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sud-Touraine

Grégoire grape harvester, France. [Alamy image ref. BEHC87]

The “Domaine de Ris” vineyard in nearby Bossay-sur-Claise is no more. For a few years I had photographed their 14,000 vines in various states of growth, tasted a few grapes on occasion, watched their vineyard’s small staff trim them by hand every Spring, stood further back as the Lamborghini vineyard tractor (vineyard tractors have a very narrow wheelbase to negotiate the lines of vines) towed a spraying contraption and, as here watched and photographed the harvest by another strange but specialised Grégoire grape harvesting machine.

Estimates show that a mechanical grape harvester, in one hour, can harvest the equivalent of 10 hand-pickers in a full day… and having picked grapes on several occasions in this area I know how backbreaking the job can be on low-growing vines and how inefficient it can be.

The Grégoire company was founded in 1972 as a small family company concerned with the manufacturing and maintenance of small farm machinery. In the late 1970’s, Edward Grégoire and his sons began to develop tow-behind, and later self-propelled, grape harvesting equipment. Grégoire is the world’s leading supplier of grape harvesting equipment. The first harvester was produced in 1978, and the brand today represents the widest range on the market with more than 400 harvesters are sold all over the globe every year.

However, that figure is not many compared to basic tractor sales, and they are actually fairly uncommon to come across, especially as their working season is fairly short in late Summer. This is the only one I have ever seen and I took the opportunity of shooting it at all angles with several focal lengths of lenses… here at the long end of my 70-200mm fast Nikkor zoom.

I’m glad I did – it was the last time the machine worked this vineyard… the owner decided to call it a day at the end of 2009, the vineyard and it’s 14,000 vines now growing straggly and untrimmed and what is left of the last of the Summer’s grapes – after visiting birds have gorged themselves the annual grape – is unpicked and quickly shrivels and rots.

Recently licensed as RM by Alamy for up to a 1-page size reproduction in a textbook with a 3 million print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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Poppy Field & Walnut tree, France [Alamy image ref. ACWKNY]

I thought it odd that this image was published mid-summer and not on the Sunday closest to November 11th as a reminder of Remembrance Day and the services held throughout the UK in memory of the millions of soldiers who have given their lives in conflicts since the Great War of 1914-18.The Poppy (Papaver rhoaes)is, of course, such an emblem of this anniversary that the day is now more widely known in the UK as “Poppy Day”. The Poppy bloomed across the WW1 battlefields of Flanders and was celebrated by the most popular poem of the period “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

Papaver rhoeas, however, is sometimes so abundant in agricultural fields – as in the image above – that it is mistaken for a crop, but the only species of Poppy grown on a large scale is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. In it’s native Europe the red Poppy is simply an agricultural weed – but a very attractive one nonetheless for nature lovers, painters and photographers.

I took this and a series of other long views, wide views, close-ups, shallow depth-of-field shots whilst on a mid-May birthday celebration cycle ride in the sud-Touraine. The vivid red flowery landscape was literally “here today, gone tomorrow” as the farmer had cut the entire field when I rode past a couple of days later.

Typically, though unseen here, amongst the Poppy crop were swathes of Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus). In France the Cornflower is the symbol of the 11th November 1918 armistice and, as such, a popular emblem for veterans, similar to the Poppy worn in the United Kingdom and Canada.

In the past the Cornflower often grew as a weed in crop fields, hence its name (fields growing grains such as wheat, barley, rye, or oats were formerly known as “corn fields” in England). But it is now endangered in its native habitat because of agricultural intensification – and particularly overuse of herbicides – destroying its habitat… in the United Kingdom it has declined from 264 locations to just 3 sites in the last 50 years.

Typically, in this French farmed landscape, there was a Walnut tree. The word Walnut derives from Old English wealhhnutu literally “foreign nut”, wealh meaning “foreign” – although judging by the number of Walnut trees I’ve seen here, the English Walnut is far more more common in France than in the UK.

Ten-Million-to-One chance?

So why was this image chosen from the tens of thousands of others on Alamy? When I did a recent search, there were 34,793 images with “poppy” used as a keyword, 22,253 with “poppies”, 15,526 with “red poppy”, 11,813 with “poppy field”… and narrowing the results down further I found 1,947 with “poppy France”.

But I was still none the wiser because for several of the above searches, none of my poppy images appeared until well after page 10 of 120 images per page – at which point I gave up looking as one’s eyes – and those of picture researchers – would need matchsticks to prop the eyelids open when looking at blobs of red in every shot!

Finally, after doing another search with “poppy walnut tree” as the keywords… Bingo! There were only two examples amongst Alamy’s stock of 20 million images, and only mine had red poppies (the other showing yellow-orange Californian Poppies). So an oh-so-common shot turned out to be a ten-million-to-one shot being used three times this year as inside 1/4-page and 1/2-page size reproductions in UK national newspapers for 1-day licenses with and with print runs of 500,000.

UPDATE: I originally wrote that… “Astonishingly, I very nearly rejected this particular image at the initial sorting stage in Lightroom because it was amongst the most ill-defined of the shoot – even though I was using a 70-200 f/2.8 Nikkor VR (Vibration Reduction) lens, my heart was still pumping from the afternoon’s hard exercising on my fixie-bike, and some of the longer 200mm focal-length images were not what I then judged to be sharp enough for Alamy’s QC (Quality Control) standards… especially considering they were amongst my first three or four submissions to that agency!”

However, on seeing the image used here with ‘sharpening’ (click on it to see an enlarged view in a separate window), it has turned out much nicer than the original ‘zoom’ shows on the Alamy browsing page… so another lesson learned!

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