Sunday 22 January 2012

Rivers and Streams

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We failed to find or imagine a fitting title for this little article but we did come across this magnificent, if less than entirely relevant, masterpiece:

The petty streams that pay a daily debt
To their salt sovereign, with their fresh falls' haste
Add to his flow, but alter not his taste.' 
 "The Rape of Lucretia"  William Shakespeare
We've been looking at a little local project to photograph the upper reaches of the River Drôme.  The Drôme is not a mighty river but it is endlessly attractive and despite its unimpressive size it has hugely influenced the landscape and the lives of the people who live in its valley.  It has also given its name to the Departement where we live in France.

By coincidence, we had climbed to the top of the Pic de Luc a few weeks ago and found a splendid view of one of the most striking features of the upper Drôme.  In 1442 a huge chunk of the Pic de Luc fell into the valley.  Enormous house-sized boulders, now known as Les Claps, peeled off the mountain and blocked the flow of the river forming natural dam which created, behind it, a lake five kilometres long.  In 1804 inevitably progress got its way, the dam was breached and the lake drained.  Now the Saut de la Drôme makes an impressive short waterfall and rapids, formidably difficult to photograph.  A helicopter would be ideal but perhaps we'll just wait for better times.
The lake bed, rich alluvial soil, with the deceptively discreet Drôme zig-zagging across the fields on the right, hidden by a line of trees.
Close-up of the lake bed and river.

Above Les Claps farming has largely taken over from the original marshlands.  But as the valley narrows, the Marais de Bouligon is now a modest nature reserve.  The local tendency to build dams has been revived by a family of beavers who have made the entry to the nature reserve a little more complicated by blocking the exit stream from the marsh and raising the water level. 
A stand of deciduous trees on the edge of the river, opposite the Marais de Bouligon.

The ice-bound Marais de Bouligon.
The source of the Drôme was a bit of a disappointment.  A municipal plaque, passed by a stream which rises quite a lot further up the slopes behind the hamlet of La Batie-des-Fonds, announces the river's source but we're inclined to walk up to the top one day and have a look for ourselves.

Monday 9 January 2012

Memories of Good Times Past

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We've done quite a lot of travelling, sometimes we forget just how much.  Travel must be in our blood.  It's a condition hard to control.  We haven't been travelling as much lately and the frustration is palpable.  We have a feeling that the sedentary life doesn't suit us and pushes up our blood pressure and makes us cantankerous.  It's time to get going again.
One of the great assets of being photographers is that we have a lot of very vivid memories which we can recall every time we delve into our archives.  Travelling probably does broaden the mind and it is the best antidote to boredom.  We can be very nostalgic and, while never bored ourselves, probably bore other people for hours with our tales and experiences.  We've both been guilty of the sin of vainglorious boasting when we compare and relate our experiences.  Photography has not made us at all rich in terms of cash and property but our lives have been a wealth of experience.
We've been looking back over some of our earlier work as we're aware that we've been neglecting some good material and we need to freshen it up and recycle it.
Eilean Donan Castle. Scotland.

We lived in Scotland on and off for a dozen years or so and decided that the west coast of Scotland was the most glorious and atmospheric of landscapes.

Indian tribal women working as labourers on a power plant construction project at Rihand, India.
 We visited India many times, always separately, but often shot the same projects as they progressed.  In India we were always struck by the people's composure and self-respect and the elegance of the women, even in the worst

Garlic seller in the Cours Saleya Market. Nice. France

 We lived in the Var an hour's drive away from Nice for quite a few years before moving to the Drome.  Despite widely held beliefs to the contrary, we have always found the French people friendly and laid-back and very easy to photograph.

Well-testing during a desalination project in the Indus Valley. Sind. Pakistan.

Even 20 or so years ago working on a project in Sind and visiting Karachi, Pakistan was not an easy place.  The photographs were taken during Ramadan and the temperature near the Rann of Kutch was over 50C and drinks and food were not available until after 6 pm.

Pluckers in tea garden on the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, background.  Sabah. Borneo.

 A trip to Malaysia and Borneo took in Sabah and Sarawak where the subject was plantations and a project to grow rattan in the depleted forests of Sarawak.  The local people were amongst the most delightful one could hope to meet, quiet, reserved and intelligent.  I couldn't help feeling that their leaders had made a big mistake when they joined the more frenetic Malay Federation.

