I had the chance to nip down to Margaret River for the day while my partner, Helen, was playing croquet in Bunbury. Most people when they think of Margaret River think about wine or surfing but there is more to the area than that. It is a beautiful part of the world with forests and beaches that are home to some very spectacular flora and fauna. I was looking for orchids, but as I had the dog with me I wanted to tire her out before so she would be more settled while I was on the hunt. I don’t know whether you, my dear readers are fans of so-called cosy crime TV such as Morse, Lewes, Midsummer Murder, or Endeavour, but when you watch those it is always the dog walker that finds the body. To be more precise it is the dog who finds the body. Well we were just walking along a track when Frida – the dog – took off like a rocket into the undergrowth and after much thrashing around emerged holding a large femur. As far as she was concerned she had found treasure and after a couple of minutes later thundered back into the bush and reappeared with another. At this stage I was wondering whether she had found a body and whether I should have a look, but I decided to have a look to see what sort of bones they were. Now whenever Frida gets a bone she becomes very possessive and develops a level of distrust befitting a paranoid schizophrenic. Fortunately she hands over the bone nicely as she obviously feels that she a great big pile of the things and again dives into the bush to return with the skull. Definitely not human, much to my relief, it was a western grey kangaroo which had obviously been hit by a car and managed to drag itself to these bushes to die. My overseas readers may not realise this but ‘roos are a bit like rabbits, if they get dazzled by car headlights they will just sit in the road rather than take off. Unlike rabbits they make more of a mess of your car.
Thankfully after all that excitement we managed to find what we were looking for which were leafless and hare orchids.
I’ve written about going to York Golf Course to photograph flowers, particularly orchids, before and today I’m going to do so again. This time was a little different. Firstly I was looking for pink everlasting daisies (Helipterum roseum) and secondly I went on a Saturday just after lunch instead of early on a weekday morning. It was a bad idea – a very bad idea. It was like something out of the movie Saving Private Ryan. The golf course was full. Here in the Wheatbelt when we say something was overcrowded it means there were three people, so to see roughly thirty people in one place was sensory over load – where had they all come from? To cap it all it was just after lunch the club bar been open and it seemed like everyone had been imbibing freely. Up to this point I thought it was the done thing to shout “Four” upon teeing off. Well at the York Club the word began with F and had four letters but it certainly wasn’t “Four” It was reminiscent of the opening scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral.
It went something like this. “Swish” went the sound of the club as the golfer made his swing, followed by a sharp “thwack”, followed almost immediately by a loud “F**k” as the ball was sliced into the rough. Unfortunately I was, along with the pink everlastings, in the rough. The late Spike Milligan once described an artillery barrage as being like Chinese water torture except with solids in his autobiography “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”. Well the balls didn’t explode on impact, but they certainly had the effect of making me hit the deck and take cover. The only time I’ve moved faster was when the Rugby club president declared an open bar (my excuse being that I was an impoverished student at the time). After thirty minutes of cowering in the dirt wishing there was an air raid shelter nearby I decided to call it quits and I beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the car. I did manage to get the two pictures of Everlastings shown on this page.
As I made my tactical withdrawal I hit the cover of some bushes where I found a small clump of green spider orchids (aka Fringed Mantis Orchid, Caladenia falcata) so I quickly stopped to grab a couple of photos.
All I can say is was a very traumatic experience. Every time I hear someone hitting a ball I develop a nervous twitch.
Clicking on a photo will take you through to my online gallery.
“Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.”
Alain de Botton
I’ve never been a fan of mass tourism, but over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about the negative aspects of it and in particular with what is happening to Venice. Apparently as many as 44,000 cruise ship passengers pour into Venice a day during the high season. That’s roughly 5 cruise liners worth. When we lived in Tasmania we’d get the boats pull into Hobart Harbour, thankfully just one at a time, and the passengers would be like a tsunami as they headed for Salamanca. I hate to think what 5 times that number would be like. Along with the negative impact that has on the local population and the environment there is also the fact would you really want to visit somewhere with another 44,000 people? It’s hardly getting away from it all is it? Then there is the whole thing of “Right you’ve got six hours in port and then we’re off to the next location”. Six hours following several other thousand people all traipsing round the same location, looking at the same few things only to herded up at the end of the day and taken somewhere else to do exactly the same thing the next day. It’s a gross version of the 1969 film “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. It’s worthy of Dante’s vision of hell. So why do people do it and pay a fortune for the privilege? Essentially people do it because they are bored with the ordinariness of their life and want something out of the ordinary with a touch of luxury.
