ARCHIVE: PEOPLE 12 – HOUSE ON A FARM


 

House on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

These are Luo people who live in the immensely fertile far west of Kenya, not far from Lake Victoria – a vast body of water that supplies them with vast quantities of fish, and with frequent thunder storms which keep their land totally green.

The structure consists of mud walls, above which a conical thatched roof is mounted on a great mass of wooden poles.  There is quite a gap between the roof and the walls but, in this hot, equatorial area, cold weather is not an issue.  This hut has at least two rooms: the doorway to a second room is to the left of the people.  The mud walls have decorations drawn straight onto them, and there is an oil lamp hanging up.  Notice how everything, including the chest of drawers and some of the pictures hanging on the walls, has cloth covers.

Food and water are not an issue for these people, they live in a wonderfully fecund landscape.  But there are diseases – it was here that malaria first got its claws into me, despite my using nets and prophylactics.

Click onto the image to see a slightly enlarged version – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film, rated at 64 ISO.



ARCHIVE: LEVELS 78 – A FARMER AND HIS WIFE, OFF TO CHECK THEIR CATTLE AS THE DAWN BREAKS


A farmer and his wife, off in their Land Rover to check on their cattle out on Tadham Moor, on the Somerset Levels, after the long, late November night; 27 Nov 2014.

I was having a second breakfast of hot coffee and thick, bitter marmalade sandwiches in the Magic Carpark, when this old couple drove by, waving and smiling in a very friendly way, and made off down the foggy track to make sure that all was well with their cattle after the long, cold night.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 86mm; 6400 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.



ARCHIVE: LEVELS 30 – ANIMAL

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OK, let’s start at the bottom line: I love cats.  A cat named George, aged two, was present when I was born.  My mother told me that he used to get up on his hind legs and peer in at me in my pram – probably wondering if he was allowed to eat me I expect!  And I grew up alongside him and, as an only child, he was effectively my brother.  Quite simply, he was always there, he was always around, and he died when I was 13.  I have never owned a cat but, equally, I have never forgotten George and, indeed, over 50 years later he is still frequently – and warmly – in my thoughts.  And whenever I encounter cats these days, I look on them with much affection.

And my feline odyssey goes a little further than that because, taking clients on safari in Kenya, I came into close contact with our moggies’ much larger cousins – Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.  Lions I could take or leave really, but I spent ages almost drowning in the deep, expressionless, amber eyes of Leopard and Cheetah.  And then there were smaller cats too – Serval and (most wonderfully) Caracal.

So what on earth has all this got to do with the Somerset Levels?  Well, recently, I was exploring on the southeastern edges of Queen’s Sedge Moor, when I hauled up at Redlake Farm – and promptly had two very pleasant experiences.  I’ll talk about the first of those experiences another time but, as I walked along the farm’s frontage there was a closed gate with six cats basking beneath it on the morning sun’s warm rays.  There is a picture – not a very good picture – of them below, but it gives you an idea of the scene.

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And, standing very still, I looked at these cats, they looked back at me, and – very softly – I started talking to them.  I certainly didn’t want to frighten them by getting too close and, anyway, looking at them, it was immediately apparent that these were not tame house cats, but rather working cats in a way, who earn their keep on the farm as fierce ratters and mousers.  Stroking one of these, even if I could get near enough, might not be a wholly joyous experience.

And so the camera went into APS-C mode, lengthening the reach of my telephoto and, from a distance, I photographed them.  And as I looked through the camera into those impassive and predatory faces, I was reminded of those much larger cats in Kenya long ago, and the title of this post came surely to mind.

Click onto the images above to open a larger versions in separate windows – recommended.

Technique: upper image – Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control.  Lower image: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 36mm (equiv); Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; 400 ISO.  Redlake Farm, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

SOMERSET LEVELS – SOME KEYWORDS

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 468 – THE MORNING COUNT (MONO)

 

 


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A farmer stands in the back of his Land Rover, counting his cattle early in the morning, making sure none have disappeared during the night; on the Tealham or Tadham Moors, on the Somerset Levels; 25 July 2009.

This picture us something of an enigma to me.  Its never been filed away in the usual folders and never been posted – so, here it is!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens; 800 ISO.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 122 – THE LUSH FARMLANDS OF THE WEST

 

 


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Farms between Kisumu and Kakamega in the lush and fertile, far west of Kenya; April 1979.

This western part of Kenya lies just to the east of Lake Victoria, and benefits from the big storms that form over the lake and then drift eastwards, bringing plentiful rain.  Add all this water to fertile soils and high, year-round temperatures, and this is wonderfully productive farming country.  But on the downside there is malaria here, and this is where it first got its claws into me.

The tall plants in the foreground are bananas – there were many varieties of bananas of all sizes and colours here, including simply delicious ones used for cooking.  It may be more a dish from Uganda, but I simply adored cooked banana – matoke, I think it was called – with groundnut sauce.

