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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.

Ants farming aphids, France [Alamy image ref. ACWKBP]

A few years ago, whilst residing at a friend’s house in the country which had a large garden, I took advantage of the accessibility of trees and plants to, not so much experiment with macro photography – my patience and equipment is too limited for that speciality – but to look more closely at Nature to see what it offered that was different from my time from living in a town

One such observation was that ants – previously frequently observed in their hundreds forming a scurrying line to and from my garden to the kitchen and back again – were sometimes more content to collect, arrange and milk a captive insect for their natural sweetener rather than using my sugar bowl and its refined contents.

Even though ants are extremely numerous and observable – there are a million ants for every human on the planet – I had never seen the above scene before moving to France… perhaps French aphids are more tasty!

From Wikipedia… Some species of ants “farm” aphids, protecting them on the plants they eat, eating the honeydew that the aphids release from the terminations of their alimentary canals. This is a “mutualistic relationship”.

These “dairying ants” “milk” the aphids by stroking them with their antennae. Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Some species of dairying ants (such as the European yellow meadow ant, Lasius flavus) manage large “herds” of aphids that feed on roots of plants in the ant colony. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. These farming ants protect the aphids by fighting off aphid predators.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphid

When I first observed this symbiosis I couldn’t believe the regularity of the arranged captive aphids… so I snapped a few shots (sans tripod) trying to get as much in focus whilst fighting the natural shallow depth-of-field at close distances.

Of the 38 “ant farm aphid” images on Alamy all but one (mine) from three or four other photographers show random displays of these insects rather than the very regular ranks of aphids shown in my image. There are 21 aphids here surrounded by seven ants… so perhaps each ant needs three aphids to feed from!

This image was licensed by a German monthly magazine with a print-run of 10,000 for a “spot size” inclusion on a front cover.

French Walnut bread. [Alamy image ref. BJ40E8]

I’m an almost lifelong vegetarian and generally fit and healthy through also walking and riding a fixie bike every day… but I’m certainly not a foodie nor a fitness freak. However, I do take great interest and care – with no real attitude towards price – as to what I buy from shops here in France. I’d hardly ever visited a supermarket whilst living for most of my life in the UK… and in France for the past decade they are only an occasional destination for household essentials rather than for bodily sustainability.

Most boulangeries I’ve lived near are not just bread and cake shops… they are essential meeting places for a local population who go there for a baguette probably twice every day – baguettes only stay tasty and chewable for a few hours so are baked throughout the day in order to be fresh between normal 6am to 8pm opening hours.

The boulangerie just across the street from here has the following on their shelves from about 8am (you only find “baguettes” and “pains” wheeled behind the counters in wicker baskets for the first couple of hours of opening) including Pain Cerèal, Complet, au Son, Moulé, Farine, Epi, aux Figues, aux Abricots, aux Noix, Solognot, Campagne as well as Grosse et Petite Boules, Gros et Petite Batards, Pavé Tradition and the popular long  Baguette staple food “sticks” made in extra varieties such as Cerèal, Moulè, Festive, Festival and, in February when the Crocus are in bloom and harvested for the world’s most costly spice, as Baguette Saffron. I’ve probably missed a few… but you get the drift. The variety is large and very interesting compared ot my last experience of  Welsh bread shop which offered White, White Sliced (wrapped), Hovis and a small Harvo (wrapped).

So when I buy my daily bread I look at what looks particularly photogenic – the regular baguettes do look different from day to day (sometimes a little burnt and therefore more visually interesting from a photographer’s point of view) – and on occasion decide to buy a more expensive loaf such as the “Pain aux Noix” illustrated above. As you can see, each slice contained a few Walnuts and looked particularly rustic.

Although feeling extremely peckish from the smell of recent country baking, I restrained myself long enough to quickly photograph the food before consuming it in one go… and I can tell you that creamy farm butter spread on slightly warm slices of Walnut loaf – with a cup or two of hot rich Arabica coffee – are elevenses you want to eat every hour or so throughout the day. Having photographed first, eaten second and downloaded the still-life shoot to my Mac third, my morning felt rewarding… which turned out to be true when the above image sold under my “a la France” pseudo to an American magazine with a 50,000 circulation as a single page repro for one month for a fee a hundred times what I paid the the loaf… so there’s obviously plenty of dough in French bread!

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