I’ve been lucky enough in the last eighteen months to have been involved in a long running project with IBM’s Academy of Technology which has taken me to various IBM sites around the world. My favourite so far has been Somers, designed by the architect I.M. Pei, but La Gaude, in the hills above Nice runs it a close second.
Needless to say, my personal experience of local accommodation came a distant second to the splendour of the architecture. This has been a recurring theme in my travels. Usually determined by the same logic. I elected to stay in a hotel close by, which turned out to possess all of the charm and indeed some of the architectural features of the Bates Motel. The identity of said hotel shall remain a secret, but for those, like me, expecting to work at La Gaude, I can in good faith recommend alternative accommodation on the medieval town of Vence, about five miles distant.
Back to the lab. this extraordinary example of 1960’s brutalism was designed by the Hungarian modernist Marcel Breuer and built between 1960 and 1962. It’s worth repeating a story here that plays on the fact that the IBM building was supposed to have been one of his favourites.
Breuer’s Architecture went through five recognisable phases and this example using modular prefabricated concrete facades was the first in a phase that went on to dominate an entire town at Flaine.
Accused by critics of being perhaps a little repetitive, Breuer responded somewhat peevishly: “I can’t design a whole new system every Monday morning.”
I’m not sure that even IBM can design a new system every Monday morning, but I like the retort, especially in the context of La Gaude.
One of the things about these buildings is that they embody the kind of bold statement that one might expect from one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations of a certain time in history. I doubt we’ll see this type of statement again, indeed many of the IBM sites are being returned to the wild, a reflection of changing times and changing workplaces. Most of our work is done these days from home or from customer sites, the offices being required only for research and development, customer demonstrations and administration. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back and we’ll see another phase of these grand designs.
Finally, a detail from the front of the building, shot in the early morning sunshine, accentuating the shadows and bringing out the best I think of this type of architecture. I used a wide angle lens to get this shot, accentuating the curves and really maximising the geometry. These buildings really are breathtaking, the scale and scope of the project being quite vast.
So, on to Dublin next week. Not sure what I will find by way of architecture, but it’s a great city and I’m looking forward to the couple of days I’ll be spending there.
Two days before I left for America at the beginning of the month, I moved permanently out of Brighton and parachuted, temporarily courtesy of my partner Viv’s parents, into the rather wonderful countryside of Shropshire.
So, no longer a Brighton based Photographer – rather, given the amount of travel I’m doing this year a British Photographer!
New York was an absolute blast, freezing cold I nonetheless managed to get two shots I’ve been kicking myself for missing on other occasions – the view from the Rockefeller Centre and the interior of Grand Central Station.
The Rockefeller centre is one of those trips that you just have to grit your teeth and do. It’s expensive, full of tourists and the resident photographer will try and persuade you to pose for a grisly humorous portrait against a photographed backdrop but there really is no better viewpoint. The Empire State runs it close, but taking pictures there is a nightmare – dirty glass protects you from falling off the thing and of course you can’t get the Empire State into the shot. The big advantage of “Top of the Rock” is there is aa viewing platform in the centre of the tower that raises you some ten feet above the protecting glass screens. There are also gaps between the screens large enough to get a 24-70mm lens through.
The other must grab shot that I’ve failed to grab in four previous visits is the interior of Grand Central Station. This has been photographed so many times it’s virtually impossible to find a new angle. I chose the long exposure route using a wide angle lens. I decided to shoot diagonally and rely on the natural movement of the people to fill the frame.
I processed this particular shot in Silver Efex Pro to get the high key effect – it was a very gloomy day and I wanted to be able to pick out the people in the final rendering.
After a couple of days in New York, I moved on to San Jose where I was due to work last week. I had a whole weekend to explore and having not visited the west coast since I was seventeen, there was a whole lot to explore. I discovered a beach in Santa Cruz that boasts a natural arch and spent a whole morning taking carefully composed landscapes. None of which turned out as good as this – a shot taken rather casually on my way off the beach!
