Friday 23 December 2011

The First Snow

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Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.  ~Pietro Aretino

On Tuesday we had our first snow.  It snowed all day and transformed the landscape from the sombre browns and greyish greens of mid-winter to a tapestry of startling, graphic beauty.  It's more comfortable to be here in Châtillon in summer but to us, as photographers and worshippers of landscape, freshly fallen snow is the apotheosis.
We live on the Chemin des Vignes and have vineyards as our neighbours.  These vineyards have been the most satisfactory neighbours we have found to date.  There is something primordial about vines.  They flourish in harsh conditions and give of their best in stony soils, sometimes in almost no soil at all.  They relish baking summers and appreciate cold winters from which they bound back into life early in Spring and the whole cycle starts again for them to be cut down almost to the ground after having given their best.  Like many of the best wines, vines can mature with age and, given the chance, can grow very old indeed.
We walked into the vineyards and spent a couple of hours enjoying the views and the changing light and here are some of our attempts to record that fleeting day of snow which disappeared as fast as it came.
A view down the Chemin des Vignes towards Glandasse, now obscured by cloud.  This view was taken from almost exactly the same spot as the Summer view which opens our previous blog.



The sun appeared for a few minutes and completely transformed the landscape.

On the way home we passed one of the many local walnut orchards.  
At home, most evenings, we enjoy the produce of the vineyards that give us so much pleasure throughout the year.  Wine production is so much more than just agricultulture.  Man has not had to go back to his roots as, in this department of life, we never left them.
We wish everyone a merry Christmas and a glass of something special and, of course, the best possible year in 2012.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Cabanons and Vineyards of Châtillon-en-Diois

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A well-preserved medieval village on the western fringes of the French Alps, Châtillon-en-Diois has more than its fair share of the good things in life.  The village is tightly contained towards the head of the valley of The Bez where it opens out into a fertile basin intensively and sympathetically farmed.  The valley slopes on both sides of The Bez provide first-class vine growing conditions  -  deep, stony soil, south-facing and well-drained with lots of summer sunshine of Mediterranean intensity and cold bright winters.

Apart from the quality of the vineyards, which has brought Châtillon-en-Diois three AOCs, 'Clairette-de-Die', 'Châtillon-en-Diois' and 'Cremant-de-Die', the situation is gorgeous with the cliffs of Glandasse rising to 2 000m in the background and, incidentally, providing wonderful walking country and lots of summer grazing.

One of the most striking aspects of the vineyards is the Cabanons  - small and mostly stone-built, they come in a variety of sizes and pretensions.  The vineyards originally belonged to the various families from the village.  The people grew enough grapes for their own wine-making needs and perhaps a little extra for sale in local fairs and markets.  For some it was a fair walk to their plot and, during the spring, summer and autumn evenings, the family could camp out amongst their vines with a rudimentary shelter which became the centre of a very pleasant mix of work and relaxation.  

Between the end of the 19th Century and the middle of the 20th the individual plots were gradually incorporated into the fortunes of four families who turned Châtillon's wines into more than just the vin de pays.  Phylloxera was the turning point for the local wine industry.  The added work and maintenance needed to re-establish the vineyards were too onerous for the village's families;  the vineyards became more commercial and the Cabanons developed into their present form as stores for tools and equipment, a ground floor stable and overnight accommodation above.  

That was perhaps not such a bad period for the villagers as they almost all enjoyed seasonal employment in the vineyards and the social life that went with it.  A social life which is nicely illustrated on reproductions of old photographs appearing on plaques scattered around the vineyards.  Great, evocative photographs evoking more than a twinge of nostalgia and a longing for quieter times.  Easy sentiments that tend to be diluted after a look at the village's War Memorial.

Most of the local people have little involvement with the vineyards and wine production any more.  With the AOCs and a serious demand for the excellent local sparkling wines, the vineyards are entirely commercial and apparently prosperous, still the main business of the village.  Fortunately, the vineyards remain very much part of the village and continue to be a part of the social fabric.  Perhaps it's something French but there is nothing forbidding about the vineyards  -  no fences, no exclusion, nothing to suggest that they do not still belong to the people.  It's unusual to walk through the vines without meeting neighbours or summer visitors.  And in the summer, the cabanons revert to their previous cheerful rôle.  Picnics, communal and otherwise, and well-lubricated balmy evenings punctuate the season from June to October.

