Rabbits in farm hutch bred for domestic eating - sud-Touraine, France.. Image shot 10/2009. Exact date unknown.

Every other weekday morning when I check my account on the Alamy website – to see if there have been any overnight sales or payments registered – I sometimes have a quick read of the current topics on the Alamy forum (for contributors to that stock image agency) to see what new market trends may be taking place or if someone needs a plant or vehicle image identifying, whatever… general interest stuff.

Often, there is talk about far-flung exotic locations, or where certain photographers are planning to travel to next in order to shoot “different” stock for their expanding portfolios of images. And it occurred to me that in the past five years in France I’ve basically been nowhere. OK, I’ve visited chateaux and villages in the region within, say, a maximum of an hour’s drive away from where I have always been based. And the odd thing is that those further locations I’ve visited have proven to be, despite their attractiveness and tourist appeal, have not been regular sellers. In fact, if I look at all my image sales for the past five years probably 80% were shot locally, or within walking or easy cycling distance from where I live, and of those more than half were shot in my study, kitchen, garden or out of my window onto the street… in other words “on my doorstep”.

There are a number of very successful photographers with Alamy – usually noticeable by their absence from the Forum – who, like me much of the time, shoot locally and rarely run out of subject matter requiring them to venture further afield. An example of this is the highly talented Keith Morris of Aberystwyth, a university and holidaymakers town on the Welsh coast, who is one of the top most successful news and stock photographers with Alamy. He achieves multiple sales daily by being on and in the local scene morning, noon and night… and if there is nothing going on he creates something by engaging with people, both locals and holidaymakers, by getting them to wave whilst they ride the on the dodgems, or dodging waves whilst they walk on the prom.

I’m not in Keith’s league (I’m also getting a bit too old for this game) but I do try to adopt his attitude of sourcing and shooting images locally with widespread potential usage. The above shot of caged rabbits – they were being bred for the farmer’s kitchen and dinner table – was taken in a neighbours allotment. A simple subject typifying rural life, not just here in France but in many other European countries… so much so that it was licensed yesterday for use in a Czechoslovakian monthly magazine under my “Farming Today” pseudonym. Again, a local shot of nothing exotic, but finding a use in a country on the other side of Europe.

Roof Repairs [Alamy image ref. C2CN9E]

I don’t have a head for heights… having lost consciousness and fallen a long way during a climbing accident in my late teens. I did spend a few weeks one summer vacation on snow and ice in the Austrian Stubai and Ziller Alps with an art college friends and tutor… but on a rock face with dizzy exposure – not for me any more!

However, the opportunity to photograph roof repairs to the hotel/bar where I reside in France proved too good a chance to turn away from… as long as I didn’t have to look down from on high. No way was I going to climb a triple extension ladder without a rope and the builder above me securely belayed to a chimney stack or other immovable object… but he laughed that suggestion off as he scrambled up steeply pitched roof laths of soft pine and which were only held in place by a few short nails. Plus, there were hundreds of heavy, old reclaimed clay roofing slates piled on top of one another so haphazardly that the top ones bounced as the builders hammered. All appeared ready to slide to the gulf below – not unlike avalanches seen in those Austrian Alps – if I so much as stepped anywhere near.

All looked too high and too insecure to consider a photo opportunity… until it was suggested I clambered into the hotel’s attic space, up onto the old oak cross beams and then wriggled my way through a gap in the new laths and onto the scaffolding walkway… which wasn’t built-up from the ground, but hooked onto the wall of the hotel by two metal brackets… gravity – and nothing else – keeping them in place!

I only took my everyday / go anywhere wide lens – a 24mm Nikkor (equivalent to a 35mm lens’ angle of view on a full-frame digital or film SLR camera) – as changing lenses would have meant letting loose my grip on the roof structure with one or both hands… a no-no! I fired-off a couple of dozen shots from the same angle, both vertical and horizontal, and never even thought of scrambling across the roof for a reverse angle. The lighting was in my favor from my first position, and the background free from telephone and electricity wires across the clear blue sky area.