I used a wide angle lens held really low, at sand level for this shot. I took about six frames, moving about to try and get the people separated from the rock. I was really pleased with this one because my attention was on the rock and the family to the right. I hadn’t noticed the little girl to the left and she really makes the picture in my opinion. There’s a rather obvious echo of the arch itself and the stance of the mother, but the little girl pointing adds balance, depth and a little bit of a mystery to the picture.
So am I going to settle down to a life of rural bliss in Blighty? The chance would be a fine thing! I’m jetting off to the South of France on Sunday, Dublin the week after. This is proving to be a great year for both travel and photography. The only regret I have is missing my friends at the Brighton & Hove Camera Club – if that club were a lager it would definitely be a Heineken!
I just got back from a week in the Alpujarras, ostensibly working on the house, but finding time to do a bit of photography as well.
The Alpujarras are as different from the Costa del Sol as the Earth is from the Moon. January in the mountains is an experience not to be missed. As stunning as the Alpujarras are in spring, winter reveals another side entirely. The days can be warm and sunny, the nights uniformly freezing.
The landscape changes character too. The mountains, capped with snow and shrouded in clouds look formidable and demand a healthy respect. Walking in these hills, suitably clothed and equipped with compass, food and a map is an amazing experience. Even the view from the house, shown here, is breathtaking at this time of year and changes by the minute as the clouds throw shadows across the land turning it into some kind of enormous shadow theatre.
The people that live here, making a living off the land are the real tough guys, I’m not talking about the hippies, blow ins, criminals and flakes attracted by cheap North African drugs, rather the people that go back generations. The real tough guys.
Conditions here are brutal. Work is available in construction or….construction. Luckily food is cheap or many of the people now living on their wits would be starving. This is the sharp end of modern capitalism. The spanish economy harbours some massive companies, Santander, Repsol, Zara for example whose balance sheets are very healthy thank you very much. In the meantime, in Motril I saw people protesting under the watchful gaze of armed police outside the Banco Popular, at the Bank’s ruthlessly implemented repossession policy. By which I mean that ordinary folk are being evicted from their houses so that the Bank can maintain its shareholder value.
In a few months, the tourists will return and the local economies will begin to function again, the English the French and the Germans come back with armfuls of cash which will be spent in the many excellent restaurants, bars and coffee shops. For six months or so things will return to normal and then there will be another winter.
In the time I have spent in Orgiva, I have found the Spanish to be almost without exception, charming and hard working. The ex pats, occasionally reminiscent of the itinerant population of Casablanca before the second world war. As the once favourable pound to Euro exchange rate becomes a thing of history, the danger is that a new kind of normal is beginning to prevail. A normal where desperation overrides decency and the desire to get on the gravy train is stronger than the desire to provide a service. What we northern europeans have always held to be Third World pressures are making themselves felt very close to home. There is a lot of property for sale in the Alpujarras at knock down prices, but it takes nerves of steel and some real street savvy to make it work.
An amazing week, full of unexpected twists and turns. I’ve photographed Ginni Rometty, head of IBM, arguably one of the most powerful women in the world and at the other end of the spectrum shot a portrait of a man dressed as the Grand Poobah levitating six inches above a stone floor. In between times I photographed a deer in a forest…
The point of the trip was to attend and photograph the IBM Academy ALT Conference where the senior members of the Academy discuss the future and what is to be done with it. I prepared meticulously for the trip, only forgetting to pack my reflectors and lens cleaning fluid! The flight was delayed and immigration helpfully delayed me further. The evening light as I approached Manhattan was absolutely stunning, so inevitably the cab became mired in traffic and a further delay of an hour ensured that I reached the hotel after dark with no photographs taken. A bit of a blow given that my cunning plan was to shoot both evening and dawn over Manhattan.
