lars Netopil Galerie located beside it and where the Athos exhibition by Paul Robert is being held. 

Lars Netopil opening at 15:30 h the door of his photographic gallery next to his Leica shop and in which the Athos exhibition is being held, while Paul Robert approaches to it walking behind him.
© jmse

Paul Robert talking to Lars Netopil inside the photographic gallery, surrounded by some of the pictures of Athos exhibition.
   © jmse

Lars Netopil is a recognized world-class expert in the scope of Leica History, its cameras, lenses, accessories and prototypes and the greatest authority in this scope of all time alongside Theo Kisselbach and James Lager, as well as being a consultant to international Leica museums and auction houses, has been Vice President of the Leica Historica e.V since 1993 and has written hitherto some landmark books like Prototype Leica Items from the Factory Museum (2010), the 100 Years of Leica Westlicht Photographica Auction book (2014) in which he made impressive in depth texts for every Leica camera, lens and accessory, revealing his encyclopedic knowledge in this regard, and being complemented by the second part of the book in which Hans-Michael Koetzle made the texts relative to each photograph of the auction of images, Rare Leica ( launched into market in 2016 and dealing about a unique collection of Leica gear gathered by a Belgian enthusiast and ranging from the Leica 0 series from 1923 to nowadays), and The New Factory Museum at Leitz Park, including items from the Rolf Fricke Collection (a masterpiece work featuring 672 pages, more than 600 large size colour images made by Wolfgang Sauer and layout designed by David Pitzer) that was recently awarded the German Photo Book Prize 2018/2019.

Paul Robert standing at the door of the Lars Netopil photographic gallery in which the Dutch photographer´s exhibition Athos is being held, displaying images made in 1979 and 1982. The picture of the Russian monk Bogoroditse,
  © jmse

one of the many photographed by Paul Robert in Athos monasteries in 1979 and 1982, presides the glass and aluminum façade of the gallery.
© Paul Robert

Athos is an exceedingly interesting exhibition both from a photographic and human viewpoint, since it includes images of his first two visits to Mount Athos (Greece) in 1979 and 1982, a period in which this autonomous community of orthodox monks living in 20 monasteries was about to dissappear, with increasingly low numbers of them dwelling in this area and being old, after the halcyon days for many centuries in which there were thousands residing in the religious buildings of this unique mountainous zone.

And only from early nineties, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain saved the religious community of Mount Athos, and thousands of new young monks found their way to Greece and breathed new life into this ancient world, while simultaneously the European Union, Russia and other Eastern Europe governments donated money to restore their monasteries on the mountain (there are Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Ukranian, Romanian, Moldovan, Serbian and Albanian orthodox ones), so today it is pretty alive with around 2,000 monks and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, mostly coming from Eastern Europe.

But Paul Robert made the pictures of Athos monks in 1979 and 1982, when this unique and austere habitat with men bearing an asthetic existence, isolated from the rest of the world, was on the brink of extinction, and only a very small quantity of them kept on living inside the ancient monasteries in the same way as their predecessors had done for 1,200 years, since 9th Century, when the first one, the Great Lavra, was built.

Therefore, these images are truly meaningful and related to the deep interest Paul Robert has always had for human beings developing " extreme behaviours " far from the welfare and comfort usually craved by most people.

In this regard, Athos exhibition churns out a number of not easy to answer questions:

What can move a man to change his usual daily life and decide to go to a monastery on top of a mountain to live within it all of his life until his death?

How can these monks endure such a hard and austere life in which there´s a steady lack of luxurious things, social life as is commonly understood, television, radio, newspapers, fashionable clothes, electronic devices, mobile phones, cars, holidays, etc?

How can they withstand living this way for so many years until passing away and resist the temptation to give up and come back to their previous normal life?