The only negative point, on reflection, was that the builders were not wearing safety helmets, yellow jackets, knee pads and whatever else the French Health & Safety regulations normally stipulate for the job. There again, to have persuaded the workmen to don such safety clothing would have cost me too much in the bar far below… after which they still would have refused to comply when they would have needed it even more. Like I said… barring accidents!

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction to illustrate editorial material in a 100,000 print-run monthly magazine under my “Fabricate” pseudonym.

Dry ditch section [Alamy image ref. C2N7TD]

Although the above image of a piece of scraped earth sold twice shortly after I took the shot, I cannot find many inspirational words to describe accurately what it is nor why it was chosen to illustrate a subject equally unknown to me. However, I did see, stop and take it so it must have warranted a second thought.

In reality, this piece of earth didn’t look very interesting as I rushed downhill towards the supermarket at Yzures-sur-Creuse, about 10kms from where I live. It does me good to do a 20kms round trip on my fixed-gear cycle when I want a bunch of bananas. Walking across the road to shop hardly uses a dozen calories… whereas fifty slightly hilly minutes on a fixie burns off around 500 cals.

The downhill stretch into Yzeures is about 1,5kms of frantic leg thrashing (no free-wheeling possible on my bike) during which I weave around any road repairs, shallow grooves created by years of tractor traffic, and cracks from subsidence… the latter probably being the reason a digger had been digging and scraping the earth between road and farmland so that the seasonal winter rains would be able to drain-off properly without flooding the undulating, weaving thoroughfare. However, it was on my much slower, grinding, uphill exertions on my return that I noticed the rich colour and detail in the fresh excavations… so I shopped and took a couple of shots on a part of the curve which slowed the best texture revealed by the sun’s angle to the road.

Basically what I was looking at was a dry ditch… the section adjacent to the field showing bands of rich brown and yellow colours according to the depth and natural dryness and cracking after the long hot summer. By next year the soil will be covered with grass and weeds from natural seeding which will hold everything together and prevent erosion.

This kind of “break” in a field reminds me of a “Ha-ha” – a term in garden design that refers to a trench, one side “of which is concealed from view, designed to allow an unobstructed view from a garden, pleasure-ground, or park, while maintaining a physical barrier in one direction, usually to keep livestock out that are kept on an expansive estate. It also may be used to mean a ditch, one side of which is vertical and faced with stone, the other face sloped and turfed, making the trench, in effect, a retaining wall, sometimes known as a “deer leap”.

The etymology of the term is generally given as being an expression of surprise – “Ha ha” or “Ah! ah!” is exclaimed on encountering such a feature. This is the explanation given in French, where it is traditionally attributed to Louis, le Grand Dauphin, on encountering such features at Meudon, d’Argenville. Walpole surmised that the name was derived from the response of ordinary folk on encountering them and that they were, “…then deemed so astonishing, that the common people called them “Ha Has” to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.

So a rough, hardly attractive feature that was barely worth a second look, actually sold twice after I decided to stop and take a couple of shots on passing it a second time. If I can allow myself a chuckle at my perception it would probably sound like… “ha-ha”.

The image was RM licensed twice by Alamy for reproduction up to 1/4-page in a 5,000 print-run textbooks published in South Africa for 1-year under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

1937 Renault 4 Break, France. [Alamy image ref. BRD531]

Because classic car rallies bring out a high number of photographers compared to casual passers-by, I should be prepared to accommodate the presence of others with cameras more than I am. When I see other snappers hovering in the close vicinity of a subject I’m interested in, I wait until they have finished, then I get my shots, and then I clear off to another location and leave the way open for any others.

