The Dubrovnik Times caught up with a photographer and travel writer who has recently spent some time in the city. The images of Dubrovnik that Crispin Zeeman captured were, to say the least, stunning. He managed to capture the heart and soul of Dubrovnik and his passion for his profession shone through like the August sun. He has brought the colours and contrasts of four continents and over thirty countries to life, and now it was the turn of the Dubrovnik region. We found out what makes Zeeman tick when he picks up his camera, how Dubrovnik mesmerised him and why he compares Dubrovnik to a well-dressed man.
“What are you waiting for? Get your bags packed and go visit this place (before it gets so busy you need to join a waiting list!).” - Crispin Zeeman
Could you give me some more information about yourself?
I never knew my grandfather. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1929, long before I was born. Christian left his native Denmark when he was 22 years old. Joining a crew of fishermen, he set off to explore the world, travelling through Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, Kamchatka and was “last seen” leaving Japan on a ship bound for Hawaii. When I came to live in Oxford (UK) in my 20s, I was captivated by the majestic city that towered up around me. I felt compelled to photograph it – in case it changed. I wanted to preserve and share that sense of awe and wonder that I felt whilst living in the historic city. From here, there was no turning back, and I fixed my gaze (and viewfinder) on the distant horizon, travelling and photographing the world beyond. I feel I was destined to travel; to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather. My photographs always tell a story. They are a celebration of life, of the diversity of the world around us; the beauty of land, the richness of each culture, the human spirit, the pure emotion. Many of the people I have met have impressed me with their strong, proud sense of cultural identity. I am compelled by my encounters with people and their cultures to capture their essence – in an effort to preserve, in part, the unique beauty and elegance of our world, before it changes or disappears altogether. I am lucky to have had the freedom and opportunity to use my photographs for the benefit of charity and education – especially for promoting the ethics of protection and preservation of peoples and places under threat from poverty and climate change.
Why did you decide to visit Dubrovnik and was this your first visit?
I had never been to Croatia before but had seen many beautiful photographs and read some interesting travel articles over the years, especially the about the Dalmatian coast. I was looking for a fresh destination for a short summer break this year – somewhere culturally interesting, steeped in history, good weather, inexpensive, relatively close by – and after watching Game of Thrones, it all clicked into place. I wanted to visit Kings Landing!
How would you compare Dubrovnik to other tourist destinations that you have visited?
George Bernard Shaw once said, “If you want see Heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik.” He was not wrong. The old city is majestic. A quintessential historic World Heritage ‘city-state’ ringed with wonderful solid and powerful walls, offering fantastic views across tightly packed houses stacked up on each other, defiantly ancient walls and vibrant terracotta rooftops. I love destinations like Dubrovnik where the traffic is kept out leaving exploration only on foot, allowing the curious traveller to walk back in time through corridors of sunlight and shade. Dubrovnik reminded me of pockets of Europe I’ve wandered through in Italy, France, Spain and Greece – old fortified towns, landmark churches and horizon-crossing towers – but this city and it’s culture still felt unique and in touch with it’s own sense of identity. Considering the huge numbers of tourists visiting the old city, it was very easy to get off the beaten track into the quiet ‘nooks and crannies’, hidden squares and silent architectural character. One minute you’re on a busy street, then you climb some stairs or divert through a tunnel and suddenly the crowds feel distant, with some curious cats, or locals hanging out the washing on one of the thousands of clothes lines that criss-cross above you in the old streets and stairwells. Ever-increasing numbers of visitors swell the Stradun of Dubrovnik almost to bursting point, but behind the scenes a quieter traditional life continues to thrive. Sure, it’s clearly European, but very much its own character.
Were you happy with the service, price and general tourist offer?
I liken the Dubrovnik ‘tourist offer’ to a well-dressed, educated man, who knows he is popular, who cares about his reputation, and feels a need to uphold the promise of this to everyone. Indeed, he’s quite in demand, having to handle many people at any one time. So if on first impression, he seems a little brusque and offhand, don’t despair. If you’re polite, patient and inquisitive in your approach to Dubrovnik, the city will embrace you and treat you like a VIP! We stayed at a two-story flat in the old town nestled high up on the north side of the old city with terrific views over the rooftops. The owner, a local woman called Lydia, was very hospitable and charming; a pleasure to meet and talk to. We enjoyed many pleasant meals – best of which were at Horizont, Taj Mahal, Azur, Nishta, Glam Café and Bugenvila in nearby Cavtat (also worth a visit).