Image of Simonos Petras Monastery in the background, taken by Paul Robert while walking across an upward way to it carved on the rock. Located in the southwest shore of Mount Athos peninsula, between Dafni harbour and Gregoriou monastery, it is the most daring construction of the Holy Mountain, since it was built in mid XIII Century, at a height of 330 meters over the sea, on a sheer cliff. The great depth of field of the image, taken at f/16 with Ilford HP5 Plus 400 b & w film, has achieved remarkable sharpness on the whole picture, highlighting the mountainous landscape and the seven storeyed majestic monastery bathed by the sun beams. 
© Paul Robert

What has made these Orthodox monks keep their cohesion and comradeship as a group for one thousand and two hundred years, to such an extent that Mount Athos is home to the oldest surviving monastic community on earth?

How can they overcome the need to sleep to make most prayers at night between 2 a.m and 6 a.m?

What does induce them to accept to do free the daily hard work inside the monasteries (cleaning the guest houses, preparing food at different hours of the day, growing vegetables at the inner farms, making wine in their own vineyards, implementing carpentry work, fishing in the surroundings, transporting deliveries to and from monasteries from the main port of Dafni, etc?

Why the skulls and bones of passed away monks have been kept for many centuries?

Maybe these and many other questions could be answered by Paul Robert´s Athos exhibition, whose black and white images speak by themselves and insightfully delve into the lives and innermost convictions of these human beings who decided to spend their existence secluded from the world within the walls of monasteries located at a great height and surrounded by amazing landscapes.

Moreover, these b & w photographs are also interesting because they were created with an analogue 24 x 36 mm format camera Olympus OM-2 camera and OM Zuiko tiny and highly luminous lenses, since at that moment Paul Robert was very young and hadn´t got enough wherewithal to buy a Nikon F2 or a Canon F-1n (which were then the best 35 mm format reflex cameras) or a Leica M4-2 rangefinder.

But in spite of being a reflex camera, the conceptual philosophy for getting pictures shooting handheld with available light of the Olympus OM-2 (which worked flawless and could do the work shooting Ilford FP4 Plus 125 b & w film and Ilford HP5 Plus 400 b & w film pushed to EI 800 and EI 1600 under very low light conditions inside the monasteries rooms and courtyards, often illuminated at night only with candles) was strongly inspired by Oscar Barnack´s bedrocks, because the genius Yoshihisa Maitani, his creator, was a great lover of 24 x 36 mm format screwmount Leica rangefinder cameras, had a Leica IIIf camera during his teenage years and always dreamed of making a 24 x 36 mm format reflex camera featuring as small dimensions and low weight as it, which he got with his Olympus OM-1 from 1972 and OM-2 from 1975.

Paul Robert posing beside his picture The Hermit belonging to his exhibition Athos inside Lars Netopil Galerie.
© jmse

Paul Robert between two of the nine pictures of his Athos exhibition:
On the left of the image, his photograph of father John inside Profitis Ilias monastery, and on the right of the image the only colour photography on display : Easter 2014, taken by the photographer thirty-five years after visiting Athos mountain for the first time in 1979.
© jmse

The photograph of father John inside the Monastery of Profitis Ilias was made shooting Ilford HP5 Plus 400 b & w film rated at ISO 1600, under exceedingly subdued light and with a very long exposure, while the monk was making tea in his kitchen.
© Paul Robert

© jmse
The picture of Easter 2014 (the only one in colour of the whole exhibition) was taken by Paul Robert at around 12:30 am in the night inside the churchyard of the 10th Century Iviron Monastery in Mount Athos (after having waited for more than four hours since the beginning of the ceremony at 8:00 am),

© Paul Robert
under very low levels of light, since the only luminic sources were the moon and the candles held in their hands by the monks, who were celebrating Christ´s resurrection.

A few seconds after the picture was taken, the monks made ring a metallic semantron ( an approximately 1 meter long percussion musical instrument), hitting it with hammers as a call to prayer, and being followed by all the bells of the monastery sounding at the same time. It was a magical scene ruled by the fusion of moon and candles light, and on watching the image, you can almost smell the incense.