To make matters worse, I was expected at the conference at 1pm on Monday, so between taking some shots of Manhattan, visiting Calumet to pick up some supplies and retrieving my car from JFK, I thought my work would be cut out. Getting up at 6am, on my way out of the hotel, I wondered if it would be worth checking out the view from the upper floors. Into the elevator and up to the 23rd. My room had a view to the skyscraper across the street. Worse than useless, but the 23rd floor was another story. Hoboken can wait, this was good enough.
After breakfast, a visit to Calumet, something of a mecca for photographers in both the US and London, the shop is amazing, the staff friendly and knowledgeable and I count myself fortunate to escape without breaking the bank – I was very tempted by that Carl Zeiss 50mm though…
At the conference, I quickly realised that light levels would be chronically and abysmally low, and my brief, to provide shots supporting a theme of celebration without the use of flash looked optimistic at best. I’m not usually found on the celebratory aesthetic in any case, but this was a job and my customer a very reasonable and likeable man. I don’t know how many of you spend time with hard core geeks, they are lovely people but they tend to do “intense” rather better than “levity”. Additionally, some of them evidently preferred not to have their photographs taken. The solution to the first problem I had anticipated, so selecting prime lenses with f1.4 capability was the right way to go. Especially since that forced me to shoot from a distance to avoid a wafer thin depth of field… the pictures are not for publication sadly, but suffice to say that free alcohol warms even the geekiest of hearts…
The next day I had to shoot the conference speakers and then edit the whole thing into a three and a half minute video. Which was to be shown at 8am the next morning. No pressure.
Fortunately the conference went without hitch and the video was ready by 7pm. I was hugely relieved as even with the lenses I had, I needed to reduce noise, the light levels were so low. The video was played to a reception resembling rapture to these European ears and I was almost immediately asked to shoot some portraits for another IBM conference in the afternoon. That’s where the Grand Poobah was involved. In case you’re wondering, the levitation was achieved in photoshop, I shot the scene empty and with the subject, cut the subject out of one scene and into the other and burned some shadow onto the ground beneath the new position, to enhance the illusion. Finally I applied an old fashioned sepia tint to complete the effect.
What have I learned? Prime lenses are fantastic. I’m definitely a convert, colours seem richer, bokeh is out of this world and low light capability is stunning. In the trade off between noise and depth of field, I found I was right on the edge of unacceptable, but judicious noise reduction cleaned up the pictures perfectly. I also struggled with the artificial light – in the same room it varied between tungsten and fluorescent, so that was a constant thorn in my side. All sorted out in Lightroom later.
The most important thing I can impart is that if your subject is lively and energetic, as one of mine most certainly was, you have two essential things to do. Firstly take lots of pictures, secondly, learn to anticipate their behaviour. You could use burst mode and select the right frames. I used aperture priority and set the ISO to the minimum required to generate a shutter speed of 1/100 seconds. That way there was no motion blur at all.
Finally, a surprise. I took over 400 shots in two days and pruned that down to about 65 for the video. I had about five spare, the rest were unusable for any other reason than parody. People walking in front of the lens, eyes shut, excruciating and unfortunate expressions used up the remaining 335. I’m guessing wedding photographers will be only too familiar with this situation.
Anyway, the surprise. I left the venue, pretty much worn out, without resetting the camera to my normal settings. As I walked to my room, I heard noises in the woods to my left and as you do, decided to investigate. The culprits were a pair of deer, an adult and a fawn, feasting on low hanging leaves from the bushes. The gloom was deep but my camera was already set. To my astonishment, the adult scarpered but the fawn remained and I was able to get within twenty feet of it to take this portrait with a 135mm prime that just happened to be still attached to my camera.
I learned a lot about luck and synchronicity on this trip. The conference? Absolutely fascinating. A fantastic experience that I’ve really enjoyed. Flying back to blighty tomorrow evening.
Casa de Almendras, photographed here in the condition we took it over, is a cortijo in the foothills of the Alpujarras, a little way out of Orgiva. There is a garden of oranges, lemons, figs and of course almonds!