Some of the local people can just be seen, up to the left of the two houses with metal roofs in the foreground.

This image is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film, rated at 64 ISO; Lightroom.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 107 – ON A FARM IN WESTERN KENYA

 

 

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s love affair with bright colour: Luo woman on a farm near Akala, in western Kenya; April 1979.

She is sitting in front of the wooden door of a mud hut with a thatched roof.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO to further saturate colour.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 87 – FARMER, WESTERN KENYA (MONO)

 

 


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Luo farmer near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.  Because of their dark skin, photographing Africans in anything like bright conditions is fraught with problems.  One option of course is just to go with the conditions and show only the highlights of their faces, leaving the finer details and hints of character smothered in deep shadow.

Another option is to photograph them in deep shade, to minimalise shadows and reveal facial detail – but this requires higher ISO ratings, larger apertures, and so on.  The third option is the one used here, where flash dispels the shadows, and this works well, particularly with today’s automatic flashguns.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-2 with 75-150 Zuiko lens, and flash; Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 68 – ON A FARM IN WESTERN KENYA (MONO)

 

 


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Luo people on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

I love these portraits.  The man is at ease with me and my camera, he knows me well, and in his expression we see nothing contrived, just a calm and direct gaze.  The little boy is nervous, but is being reassured by the man’s closeness – while the little girl’s radiant smile is a delight.

This smile reminds me powerfully of African children in general!  I was often in out of the way areas in Kenya, often far off the well beaten tourist tracks, searching for unusual birdlife.  And I can remember entering villages where white people were only infrequently seen – and being beset by a tide of brightly smiling little children like these, chanting “mazungu, mazungu!” – swahili for “white man, white man!”.

And sometimes they were so curious to see me, maybe not having had close contact with a european before, that they came and wondered at the pale hair on my pale arms – and touched my arms and head as if they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing – it was a real, uninhibited examination!

I like children anyway, I vastly enjoy interacting with them – and especially so when they can talk – and these were simply wonderful and fascinating experiences.  And I also want to mention here how friendly Kenyan people were in general, throughout my years there – friendly, hospitable and humorous.

On the negative side of things though, it was on this trip that I first contracted malaria – and that is something truly unpleasant.

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that version to enlarge it.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 63 – WOMEN ON A FARM

 

 


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Luo women on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

On the left is the girlfriend of my travelling companion.  This was taken on his father’s farm, where I received much hospitality and friendliness.  Everybody was curious about my camera: that it was a fairly compact and unimposing Olympus OM-1, which I mostly used with an equally unimposing 50mm lens, was helpful – it didn’t scare people off! 

And so to this relaxed picture: I especially like the straight and open gaze of the woman on the right.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film, rated at 64 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 39 – AFRICA, BREAKING APART

 

 


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In today’s cheap and superficial hype – too often the triumph of style over substance – many things are marketed as having various specified advantages “and so much more”. Well, here is a photograph that really does have “so much more”. It was taken from the eastern wall of the rift valley, near Kijabe, in Kenya, looking down westwards towards the rift’s floor, sometime in the late 1970s. The rift wall here is not a single escarpment, but a series of small escarpments that gradually descend to the rift’s floor like a flight of huge steps.

This photo was taken from the top of the escarpment, looking down upon the top of the first of these steps which, because it still has sufficient altitude to attract rain and mist, is green and fertile. This green but restricted area of land is covered in a close patchwork of cultivated plots, and dwellings roofed with thatch or corrugated iron. Beyond this step, the floor of the rift can be seen, browner and drier, many hundreds of feet below. Rising from these pale, dry lowlands is the dark and jagged bulk of Mt Longonot, a dormant volcano which last erupted around 1860. In the far distance, behind Longonot, the abrupt line of hills is the rift valley’s western wall.

So far so good, but there really is so much more here, for the fact is that the eastern edge of the African continent has been breaking apart for a long time. The island of Madagascar broke away from the rest of Africa many millions of years ago and, during this lengthy isolation from the mainland, many unique (i.e. endemic) forms of life have evolved there, e.g. the Lemurs (primates, like ourselves) and the Ground-Rollers (birds).

But that is not all. The Eastern Rift Valley (the one in Kenya) and and the Western Rift constitute further incipient splits in the eastern side of the African continent and, as I took this picture, I was standing on the western edge of another part of the continent that may split away to become an island like Madagascar in (the millions of) years to come. The floor of the rift is new crust that has moved upwards from the Earth’s extremely hot, molten interior to ‘seal up the cracks’ in the disintegrating continent, and hence the reason for the many volcanoes (including Mt Longonot) and natural steam vents on the rift valley floor.  Here, in this landscape, are the visible signs of a continent breaking apart.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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