When I lectured in photography one of the most common complaints from students was that there was nothing to photograph in Perth or Western Australia. They wanted something new, something exciting something that they’d never seen before. The problem was photography’s history encourages that kind of thinking – we only have to look at the photographic tradition of the road trip established by the likes of Robert Frank and his eponymous book The Americans with its hip introduction by Jack Kerouac. Stephen Shore and Alec Soth amongst others have popularised it to the extent that it has almost become a photographic rite of passage. Indeed at a portfolio review at FotoFreo my reviewer actually said I should go on a road trip as a means of finding myself. But the thing is booking a package holiday to Bali or Vietnam is not going to work as all you will see are the usual tourist attractions and maybe you’ll take some photos of poor third world people. Invariably you return home and the photos get ignored and languish in a dark recess on your computer hard drive as they look the same as everyone else’s. They are not out of the ordinary. The British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel said “Then I realised that the problem with going away is that you take yourself with you.”
I would suggest that if you want to produce interesting work look to the ordinary and easily accessible. Many photographers have taken this path. Robert Adams documents the changing American landscape and in particular the spread of suburbia. Chris Killip,Sally Mann, and Larry Towell are all photographers who have done projects about ordinary things on their door steps and have produced extraordinary images. The American photographer Minor White once said “…all photographs are self-portraits.” so thereis no need to travel to find your self just keep exploring with your camera. The frequent retort from my students was that everything around them had been photographed before well White also had an answer for that “Everything has been photographed. Accept this. Photograph things better.”.
So what have I been doing photographically for the last week? Well I’ve been out to some local nature reserves, I’ve visited them many times over the last 14 years and it never ceases to amaze me that I always find something new. So I was delighted to find these two flowers.
I’ve been hanging around the York Golf Course. Not to play golf you understand – I’ve never understood the compulsion to dress up in silly sweaters and shoes and drag a bunch of sticks in a cart around a large field while trying intermittently to knock a ball into a hole. No the reason why I’ve taken to loitering at the York Golf Course is that is home to a significant number and variety of wildflowers. Not on the fairways off course – they are barren bits of grass with the occasional large hole filled with sand. No the interesting stuff lies in the rough between the fairways. It’s not without its hazards mind you. Those people in their funny clothes reckon they can hit a ball straight down the fairway to the flag in the hole – well most of ’em can’t, they slice the shot and the balls land like a barrage of misplaced shells in an American artillery strike. The ground is littered with balls in among the bushes. I thought the rules state that you have to play the ball from where it landed, well the number of “lost” balls in the rough at York plainly shows that this is not happening. It’s so bad that next time I visit I’m seriously contemplating wearing a helmet. You can never be too careful.
As you might have gathered from my last post I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Wave Rock itself. Besides watching tourists I spent my time looking for orchids. I had seen on my Facebook feed someone had found some dark banded greenhoods at the base of the rock so I spent ages walking along the vegetation looking for a small green and brown plant amongst a sea of other small green and brown plants. Amazingly I found a patch of half a dozen under a clump of sedge. I did my usual thing of lying down to photograph them. So there I am my torso in amongst the sedge and my legs out on the path quietly photographing flowers.
After a little while of me lying completely flat trying to get the best possible viewpoint a woman walks along the path and finds my prostrate form. Perhaps being a fan of the “cosy crime” genre she thinks she has found a body, or at best someone who has collapsed sick while sightseeing. So she kneels down to touch me – I suppose to check whether I’m alive or not. I say “Hullo” and she jumps out of her skin and looks like she could keel over with a heart attack. I quickly explain that I’m fine really, and it’s very kind of her to be so concerned, but I’m just photographing some flowers. From the look she gave me I think she would have rather found a dead body than a mad man lying in the mud taking photos.
The other weekend I went on a road trip looking for the elusive, and some would say near mythical, Cleopatra Needles orchid (Thelymitra apiculata). After much searching I gave up and headed home after taking the above photos.
