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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.

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