Its taken us three failed attempts and ten months to identify and complete the purchase of a second home in the Alpujarras and to be honest, if I had known then what I know now, I might well have stopped in my tracks a lot earlier!
The process of buying in Spain is tortuous and approached from an english perspective, food for a nervous breakdown. Surveys? pah! Lawyers? pah! it can all be done in a week if you want to lose your shirt!
The cortijo is in the Rio Chico valley, just north of Orviga. Ten minutes walk into town, but with the most amazing views up the valley towards the Sierra Nevada and south towards the Sierra Luajar, an imposing mountain that cradles Orgiva in the low Alpujarras.
Orgiva itself is a proper working town, a bustling village playing host to many nationalities, about 80% Spanish to 20% foreigners. In the sixties and seventies, it was the hippy capital of Europe playing host to the notorious Dragon festival; the sons and daughters of those folk remain, manning the stalls in the street market and putting on slightly more sedate raves in the valley south of the town.
We’re renovating the cortijo over the next three months and will be spending a part of the christmas holidays there, preparing the place for a number of exciting projects we plan to run next year. It’s a very busy time and although I have managed to tear myself away from the renovations to do some serious photography, the coming months will provide many more opportunities.
The countryside is immense for landscape photography and I’m in my element here. I love the wildness of the hills and the sheer scale. It’s like the highlands of scotland without the midgees and with extra sun!
Beyond Orgiva it is possible to drive to Granada in 45 minutes and the seaside towns of Salobreña, Almuñecar and Nerja in 35 minutes in the opposite direction. Skiing is possible in the Sierra Nevada in winter and the area is famous for its walks during the spring and autumn months. in addition, the mountain villages of the high Alpujarras have to be seen, some of the oldest villages in Spain are here, including Yegan, the location made famous by Gerald Brennan in “South from Granada”.
A couple of points on photography – I brought with me a 100-400mm lens as well as a 70-200mm with 1.4 extender and a 17-40mm wide angle. I’ve used them all and really appreciated the extra length of the 400 mm. Additionally I brought a 24-70mm lens for people and places. It’s the only one I’ve barely used! This type of landscape can really shine with both wide angle and long lenses. The light is amazing here and having visited in Spring Summer and autumn, I know that doesn’t change.
The only downside of this whole expedition was the new baggage restrictions imposed by Easy Jet – 50 x 40 x 20cm is about 4cm smaller than the average rucksack style camera bag allowed for hand luggage so if you don’t want your lenses to go in the hold, you’ll need a smaller case. I have a Peli case that is almost exactly the right size, and a ThinkTank Urban Disguise that is slightly smaller. Both fit a truly amazing amount of kit and although the Peli case is heavy, it is virtually indestructible, so even if it were to go in the hold, I’d be pretty confident of getting my cameras intact at the other end!
if the prospect of sharing a small market town in SW France with 1000 photographers conjures up images of dozens of earnest, goateed young men jostling for position at the Boulangerie, Leicas at the ready, then you’d be right, but only partly.
Six months ago I decided to join other members of the Brighton & Hove Camera Club in a trip to Arles in the Camargue region of south west France to hang out at the photography festival.
It’s been an amazing trip, and there is another day to go. The curation has been exemplary, mixing up photographers ranging from the turn of the century playboy Jacques Henri Lartique (outstanding) to modern commercial masters such as Guy Bourdin and Wolfgang Tillmans via the surrealist Gilbert Garcin and the icy self portraits of Arno Rafael Minkkinen. Its been an education and an inspiration and Leica wielding poseurs notwithstanding, the vast majority of people here are friendly and enthusiastic. The poseurs are definitely in the minority.
If there is a drawback to visiting an event such as this, it is the effect it immediately has on your own photography. With so many exhibitions in such a short time, there is no time to distil or process anything and I’ll cheerfully admit to taking some horrendously pretentious photographs over the last few days. Thankfully quality control has remained more or less intact and the waste bin on the Mac is overflowing!
