Septic tank emptying, France [Alamy image ref. B2TTA8]

Yes, it’s a crappy job, but somebody has to do it!

The origin of the word “crap” did not – as is commonly assumed – originate with Thomas Crapper who, although he was associated with lavatories, did not actually invent the flush toilet. He did, however, increase the popularity of the toilet and developed important related inventions such as the ballcock. The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and thus predates its application to “bodily waste”. Its first use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a “crapping ken”, or a privy, where ken means a house. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch “krappen” – to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French “crappe” – siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin “crappa” – chaff).

For “Crapper” reference see…

After that tasteful piece of introductory history, and coming to the subterranean subject of the photo above… a “septic tank” is a holding tank into which all the household waste water and products are discharged into. This waste that enters the tank comes from showers, sinks, toilets and baths… and over time the solids (heavy particles) sink to the bottom whilst the liquid scum in the septic tank is discharged out into a soak-away.

Septic tanks have been around for hundreds of years. In the old days a large hole was dug by hand and then a large watertight chamber was constructed from bricks and mortar. Today little has changed in regard to the function of a septic tank, apart from the construction materials (usually fiberglass) and bacteria that lives in the sewage tank. When I had a septic tank installed in the field next to our remote hillside Welsh house in the late 1980s, the builder recommended three separate concrete chambers (a fiberglass tank could have popped-out of the soggy ground when low in contents) and implied that the waste water emerging from the third chamber could be safely drunk!

However, I never tried that experiment… preferring everything to return to Nature where it belonged, and I didn’t have to have the tanks emptied once during the dozen years living there. But when living in France I regularly saw septic tanks being emptied in both rural areas and in villages and small towns… a huge tractor-drawn “sludge gulper” arriving with an accompanying and familiar odour to tell neighbours what was happening. The image above was taken at a house we rented for a year and I was lucky to be upwind for the best view during the proceedings… the apparent “safe” distance being somewhat distorted from using the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail book with a 5,000 print-run in the Czech Republic for a 12-month period.

Watering Maize, France. [Alamy image ref. AEF1PR]

This was my fourth image sale in my early days with Alamy and it was a bit of a surprise because the subject matter was not “impressive”- being an old Ford tractor and crop sprayer. With my submissions to Alamy I had been concentrating on more modern machinery for my “Farming Today” folio of images – thinking that potential picture buyers would always be looking for the most up-to-date subjects for illustrations. Not so! In fact there must be an enormous number of subjects which have missed being captured digitally since around 2000 and therefore are increasingly scarce to find unless careful scans have been made from previously taken film originals.

But, by chance I saw this farmer in a local field in the Indre-et-Loire département of France spraying his early Maize crop… although as it was a small field and he as towing a very large tank of liquid I think he was watering his crop rather than spraying it with fertiliser or pesticides. He was working further and further away from my roadside position so I had to use my old 300mm Nikkor to get reasonably tight framing. My 70-200mm would have been too wide even at the long end and my only other telephoto at the time – a 500mm f/8 Mirror lens – was unusable being too long, too slow and difficult to hand-hold and pan with a moving subject.

My suspicion about water rather than chemical spraying may have been influenced by the requirements for maize being 30-60 mm of rain and/or irrigation per week, with requirements for advanced sweet corn being increased to 80-90mm per week during hot weather… and it was a very hot summer. Also, the farmer was in an unenclosed tractor cab and at risk from spray residue with wind and working direction changes. However, the point I have made to myself is to ask farmers whenever possible and practicable what they are doing and why. I find the chatting is usually very friendly and entertaining… and it provides accurate caption and key-wording information!

