La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. AHE43K]

On many occasions when I have been forced to wait for five minutes or more to progress through a break in the traffic at this narrow gateway in the nearby spa town of La Roche Posay in the Vienne I didn’t think to take a “topical” picture of what it is like to drive, live and shop on top of a “bottleneck”. When I decided to tackle such an angle to illustrate modern traffic conditions in a typical French town with narrow streets in it’s “old quarter” it was an exceptionally quiet day!

More than thirty years ago when I first visited La Roche Posay – I think it must have been before the by-pass had been constructed – I remember a string of large lorries pumping fumes from their exhausts as they waited and waited for a signal from a gendarme to progress with caution through the low, narrow arch of the ancient gateway… and then on to a safer passing and crossing point over the river Creuse a few hundred meters distant. Many towns like this were planned and evolved with defence in mind… horses and carts being the only form of transportation many centuries ago.

Formally recognized as being of public utility in 1869, La Roche Posay became the first spa in Europe exclusively dedicated to skin disorders. The dermatological tradition at La Roche Posay spans five centuries and is based upon Selenium-rich spring water plus a unique store of knowledge and experience recognized the world over. And Napoleon, then General Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, had a thermal hospital built there to treat his soldiers’ skin diseases. Perhaps he marched from the thermal spring to Paris through this arch with his troops… than would have made an impressive photograph… had the camera been invented then!

So a lot has happened here and generations have passed through the portals… but the most I had to show for it on this visit was a couple of cars and cyclists… not even the usual milling crowds window-shopping with others sitting at café tables watching the world go by. In what context this image was used I have no idea… others of mine showing the famous spa buildings have been used several times around the world (although mostly for Polish and Russian publications). Maybe it was used alongside a spa image from another photographer? However, it was my second sale through Alamy and actually came within a couple of days of after my very first sale there… so I regarded the image subject as a gateway to success!

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for reproduction in a weekly consumer magazine in the UK with a 500,000 print-run under my “a la France” 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.

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