Travelling as a group is an interesting experience too. I’m not used to taking pictures with other people and initially found it disconcerting, more difficult to engage with the potential image and resulting (for me at least) in a flood of technically acceptable but superficial images, most of which have already been jettisoned. That being said, the trip to the salt flats was triumphant. I think most of us came away with insect bites, sunburn and dehydration but there were outstanding photographs too.
I also learned a lot about action photography. I’m perfectly at home shooting landscapes and architecture, but bull fighting, wild horses and birds pose a completely different challenge. My first attempts at the bull fight yielded one interesting shot, blurred to the very edge of incompetence, but as an image it worked. The next night I cranked up the ISO in order to force a faster shutter speed. Worked like a dream. Small aperture to make sure I got the details (Bull fighting is way too mobile for manual photography) and aperture priority enabled me to sit with my camera on a monopod and focus on the areas of interesting lighting. This caused me to completely miss one spectacular event on the other side of the stadium, but the one I did capture, I captured well.
It’s been a great trip and a fantastic club outing. Well done in particular to Chantal Lonsdale for organising it. Tonight we visit Salin-de-Giraud for the Nuit de la Photographie and tomorrow will be mostly gift acquisition and a couple of last exhibitions. Next week, Spain…watch this space!
The pictures from the trip can be found here: http://electricalimage.com/galleries/travel/france/
The one thing I didn’t think to pack was an umbrella! I arrived in Shanghai on Sunday afternoon in the middle of a downpour which with a few short breaks, continued throughout Monday. No matter, the 12 hour journey had given me plenty of time to read up on the city and first thing the next day, I set out for the Bund.
The Bund is the old style colonial business district that still hosts the likes of Jardine Mathieson. The river that bisects Shanghai also bisects the old and new business districts. Pudong on the other side is home to the most iconic skyscape in the world, pushing Manhattan firmly into second place (in my opinion).
I’ve been in Shanghai for five days, working for most of them, but having factored in enough time to take photographs, usually at the expense of sleep! I made a point of visiting Jinmao Tower, a skyscraper apparently based on the idea of a pen. The viewing platform is the nib and as ink, it happens to house the Grand Hyatt Hotel (from the 55th floor). The building extends above ground some 90 floors. The atrium in the Grand extends from the 56th floor to the top and is one of the most photographed architectural features in the world.
As a visitor, I love Shanghai, it is oddly European, a legacy of the colonial days with tree lined avenues in the French quarter and a relative calm atmosphere, compared with say, Beijing, which I visited last October. Food is excellent and cheap, people are very friendly and English is now taught in secondary schools as a compulsory language, so it’s relatively simple to be understood. The transport system is excellent, no more than a two and a half minute wait for the subway, it is clean and pollution, though clearly present, is way better than Beijing. Traffic is less intense, though considerably worse than most European cities, woe betide those who venture forth during rush hour! And miracle of miracles, Starbucks are in relatively short supply!
Outside of Beijing, the Water Villages are worth visiting, but have been commercialised to a ridiculous degree. Perfectly preserved, the modern day inhabitants run souvenir stalls instead of trading silk and ironically are banned from using the canals so that the tourist experience is unblemished by real life. The slight flaw in this plan is that surrounding the water village is what might best be described as the car park to hell – acres of cars and buses on a site larger than your average IKEA, disgorging tourists with all the attendant nonsense – amplified tour guides being the most noisome.
I’m returning to Brighton tomorrow morning, the logistics suggest I won’t see much of the weekend. It’s a seventeen hour journey but the clock goes back, so I’ll be arriving just in time for tea! God help me!
A trip to New York a couple of weeks ago brought surprises on many different levels. Firstly a reunion with an old school friend I had not seen for forty years, secondly a night in a hotel that put Alan Partridge to shame and thirdly a close up look at the architecture of I.M. Pei in the shape(s) of the IBM site at Somers NY.