Were there any surprises, pleasant or bad, during your time in the country?
Just after we’d arrived, we wanted some no-fuss lunch somewhere nearby the flat and Lydia recommend a small place just up the steps and round a corner; a discreet place on a quiet back street, facing the city walls. She called it Lady Pi Pi. I thought nothing of it … until we discovered the statue sitting on the wall of this small restaurant. Not seen decor quite like that before! The panorama from the Srđ Mountain is amazing. I timed my visit to the latter part of the day, to get the best of late afternoon light, (and avoid crowds at the cable car terminal). That light, that view – a gift to photographers. Many of the first photos in my gallery are from this view point. The War Photo exhibitions are outstanding – everyone should make time to visit this place. Important moments in history – both locally and globally – captured through the enduring power of photography. Lokrum Island is lovely. More recent tourist development (i.e. metallic restaurant blocks) on the island felt a little soulless, which is a bit of a shame considering how much the authorities seem to want to protect the natural capital value of the island. But we sat on some ancient-looking steps ‘hidden’ behind the new blocks, sharing our packed lunches with a peacock and it’s chick.
Would you recommend Dubrovnik to other friends and family, and if so why and if not why not?
Absolutely; I’ve been recommending it to everyone ever since I got back.
What would you have liked to have done in Dubrovnik but were unable to?
Circuit the walls more than once on the same ticket. Once I’d completed my first periplus around the walls, I knew I still had maybe another hour of evening left before sunset and I’d like to have re-visited certain views from the walls to get different angles and perspectives in the golden light. But when I tried to go round again the ticket inspector denied me access, pointing to the ‘small print’ on the ticket, explaining that he was “just doing his job”. A little disappointing; I would’ve let me through!
As a freelance travel photographer, how photogenic is Dubrovnik?
Dubrovnik is a paradise for photographers. I think my gallery speaks for itself in answer to this question. I strive to create images that communicate the essence of a place, and actively look for angles and views that I’ve not seen, or at least feel fresh to me at the time. I do a lot of image research before I visit a destination and I like to walk around a place as much as possible to get feel for the light and shadow and the rhythm of life. If I’d had more time, I’d have talked more with the locals to get a better insight into their daily lives and hopefully capture some of that in my pictures. Then there those ‘unique’ moments where being in the right place at that time (and with the right lens!) can reward the fast-thinking photographer with some really nice, quirky or unusual shots. I sometimes grab candid shots of other tourists taking photos. I find this can help communicate a sense of enthusiasm felt by others visiting the destination; I like to think people looking at these images will picture themselves enjoying the place too.
Can you give our readers a few tips of taking the perfect holiday snap?
I’m always happy to offer advice on how to take photographs. I was in Dubrovnik in mid-summer, with long hot days of almost cloudless skies. So my tips are based on that time of year for this city: - Plan your day round the sun: First thing in the morning or late afternoon are the best times of the day to take photos – especially for capturing the warm hues on buildings and vistas. In the middle of the day when the harsh light flattens the contours, visit a church or a museum – or go for a long lunch. Harsh sunlight of the middle of the day is useful however for using reflected light off walls and floors to gently illuminate otherwise shaded areas. - Don’t always go for the obvious angle: look up, down, back … walk around a site to get every perspective. - Sit still for while. Find a shady spot, take a cool drink and just watch life pass you by. You can guarantee something interesting will happen before long. - Look for details as well as the bigger picture. - Get your selfies and souvenir photos out of the way, then concentrate on the scene, the people, the action. - If you’re looking for memorable moments, be ready to shoot at a moments notice; you never know what you’ll come across. - I used two camera bodies, using a 12-28mm wide-angle lens and a longer 70-300 zoom respectively. I shoot most of the time using aperture priority in order to control depth of field, saturation and sharpness, or I switch to manual to take light readings through the camera and get sample shots, assessing composition and lighting for trickier shots. My goal is to achieve as much as possible in-camera to minimise optimisation afterwards.
How would you describe Dubrovnik in three words?
Stunning. Sun kissed. Stepped.
Text - Mark Thomas
Photos - Crispin Zeeman