The cabanons come in a variety of forms from the smartest and most aristocratic, above at La Beyliere, to more rustic but practical shelters.

The vineyards are always a pleasure to visit.  The seasons are strongly marked and always striking, none more so than in autumn after the vendange.

Wednesday 30 November 2011


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Most of our images are available for sale as prints/fine art prints, mostly as limited editions. 
Recently, most of our work has been on landscape subjects or similar and on our Papua New Guinea images.  For a long time we have been neglecting one of our first and most successful subjects  -  portraits.  Not formal portraits but people going about their everyday life or people we just happened to meet.  Apart from any other merit they may have, these pictures remind us of very pleasant and interesting times.  We are working our way slowly through our archive and most of the images that we have chosen to date have been from our various travels in Asia.  Of course the Papua New Guinea images also include a lot of portraits  -  but that's another story.  There are more of these portraits on our website in the 'People' gallery.
Young Balinese girl performing at a village ceremony. Ubud. Bali. 1972
Dancing master and pupil. Den Pasar. Bali. 1972
We were lucky to have been in Bali nearly 40 years ago.  It was not the frenetic place that it is now.  There was only one major hotel and we didn't stay in that but found a village chalet in Ubud.  The most lasting impression of Bali was the gentleness of the people and the high place that artistic expression took in their society.  Everyone danced, sang, played instruments and/or painted.  There was batik of a very high standard, wood carving and metal work, etc., etc. not created for tourists but created for the people themselves whose life seemed to be one long theatrical production.

We've both worked in China fairly frequently but always separately which may be why, despite finding China endlessly fascinating, we have never been able to love the place.  Most of our trips there were between 1985 and 2000.  We were struck by the variety of characters and racial types, especially in more remote places where the ubiquitous Han are the overwhelming majority.  Endlessly fascinating and often open and generous, the people could be very rewarding to meet but the system made life hard for us and undoubtedly a lot harder for them.  

 In the 1970s and '80s mainland Malaysia was a fun place to visit.  Probably more relaxing then than it is now.  The people were almost invariably friendly and approachable in a historical period which was perhaps the happiest time between independence and the present day.  The above portrait of a mother with her child at the window of their wooden house had nothing to do with a wonky camera angle  -  the house was actually like that.  It stood on short stilts at the edge of the sea on the north west coast and was quietly sinking into the water.  It didn't seem that anyone minded very much.
We've settled in France, much closer to our origins than Asia, but a lot of French customs are almost as foreign.  Most villages set aside space for Boules and Petanque players;  the games are obviously addictive.  
Having started our adult lives working in agriculture, we were surprised to see how much of their agricultural heritage the French have preserved.  Not to say that French agriculture is not efficient and up-to-date.  It is both.  But such useful traditions as transhumance are still alive and well.  We met a shepherd and his colleagues bringing their sheep back from summer pastures -  a 3-day hike over open country and quiet roads.  We were there at lunch time, which in France is excellent timing, and we were fed and wined by the shepherds at the side of the road.  The portrait below is of one of those shepherds with his favourite ram.
Amongst the gallery websites that we have looked at there are lots of portraits but few of children.  We're not sure why.  We have taken quite a few.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

'No enemy but winter and rough weather'*

*  "As You Like It":  William Shakespeare

Please visit our website at to see more of our work. Most of our images are available for sale as prints/fine art prints, mostly as limited editions. 

The weather in the Diois is getting colder but the sun shines most of the time and the charms of winter are at least as apparent as the drawbacks.  Thinking of winter, we dug back through our archive to our visit to the Pyrenees a while ago.  The highlight of the few days we spent near Massat was a morning in the Bethmale Valley.  We drove as far as we could through deep snow towards the pass and then walked.
We were struck by an almost palpable silence, the stark simplicity and simple beauty of the valley and its forests of birch trees.  The trees against the snow could be inspiration for a Japanese-style pen and ink drawing.  Soon after our visit we made a print with that in mind:

 So much to do and so little time  -  we neglected the rest of the RAW files from that visit.  But we have a large print in the kitchen and have, at last, dug out the RAW files and have produced a simple set of Fine Art Prints.

