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55mm

 Elderly woman crossing road [Alamy image ref. BMR0RP]
Casta Cattle, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKH]

It’s always a pleasant surprise when a publication chooses two or more images from one’s Alamy stock on the same day… as happened recently with three of mine taken on the same day in the “Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne.” I have visited the Brenne many times and illustrated it previously… click on “Brenne” in the keyword list in the sidebar right]. It is a 1,672 sq km (646 sq mi) area of natural landscape located in the Indre département of France and was created in 1982. Previously La Brenne was a region in the old French provinces of Berry and Touraine, west of Châteauroux and east of Tournon-Saint-Martin, an area bisected by the river Creuse. Like in all French national and regional parks, there are people living within the boundaries… so the park has 47 communes, of which the capital is Le Blanc with a population of around 7,500.

La Brenne is said to be one of France’s best kept secrets due to its large area and numerous secret locations – some private and others restricted – but a good map and guide will open up a wealth of opportunities to the naturalist and ornithologist. Its origins date back to the middle ages when many lakes and ponds were formed for fish farming by local monks who had established abbeys at Fontgombault, St.-Cyron and Meobecq.

It is an exceptional location for bird life with over 260 species recorded of which 150 are resident or breeders. It is also home to an abundant array of insects, butterflies and dragonflies. The woodlands and heaths provide natural shelter for horses, cattle, wild boar and deer which can be observed from numerous well-constructed hides and observation points.

Le Temple lake, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKN]

The first of three images used by the same magazine I have already described from another usage, the second image being of the French “Aure et Saint-Girons” breed of cattle. They are also named “Casta” meaning chestnut colour. This breed comes from the south of France, in the middle part of the Pyrenees, and is bred from “Aure” cattle – draught oxen used to bring down timber from the mountains to the valleys, and “St Girons” cattle, a dairy cow used to make a mountain cheese named bethmale.

Originally a multipurpose breed, it is today used mainly for meat. The cow usually produces one calf per year for as many as 15 years… spending five months grazing in the mountains during summer. Only a few farmers continue to use the milk to make cheese, and a small group of breeders from the “Midi-Pyrénées” region are trying to increase the number of cows to save the old breed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aure_et_Saint-Girons

My third sale that day was of the “La Temple” étang, or lake, and was taken with my standard 55mm Nikkor not long after the dawn image of the cows (70mm end of a 70-200mm Nikkor) with the sun still quite low above the horizon and just after the early morning mist had cleared. I was aware of many bird calls and rustling in the trees and surrounding undergrowth, but no large birds were visible for my long lens… although on other occasions I have seen many Grey Herons and Cranes roosting and fishing.

Both these plus the Château le Bouchet image were RM licensed by Alamy for one month in a British magazine with a 100,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

Pain Rustique [Alamy image ref. BD7KNJ]

Both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year were ones of enforced but welcome simplicity. I say enforced not because there was little money to splash out, but because the hotel where we currently reside was empty… the owners having gone away for the weekend. So we had the place to ourselves… free range above a well stocked bar and kitchen which, to many, would seem like all our Christmases rolled into one! But, for our meal I made a simple omelette with a salad, followed by a yoghourt… with nothing alcoholic to drink. It was as much a complete opposite to excess as I could manage and our heads and stomachs felt all the better for it.

I attended Midnight Mass on Saturday evening at the abbey church across the road followed by the normal Sunday morning Mass a few hours later. Being in French I lose much of the nuance of the sermons and readings… but the words of the Lord’s Prayer which always stick in my mind and make me thankful are, “Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour”  or “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I do like bread here in France… there are so many varieties because most bakers have their own personal flour suppliers, tested recipes and cranky ovens – supposedly identical loaves on the shelves of two bakers on the same high street probably being completely different in taste and texture. I know of several people who make a daily round-trip of 20 kilometers for the bread and croissants baked in a wood-fired oven in the next town of Martizay rather than buying equally good bread two minutes walk away in this town of Preuilly-sur-Claise… because they like the added aroma of the Oak logs used by the boulanger in the neighbouring Indre département.