In the Reader´s Digest Selections magazine number 4 of April 2018 titled Visions of Easter in which appeared this colour picture he made in 2014 with a 24 x 36 mm format Nikon D750 at 12.500 ISO, Paul Robert explains that he is not a religious man and he wasn´t raised in a religious family, so the world of churches, monasteries and prayers is totally alien to him, but that in spite of it, he has always been fascinated by the monastic community living in Mount Athos area in northern Greece during the four trips he has made there hitherto. 

© jmse
The photographer next to one of his most famous images : Nekron, the skull of monk Anastasiou awaiting Judgement Day in the ossuary of a skete in Agia Anna orthodox community, on the south side of Mt Athos (Greece). The keeping of the bones of deceased monks has been a tradition preserved for many centuries, with the skulls having often been painted with white inscriptions indicating the name of the deceased person, along with birth and death dates.

© Paul Robert
The image, taken handheld from a short distance, at full aperture, with the photographer being standing and shooting downwards, renders the background out of focus and highlights the top area of the skull (with the Greek inscription Father Anastasiou´s Skull painted in white letters, in addition to a cross on it also with inscriptions in Greek painted around ) and the supercilliary arches, above which there´s a smaller second cross.

This is a highly frightening image, since the light coming from the left incides on approximately two thirds of the skull top area, right eye (whose content is visible), nose and chin, while the left third of the skull is rather in shadow, in the same way as the left eye. It all provides a feeling of volume, enhanced by the character and great resolving power of the 125 ISO Ilford FP4 Plus black and white film in symbiosis with the good contrast, outstanding sharpness and acutance, wealth of detail and very beautiful bokeh attained by the early version 6 elements in 5 groups G. Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/1.8 lens used to get the picture, for whose creation the photographer took advantage of its minimum focusing distance of 45 cm.

© jmse
A visitor of the exhibition " Athos " inside Lars Netopil Galerie beholding the photograph The Carpenter,

  © Paul Robert
in which appears a monk within the Agios Panteleimonos monastery, also known as Roussikon (an Athos mountain monastery) wearing glasses and being standing inside his carpentry workshop. The great depth of field used to get the picture, probably f/8, getting advantage of the light entering through the window on top left of the image, makes possible to see with lavish detail the wide range of tools used by the monk, who seems to be highly experienced in his trade and whose face is highlighted by the luminous beam, providing volume feeling.

© Paul Robert
Another of the exhibition pictures : The Ossuary, a picture made by Paul Robert in a skete of Agia Anna orthodox community of Mount Athos southern area, showing a great quantity of skulls from passed away monks (each one of them with a painted inscription indicating the name of the deceased person) surrounded by icons of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. The chipped and dented wall appearing on the left of the image (with the end of a timber beam visibly protruding), the worn out wooden surface of the furniture, the degraded small block of marble on the lower right area of the photograph, the battered little metallic bucket on it, the white dish adjacent to the skulls shelves, and the poor condition of the floor visible on lower left area of the photograph clearly reveal that this is a very old place inhabited by a lot of different monks throughout many centuries, which is confirmed by the partially perceivable altar on the right of the image and an aged oil lamp hanging on the lower left corner of the picture.

The quantity of died monks during so many generations has been so high that the shelves can´t hold all of the skulls and many of them have had to be placed crammed, ones on top of the others, with only a small stool supporting them. 

Once more, the synergy between the Ilford FP4 Plus 125 black and white film and the G. Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/1.8 lens results in impressive resolving power, crisp rendering of detail in high key and low key areas, superb capture of textures, very good contrast and great acutance, with the added advantage of its unusual versatility, since this b & w chemical emulsion could be underexposed two stops or overexposed six stops.

The great depth of field attained by the photographer using f/8 diaphragm has drawn a significant percentage of the G. Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/1.8 lens optical quality potential of 90 lines / mm in the center and 42 lines / mm in the corners, to such an extent that the teeth of one of the skulls, located very slightly under the middle of the image, can be clearly discerned and even the aforementioned very old oil lamp on the lower left corner of the image exhibits outstanding level of texture detail and sharpness.

