PEOPLE 391 – ME, A LONG TIME AGO …

 


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Well, OK, you want something different, you can have it … >>> this is me, I suppose around 1976 or so, when I was on geological fieldwork (aka birdwatching and photography) in Oman – and taken by an old friend, John, who was another of our team – and who kindly emailed it to me recently on my birthday.  The location is a place called Ras Sillan, which is on Oman’s Batinah coast, near Sohar.

So, after the initial shock / disbelief, what’s to see?  Well, let’s work down from the top.  Perched on my noble dome is the early incarnation of Photographic Hat, which I talked about and illustrated in a much later incarnation, in Kenya, here .  This hat, bought cheap in I think Millets and already faded by the really searing Arabian sun, drooped down nicely over the top of my glasses, and enabled me to look through my camera’s viewfinder no matter how bright the light – and hence its name.

Then quite a growth of beard: being outdoors engaged upon birdwatching and photography, I mean geological fieldwork, I probably never bothered cutting my beard at all – LOL! the beard I started growing the day I left school and still have!  I have never been able to comprehend the compulsion of many human males to remove their facial hair every day …

Then, around my neck, the pair of wonderful Zeiss Dialyt 10x40B binoculars that – breathtakingly – I paid £125 for, new, in about 1975, and which went on to accompany on all my birdwatching in Kenya, and which took a real battering when I worked as a bird/wildlife safari leader there.  I still have them, they are beside me as I type this, and they are still in full working order, albeit in urgent need of a full internal clean.

But what am I holding?  No, not some sort of rocket propelled grenade launcher >>> it is in fact a Pracktica MTL (I think!) single lens reflex film camera with a pretty dreadful 400mm telephoto lens, all mounted on a rifle stock – you wound your film on manually, fitted the rear end of the stock snugly into your shoulder, and pressed the trigger at the front end of the stock which was connected to the camera’s trigger by a cable >>> and achieved your single exposure! >>>  LOL! one exposure at a time, and certainly not the slightest hint of autofocus!  Not sure I ever took any decent photos with this contraption, although the telephoto achieved some better results later in Kenya, when mounted on a tripod.

And then, lower down again, my mum always said that I had lovely legs … but then, well, you know how mums can be …

And technique???  Well its an Agfa colour slide that has been scanned into digital, and massaged a little in Lightroom, and left uncropped at full frame.  But the really characterful thing about is all of the dust/dirt particles in the slide.  Given time, I could probably have removed all of these in Lightroom, but that would be to completely miss the point >>> here is a picture from the “old days of film” – this is the sort of thing that might gone into a slideshow – and we were working in a very sweaty, dusty and dirty environment, it was really a waste of time trying to keep clean, especially when water was in short supply during our expeditions into Oman’s only recently opened up interior – and to me this slide, just as it is, fluently brings all those long past days back to life.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window … but only if you are not of a nervous disposition …
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PEOPLE 374 – VERY OLD FRIENDS (MONO)

 

 


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Life moves on.  As Dylan Thomas so wonderfully put it, in Under Milk Wood, “Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”

And so to an Italian restaurant in a reasonably run down, seaside town, and five people around a table – already hitting the electric sauce, if only moderately, and good naturedly corralling a waiter into taking a snap of the occasion.  He was somewhat disconcerted by “Focus on the wine bottle!”.  While after “Squeeze yourself right back into that corner to get us all in!”, it had to be explained that we were not in fact all planning to try and get in the corner with him.  Ah, the youth of today …  But, anyway, here is the result.

So just who are these smiling worthies?  Well, as a landmark, something to navigate by when in distress on the sea, the lolling lout front right (magnified by proximity to the TG-5’s wide angle lens I might add) is me >>> does my tum look big in this??? 

Then the two women are the partners of the two blokes opposite me.

But the two blokes opposite me are the thing really, because we three were in the same school in the 1960s.  I’ve been friends with one nearest the camera for 60 years at least, we were in adjacent primary schools.  And the other is one of the two luminaries responsible for getting me into birdwatching in 1967, an interest that was to later take me to Kenya for 12 wonderful years – an experience from which, thank goodness, I’ve never quite recovered.

And although three of us live locally, the other very special thing about this occasion is that the other couple live on the other side of the world, so that we see them only very occasionally.