In the past – before I forsook car for bicycle – I did a similar round-trip two or three times a week to a neighbouring village at sunrise… the above image showing a typical loaf which would have been sufficient for two or three days consumption. This “Pain Rustique” is a rustic loaf of bread with a nondescript shape in that it usually has no pre- or final shaping. Because it has a rather vague name and is not a traditional variety, the shape and texture varies widely. It can be round, oval, rectangular or triangular. It is usually made with unbleached wheat flour and can have a soft or coarse texture and an open crumb. In this area it is sold by weight rather than by unit. It is also a hard bread and requires a heavy hand wielding a sharp serrated blade to cut a generous slice which can be liberally spread with butter and a choice of cheese or pressed to mop-up remaining thin traces of soup rather than the questionable habit of using one’s tongue.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for world-wide distribution for three years in a textbook with a 10,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

“Fuji” etching by Norman Stevens [Alamy image ref. C2YG5P]

Norman Stevens (b.1937 – d.1988) was a painter and printmaker who attended Bradford Regional College of Art from 1952 to 1957. At the college he led a group of talented painters – David Hockney, David Oxtoby, John Loker, Michael Vaughan and Norman Stevens – dubbed the “Bradford Mafia” by poet and writer Edward Lucie-Smith.

Stevens’ art took a while to settle into a distinctive style, not fitting into the neat categories of commercial or “pop art”. After completing his art school training at Bradford College of Art he took up a career teaching at Manchester College of Art (where I studied in the early 1960s under Liverpool pop-poet Adrian Henry). In 1973 he took the leap and gave up teaching to earn his living by painting alone, but died of cancer at the early age of 51.

I can only find a poor reproduction of this etching entitled “Fuji” on the internet linked to “The Secret Intelligence Service, Vauxhall Cross, Albert Embankment” where the series must hang on it’s walls somewhere within the building.  I have all six of the series “Sites and Sight” which include China Wall, Easter Island, Fuji, Mount Etna, Palenque, and Pyramid – which I bought from Christie’s Contemporary Art, London, in 1974. The Tate Gallery has eighteen Norman Stevens works in it’s permanent collection, but not including any from this series… so perhaps they are to be found in his collections with the V&A or the MOMA, New York.

Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft) and is an active strato-volcano that last erupted in 1707–08. Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometres (62 miles) south-west of Tokyo and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs. There is a well-known Japanese saying which suggests that anybody would be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once – but a fool to do so twice.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for reproduction to illustrate editorial material in a 25,000 print-run bi-monthly magazine in the United States under my “Beaux Arts” pseudonym.

Mayfly [Alamy image ref. BN4BKY]

If I knew little about cloud formations (see last week’s article) then my knowledge of insect life is even less impressive… partly because of a scheduling overlap with my favourite and more passable subject, so I never having studied Biology (nor the “Birds and Bees” for that matter) at grammar school.

According to Wikipedia… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayfly
“Mayflies are insects which belong to the Order Ephemeroptera (from the Greek ephemeros = short-lived, pteron = wing, referring to the brief life span of adults). They have been placed into an ancient group of insects termed the Palaeoptera, which also contains dragonflies and damselflies. They are aquatic insects whose immature stage (called naiad or, colloquially, nymph) usually lasts one year in freshwater. About 2,500 species are known world-wide, including about 630 species in North America. Common names for mayflies include Dayfly, Shadfly, Green Bay Fly, Lake Fly, Fishfly (in the Great Lakes region of North America), Midgee, Canadian Soldiers and Jinx Fly.”

The life span of an adult mayfly is very short and varies depending on the species from a few minutes to a few days. In most species, the males’ eyes are large and the front legs unusually long, for use in locating and grasping females during mid-air mating. In some species, all legs aside from the males’ front legs are useless. Uniquely among insects, mayflies possess paired genitalia, with the male having two penises and the female two gonopores.

All of which leaves me only a little wiser but no more knowledgeable as to how to photograph such short-lived insects. I mean, with a life-span of only a few minutes in some cases, to spend even 60-seconds composing and focusing on a Mayfly may literally be half a lifetime to the insect. In my example, it had flown into my room one sunny afternoon and rested on the window pane. I framed and focused as best as possible… hand-held – not because of the longer time to get my tripod set-up compared to the insect’s life-span, but because it’s position made any method of artificial camera support impossible short of a bendy Gorilla-Pod attached to a strong rubber sucker stuck to the glass!