Monday 21 November 2011


Please visit our website at to see more of our work. Most of our images are available for sale as prints/fine art prints, some as limited editions.

We first came to Châtillon-en-Diois about 10 years ago, arriving by an unusual route.  We had hired a donkey to carry some of our camping gear and were on our way down from the Vercors high plateau.  Having camped half way down the 1200m descent, we were in good time for lunch.  Finding a good lunch with a loaded donkey in tow is not always easy but we went to Le Caveau Restaurant, looking every bit as if we had just spent a week living in a tent, and no one turned a hair.  We ate well and grazing was found for the donkey.  We thought we'd like to live in Châtillon and now we do.
The medieval village is exceptionally well-preserved, visually outstanding but terribly hard to photograph because it nestles at the head of a valley.  We have rather ordinary views from Glandasse to the north and east but these angles are too high and don't capture the background which is so important to the atmosphere of the place.  We've tried most of the paths up the hills to the south but they are so heavily wooded that we've failed to find the view we want.  We love trees but there is the occasional temptation to take a chainsaw with us.
We've found quite a few pleasant enough views but only including bits of the village and generally not the outstanding landmarks.  A few days ago, we tried again and found a quite nice compromise taken from the north.  Still no Glandasse in the background  -  we'll have to work on that.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

"What's in a name ?"

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Jas Neuf on the Vercors Plateau

We started to take photography seriously (as amateurs) in the early 70s because of something in our lives that we very much wanted to record and, naturally, we wanted to produce something memorable.  At that time, we were living in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea amongst neolithic people.  The visual record then was slight to non-existant and we had the time and the chance to capture this lifestyle as it was just about to change.  We loved the wild landscape and found the people attractive, intelligent, intensely theatrical and engaging and photography was the obvious medium.  

In PNG it was the subject that interested us and the photography that allowed us to capture what we wanted to record and, for us, that remains the case.  Photography, in itself, is interesting enough but, without absorbing subjects, it's just another job, another technique.  In order to earn a living our photography became much more technical over the years and decades and we passed through studio photography, shooting hundreds of bottles of booze with 10x8 Sinars and huge Bron flash power.  We were bored.  We were good at it and we made good money but that wasn't really the point of becoming photographers.  Photography had become more important than the subject as the subjects no longer pleased us.

We moved into photographing huge projects in the North Sea for oil and construction companies and then spent the best part of 20 years going our separate ways all over the world shooting projects for construction, industrial and agricultural clients.  Some of the projects were fascinating and satisfying and many were tedious and unrewarding.  Most of the satisfaction we gained from this work was from the travel to new places.  We remain pleased with the results of those assignments, largely because we sought the highest standards and feel that, generally, we were successful.  There are some photographs that we are very proud of but very few that we would want to hang on the wall and very few that we even now include in a portfolio.

We reckoned, as we approached 60 a while ago, that the time had come to return to our roots and photograph only those subjects that please us.  That's what we do best.  Subjects that we're happy with always make the best pictures and, while the technology basic to the digital revolution fails to excite us, the infinite scope for imagination and creativity makes it worthwhile to struggle with the wherewithal to get there.

There is a puritanical line of thinking necessary in the case of reportage which insists on absolute veracity and insists that what the camera records is the truth that should be passed on.  We've never wanted to be so limited which is probably why we have generally avoided such subjects, but then we have not altered our Papua New Guinea material but have restored it.  How far this restoration goes is debatable but we have looked at many modern images of Papua New Guinea and find it difficult to understand why anyone should photograph tribal dancing, albeit put on for tourists, and leave a steel razor-wire capped fence in the background.  Where does reality begin and end?  

Thanks to digital technology and the freedom that it has given us, we've been able to get away from purely photographic techniques or struggles in the darkroom that generally achieved very little.  The camera always lies as film and lenses were always incapable of recording reality.  Exposure variations between sky and foreground are one of the simplest examples.  Colour film has never been the 'right' colour.  And on-lens filters were always a blunt instrument.  A good photographer with creative cropping, intelligent choice of focal length, speed and aperture could always make the camera lie.  We well remember the realisation that many of the images published by charities, or sometimes the press, were of pleasant scenes and happy children degraded to the point of piteousness by the use of Grade 5 paper.  