And so here we three are, back in our home town as it happens, and not a stone’s throw from the primary schools where two of us started out.  And we are all stunned by the fact that, having known each other since our childhoods, we are now all approaching our 70th birthdays.

“Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”
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PEOPLE 338 – WRITING A BOOK

 

 


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I used to be an highly enthusiastic birder.  School friends had awoken this interest in me in 1967, and 10 years later I left the UK for Kenya – to lecture on geology and to grab eyeful after eyefull of African birdlife.  And not just African birdlife, but Afrotropical birdlife, the Afrotropical Region being Africa to the south of the Sahara, one of the great biological regions of the world, with many unique or highly distinctive flora and fauna.

And the plan – ah, the plans of mice and men! – was to stay in Kenya for two or three years, do a lot of birdwatching, and then move on elsewhere.  Sure enough, I met up with other birders there, and went birding in many national parks and areas further off the beaten track.  But then, in 1981, a chance remark informed me that there was a project in hand to map the distributions of Kenya’s 1,000+ bird species – and from that moment on there was for simply nothing else worth doing in Life.

In a nutshell, I worked on A Bird Atlas of Kenya for over eight years – it really was a vast amount of hard but very often enthralling work, funded by the World Wildlife Fund and many others, and relying on hundreds of volunteers – and the book was published in 1989.  It was never going to be a best seller, it was not an identification guide (fieldguide), it was a fairly academic explanation of the distributions and seasonalities of Kenya’s (then) 1,065 bird species. My co-author was a zoology professor at Makerere University, in neighbouring Uganda.

And here I am, probably about 1983 or so, writing it.  The photo is an indifferent scan of a small print but it conveys the overall idea, that I was awash in a sea of paper.  For in the 1980s the developed world was developing IT technology apace, but here in the Third World it was a far rarer commodity, and especially so for those outside the world of business.  We had no email and no computers.  All correspondence was carried out by snail mail – and air letters, thousands of them, were the preferred thing because, since they could not contain anything, they were less prone to theft.  We did enquire re the cost of producing the book by word processing but, in those days, in Kenya, it was completely prohibitive.  In the end, an absolutely wonderful typist produced the whole thing, 600+ pages, on an electric golfball typewriter, ready to be photographed by our Dutch publishers.

So, here is the leafy Spring Valley suburb of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, around a mile or so above sea level.  The equatorial sun is beating down, the large window beside me is open to admit fresh, warm air, and the great mass of greenery seen vaguely through  the window are the tops of banana trees.  Also, local roads were some distance away, and there was nothing but the sounds of birds, the rustling, swaying trees and the breeze  – what better place to write a book?  And although I do seem to be awash in a sea of paper, there was a very simple design to it all – all the most useful texts, maps and notes were arranged in a circle  around me, all within instant, easy reach – it was a simple design that worked very well.

And as well as being enthralling, the bird atlas project had its exciting moments too.  Flights in small aircraft to record the birds of very poorly known areas of the country were exciting, yes, they held a real sense of exploration.  But my co-author was working in Uganda at just the time when the dictator Idi Amin was being ousted from Uganda by the present president, Yoweri Museveni.  As the fighting moved up towards Kampala, Uganda’s capital, I strongly urged my co-author to flee – and I can recall his comment that it was only “a bit of bush warfare”, and that there was nothing to worry about.  But, the fighting swept on through Kampala, he spent a long time on his floor of his house, sheltering from small arms fire, and a soldier was killed in his garden.  How writing a book on birds stacks up against all that (and other) violence, I have always been unsure.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it yet again – recommended.
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TALKING IMAGES 37 – I’M SLOWING DOWN, FOR AWHILE

 

 

Mannequin, seared by sunlight in a Cornish shop window

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The simple fact is, I very much enjoy blogging as a means of self-expression.  There’s the creation of the images, all of the attendant writing too (I love writing!) – and last but certainly not least the communication with like minds around the world – I enjoy talking with you all very much!  Also, there is not the slightest doubt that these years of blogging have been inspirational for me, certainly (to my eyes at least) improving my photography.
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A dear, warm creature, a being whom it is simply a pleasure to be with