Depth-of-field control was another tricky issue as it is notoriously narrow at close-up distances, and I couldn’t stop-down much more than the optimum f/8 setting of my 30-year old 55mm Micro-Nikkor lens because of the resulting slowing of the camera shutter speed. As it was, I managed to take a sharp hand-held image at 1/30th of a second with just enough depth-of-field at f/11. I think the result was a lucky shot… and I would not like to have to repeatedly find and capture similar types of subject… they’re best left to the experts who have the patience as well as the technique.

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction up to 1-page in an editorial context in both a 50,000 print-run magazine and tablet application for a 1-week period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

Plum tree blossom, UK [Alamy image ref. AX668R]

For the past decade in France I’ve very much been a “blue sky” photographer… which is easy really because the climate in the sud-Touraine, compared to my decade or so in the hills of mid-Wales, is sunnier – warmer by around 12 degrees Celsius on average – and also much drier. Where I am now there are about as many days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds as there were in Wales with totally overcast cloud cover and the occasional patch of blue sky peeping through.

When there were blue skies up above in west Wales I would work overtime at the wheel of my car covering as many locations as possible within the limitations of the number of bracketed exposures I could make with a pair of Pentax 6×7 bodies which gave only ten shots to a roll. On this occasion I had been driving back from Shrewsbury and came across this glorious Plum tree on the Shropshire-Powys (English-Welsh) border. I stopped initially after seeing the striking display of blossom against the blue sky… but before becoming aware of a very old woman leaning on the entrance gate to her cottage garden. It was almost a scene from a Helen Allingham painting… but there were essential elements missing such as the traditional old-English garden Hollyhocks and roses, as well as a number of modern appendages in view such as TV aerial, telephone wires, gaudy plastic child’s swing, etc., making it impossible to create a shot of similar Edwardian-period attraction.

The Plum has many forms and varieties… my favourite being the Mirabelle, which I have never seen growing in England, but is common here in France. It was probably cultivated for European soils by the Romans, from origins in the Anatolia Caucasus. Shakespeare refers to cultivated Plums, Prunes and Damsons… and many gardens of his time must have contained a large variety of those fruits. From his contemporary, Gerard, in his own “Herball” (1597)…

“To write of Plums particularly would require a peculiar volume… Every clymate hath his owne fruite, far different from that of other countries; my selfe have threescore sorts in my garden, and all strange and rare; there be in other places many more common, and yet yearly commeth to our hands others not before knowne.”

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run for use in France for a 1-year period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

Round window, Bath, UK. [Alamy image ref. ANBG4Y]

Many years when I was shooting film I started assembling, or collecting, groups of similar themed subjects such as doors, numbers, stripes, weather vanes, post boxes, funny car number plates, stripes, letters, chimneys, seats… and windows.

Oddly, in my window collection, I probably had only this single round example from a few hundred square and rectangular shapes. Perhaps they are uncommon to rare because they are difficult to open… normal hinged or sash openings being impossible to incorporate in round designs, although both vertical and horizontal pivots are. However, it’s worth noting from the Ounodesign blog… “Round windows are a striking, dynamic design feature and they’re underused, which is odd because they are not impossible to build. Even when they are slightly more expensive than regular windows, they give a lot of design value compared to what you spend. Is it thanks to the stigma that is still attached, annoyingly, to 60s and 70s decor that we don’t see them much? They really need to make a comeback.” And I agree!

Although this round window appears to plug a square hole, it was probably an original design feature in the old brickwork, and is a very attractive detail because the depth of the recess appears to be less than half a brick in depth, so no header or lintel is needed to support the wall above. I passed this particular window many times when visiting the City of Bath, in the West Country, and on this particular day it really stood out because of the acute side-lighting and resulting shadow which enhanced the actual depth of the recess.

Licensed Royalty Free by Alamy for a 1434 x 935 pixels sized image for unlimited and unrestricted use and for a fee of around £150 under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym, which includes around 500 selected subjects I shot prior to 2001 on film in the United Kingdom.

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