Now we're doing what we like and loving it.  We are striving to reproduce what pleases us and, if possible, just the atmosphere of what pleases us.  Is this photography?  We don't know.  And quite frankly this does not greatly concern us.  We are seeking prints which we would like to display on our walls in the long-term.  Pictures that will always please and, we hope, will please other people too.  Some of our work now depends as much on digital manipulation as on photography but we hope that it records what we have seen and been impressed by just as well or, generally, very much better than a straightforward photographic reproduction.


Above is one of our first minimalist workings of a beech forest in the snow on the Col de Vizzavona in Corsica.  Wonderful countryside full of atmosphere and the original was a nice enough photograph but we've now had a 70cm x 70cm print of this on the wall for a couple of years and it grows on us in a way that the original image would not have done.  Of course we continue to work in a more conventional and, where appropriate, make very few changes.  But then, when we wish to, we manipulate the original until we are satisfied, often in several versions.

Above, another of our earlier workings, itself a development from another completely different working of the same original.  It's nothing like the original and whether it's still a photograph or not is arguable and, from our point of view, of no great consequence.

We walked to one of our favourite viewpoints on the Vercors Plateau and the clouds came down and obscured almost everything.  We liked what we saw and made a relatively straightforward version of the image above.  But somehow it lacked something and we recently re-worked it and much prefer the result above, but don't know how to describe the technique.  Photography, Print Making, Digital Art ?

In May we spent ten superb days in Venice and loved every minute of it.  We shot a lot and even now haven't done enough work on those originals.  Let's face it, there is a problem.  Venice is still wonderfully preserved, if a little frayed round the edges.  The scenes that we have all been brought up with and which artists painted centuries ago are largely still there.  But, the romance of Venice is not enhanced by hoardes of motorboats, vaporetti and crowds of tourists dressed in the tedious uniforms that we all wear nowadays.  Few cloaks and turbans, no doublet and hose  -  what a boring lot we've become.  To remind ourselves of the Venice that we wanted to see and that, frankly, we found in the atmosphere of the place, we have gone to some extremes in terms of digital manipulation.  We like the results which will sit far more happily on the wall than the noisy, mechanical bustle, now the reality.  But then there are mercifully no cars in Venice.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Wide Angles and Panoramas

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Most of our images are available for sale as prints/fine art prints, some as limited editions.

We sometimes ask ourselves why, apart from sheer extravagance, we buy and hump around so much heavy and expensive equipment.  We keep hearing that photography should be simple.  But we've never managed to make it so.

We've always had problems finding satisfactory wide angle lenses.  Almost all our lenses are Canon L series and we bought Canon in the first place in order to be able to use their first class perspective control lenses.  At the time we were shooting industry and architecture for clients and we have never liked converging verticals unless their is a creative reason for them.  It just doesn't look right, especially after about 25 years of shooting with technical cameras.

In the 1980's we were shooting a lot of off-shore work for oil companies, especially from helicopters and workboats.  35mm was then barely acceptable for that sort of commercial work so we looked for a medium format solution to dramatic wide angle/panoramic views with a hand-holdable, even from a helicopter, camera.  We bought Linhof Technoramas;  first the 6x17cm and then the 6x12cm and with the 6x12cm we found that, with its 135mm lens, it would give us the advantages of wide angle coverage without losing the scale of the subject.  Our clients loved the results from the Technorama.

One of our first helicopter shots with the Technorama, in this case the 6x17mm.  We found the 6x12cm even better.

The digital age has changed all that, not always for the best.  The early Canon PC lenses were not a bad substitute as a technical solution for the problem of converging verticals and we used them almost to destruction.  But we have never been able to find a satisfactory wide angle zoom lens.  We have bought and tried and then sold almost all the Canon wide angle zoom lenses on offer.  We are left with only a 24mm-105mm which is astonishingly temperamental and varies in quality from day to day and hour to hour, from excellent to mediocre.  But it's a great range of focal lengths. 