Licensed RM by Alamy for use in a South African educational textbook for 1-year under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

Tractor tire tracks, France. [Alamy image ref. BRYYJ5]

Having described in the previous article the sale of of an image of compressed cardboard cartons photographed at the rear of a superstore in Chatellerault, I’m staying on the theme of “where there’s muck there’s brass” with an image of muddy tyre tracks left on a country road by a tractor leaving a farm field.And having received a fair amount of ribbing from the usual suspects on the Alamy Forum last week (I can’t post a link because the Alamy moderator deleted the thread – again – without informing me as original poster with valid a reason as to why) after I mentioned the very active DailyMile  site, which I joined recently, and its promotion of healthy exercise (which the Forum jokers ridiculed) I thought it somewhat appropriate in response to use the above image as an example of what you can not only see, but easily stop to photograph, when you are out walking or cycling rather than driving a car.Until ten months ago I used to drive everywhere when I thought about taking some more images for ‘stock’. It was always the case of thinking I had to go further and further afield to photograph anything new. But circumstances changed… despite being quite slim and much fitter than average, I suffered a series of TIAs (Transient Ischemic Attacks) because of an unrelated stress issue.As a result I found my photo opportunities were confined to within a 15 km circle from my base… a distance comfortably ridden ‘out-and-back’ on my fixie so enabling me to be back with my paralyzed wife within a 90 minute time-frame.

And it has opened my eyes to photo opportunities… no need any more to keep my eyes on the road ahead when driving at speed on four wheels getting from A to B – although this image was seen on the road ahead, but at a much slower speed which enabled me to dismount from two wheels without blocking the lane. I now see many more new images between A and B on my much shorter planned journeys in the fairly small area of rural France which has become my adopted home.

The number of times I’ve seen marks on the road and retouched them from images in Photoshop – in order to make them cleaner and less distracting to the main subject – must have robbed me of days from my life… so it was a relief to find these fresh muddy tractor tyre marks in pristine condition and only have to apply a slight tweak in the contrast to make them stand out and become the main subject in themselves. What also helped was that the country land had recently been newly resurfaced… so there were few, if any, other distracting marks to spoil the subject.

The field of unharvested sunflowers in the background was a little messy… but I had no choice in the angle of the shot as behind me was a total unphotogenic mess. I suppose I should have also photographed that as well… but there’s a limit to the shots you can have of visual crap. I’ve illustrated and described two on consecutive weekends which have sold… so readers will get the idea!

Licensed by Alamy under my “Farming Today” pseudonym for use as a single-use poster for a German company in the Banking, Finance and Insurance sector for a one month period.

Lamborghini tractor and roller [Alamy image ref: AE894P]

I was surprised to see an off-white tractor rolling across the mostly flat, farmed, French landscape which borders the “Thousand Lakes” area of the Indre département also known as La Brenne. Although there are around 1,200 lakes in that fairly small region, many are probably the size of English dew ponds so the impression created by the name is a slight letdown for those visitors expecting watery scenes to vie with those of, say, Sweden.

But back to the tractor… from afar I was expecting to see another marque; any marque apart from a Lamborghini – a name which ranks in the top echelon of Italian mid-engined high-performance sports car makers and engine suppliers for Class 1 World Offshore Powerboat racing. In fact Lamborghini tractors were manufactured during the Second World war, more than 20 years before their first supercar was launched. And typical of current Lamborghini advertising, they state, “Professionals choose Lamborghini tractors for two basic reasons: its advanced technology and the good looks assured by its elegant and exclusive styling. Whether you’re guided by rational or emotional considerations, in the end it makes little difference!” Note: The Lamborghini I photographed was certainly not very beautiful so must have been a model from the ’80-90s.

Although tractors working farmland travel fairly slowly, there is a common problem when photographing them in the Summer of raised dust, plus a more interesting phenomenon – heat convection, or atmospheric shimmer seen when very warm, dry air rises off the land. Obviously the further away the tractor is and the longer the telephoto lens the greater the distortion that may be visible in front of the subject… but as the tractor approaches the air will be clearer with definition improved.

I used a 70~200mm f/2.8 Nikkor telephoto zoom for a small series of shots, turning the zoom ring as the tractor approached to keep it fairly fully framed in the viewfinder… this selected image being taken at around the 130mm mark. Although that more recent Nikkor lens has “VR” (Vibration Reduction) built-in, I hardly ever used it in action – preferring a Gitzo Basalt Monopod for steady support with moving subjects.

The image was licensed for a 1-year period, surprisingly (and a first for me), to a Japanese TV company for use during a regular show, presumably as part of a studio backdrop montage for an agricultural, news or discussion program. I can only guess what a photo caption for the tractor may include… “Italian Job” or “French Connection” perhaps?

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