Guaita Tower, San Marino

The Republic of San Marino is a lovely little microstate near Rimini, Italy. Feeling the need to get away from another endless Moscow winter, my husband and I ran off to Italy for 3 days on a “Hot Tour!” that included airfare and a hotel for a ridiculously low price. We spent the first day exploring Rimini, the second in Urbino, and on the third took a bus over to the old city part of San Marino. It’s a beautiful fortified mountaintop full of winding streets and friendly people, with great restaurants and cafes and the best beer I’ve ever had in Italy.

I’m trying the beta of Lightroom 5 right now and all these photos have been processed and labeled using that software, so you can go through the photos and see at least basic explanations of what’s in them.

Saklikent Dreaming - Glacial

Basically just messing around with some travel pictures from the summer school I worked at in Turkey – we did an excursion to this wonderful marble canyon. The walls were as sensuously curved as Classical sculpture, but there was a wildness too… Well, I was there at midday and the light was only so-so, and I was just scanning through my Lightroom presets and thought some X= presets (I have one called X=Polaroid+Blue but can’t find it on their site now; it might be a mod I did) made the stones look eerily bone-like.  So I picked out about a dozen images that suited the style, applied that preset, and then played with them until I liked them.

I’ve been struggling a bit with decisions about how extreme to go in post processing. Mainly, the rise of Instagram and quickie filters for cameraphone images now means that there’s a lot of work out there in a style I generally like – blurry, impressionist, old-fashioned… but done horribly. Cheaply. Badly. Flat colors, dead tones, lifeless imitations.

I don’t use them incredibly often, but I have a Lensbaby Original and a pinhole plate for my Canon 60D. Using the Lensbaby is like painting with fat, sloppy oils using long-bristled brushes. Not precise – not at all! – but beautiful in its imprecision. I think the software imitations are on par with those “Turn your photo into a real sketch!” apps out there – there’s just no substitute for attention to process, detail, skill, and simple passion.

Well, here’s the rest of the set. You can find them at in the  Saklikent Dreaming Gallery if you don’t see the embedded slideshow below.

Saklikent Abstracts – Images by Kira Hagen

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Stony shores of Långvik bay near Helsinki

Stony shores of Långvik bay near Helsinki[/caption]Just returned from a ten day trip to Finland with the family of one of my English students. We spent a good bit of time fishing off this island, catching one pike there. About where these wonderful rocks began, I handed off my pole and picked up my camera – hadn’t caught anything but weeds (lots and lots of them) anyway.

I’ve recently been going through some tutorials on image enhancement, and one thing I saw for really making a photo “pop” was pulling out the reds and oranges. I’m not sure if I overdid it here or not, though – the rocks were vividly orange, but not quite this much. We were out under midday sun and I’d much preferred to have been there during golden hour, which was unfortunately impossible. In this picture I tipped the lighting towards golden hour saturation, purely for artistic reasons. What do you think?



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Sunset on the beach in Primosten, Croatia

Sunset on the beach in Primosten, Croatia

After almost 2 years of knowing I needed to switch my site to faster hosting, I’ve finally switched to a new host and redone the site using a new theme. So I’ve probably lost some pictures and broken links along the way, but at least my blog is finally usable again!

So, let’s see – I’m in Moscow, Russia again and having a great time. Work’s going well and I’m getting out to a bunch of folk rock concerts and re-enactment festivals when the weather’s nicer. When it’s not, I’ve been getting a lot of knitting done. Only got into that last year when I was working in a difficult environment and needed a stress outlet… about 20 % of what I make actually fits but I just like doing something with my hands.

Actually my biggest complaint about photography as a hobby is that, with everything digital, once you’re on the processing stage (oh, post-processing, why are you never quick and easy???) it’s not a tactile art any more. Back when I was building folk instruments, I loved how everything came together – the smell of fresh cut wood, the curve of a shaving swirling out under the plane, the moment when the instrument was finally strung or headed and it went from dead inert matter to an almost living being as its voice sung out…

A camera is a lot more portable than a woodshop, though. This year Tony and I were based out of Russia all year, but traveled through Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia, Poland on stopover, Lithuania, and Estonia. Last year it was 9 countries. I’m very glad to be settled again but still be able to go adventuring a bit – just not sure if I’m ready to start accumulating large “things” again! But I’ve finally got a work visa instead of a business visa here in Moscow, so that means things will be a lot more stable now.

