travel

Pushkar, India

In the three+ years we’ve been together, my girlfriend, Victoria, has made no secret of her desire to visit the Pushkar Fair in India, where livestock—mostly camels and horses—are decorated, put on show, and traded. It is a crowded and colorful scene set amidst the arid landscape of the Aravalli Hills bordering the Thar Desert in the northwest state of Rajasthan. I had never been to India, so when Vic was invited to attend a conference in Jaipur scheduled for late October, we were in the perfect position to strike a few items off our bucket lists. Before long, frequent flyer miles were cashed in and travel plans solidified. We were headed to Rajasthan, aka the “Land of Kings.”

I must admit, having grown up in western Illinois, I wasn’t overly excited by the idea of attending an event based around livestock, but after a small amount of research I knew it would be a spectacle. In addition, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was wrapping up and the fair coincides with Kartika Purnima, which brings a massive pilgrimage of devout Hindus, Jains and Sikhs to Pushkar. The city is home to one of the few temples dedicated to the four-faced god of creation, Brahma. Pushkar Lake, the small body of water around which the town sits, is said to have formed when the deity dropped a lotus flower. Tens of thousands of devoted pilgrims come each year to bathe in one of the 52 ghats that surround the lake, purifying themselves in the sacred waters.

My head is still spinning from all that I took in—kind, curious faces, aggressive hawkers eager to take every rupee you have, sacred cows and wild dogs meandering in the streets, potentially deadly motorcycle traffic with every step, women in vibrantly colored saris, and Rajasthani men with handsome weathered faces and incredible mustaches that would put any hipster to shame.

Our Pushkar experience is something Vic and I will be talking about for many years to come. I hope you enjoy the photos.

 A street musician with his  Ravanahatta , a single stringed instrument with an underslung, coin purse-like bag, or bells attached to the bow. He played beautiful, wailing melodies on the string while occasionally jostling the  instrument for a bit of a chingy percussion accompaniment. 

A street musician with his Ravanahatta, a single stringed instrument with an underslung, coin purse-like bag, or bells attached to the bow. He played beautiful, wailing melodies on the string while occasionally jostling the  instrument for a bit of a chingy percussion accompaniment. 

 Camel decorating contest

Camel decorating contest

 Rajasthani men discussing the festivities.

Rajasthani men discussing the festivities.

 Putting on the finishing touches

Putting on the finishing touches

 As a man in Udaipur told us: If you can love a camel, you can love anyone. So pucker up!

As a man in Udaipur told us: If you can love a camel, you can love anyone. So pucker up!

 Scene from the Pushkar fairground

Scene from the Pushkar fairground

 Colorful, sari-clad women

Colorful, sari-clad women

 Pilgrims gather around the bathing ghats of Pushkar Lake.

Pilgrims gather around the bathing ghats of Pushkar Lake.

 Children lighting lamps for  Kartika Purnima

Children lighting lamps for Kartika Purnima

 A group of boys take in the scene by the lake.

A group of boys take in the scene by the lake.

 Decorating the ghats with flowers and pigments

Decorating the ghats with flowers and pigments

 A pilgrim headed to the Brahma temple

A pilgrim headed to the Brahma temple

 At night, fireworks and music fill the air throughout Pushkar.

At night, fireworks and music fill the air throughout Pushkar.

Japan Road Trip

What a busy year it’s been! It feels like I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home and I’m just now getting around to sifting through all the pictures I’ve taken.

Way back in January, I had the opportunity to work throughout Japan for my good friends at Drivingplates.com. Over the course of nine days, I, along with my wise and talented local fixer, Masato Yamada, filmed special effects plates around Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji before finishing up in Tokyo. Along the way, Masato took me to visit many off-the-beaten-path shrines and temples as well as some amazing restaurants. I will leave out the food pics here, but the cuisine was certainly a highlight of the trip, as my Instagram feed illustrates.

Mt Fuji reflected in frozen Lake Yamanaka

Sunrise in Osaka

Snow begins to fall at Tenryū-ji Temple

Bamboo forest at Arashiyama Park

"Scramble" crossing at night, Shibuya, Tokyo

St Petersburg, Russia

My girlfriend, Victoria, and her twin sister, Julia, were born in St. Petersburg, Russia and immigrated to the United States with their parents in 1978. Victoria has been back to Russia a few times for writing programs and work trips, and her mother, Natasha, returned once to visit their grandmother in the mid-1980s, but her father, Leonard, and Jul had not been back since they left almost 40 years ago. Over dinner one night last year, the idea for a Gomelsky family vacation to their birthplace was kicked around, and before long, plans were in place for the trip…and I was invited!!!

St Petersburg is, without a doubt, a world-class city. Between fantastic meals and countless celebratory vodka shots, we visited almost every major sight the city had to offer, and since we were there during the famous White Nights Festival, we had plenty of daylight to work with. Led by Leonard and Natasha, we visited museums filled with priceless works of art, toured the city’s canals on low-slung boats designed to squeeze under bridges, rode a hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland to visit the amazing Petergof, strolled around the Summer Garden, took in countless cathedrals like the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s, and embarked on a rowdy 1 am cruise to view the nightly opening of the bridges crossing the Neva River (to allow boat traffic through).

The true highlight, however, was visiting the family’s old stomping grounds, including the apartment complex where the girls lived when they were young. Far from the crush of tourists on Nevsky Prospect, we took in what life looked like outside of the city center and heard stories of what it was like in Soviet-era Leningrad.

I am eternally grateful to my beautiful girlfriend and the rest of the Gomelsky family for taking me on such a magnificent tour of a part of the world I never expected to see.