On this day, however, there were too many photographers and spectators hanging around as a long, slow line of old cars arrived in town to park in front of the town hall… in harsh sunlight and deep shadow. The only clear space I had to capture the cars was as above… messy background, even worse out of frame to the left, and terrible behind me which was where the cars were trying to park. The photographer and his wife in the background, and the rally sign on the roof rack of the Renault 4, made the situation worse… and had I planned the shoot better I would have waited well-away from the arrival point and shot each approaching vehicle with a telephoto lens from a distance and then from close-up with a wide angle as they passed my position.

A little history from the internet… The Renault Juvaquatre was a small family car automobile produced between 1937 and 1960, although production slowed considerably during the war years. The Juvaquatre was produced as a sedan / saloon until 1948 when the plant switched production to the new Renault 4CV. In 1948 a Juvaquatre based panel van appeared, and later models of the station wagon (from 1956) were known as the Renault Dauphinoise. The sedan/saloon found itself overshadowed and massively outsold after the appearance in 1946 of the Renault 4CV (which was France’s top selling car in the post-war years). However, both the 4CV and its successor, the Renault Dauphine, were rear-engined and unsuitable for simple station wagon adaptation, which is why the Juvaquatre “Dauphinoise” station wagon remained in production until effectively replaced by the Renault 4 in 1960.

Despite the relatively high production numbers and long manufacturing life-span, this is the only example I think I have ever seen in France. But this image – the best of a three I took – was licensed RM by Alamy for a 1/4 page reproduction for 5-years in Worldwide text and e-books with a 50,000 print-run under my “Autos” pseudonym.

Fibre-optic cable layers, France [Alamy image ref. ACWKBP]

Street photography is normally difficult in France… the French are rather reserved and have stringent laws of privacy on their side as frequently observed – somewhat after the fact – when politicians and public figures have their misdemeanors finally reported officially to or leaked by the press and other media.

Surprisingly, I find that people engaged in “traditional” trades on the land such as farmers and woodsmen often stop what they are doing and like to have a chat. Maybe it is cautious curiosity as to why a photographer is focusing on them, rather than wanting an excuse for a break, that stops them in their tracks, but I always extend my arm well in advance and before they do as a signal of friendship, and to disarm any potential verbal attack or questioning.

With the above situation, when a new system of fiber-optic cabling was being laid throughout the town where I live, I broke the ice by inquiring – with a lucky guess – the length of cable on the drum. I was thankfully not too far-off, but received a friendly laugh – like the joke was on me – because I tried to re-estimate an “English mile” rather than meters. The drum in fact held 1,400 meters of Alcatel cable which the two men quickly but carefully unrolled into loose “figure-of-eight” coils which they made around a couple of flimsy folding frames… from which is was equally deftly uncoiled when pulled invisibly through the underground conduit system a previous telephone company provided.

The two workers didn’t talk much (which was strange for telecommunications engineers!) but perhaps the repetitive nature of their work made it necessary to concentrate more… so I tried to stay out of their way with just a few seemingly casual shots taken from close-up with a 24mm lens, but only after I had made a series of images taken from a window about 20 feet above pavement level. Although the aerial images showed the figure-of-eight coil of cable much more graphically, the shot shown here included the large drum of cable and a good stretch of the length of the street it was to be laid under.

This image was used as an 1/8th page “spot” size in a monthly trade magazine with a 150,000 print-run in the UK for quite a good fee under my “a la Poste” pseudonym.

French Bride & Children. [Alamy image ref. BR8T72]

Until this summer I had never done a wedding – as a “paid job” – since I left my first, last and only salaried job in 1974 to become a freelance photographer… a period of 37 years continually cocking my nose at such type of work as being uninteresting, uncreative and unworthy of my way of seeing. In reality, I was probably scared stiff at the thought of cocking-up that one-and-only unrepeatable day of bliss for each happy couple, their extended family and lifelong friends during those decades when film was de rigeur and had to be processed and printed a day or two later when everyone had long gone from the event and, in many cases, never to meet up again until the next funeral… such are many families!