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A model with a windblown veil

Karen K. with a windblown veil


I just spent another three weeks in Tallinn, Estonia, and after seeing how grungy the city was in March snowmelt (Tallinn is utterly lovely, but the end of winter always looks like nature has a hangover) I decided that moody, blurry black and whites might be a good thing. I saw some gorgeous photos of that sort on Flickr taken using a specialized lens called a “Lensbaby” (manufacturer’s site here if you’re interested), and found a local store selling Lensbaby Originals for about $110 US.

Old Town Hall/ Entrance to Tristan ja Isolde Cafe

Old Town Hall/ Entrance to Tristan ja Isolde shot with a lensbaby

Using a Lensbaby lends itself to what I think of as impressionist photography, full of blur and movement; it is imprecise but full of emotion. The effect is very painterly and somewhat old fashioned; it’s something for portraits and fine art, not stock photography. I’ve been in a bit of a rut, and it fit the bill for getting me out.

Stone towers and woman, Tallinn

Karen poses by Kiek in de Kock tower, Tallinn Estonia

My favorite travel networking group is Couchsurfing, and a sometimes-actress named Karen had posted that she needed a new headshot and some creative shoots before contacting an extras agency in her next city. I proposed trading a modeling session for the headshots, and we ended up spending a very cold and windswept afternoon exploring Tallinn’s Old Town and Toompea Hill fortifications.

I found about four meters of remnant organza in a fabric store my husband had hit for his Viking costuming, and we took it up to an overlook where the wind was blowing straight up a cliff and did wild things to the sheer fabric. We couldn’t keep it pinned to anything, and the wind was so strong it was hard to keep it from doing anything but flying straight out in a tight tube. Karen did an excellent job managing it though, and I’m thrilled with the photos we got.

I read a lot of fiction during my long Moscow transits between home and English students, so I’ve been shooting more with an eye to a project called “Books Not Written” – essentially photos that look like book or movie covers. The one on the right here, of Karen standing by the Tallinn city walls, is definitely going into it – it looks like a mystery novel cover, maybe one with fantasy elements, to me. Perhaps our mysterious heroine is a forensic alchemist?

You can see more photos from these sets in the albums Lensbaby Test and Karen K.

I’ve taken the Moscow-Tallinn train any number of times. The scent of coal smoke, used to heat samovars for tea water on board, is indelibly printed on my brain as the scent of beckoning horizons.

It’s an old Soviet train, built solid and ugly, but it stays warm and nowadays, they even usually keep it stocked with toilet paper (though I have a small roll in my daypack, just in case). Most of the cars are four-bunk sleepers, though there’s one utterly miserable wagon that just has chairs, many of which are broken. I’ve gotten stuck there one time, in a chair that wouldn’t recline, when all the bunks were sold out and I had to make a visa run. Like most of the people in that car, I spent as much of the night as possible in the restaurant wagon; a group of other seater-car refugees, Estonians all, took in on themselves to convince me that Estonian vodka is better than Russian. I will agree, it is quite fine – but I think the dark Baltic beers are the best.

The restaurant wagon is a relic of another age, like one of those old truck stop diners you find in rural areas, and the finest part of the trip. Cheap lace curtains, vinyl seats, and fake flowers on the tables – but the food is good, the beer is great, and the person sitting next to you is might strike up a conversation that could go for hours.

Moscow-bound, you go through customs in Narva and Ivangorod, twin fortified towns on opposite banks of the Narva river, at about 11 p.m. – far more civilized than the 4 a.m. border inspections when you travel Tallinn-bound.

Past customs, the train’s rocking soothes you to sleep. The bunks are nothing special, but I love sleeping on trains, sometimes waking to watch the world roll by outside the window, but mostly comfortably curled into my corner, safe and warm, ready for a new country in the morning.

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Last month I did a shoot in Ankara with model Özge Can posing in a chiton, a dress common to women throughout the ancient Mediterranean, at the Roman Baths archaeological site. Özge is working on a master’s degree in environmental engineering and does modeling as a hobby, and we connected via Model Mayhem.