The Umbrella Festival outside of the Museum of Applied Arts

St Petersburg's European architecture is the perfect backdrop for wedding photo shoots. 

Touring the the city's network of canals 

11 pm and still plenty of daylight

Crowds of tourist jostling to photograph the fountains at Petergof

A child entertains himself in Palace Square.

The Gomelsky family (Leonard, Julia, Victoria, and Natasha)

Anza-Borrego Super Bloom

This year’s unusually rainy winter in California brought the state out of a five-year drought and as a result, we saw “super blooms” of desert flowers across the state. My buddy Curtis and I jumped at the chance for an off-the-grid camping trip to one of the hot spots. The pictures below were taken at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with my Canon DSLR and my 120 format Rolleiflex loaded with Fuji Velvia reversal film.

 Our camp site on a dry lake bed.

Our camp site on a dry lake bed.

 Playing around with some light-writing.   

Playing around with some light-writing.

 

 Flowers grow from the desert floor at night.   

Flowers grow from the desert floor at night.

 

james sullivan photography
james sullivan photography
james sullivan photography
james sullivan photography
 Shot on Fujifilm Velvia 100, 120 format

Shot on Fujifilm Velvia 100, 120 format

 Shot on Fujifilm Velvia 100, 120 format

Shot on Fujifilm Velvia 100, 120 format

james sullivan photography
james sullivan photography

Papua New Guinea

I am fully aware and appreciative of how lucky I am to have a job that, on occasion, allows me to travel to places many people never get a chance to see. For my most recent project, a pilot for a documentary series produced by my longtime friends at White Nile Media, I had the pleasure of filming in the highlands of Papua New Guinea—the most remote, unique and beautiful place I have ever been.

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse and isolated places on earth; more than 800 languages are spoken there! The indigenous peoples in the highland provinces where we filmed, isolated by miles of rugged, mountainous terrain, didn’t encounter their first westerners, Australian gold prospectors, until the 1930s. During World War II, the island saw fierce fighting between Japanese and allied forces, and many locals were recruited to fight on both sides of the conflict.

Today, many of the highlanders we met still live in villages of grass huts with no electricity, running water or sewage systems. They are, however, excellent farmers gifted with wonderful soil in which any plant seems to flourish, so hunger doesn’t seem to be an issue. Although PNG has a reputation for lawlessness, cannibalism, abysmal woman’s rights, and is, without doubt, struggling with many social and health issues, the people I encountered there were among the friendliest I have ever met. We were welcomed into villages with great enthusiasm and hospitality. It was an eye-opening adventure that I will be talking about for years to come.

Elder of the Bollen village. Chimbu province

Member of a bridal party wearing a kina shell necklaces. Bollen village, Chimbu province

Bollen Village, Chimbu province

Nokondi tribesmen dressed to perform their Spirit Dance. Eastern Highland province

Nokondi woman. Eastern Highland province

One of the famous Asaro Mudmen shows off his clay mask. Eastern Highland province

Sharpened bamboo claws are an integral part of the Nokondi Spirit Dance costume. Eastern Highland province

A young Asaro Mudman in training. Eastern Highland province

A child in traditional garb. Bollen village, Chimbu province

Tribes gather to celebrate their heritage at the annual Goroka Show sing sing

Boar's tusks complete the look. Goroka

Big Sur

This past weekend, I took a drive through one of the most beautiful areas on the West coast. The trip to California's Big Sur was spurred by the fact that Victoria, my girlfriend, was going to be wrapping up a week-long writing seminar at the famed Esalen Institute. We decided to take advantage of her location and spend a few extra days camping and hiking among the redwoods before heading back home to the big city bustle of Los Angeles.

The stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, starting in the small town of Cambria and heading north to Carmel-by-the-Sea, winds 100 miles along rugged, mountainous coastline. The road begins as a meandering, sea level cruise in Cambria and then starts to climb. Before long, it becomes a series of sharp, precarious turns clinging to the cliff hundreds of feet above the rocky surf. Around every bend is a view somehow more breathtaking than the last, and there are plenty of places to pull off and take pictures.

Vicky and I opted for an easy hike this time, so we settled on the trails at Limekiln State Park, named for the ruins of gigantic furnaces used to process lime back in the late 1800s. The park's 3 miles of trails wind along small creeks and pass through groves of giant redwoods. At the end of one of the trails is a waterfall that feeds a stream that flows down across a rocky beach into the ocean.

Big Sur, California

McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, California

Big Sur, California

Ventana campground, Big Sur, California

Big Sur, Califorina

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Limekiln SP, Big Sur California

Limekiln SP, Big Sur California

Limekiln SP, Big Sur California

Limekiln SP, Big Sur California

Death Valley

Back in March, I took a quick day trip to Death Valley National Park to see what was left of the rare "super bloom." This year's El Niño made conditions just right for a variety of desert flowers, normally dormant, to bloom in a spectacular explosion of color. I arrived towards the end of the rare event, which last happened in 2005, so the flowers had started to thin out, but in some areas, a wispy carpet of yellow still covered the rocky landscape. 

Death Valley is an incredible place to visit during the springtime when temperatures are more tolerable. At sea level, it was a warm 85*F, but at higher altitude spots, like Dante's View at 5,476 ft., it was easily 20 degrees cooler. I ended my day there, perched on the edge of the mountain, shooting a gorgeous sunset as I looked down on the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in America, at 282 ft. below sea level.

Sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells

Sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells

At sea level

Flowers carpeted the desert floor at lower elevations

A particularly dense patch of flowers flourishes in the shade.

View of Badwater Basin from atop Dante's View 

South Africa

Here are some highlights from my recent trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Enjoy.