*Another rather obvious musical reference. It is of course U2’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” which was taken off of the album “The Joshua Tree”. The album used Irish folk and American roots music (in this case Gospel) to contrast American foreign policy with its wide open spaces. It was lauded by Rolling Stone magazine as one of rock’s greatest and along with the subsequent tour launched U2 as a stadium and arena band. It was also a turning point in another way in that many felt that the band and in particular Bono were pretentious and bombastic.
Yesterday I decided to go on a little road trip to Babakin in search of the winter spider orchid. You’ve got to be mad to do a round trip of 320Km in the hope of finding one very small flower. It was a good day for it, the weather was cloudy and overcast, perfect for this type of photography, and I had nothing else scheduled. So packed my camera gear into the car, made sure the mobile was loaded with music and set off to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Babakin. Now Babakin is in the local government area of Bruce Rock, which according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics covers an area of 2,727 square kilometres (1,053 sq mi) and has a population as of 2015 of 939 people. Babakin itself has a population of 25 – it is safe to assume that the local canine population out numbers the people – so there’s not a lot out there except wheat fields.
The drive was great, a lot of it on dirt track so plenty of red dust, and the time and distance just flew by thanks to the music. The shuffle play threw up some golden oldies – the best being Crazy On You by American group Heart. Put that one on full-bore. I wasn’t exactly head banging but lets say that the bouncing around of the car wasn’t entirely due to the road surface. Oh that took me back to the Chichester RocSoc at the New Park Road Community Centre.
Now these days we rely an awful lot on technology, I’m no exception, I was using my mobile phone for music and navigation. As I got close to my destination the phone just cut out – no more navigation, no more music. No mobile network coverage could explain the first but not the later. I switch to my TomTom SatNav and that packed up – couldn’t get a signal. OOOOeeeeeerrrrrr! Luckily I was nearly there. When I got to the nature reserve I did what I normally do and that is switch on my handheld GPS and mark the position of the car. These reserves have no facilities of any kind, not even paths or tracks, so I do this so I can just wander around in the bush and then when I’ve had enough I just follow the GPS to get me back. So off I walk. After an hour and a half I eventually find a single tiny specimen and proceed to photograph it. I use off camera flash fired by radio triggers to light my pictures of orchids. I set everything up as usual took a shot and noticed the flash didn’t go off. Tried again – nothing. Checked everything was firmly in place – nothing. Changed the batteries in the transmitter and receiver – still nothing. Bugger! Had a rummage around in my camera bag and found an old TTL cable so that got me out of the fix. Eventually I packed up and started walking to the car. I looked at the GPS screen and saw that it was blank. Bugger! I replaced the batteries – nothing. Another set of batteries and still NOTHING!!! Buggeration with bloody great knobs! A rising tide of panic starts to wash over me. Wash? No it was more like a tsunami. After a little pep talk I heard a truck go past. Now remember how I said earlier that this was a sparsely populated area? Yes? Well I can tell you I have never been so glad to hear a truck. I walked off in that direction battling through the scrub and eventually hit the road about 300 metres from the car. Phew!
The drive home was quiet – no phone, no SatNav, no music. When I got there after an hour and a half I carried everything into my office and started my usual post shoot ritual of zeroing all the camera settings, downloading the images and checking batteries prior to packing everything away. I almost jumped out of my skin when my phone beeped and started to play music. I checked the SatNav and it was picking up a signal, as was the handheld GPS. I tentatively got the flash triggers out and checked them and they were working just fine. WEIRD! Perhaps there’s just something about Babakin.
I can’t go without putting a YouTube video up for Heart’s Crazy On You. It’s a cracking track and this time I’ll put up a live recording from 1978 and from 2013 so you can see how the band has fared over time. All I can say is that Anne and Nancy Wilson can still strut their stuff in their sixties. Respect!
If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.
So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than
longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.
Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.
I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.
According to those that know it has been an amazing spring here in the Avon Valley. We’ve had rainfall that hasn’t been seen for decades and we’ve had a flush of wildflowers that hasn’t been equalled for fifty years. It has been frustrating as I’ve only managed to get out and photograph the orchids three times, but when I did get out it was beyond superlatives. Here are the highlights.
Clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.