To begin at the beginning, as regular readers will have realised, I’m on something of a world tour, beginning last October I’ve visited China, India (twice), France, Spain (three times), and now America. Some of this has been work; I’m involved in Communications Skills training with IBM and have been delivering a course to members of the IBM Academy, the future technical leaders of the company. The trip to New York came hard on the heels of a trip to India and my rudimentary preparation involved using the IBM chosen travel agent to book my hotel, car and flights.
Arriving in New York, I headed straight for the Hertz desk to collect my car, only to discover there was no sat nav available. A couple of minutes of negotiation secured an upgrade to a premium class, 4 wheel drive, fully automatic Mercedes in glistening white, with Sat Nav installed. I’d never driven an automatic before and more to the point, never driven in NYC before. Unwitting, I set off to recreate my very own “Bonfire of the Vanities”. Leaving JFK, I quickly became lost and hurtled into the Bronx, a borough of legendary delinquency. Cruising the streets of this neighbourhood proved to be disappointingly normal – no angry mobs gathered to torch my vehicle, no gunfights were observed and there was not a siren to be heard. I used the opportunity merely to familiarise myself with the sat nav and the automatic transmission and very soon found my way back onto the highway.
Seventy miles north of New York City is a place called Somers, a tiny New England town, that hosts one of IBM’s many office complexes and research labs. The buildings appear from the highway to float amongst the trees, and it was not until the next day that I was able to get close to this self advertised “futuristic fortress”.
First I was to navigate to Dansbury, Connecticut where my hotel was situated. I’d chosen the hotel on the basis of being out in the woods and towns of New England which I was keen to photograph, yet close enough to commute to Somers where I was going to be working.
Inevitably, nothing went according to plan. I arrived at the Hotel to find a JCB digging up the car park and inside, a fine layer of plaster dust covering the dust sheets that were draped over every stick of furniture in reception. Something told me this was not going to be a long stay. I checked in and made my way to my room, which featured a microwave cooker, a coffee machine with no coffee to be seen and a view right onto the building site behind the hotel. Alan Partridge would have been ecstatic, I was exhausted and unimpressed. I decided to post a satirical rant on Facebook and turn in for the night. Five minutes after posting I got a message from my old school friend Dana Wiehl, who, it turned out, lived only ten miles from Dansbury in a house with a spare room! The power of social media knows no bounds. I moved to Bridgewater and stayed the rest of the week. Wonderful to find out about old friends and to catch up after so long.
The next morning, I set off for Somers and the IBM complex. I’d seen the buildings from the road, but close up they are astounding. Like a scene from a science fiction movie, this site is nothing less than inspirational. There are four buildings in a 730 acre estate, each building is triangular and topped with a glass pyramid. Arriving early in the morning, there was not a human being to be seen, and I was able to roam the estate photographing the buildings from a variety of angles. Extraordinary architecture, designed by I. M. Pei. To my untrained eye this is the finest example of modernist architecture I’ve seen. An absolute joy to be around. I was fortunate to get the most fantastic light, which really shows these buildings off to their best.
Inside, with the exception of the glass pyramid the buildings are disappointingly corporate, but I suppose reality has to impact at some point. I’ve never looked forward so much to going to work as I did at this location, and that is in large part down to the vision of the architect and the boldness of the commission. Hats off to all concerned. The course I should say was also a pleasure. A great bunch of people (as they have been all over the world) and an experience perhaps summarised best by the feedback from one of the attendees, delivered in that inimitable New York style: “A life changing experience, but hey..we’ve gotta get you a new hairdresser!”
I booked a car for the day and at 7am set off for Mysore with the intention of taking in the bird sanctuary at Ranganathittu, the Sultan’s palace at Mysore and the Chamundi Hills from which the view of the plains is utterly breathtaking.
Needless to say, virtually nothing went according to plan. The drive, 90 miles or so to Mysore was tortuous, however once we got to the bird sanctuary, things took a sharp turn for the better. As ever in India, there was a fee to pay at the gate, followed by a further negotiation with the owner of a small rowing boat, which seemed like a better way to go than the tourist boats that chug remorselessly around the reserve, frightening the wildlife.