However, I had engaged in taking a few casual snaps whenever the bells of the ancient abbey church opposite rang out announcing the arrival of a married couple. Yes, that’s right, only married couples arrive at church in France to be married because by law only a civil marriage in a town hall is considered legal… which seems rather strange in such a strong Roman Catholic nation.

Amongst the occasional weddings I have mingled amongst outside my church was the above scene of the bride in white having her train sorted by children and their fussing mothers. The background was not pretty, and the strong backlighting problematical. I’ve not been a studio or flash user for many years, so have to be desperate to resort to the built-in pop-up flash of my Nikon D300. But, it does seem to work if turned down to half-power… so that the dreaded shadows created by the flash are not apparent in competition with natural shadows.

So although not in any respects being a wedding photographer I was pleased at how this image came out… after some careful “fill-in” performed in Adobe Lightroom. I was even more surprised when it was used shortly after I uploaded it to Alamy.

Since then, I have actually accepted and completed a wedding for money… and enjoyed the whole affair from first ceremony in the Mairie to the traditional white wedding in the church followed by the knees-up in a mini-manor house and garden afterwards. From the 330 shots I took during the four hours of proceedings, 220 were saved as large jpegs for the happy couple. My largest number of off-shots were taken inside the large church where on-camera flash was woefully underpowered and my old hand-held Braun 400M Logic – purchased new around 30 years ago – blasted out light in an unsubtle way (I don’t have a dedicated SCA flash adaptor for my current Nikon) for dignified proceedings in church. I did salvage some good shots from oblivion by using a medium-heavy white vignette – again in Lightroom – which lifted the distant dark walls, columns and corners into an airy veil… not unlike what the bride was wearing!

Licensed by Alamy under my “a la France” pseudo for World-wide, editorial textbook (print and e-book) use, unlimited print-run, inside double-page spread… for 10 years. Ahh well, nice to know my image has a timeless quality even though the average marriage lasts somewhat shorter.

Bugatti Type 35 sports car. [Alamy image ref. BR8T27]

Tenuously linking back to Adrian Henri in my last “Abstract Art” post… when walking the streets of sixties Manchester he used to pointedly remark about how everybody walking past was staring ahead… never looking up, across or around. He used to point out the rich ornamental detail, as well as the grotty eyesores, seen everywhere and that most people never saw.

Half my lifetime later I still practice his incidental but important advice and see many otherwise unseen subjects and details worth photographing for stock. Mind you, I sometimes wonder that if most people don’t see many of the subjects I photograph… will they, as picture users acting ultimately for image consumers, ever search for those normally unseen subjects for reproduction! Hmm… Catch 22?

However, as a result of keeping my eyes open for different subjects, I also keep my ears open for different sounds. Many years ago in one of the quality motoring magazines, a respected journalist (not sure if it was L.J.K.Setright whom I accompanied as a photographer a few times on motoring press days) described the exhaust sound of a BMW 3.0l CSL sports-saloon racing car as that of “tearing calico.”

And so it was one afternoon as I typed in my hotel room… a thunderous roar bouncing around the small square in front of the ancient abbey church echoed by a similar sound a few seconds later… but not an echo… another car, making up a pair of glorious Bugatti Type 35 racers which thankfully pulled-up and parked. In one were a couple of elegant blonde Frenchwomen and in the other (illustrated here) were their partners. Both cars were in road-racing “semi-legal” trim and had competed in the Pau Grand Prix a year or so before.

They were there for only a few minutes… and then gone in a raucous spluttering as they gained sufficient revs to get out of first gear but struggled to stay within the town speed-limit… not that the local gendarmes would have cared too much, such is the unquestioned love for these famous vintage cars in French Racing Blue.

Licensed by Alamy under my “Autos” pseudo to a Swedish weekly magazine, inside spot-size  with a small print-run of 10,000 – and for a fee around double what UK national newspapers with a print-run of a million usually pay for up to half a page usage. Moral of that little tale is don’t join – or opt out at the next opportunity if you’re already in – the UK Newspaper (Scam) Scheme!

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