As the old adage states " there isn´t any bad standard 50 mm lens ".

But the important thing is what this image conveys : a context of apparent poverty, extreme austerity and loneliness, in spite of which many generations of monks have happily been here, persistent in their innermost convictions and faith, living the life they have chosen, in an unwavering search for a kind of spiritual inner peace, keeping their ceremonies, prays and rites, preserving the liturgical objects, icons, rare books, manuscripts, ancient documents and artworks of huge historical value, and even storing the skulls of monks passed away throughout hundreds and hundreds of years as an invitation to reflect on mortality, according to their beliefs.

For them, this row upon row of skulls underscores human transience.

These black and white images taken by Paul Robert almost forty years ago exude mystery to spare and depict a unique atmosphere in which the sensation that time has stopped within the walls of Athos monasteries and sketes pervades a whole environment greatly sticking to Byzantium civilization, a living place in which everything from the liturgy to the diet and the daily pace of existence is dictated by ancient texts and traditions, all of it having being wrapped over centuries by an atavistic secrecy shrouding Mount Athos.

   © jmse
Paul Robert holding two 30 x 40 cm prints of Simonos Petras Monastery and a monk sitting in the open air inside the courtyard of one of the Mount Athos orthodox monasteries, two of the nine pictures exhibited inside Lars Netopil Galerie in Wetzlar.

Paul Robert´s prints are a relish to see and enjoy for any lover of top-notch photography.

They are made in Hahnemühle PhotoRag Baryta paper, often in limited series, signed and numbered on the back, with authenticity stamp and protected with varnish against UV and fingertips. In addition, they are carefully shipped, packed in silk paper and sturdily wrapped. He has got faithful customers all over the world, who are painstakingly attended by him, and his prints can endure more than a hundred years in perfect condition.

© jmse
Leica M10 rangefinder camera, the photographic tool currently used by Paul Robert, coupled to 28 mm, 35 mm and 75 mm Leica M lenses, though he also uses often a gorgeous black Carl Zeiss Planar T * 45 mm f/2 for Contax G System with a special M adapter handcraftedly manufactured by Hawk´s factory in Taiwan and represented by Eric Lam in Hong Kong.

 © jmse
Paul Robert in front of Lars Netopil Classic Cameras Leica Shop in Wetzlar (Germany) holding a 30 x 40 cm print on Hahnemühle PhotoRag Baryta paper of his reportage made in 2018 in Jerusalem (Israel) and published in De Groene Amsterdammer magazine and the Dutch edition of Reader´s Digest Selections.

 © jmse
Lateral view of the exquisite 6 elements in 4 groups Carl Zeiss Planar T * 45 mm f/2 for Contax G System with M adapter and its metallic hood. It only weights 190 g, with a diameter of 22.9 mm and a minimum focusing distance of 0.5 m.

 © jmse
Another view of the Carl Zeiss Planar T *  45 mm f/2, a remarkable lens delivering superb sharpness even at full aperture, and in which vignetting has been reduced to negligible levels, even at f/2. The beauty of this lens is simply unutterable.

© jmse
Paul Robert with his Leica M Monochrom coupled to a non aspherical 7 elements in 5 groups King of Bokeh Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 Version IV number 2329584 made in Wetzlar.

As a great lover of black and white photography, Paul Robert was saving money for some years until being able to acquire a Leica M Monochrom (a camera that set a completely new standard in black and white electronic images of amazing quality) that he used extensively, getting advantage of its superb uncompressed DNG archives exhibiting a level of detail, microcontrast, acutance and global resolving power comparable to professional 60 megapixel digital medium format cameras, but with direct and very pure black and white 14-bit uncompressed RAWs showing filmlike aspect.

