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.

Manchester Town Hall, UK [Alamy image ref. AR6NRN]

Back in the 1980s I had a couple of medium-format Pentax 67s with an assortment of lenses including 45mm, 55mm, 75mm Shift, 105mm 120mm Soft-focus and 300mm. They were brutes – the camera bodies, that is – because the camera’s huge mirror slapping up and down combined with the large cloth shutter curtain flapping sideways created multiple vibrations that to-days users of DSLRs will probably never experience.Having quite a large collection of 6x7cm transparencies (as well as countless black and white negatives) which I thought – after much procrastination – would be of sufficient quality for Alamy if scanned, I decided to purchase an Epson 700 flat-bed scanner which came complete with masks for 35mm, 120 roll-film and 5×4 sheet film sizes.

The purchase was a wise one… and by discounting any idea of scanning my many thousands of 35mm colour transparencies (another story with another scanner another day) I undertook the laborious task of scanning around 500 of my best 6×7 transparencies. One slight problem was, however, that the best ones had been cut into individual frames and mounted in the black Kenro card presentation mounts holding six at a time and which were popular with some of us older photographers showing their images to editors and art directors in the latter part of last century!

Unfortunately the “archival” clear/matt cell-envelopes that protected the valuable trannies from dust and handling marks had created feint “contact” marks on many examples from being pressed together in storage for 25 years. This meant that around a third had to be thrown away because the estimated time to clean such a number beforehand, then extensively retouch them afterwards, would be out of all proportion when I had just enough “similar” images to consider uploading.

Questions are frequently asked on the Alamy Forum about “if” and “which” flat-bad scanners are suitable for passing Alamy’s stringent QC standards. Well, having owned, used and sold high-end models from Canon and Epson, I would probably go the Epson route if purchasing another, but only for 120 and sheet-film sizes. Having also scanned over 1,000 35mm home-processed transparencies for Alamy (without one single QC failure) I can say that a flat-bed scanner cannot be used for Alamy stock and one has to use a dedicated 35mm film scanner such as the better models from Nikon and Minolta which are have been discontinued by their manufacturers and are now only available second-hand.

The featured image of Manchester’s Victorian Town Hall was taken with one of my Pentax 67s fitted with the 75mm Shift “perspective control” lens, and, the unique wood hand-grip which Pentax sold to many of those camera owners. This, despite the multiple vibrations mentioned earlier, enabled me to frame and expose a complete film without using a tripod or other support such as a car roof, corner of building, lamp-post, etc.

I can’t remember the exposure, but it must have been around 1/125 sec at f/8 on Fuji 100D film on that bright day, taking into account the Cokin “Graduated Grey” and “Pale Amber” filters I was also hand-holding against the front of the shifted lens… which continues to amuse me to this day when many folks agonize over the necessity of VR (Vibration reduction) and IS (Image Stabilized) lenses!

So eventually, more than 25 years after the original was made, it got a use in a UK national newspaper with a print-run of up to 2 million, inside 1/4 page, 1-day license under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym. Why a more up-to-date image wasn’t chosen I can’t even guess at… but that’s picture researchers for you!

“Golden Lion Bridge” Swindon, UK [Alamy image ref: ATJPJT]

I think that an essential part of any photographer’s training is to work behind the counter of a camera shop. I did just that for a whole year in Swindon back in the early ‘80s… enjoyed every day, learned a lot about equipment quality – as well as people’s unnecessary desires for the latest (and how to instantly satisfy them and the manager with a sale) – and I got to borrow and use some very nice cameras and lenses.

The ‘other’ Swindon I remember was a town of large wall murals… painted by local artist Ken White. He started covering ends of rows of terraced houses back in the 1970s, though sadly nearly all the paintings have now disappeared through rebuilding work (I have recorded five which no longer exist). But his 1976  “Golden Lion Bridge” mural overlooking the Fleming Way thoroughfare remains… although with a difference because it has been repainted in brighter colors.

And there lies a problem – my image taken in 1980 (incorrectly inscribed © 2010) looks different to the original because it is slightly weathered… and is certainly different to the later version intentionally repainted in brighter colors… which is again different to how it looks today with more weathering effects. A publisher will undoubtedly be looking for the ‘contemporary’ view for any new publication… but may be offered a brighter, fresher looking image from three or four decades ago.

The recent Alamy licensing was for a 3-year use in a textbook… but it had sold several times previously through my own efforts when living in the UK for use in travel and regional magazines. The original transparency would never have survived to be scanned and retouched for Alamy – which was not a disaster because I shot so many duplicates ‘in camera’ when using 120 roll-film in those days.

I remember David Kilpatrick once writing about using both monochrome and colour tranny films with a single Pentax 6×7 medium-format camera which did not have interchangeable backs… he shot half a roll of transparency film of the first subject at 1/2 over, correct, 1/2 and 1-stop under, then moved on to a second subject for a repeated bracketed exposure sequence, thus finishing the film. Then he loaded a black-and-white film and did the same sequence with that second subject… the remainder of that roll being used for a third subject. When the mono film had been finished he reloaded with tranny film, half of which was used on that third subject before moving to a fourth. And so the shooting, changing films, moving to the next subject sequence would go on… phew!

35mm Pentax LX with Pentax 35mm and 6×7 format ‘Shift” lenses.

The original image was taken on 120-size Fuji 100D transparency roll-film using a clunky hand-held Pentax 67 plus 75mm Pentax Shift lens (I borrowed that lens so often from the shop I eventually had to purchase it!). I recently scanned the cleanest tranny (and many others) on a highly recommended Epson V700 flatbed scanner and retouched it in Photoshop for about an hour! To those who complain about tiny specks of dust on their DSLR sensors… you ain’t seen nothing folks!

Just out of interest, most people around the world will have actually know Ken White’s work without having seen one of his murals… his most recognized painting is the “Scarlet Lady” featured on the nose of every Virgin aircraft.

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