French Walnut bread. [Alamy image ref. BJ40E8]

I’m an almost lifelong vegetarian and generally fit and healthy through also walking and riding a fixie bike every day… but I’m certainly not a foodie nor a fitness freak. However, I do take great interest and care – with no real attitude towards price – as to what I buy from shops here in France. I’d hardly ever visited a supermarket whilst living for most of my life in the UK… and in France for the past decade they are only an occasional destination for household essentials rather than for bodily sustainability.

Most boulangeries I’ve lived near are not just bread and cake shops… they are essential meeting places for a local population who go there for a baguette probably twice every day – baguettes only stay tasty and chewable for a few hours so are baked throughout the day in order to be fresh between normal 6am to 8pm opening hours.

The boulangerie just across the street from here has the following on their shelves from about 8am (you only find “baguettes” and “pains” wheeled behind the counters in wicker baskets for the first couple of hours of opening) including Pain Cerèal, Complet, au Son, Moulé, Farine, Epi, aux Figues, aux Abricots, aux Noix, Solognot, Campagne as well as Grosse et Petite Boules, Gros et Petite Batards, Pavé Tradition and the popular long  Baguette staple food “sticks” made in extra varieties such as Cerèal, Moulè, Festive, Festival and, in February when the Crocus are in bloom and harvested for the world’s most costly spice, as Baguette Saffron. I’ve probably missed a few… but you get the drift. The variety is large and very interesting compared ot my last experience of  Welsh bread shop which offered White, White Sliced (wrapped), Hovis and a small Harvo (wrapped).

So when I buy my daily bread I look at what looks particularly photogenic – the regular baguettes do look different from day to day (sometimes a little burnt and therefore more visually interesting from a photographer’s point of view) – and on occasion decide to buy a more expensive loaf such as the “Pain aux Noix” illustrated above. As you can see, each slice contained a few Walnuts and looked particularly rustic.

Although feeling extremely peckish from the smell of recent country baking, I restrained myself long enough to quickly photograph the food before consuming it in one go… and I can tell you that creamy farm butter spread on slightly warm slices of Walnut loaf – with a cup or two of hot rich Arabica coffee – are elevenses you want to eat every hour or so throughout the day. Having photographed first, eaten second and downloaded the still-life shoot to my Mac third, my morning felt rewarding… which turned out to be true when the above image sold under my “a la France” pseudo to an American magazine with a 50,000 circulation as a single page repro for one month for a fee a hundred times what I paid the the loaf… so there’s obviously plenty of dough in French bread!

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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