Nevertheless, he also needed to have a full frame digital Leica M camera making colour pictures, so it became economically difficult for him to simultaneously keep two 24 x 36 mm format digital Leicas, one for black and white and another one for color, so he sold his Leica Monochrom and bought a Leica M10,

After forty years of professional career in which he has used a wide range of photographic cameras ( Pentacon Dresden Praktica, Olympus OM-2, 6 x 4.5 cm medium format Bronica ETRs, Rolleiflex SL, Nikon D750, Fujifilm X-T2, Contax G2, Sony A7R, Leica M Typ 240 and Leica Monochrom) Paul Robert decided to buy a mirrorless 24 x 36 mm format Leica M10 rangefinder camera. Every photographic system has got its advantages and disadvantages, but he considers the Leica M10 to be the best possible choice for the kind of street photography and documentary one he makes, thanks to its amazing compactness and low weight (139 x 39 x 80 mm and 660 g with battery), the whispering and almost inaudible sound delivered by its shutter when being released and greatly bolstering discretion, its state of the art rangefinder made up by more than 150 parts, its mechanical craftsmanship and the comprehensive slew of reference-class highly luminous M lenses delivering exceptional image quality, as well as being able to endure many decades of professional use because of their first-class construction. 
© jmse      
a further masterpiece and the evolutive pinnacle of eleven years of Leica M development, as well as being the slimmest digital M ever made (4 mm thinner than the Leica M Typ 240).


" Athos " is an exhibition going far beyond the display of images, since it spawns a myriad of parallel feelings in the beholders of the pictures, who strive upon finding answers to the ineffable living context visible in them, particularly why and how these men are able to willingly wisthstand that hard kind of existence, chosen by them right off the bat.

These are not pictures excelling in their technical perfection. But it doesn´t matter at all in this kind of photojournalistic and documentary reportages in which top priority is to capture special atmospheres, defining instants, relevant facial expressions, unique psychological contexts, human reactions, moods, lights and shadows, etc, something that Paul Robert managed to greatly achieve with these black and white images created by him in 1979 and 1982.

And in this regard, the chemical black and white emulsions stand out with their great rendering of textures, realism, wide tonal range, very special filmic and vintage aesthetics of image, etc.

A further image made in 1979 by Paul Robert inside one of the very old Athos orthodox monasteries with Ilford HP5 Plus 400 b & w film rated at ISO 1600, under exceedingly low levels of light. The context clearly reveals great austerity. The walls of the room are highly aged, the metallic dishes, saucepans and trays resting on the table have been used by successive generations of monks, in the same way as the cook utensils hanging from the larder in the background. The light entering through the arched window illuminates the whole surface of the table and enables to see some meals mostly made up by vegetables, fruits and orchard products grown up by themselves, sometimes complemented by fish they get in the surrounding sea waters. The very slow shutter speed has rendered the standing monk on the left slightly in motion, with his right hand stretched towards the table. Thousands of foods have been prepared in this kitchen (whose cook is visible on the left background of the image) for many centuries.
© Paul Robert

B & W is much more than an artistic choice, and often becomes an optimum medium to service the story, make it work and avoid distractions, getting a commendable balance between light and shadow in the frame with a separation of shapes and surfaces through the use of high key and low key areas making possible to focus audience´s attention on what the photographer wants them to see.

And this is apparent not only in the realm of still photography but also in movies like Robert Wise´s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) with cinematography by Leo Tover, Woody Allen´s Manhattan (1979) with cinematography by Gordon Willis and Steven Spielberg´s Schindler´s List (1993, with roughly a 42 % of the scenes shot with handheld 35 mm movie cameras loaded with b & w chemical film) with cinematography by Janusz Kamisnki.

Athos exhibition´s black and white images were created with an exceedingly small and light OM-2 reflex camera (coupled to tiny OM Zuiko primes featuring great luminosity), a masterpiece created by Yoshihisa Maitani and his mechanical team made up by Kazuyuki Nemoto and Kunio Shimoyama, who from a conceptual viewpoint were inspired by Oskar Barnack´s screwmount rangefinder Leicas as to getting great pictures under available light, without using tripod or flash, with a camera featuring highly reduced dimensions and weight.