Aboriginal rock painting in the Kakadu National Park, NT, Australia.

 The job in Darwin was photographing a big gas turbine power station cut out of the mangrove swamps.  The opportunity to go to Kakadu was irresistible and it was a happy excursion as it is an absolutely marvellous place and one of those that we plan to go back to.

North Sea oil production platform and safety boat.

We both spent many days, weeks, months working in the North Sea during the construction and exploration boom in the late 70s and throughout the 80s.  It was exciting and stimulating and physically demanding but it was fun and we loved it.

Stooked oats drying on the coast of Ardnamurchan, Scotland. 

One of our early shots when we lived in Kirkcudbright in S.W. Scotland and before we went to Papua New Guinea in 1970.  Our passion for the west coast of Scotland never went away  -  it's a pity that we had to.

Monks travelling in a tuktuk.  Bangkok. Thailand.

Storm approaching over sugar cane plantation in the Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea.

 It was good to be able to go back to Papua New Guinea a couple of times to shoot assignments and to have another look at the country that we had lived in for three years in the early 70s and where our daughter was born.

Huge clouds lit by the setting sun dwarf a relatively massive North Sea oil platform.

Racegoers at Royal Ascot Week.
We lived in Ascot through most of the 80s and found it a very pleasant place to be.

A family restaurant in Xi'an, China.
 We went to China usually separately many, many times in the 80s and 90s.  There was a lot of construction and development to shoot especially power plants, steel plants, textile and electronics factories.  A host of other subjects too.  We found China endlessly fascinating but very hard work.  We were always pleased to be there but always relieved when the time came to go back to Hong Kong.
Thai monks photographing each other in a Bangkok temple.
 This shot was taken during our first visit to Bangkok way back in 1972.  We were using up our leave from our contract in Papua New Guinea and carrying our daughter, then 9 months old, in a backpack.  We had three months travelling through S.E Asia on a shoestring.  In those days Bali, Java, Malaysia and Thailand were an almost unspoilt paradise for outsiders like us.

Oil exploration rig in dense Amazon jungle. Ecuador.

 Georgina provoked considerable jealousy with this assignment to Ecuador.  The image above was grabbed with difficulty between rainstorms, betting that the helicopter would turn up quickly enough to beat the next downpour.

Monday 2 January 2012

'The Rags of Time' *

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'Nor houres, dayes, moneths which are the rags of time'
John Donne:  The Sunne Rising

Geology is not our subject and we know little about it.  However, we've always adored mountainous regions without asking too many questions about their provenance.  Living in a truly mountainous limestone region of France where we can no longer casually use the word 'erosion' in the past tense has woken us up to another fascinating preoccupation.

Here in the  Drôme we are surrounded by geology.  Part of the view from our house is a jagged, almost vertical, rock face and with binoculars we can watch it erode.  The most spectacular example of local geology is Mont Aiguille which is, apparently, about to launch some 20% of its bulk into the valley.  

What a sight that cataclysm would be and what a pity.  Unstable rocks, spectacular strata and weird shapes are easy to find in our region.

Rapidly decaying limestone pillars seen from Tussac looking into the Cirque d'Archiane.

Everywhere there are unaccessable  -  at least to us  -  pockets of forest and grazing which offer sanctuary to wild life.  After snow it's obvious that wild life abounds.  Occasionally we see chamois, bouquetin, martens, deer etc. and, more often, vultures, now quite common.  
The Cirque d'Archiane is famous for its rocks and cliffs and well-known to climbers.
Archiane village and Rocher d'Archiane.

A few days ago we went out with a new 300mm lens for its first trial and took the opportunity to get closer in to some of the local cliffs and strange formations.

Close-up of the face of the Rocher d'Archiane where older rock gives place to new deposits - one mountain on top of another.  With a big enough enlargement, it's possible to see a group of chamois underneath the tree, mid-left, above the main strata.

At the head of the valley, Les Aiguilles d'Archiane.  The trees give an idea of the scale and the fissures in the rock give an impression of fragility.

A couple of hours' walk from Archiane the sunny village of Benavise is dominated by the Rocher de Combau.  Walk through the village and climb for five minutes through the fields and these strange formations rise above the forest.