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However, I have two large projects in hand, and I need to spend less time blogging for a month or two, to complete them.  One of these projects is the creation of my (more or less) annual Blurb photobook which, amongst other things, contains my favourite photos from the preceding 12 months along with their captions and text.  I have around 20 of these books now, some the annual volumes and some other, specific projects, and I find them a very convenient way of producing hard copies of my favourite work; they are very good to look back through.
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Someone special, from long ago and far away

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So, whereas I’ve been producing around six posts a week, this will decrease for awhile – assuming that is that I can restrain my creative enthusiasm!  And for today, here are some favourite images – faces from the archives – two people, someone quite artificial, and two beautiful animals.  Clicking onto these images will enlarge them, click onto them again to further enlarge them.
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Great Grey Owl – we looked at each other

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Selfie, with trademark cap and hulking Nikon DSLR

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PEOPLE 300 – PEOPLE FROM MY PAST 3 (MONO)

 

 


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Self portrait, aged about 19, retouching a print made in the university darkroom – what a poser! – dark framed glasses a la Manfred Mann (remember them?), and student beard derived from the fact that I could never for the life of me see the purpose in shaving off my facial hair each day –  and so on the day that I left school in 1968 I started growing the beard that I’ve had all my life .

It was my first time living away from home – well, at 18 I effectively left home – and I was lively and (naturally) immature, so much so that my landlord and landlady very nearly threw me out.  There were five of us in these lodgings, which were on the sea front and very cold in the winter.  Our sole source of heating, in the whole house, was a double-barred electric fire in the ground floor lounge – but there were two floors of bedrooms above that and, boy, were we cold!  So one exceptionally cold evening we actually summoned up the courage to switch on both bars of the electric fire – only to come down the following morning to find that the fire’s second bar had been taken out!  Ah, there’ll always be a welcome in the hillside – I wonder if that song gives anyone a clue as to where I spent (six of the nine years of) my university days ….

And it was here too, in the university’s bookshop, that I bought my first copy of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, a book that I have never fallen out of love with.  Very, very little poetry gets to me, and Dylan’s is far, far above my head.  I even have a recording of him reading some of his poems and that’s even worse, all far too heavy for me.  But Under Milk Wood is something else, a pure delight I would say, vast enjoyment combined with vast inspiration and admiration: in some way, something that – for better or for worse – has helped make me who I am.

This is a digital photograph of a black and white print, made with the D700.  The original photo was taken with an Ilford Sportsman 35mm film camera mounted on a  tripod.  I started printing black and white photos in the darkroom at school and did more at university, before going over almost entirely to colour slides when I got my first SLR, a Praktica LTL, in the 1970s.  The subject of the photo being retouched is another student, with whom I shared the bed and breakfast accommodation.

 

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PEOPLE 297 – PEOPLE FROM MY PAST 2 (MONO)

 

 


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Yesterday, I introduced these People from my Past images, along with a picture from my time as a geologist in the mountains of Oman.  This is another picture from Oman.

Here is our campsite, two tents, the vehicle, and rock – rock everywhere – with the bare mountains all around.  I’m slouching in the shade of the vehicle on a camping stool, quite possibly after a long day’s work – and the photographer is my colleague Don.

It was extremely interesting exploring the interior of a country which was only just opening up to the outside world.  The interior was wild, I remember many apparently ancient sites lying open on the surface, but the going was tough.  The days were hot, I wore two pairs of socks inside stout boots to keep the heat away from my feet, and the vehicle’s bodywork was burning to the touch.  There were no tarmac roads, and indeed very few roads of any size at all; we often found ourselves driving across country, or up into the many deep wadis that radiated out from the mountains’ flanks.

The Land Rover was rugged, tough, very basic and an absolutely wonderful vehicle for these conditions.   There is a jerry can visible in the roof rack: we carried most of our water and spare petrol up there above our heads – which in the case of the petrol was distinctly unnerving, but luckily we never turned the vehicle over.   The water was solely for cooking and drinking, washing being a luxury that had to wait until we got back to our base at Sohar, on the coast.

The terrain was mentally as well as physically taxing, since nearly the whole landscape was in shades or brown or maroon, so much so that the rare patches of greenery, near water, were often quite shocking, even strident, to the eye.  Flying home, the endless greens of England were a definite shock too.