Curiously, though Paul Robert could afford " only " a Olympus OM-2 camera in 1979 because he was 24 years old then and hadn´t got the money to buy a Nikon F2, Canon F1n or a Leica M-4, his choice was highly probably the best one within the reflex scope of photographic tools for the kind of work he had to tackle inside Athos monasteries shooting the monks handheld with very low light, frequently only candles, something really difficult in a time when there weren´t 24 x 36 mm format digital cameras excelling in image quality performance at high and very high isos.

Because the very small dimensions (136 x 83 x 50 mm) and low weight (520 g) of this camera, together with its huge and exceedingly bright 0.92x magnification viewfinder showing 97% of the field of view, in synergy with the excellent highly luminous OM Zuiko primes (created by the Japanese optical wizard Yoshihida Hayamizu (then chief lens designer at Olympus Co, Ltd and boasting very short length, tiny front diameter of the first optical element, very small overall diameter and outstandingly reduced weight, roughly nothing less than a 35% less size and weight than primes of identical focal length and widest apertures from other brands) were decisive to be able to get the pictures shooting hand and wrist in so dim lighting conditions, thanks to the remarkable compactness of the photographic gear and the wide exposure latitude of both Ilford FP4 Plus 125 and Ilford HP5 Plus 400 black and white films.

A monk reading in the background, sitting on a long stone bench in the hall of Dionysiou monastery cloister. On the left and upper middle area of the image can be seen some frescoes from XVI Century made by Cretan painter Tzortis. The big depth of field of the picture made around f/11 has attained sharpness including the nearest slabs located in the lower area of the image, the two stone benches on the left, the cloister arches on the right, the monk clad in black apparel and even the a small door on top the photographer´s camera, located on lower mid area of the picture, both long stone benches on the left, the cloister arches on the right, the monk clad in black apparel and even a small door on top right. The excellent acutance of the Ilford HP5 Plus 400 rated at iso 800 used to get the picture enables to clearly see a lot of big dents on the upper borders of the benches (specially visible on the left one beside the entrance to the refectory and its access step), fruit of many centuries being used. The image oozes an ambience of silence, solitude and meditation, strengthened by the lights and shadows framing the scene.

But the most important thing is what these amazing black and white images of Athos monks and monasteries convey, including a steady sense of timelessness and fleeting  moments photographed with the camera but which were for the human beings portrayed a constant life style until the very instant of their deaths.

They are images in which the photographer has been able to transport observers in time to the locations appearing in the photographs, making them feel the full intensity and thrill of the instants captured with the camera, though simultaneously beholders experience a certainty that these places depicted in Paul Robert´s pictures hide many more things and secrets still to be unveiled and transcending these images whose essence is highly related to three major keynotes:

- " A photograph is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know " (Diane Arbus).

- " Don´t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like " (David Alan Harvey).

- " If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his/her lens, the instrument is not the camera, but the photographer " (Eve Arnold).

Impressive picture of Dionysiou Monastery, built in XIV Century and photographed by Paul Robert in 1979. It was erected on a very high cliff and is a riveting sight for any visitor. Its library contains many old documents, including 804 codices and more than 5.000 ancient handcraftedly printed books. The low angle shot has greatly enhanced the architectural traits of this impressive building.
© Paul Robert
Furthermore, there was a lot of suffering and toil behind these black and white pictures made in Athos monasteries in 1979 and 1982, with the photographer walking in and out of buildings, doing constant toilsome upward treks, having to get pictures at any hour of the day (including late in the night, when most of the prayings, rites and masses were held), doing his utmost not to disturb the monks, and above all, endeavoring to generate a rapport with them and gain their confidence to be able to photograph both their most intimate instants and their most significant ceremonies with utter respect and sensibility.

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