I’ve been thinking about writing more about where the ideas for these shoots come from, so here goes:

At the beginning of the2008 Summer Olympics, Greece hired some actresses to dress as ancient priestesses for the torch lighting ceremony. After I saw the photos, I wanted to do a similar shoot! (But with garb that didn’t look like it started life as curtains.) I’d actually done a Roman look shoot before, though it was in 2000 on a 1.3 megapixel camera (which cost $600 then…) and had a blast with it.

In January, when the school I work at was on winter break, I went down to the Mediterranean coast by Antalya with the intention of doing some shoots in the area’s ruined Greco-Roman cities. I was hoping to find a model to pose for me there and put the costume together before leaving. It didn’t work out but I did find Özge’s profile and instantly thought of Michael Whelan’s painting “Night’s Daughter“. She liked the shoot concept so we worked out meeting later in the spring.

The Roman Baths in Ankara are an open air museum with ruins dating from when ancient Ancyra was the capital of Galatia, then an ethnically Celtic part of Anatolia. (I was flabbergasted to learn the area had a Celtic history; for some reason I’d always thought Galatia was in ancient Gaul/ modern France, not – of all places – Turkey.) In addition to the foundations of the baths themselves, there are collections of tombs, marble pillars, and both Greek and Roman waystones dating from the ancient past. Since the site is on a sloping hill, shooting from a low angle allowed me to hide the modern city surrounding us.

Finally, allow me to recommend Özge to anyone needing a Gothic-look model. We did this shoot on a trade-for-images basis but she’s looking for commercial work and would be very happy to travel. Her English is excellent and she was delightful to work with. Contact her via Model Mayhem or DeviantArt.

Gallery of images from the shoot. Click any image for prints and pricing.

Ozge – Ancient Priestess shoot – Images by Kira Hagen

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One of the world’s best collections of ancient Roman sculpture is in the relatively small Antalya Archaeological Museum, on Turkey’s Southern coast. An ancient settlement itself, Antalya is within 90 minute’s drive of five ruined ancient cities, and the pick of the finds from them reside in the city’s museum. Not only do they have simply beautiful sculptures on display, the displays themselves are some of the most respectful and tasteful I’ve seen anywhere in the world; some of the rooms are almost temple-like.

Antalya - Archaeology Musuem - Statue of Artemis head detail- Perge 2nd century AD.jpgOne of my favorite pieces in the museum was a sculpture of the goddess Artemis of Perge. Her face had a strength and clarity I think captured the essence of her myth well. When I’m a little more settled, I’d like to put a large print of this image up on my wall – lacking the ability to afford actual replica statues, I think decorating with photographs of ancient art would be a tasteful second choice.

Another image I’d like to print is from the sculpture atop the Tomb of Ariadne – it had the same sort of lighting and color but was a gentler, more subdued piece of art, showing Ariadne waking from a dream. I think it’d look gorgeous printed about three feet wide and hanging on cream walls. Well, someday I’ll be in one country for more than 10 months, and able to have “things” again (fingers crossed)!Antalya - Archaeology Musuem - The Ariadne Sarcophagus.jpg

The museum’s collections also include some Byzantine finds and various ethnographic items showing Turkish life from a century ago. The entrance fee is a bit high – 15 TL as of January 2010 – but absolutely worth it if you are a fan of ancient sculpture. Antalya is Turkey’s fastest growing city and a major sea & sun tourism destination; it’s very easy to get to as it’s connected by budget airlines all over Europe. If you go, I recommend seeing the museum first and then taking a tour of the ruined cities in the surrounding area, especially Perge. We went through Mithra Travel for a tour and were very pleased with how extremely knowledgeable our guide was; I usually hate guided tours but would recommend this company without hesitation.