Once in the boat, we seemed perilously close to the water and when the owner produced a pair of oars that might have been designed by Heath Robinson, I wondered just how much of the lake we would see. I needn’t have worried. Applying himself manfully to the oars, we shot across the water, virtually silently and I was able to get close enough to the wildlife to take decent photographs. Now I’ve never been a wildlife photographer, but I’d anticipated that exposure was going to be a problem with so much water and such a clear day. I set up the camera to warn of any overexposed areas in playback, so I was quick to realise that even using Aperture Priority, the camera was getting it wrong to the tune of 2 stops. Once I’d added exposure composition to the mix (-2), I got some excellent shots, at least for a beginner!
Taking pictures of Pelicans and so on was fascinating, but when I glanced across at the guide, I was startled to see the look of a man who had just seen a ghost. I followed his gaze and to my surprise, found myself staring at a very large and very bad tempered crocodile, making straight for the boat. At speed. The animal must have been at least ten foot long, possibly more and it was clear that our best interests were not uppermost in its mind! All hands to the oars and thankfully, we began to pull away from the animal. Eventually it gave up the chase and turned disdainfully away, gradually sinking under the water. We saw at least a dozen crocodiles that morning, but none of them as big and none at quite such close quarters.
Once the excitement of the bird sanctuary had subsided we took off for Mysore. The home of the Tippu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore and implacable opponent of the East India Company. I visited the summer palace which was spectacularly decorated and featured period prints by British military artists depicting the four Anglo-Mysore wars. He died in battle, during the fourth war, defending the fort of Srirangapatna.
The next stop was the Maharajah’s Palace at Mysore. Still occupied, this was beyond spectacular. Every religious festival, the palace is illuminated at 7pm. I got there around 6pm and took photographs from various vantage points and then realised I was simply recreating the popular postcard views. Searching for a better, or at least less overexposed angle, I slipped through the crowd barriers and gained access to the side, just before the lights were switched on. Basically, as you can see form the photograph, this place can probably be seen from space!
Back to Bangalore, after 15 hours and 350 photographs, the next morning I decided to try and catch some of the life of the city and arranged with my driver to be dropped off at the City Market.
The City Market is home to a Mosque and is a tumultuous melting pot of humanity, beggars, travellers, merchants, it is a real bustling street market and I was glad that I went. Cattle roamed nonchalantly through the crowds as ignored as the beggars, of which there were many.
I’m pretty sure I was the only anglo in the market that day and felt quite conspicuous with my camera. I’d set it on aperture priority – the hustle was so intense, there was no way I’d have time to fiddle with settings and it turned out to be a good decision, but perhaps not as good as if I’d set it on fully automatic. I’m used to setting up my shots very deliberately but that was never going to work here.
I realised I was going to attract a lot of attention if I lingered for long in the same spot, so I had to simply walk through the market, firing off shots and hoping for the best. Mixed results it’s fair to say. I used a wide aperture as there was a lot of shadow, but my depth of field was too narrow and as a result I ‘lost’ a good many potentially usable shots. A narrower aperture to mitigate against loss of focus might have done the trick. As it was, several shots were soft in crtitical areas which was disappointing but I guess that’s the attraction of street photography. It’s not a perfect art and the frustration at realising a good scene has been ineffectively recorded is part of the learning.
My visit to India coincided with the Ugadi Festival, so not for the first time I felt very privileged to be able to take photographs. Ugadi Festival is basically New Years Day, I anticipated huge crowds, but actually that wasn’t the case at all. People were very friendly and mostly just ignored me and my camera. The one place I did attract attention was at the Maharajah’s Palace, but that was from other photographers who wanted to understand what I was doing using LiveView to get focus.