A couple of years ago we went to Dubai and intended, amongst other subjects, to shoot the Burj Khalifa.  We knew that our old 24mm PC would not do the job and were searching for better quality.  We went to see Klaus Bothe at Isarfoto near Munich ( and came away with a quite sophisticated and rather chunky Novoflex Panning head.  It's a bit of a contraption to put together and quite a lot to carry, but it works and the quality of a well-stitched panorama compares well to a half plate or a 10x8, without the optical shortcomings.  It's not just a question of quality.  But again we had found a way to produce 'wide-angles with long lens perspective'.

 The panning head is awkward to carry and requires a sturdy tripod.  Canon's fixed focus wide angle lenses suddenly improved.  The new 14mm f2.8 is a fabulous lens and we love the wide angle effect.  Level, there is almost no distortion.  But of course a mountain in the background loses all drama.  Horses for courses.  

Two examples of the 14mm's performance taken on the Vercors Plateau.

Still no really satisfactory wide angle zoom but there are two new Canon PC lenses without almost all of the traditional drawbacks of previous 35mm systems or, indeed, any lens systems.  The 17mm PC sometimes produces more satisfactory results than we have been able to get with the panning head and, of course, the panning head is not so useful with scudding clouds or people moving about.

An ideal subject for the 17mm PC lens.
 Apparently, the new 24mm PC lens is even better than the 17mm  -  but not for us just yet.  

A short while ago we were looking for suitable shots of Glandasse, partly to illustrate our recent blog article on our camping trip in September onto the Vercors High Plateau.  Glandasse is a most impressive massif but, with a lens wide enough to encompass it, it fails to impress.  We took the panning head out again and were pleased with the results  -  conventional but satisfactory.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Bellemotte and the Sucettes de Borne

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All the countryside around here in the Diois where we live is superb.  But then, of course, there is always somewhere that excels.  The area that lies between Glandasse and The Jocou has an intimacy rare for such splendid scenery.  The hamlet of Borne is known for The Sucettes, a rather inelegant name (lollipop) for an outstanding and astonishing geological curiosity. But there it is:

 About a week ago we chose one of the last days of 'summer' weather and decided to walk around the mountain of Bellemotte, rather than taking on the summit this time which seemed a bit much for one day.  From Borne we headed north towards Le Plainie, following the ravine and stream which bear the same name "Plainie".  The stream is one of the prettiest that we've seen in this area with multiple small waterfalls, rapids and glades but, unfortunately, so late in the year, almost no light.  We will have to go back at a better time.

We passed the ruins of an old farmstead and crossed some open ground where the first viper we have encountered in this area came rolling down a hill towards us and proved once again that, for us, snakes are best seen at a distance.  From the ruins we climbed to the Col de Plainie at about 1420m and were struck by the arrival of vivid autumn colours even before the summer seemed to have ended.

The next step was a descent to the north east on a route that took us around the back of Bellemotte, though mature forests with some splendid firs which, one day, we will get round to identifying.  Our favourite beech woods are everywhere at this altitude and very much a native species.

We came out of the forest and stopped for lunch near to a pair of the most handsome whitebeam we've ever seen.

Perfect weather for walking, sunny but not too hot.  After eating and dozing in the warmth for the best part of an hour we headed down again to the ruins of the Ferme du Désert, just below the Col de Menée, turned east again and crossed open pasture before diving into another strange, spooky forest on the way to the Col de Jiboui.
Wild and weird woods on the way to the Col de Jiboui

The Ferme du Désert

Carline Thistles, common in this area.  Their more specacular cousins seem rare.


From the Col de Jiboui, our highest point at 1620m, we turned south round the flanks of Bellemotte and started a long descent towards The Sucettes with the Jocou and La Roberche closing the view on our left
First view of the Sucettes de Borne from the north
By the time we had reached the Sucettes which were, theoretically, the main attraction, the sun had left the valley and was lighting only the tops of the mountains.   A few days later we went back to get the shots of the Sucettes that we had missed.  No doubt that summer had really passed by now as walking in shorts would have been a masochistic pleasure, we tramped through the first frost. But the sun didn't let us down.    
Proof of the arrival of autumn
We chose a long route back to Borne which gave us some splendid views of the valleys around Bellemotte.