Full gallery of photos from the Antalya Archaeological Museum:

Turkey – Antalya Archaeological Museum – Images by Kira Hagen

As you can see on the map, the museum is a couple kilometers outside the Old City, which can be a nice walk along the coast in good weather, or more simply a quick ride on the tram (approximately every 20-25 minutes). We were there in January during a storm, and I can say from experience that the bus stop does not provide much shelter from sleet coming down sideways. [mappress]

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Medieval Gate and Clock Tower in Sighisoara, Romania

I like to know as much as possible about places before I visit or move to them, and as I’ve been doing a lot of travel over the last few years I’ve worked some basic online research methods. Of course books are great and I love a good travel guide – Rough Guides are my favorite, generally – but most of the time I don’t have easy access to English language books.  Hence, most of my research is done online.Continue reading


The last trip got to me. Just a bit, nothing too bad, only traveling two weeks around Turkey, where I’ve now lived for 5 months. It left me exhausted, though, and I’ve spent the last three days since getting back to Samsun in the house, all burned out and anti-social.

I always try to go… further. Deeper into a place, to grab its pain and love and history, to wrap it up around me and get it under my skin. How can you understand something without getting too close to it? Too close means the barriers fall, you get past the polite masks, the illusion embraced by the uninterested – ignorance’s safe haven. Too close means you get touched. You get muddy, soaked, exhausted, afraid. It’s when it’s trying you, though, that you see the real face of a place, begin to touch its soul, to have your own soul exposed by it. Not safe. Not comfortable.

I named my blog “Seeking the World’s Soul” because that title describes what I’m doing, in this long wandering path around the globe. I’m trying to understand these places, the people, the reverberations of history on the present, to understand this crazy lovely heartbreaking world of ours. I’m trying to catch glimpses of its soul in my viewfinder, to share its darks and lights, its wildness, its sacredness, its desecration, and sometimes the glimpses of that shuddering beauty that shines through its pain.

Of course I do more normal photo projects – various shoots with fantastically costumed models, weddings, the odd product shoot. But I rarely try and shoot ugliness, because the world has enough of that already.

The artist’s role is to burn with Promethean fire, and its fuel is Promethean pain – to have your guts pulled out for all to see, picked over by the vultures of the world, and still to keep breathing, keep being reborn. To keep dreaming, and to keep the fires alight. “Art” that is only a commentary on ennui, on boredom, on apathy… fails.

Good art alchemizes reality into truth. It takes the world and shows its deeper heart, the eternal balancing the transient.

But the process itself can be exhausting.


Amissos – Samsun, Turkey – Images by Kira Hagen

The English Club visited Amissos on a cool November afternoon. The the wintry sunlight was fading fast, and slid golden over the twin tumuli atop the hill above the old harbor, slowly fading to twilight blues as it sank behind the coastal mountains. The air was cool, a faint breeze blowing in from the sea. Situated  to give panoramic views of the Westwards from Samsun, the city seemed, for once, tranquil in the Black Sea dusk.

Amissos is the name of the ancient settlement which preceded modern Samsun. It was a trading port in Hellenistic times, and famed as belonging to the homeland of the Amazons. Samsun’s modern citizens use the name mainly to mean the site of two tombs and a modern cafe somewhat East of the city, and also to denote the otherwise invisible historic forebear of the ramshackle modern town.

The tumuli are named Kalkanca and Baruthane, according to the Directorate of Culture and Tourism’s Samsun handbook, and may have been used as lighthouses; from a certain angle the two mounds align and only one is visible, apparently indicating an ancient harbor entrance. Claims have been made that the hills were used as temple spots for Roman dieties as well.

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Samsun BeachLong time since I posted anything on here. A wordpress upgrade broke the old “Options” theme I was using, and I’ve been fiddling with making the blog presentable again since then, on and off. Mosty off as I was spending a lot of time job seeking, then getting ready to move, and finally moving from Minneapolis to Samsun.

Samsun is a small city on the Black Sea Coast of Turkey – friendly, middle class, full of observant Muslims, and a bit dull. I’m teaching English at a private girl’s school outside town, and my husband is doing the same at a boy’s school under the same management. People are friendly, the food is *great*, there’s nothing to spend money on, and a year here should let us recover economically from the debacles we’ve had to deal with since leaving Moscow.

I’m going to be posting a lot more travel writing and catching up on older photographic work, so do want to find a good way to present all this material… which I guess means fussing with WordPress more.  I’ll try to post more often, anyway.

UPDATE 2014: I only spent one year in Samsun, it was a nice, safe, dull place and we worked through the school year and left in the spring. I’m not there, I can’t meet you, and I’ve been gone so long I can’t really recommend any work options either. Sorry!

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