Before going to Arabia, we had been trained to give and receive intravenous injections of serum that would counteract snake bites and scorpion stings.  I can’t recall seeing any snakes, but scorpions were common under stones, especially near water.  During our training, the sight of the large, intravenous needle, and then having to stick it either into myself or someone else, to extract a little blood from the vein before injecting the serum, always made me pass out.  I would feel my head getting tighter, and then wake up lying on the floor, looking up at a ring of laughing faces looking down at me.

And so the scenario was all too predictable – Don would be stung or bitten, and collapsed, flat out on the desert floor.  I would rush up with the large needle, push it in – and then there would be two of us flat out on the desert floor …  We were very careful, and this scenario never unfolded – the worst sting I had was from a hornet.

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

Technique: Don took this, and looking at it I would guess he used his OM-1 with a 135mm Zuiko telephoto.

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PEOPLE 296 – PEOPLE FROM MY PAST 1 (MONO)

 

 

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I’ve been posting pictures of people since I started this blog.  I’d have liked to have posted more from this genre, but opportunities for such photography have never been plentiful.  Now, as a subset of this genre, I’m going to post images of people – myself included – from my own past.  Some of these images have been posted here before, some are new.  This idea has been stimulated by the rediscovery of pictures I sent to my mother from far off places, and also by the rediscovery of some old photograph albums.  I hope you will enjoy these pictures.

And so to the first image, above.  Years ago – my passport tells me 1975/6 – I was working on geology in the mountains of the Sultanate of Oman, which is in the southeast of the Arabian peninsula.  Don (above, right) and myself would drive our (absolutely wonderful) long-wheelbase Land Rover inland from the Batinah coast and deep into the mountains, and then camp there while we worked on the rocks.  That was all that our little expeditions consisted of – him, me, the vehicle and a small tent each.  We had no radio, no means of contact with the outside world at all – but we were young, and didn’t think or worry about such things …

So there was no convivial club or bar to retire to in the evenings, and the only at all civilised and comfortable seating was in the front of the Land Rover – and so here are the two of us, with our Tilley lamp blazing away, passing a restful evening reading and writing up notes in the front seat of what we called “the van”, while outside the stony desert that had scorched us during the day became, under crystal clear skies, very much colder.  And yes, crystal clear skies every night, with no light pollution at all, and the Milky Way blazing out magnificently above.  We were both naturalists (and photographers too, as it happens) and so we both had binoculars, and we bought a little book on astronomy with binoculars: the things visible through the bins in these crystal clear heavens were impressive – and such interests gave us welcome diversion.

A story from our first journey into the mountains sticks in my mind.  Don and I were both well qualified for our task (the product of British universities, don’t ya know!!!), and so we had all the gear and everything was planned – except that, on our first expedition, we forgot to pack any matches.  So, there we were in the back of beyond, with the prospect of either existing on uncooked food, or of doing something about it.  We were carrying lots of spare petrol, some of which powered the Optimus stoves that we used for cooking.  So, on the first night, we sparked the Land Rover’s battery onto the Optimus, there was a flash as the petrol went up – and we had hot food and drink.

But it was clear that repeatedly treating the battery in this way might not be wise for various reasons, so we had to think again.  The next day, we met another vehicle and paid them quite a steep price for all the matches they were carrying.  Fine, and we thought no more of the encounter.  But several days later we met the same vehicle again – and were astounded to find that, on reaching the coast, the occupants had spent all of our money on yet more matches, and had brought them back inland in the hope of meeting us again to pass them on.

The point here is that, in deserts like this, getting into trouble, maybe even from some small mechanical failure on the vehicle, can result in getting into a very deep trouble indeed, and so everyone looks out for everyone else.  Wherever we stumbled upon (usually tiny) habitations we were always invited in for coffee and dates and, in these mountains, we never experienced any problems with theft or security.

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

Technique: Don had a (now) classic Olympus OM-1 camera and several lenses, and I used a Practica SLR; we shot colour slides – maybe Agfa CT18 I think.  Here one of us must have set the camera up in the back of the vehicle, and then reached over to press the delayed action.  Such simple things provided welcome diversion and relaxation.

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