Using LiveView is something I’ve grown accustomed to in landscape photography and especially at the Palace it was the only way to go – selective magnification allowed me set focus exactly where I needed it to be i.e., where it makes sense in the final image. It was invaluable in helping to get the crispest possible focus here, as the lights were so intense and I needed pick out some fine details in the Palace exterior.
The photographs will appear in due course in the India section of the Landscape & Travel section of the site. In the meantime, I’m packing for New York. It never rains…
Ten days in Andalusia, combining house hunting with photography. This time we more or less got the balance right and the photographs can be seen here and of the house hunting, more will be revealed later. Big plans. Suffice to say, third time lucky? I hope so!
We started the trip at Malaga airport where our hire car turned out to be a tiny Fiat 500, bright red with gorgeous retro styling inside. No problem finding that vehicle in a crowded car park!
The first leg of the trip was to Alhama de Granada where we stayed at the Hotel la Seguiriya, run by retired flamenco singer Paco Moyano. A lovely old townhouse with views over the gorge, a very welcoming host and the most beautiful, unspoiled town in Granada. The town dates from pre Roman times and boasts a hot spring within walking distance of the old town and an original Hamam a short drive away. The Hamam can also be accessed via a mile and a half walk through the most spectacular gorge, featuring a disused mill and an ancient hermitage carved into the cliff side. The old town boasts many outstanding tapas bars including one where they heat the place by shovelling burning coals underneath the tables in the bar!
From Alhama, we drove to Granada where we stayed at the Almunia del Valle, high up above the town in Monachil, where we ate the most amazing meal of the trip. The next day we anxiously checked weather forecasts in preparation for a drive across the Sierra Nevada to Mairena. The forecasts were good and the road was open so we set off, the Fiat groaning a bit at the hills, but reasonably confident of a fair crossing. This confidence dwindled dramatically as we got higher and the weather got worse. We saw by turn, rain, sleet, snow and impenetrable clouds before we got to the top and began the more gentle descent into Mairena. Only after we arrived did we discover a text from our hosts, Emma and David advising us not to attempt the drive as temperatures were plummeting and the steep roads become icy and very dangerous!
Emma and David run the Casa Rural las Chimeneas, an organic farm with several Casitas for the guests. They host yoga and walking holidays and author Chris Stewart of “Walking over Lemons” fame hosts a writing workshop there every summer. A delicious dinner was served in their restaurant and we got a personal guided tour not only of their farm, but of the olive press that gives them their olive oil and is run as a co-op to service the needs of the local community. Fabulous views from the village and some excellent walks available for every type of walker. Emma and David are very passionate about the community they live in and as a result enjoy the respect of the locals. The trend in the mountain villages has been downwards for years now, but the recession is beginning to drive younger folk back to their parents, bringing with them new, modern ideas about farming, so we may yet see some regeneration of these beautiful places. One idea that is not so popular is the trend for industrial scale greenhouses where vegetables are grown hydroponically, producing vast quantities of tasteless, chemical infused produce that undercuts the local farmers.
We travelled West after this part of the journey to Orgiva, a town that nestles in the fertile low Alpajurras, providing a gateway to the mountain villages and Granada from the South. Orgiva is a bustling working town with a large english ex-pat community. It has outstanding landscapes, to both North and South and appears to have its own ecosystem – the weather here was the equivalent of August in the UK!
From Orgiva we travelled back to Alhama de Granada for another look at the Arab Quarter, where I discovered the story of Elena de Cespedes, born a woman in the 15th century and later in life declared a man, married as a man and eventually tried and sentenced to 200 lashes and ten years working as a nurse in a prison hospital for the crimes of witchcraft, heresy and apostasy. Every year there is a cross dressing festival in her memory.
This was the last stop of the tour, we drove to Malaga and a flight home. I’d recommend any and all of these places as holiday destinations, we had a truly wonderful break where we met some delightful people who we will definitely be seeing again.
Pictures can be found in the Gallery under Landscape & Travel / Spain. Or click here!