An Update…

I haven’t posted for a while, but there’s been a lot going on. Not big things, but lots of little things and minor successes.

My book, Kenya Safari has been published and although it’s not a best seller it has raised some interest. Traveltime from Frimley who we booked the safari with asked me to present at a small travel fair they organised at Pennyhill Park. It was great to meet the marketing people from Somak who operate the safaris and some well travelled customers who wanted to know what the safari experience was like from someone independent. Maybe I was chosen because I have only good things to say about the whole thing, although I know others who say just the same.

Then Marwell Zoo. I have an annual pass for the zoo, which works well when there’s a rugby game on the south coast. Farnborough play a few games down there, so before kick off at about 2pm, I’ll spend the morning at the zoo. I’m not sure what my favourite subject is there, where do I start?

The snow leopards are so regal and impressive, but it’s pot luck if they are in a good position for a shot. So, I’ll normally hot foot straight to their enclosure and if they’re not out and about, move on.

Kookaburras are a relatively new addition (at least I only spotted them at Marwell this year) and with a little patience will hop down to the railing through their enclosure and pose for close ups. I ahve to admit, I still don’t have a shot I’m really happy with, but patience and perseverance will pay off.

Next to the Kookaburras is the reptile house and in here are the geckos. One of my most successful pictures to date was taken here in November of last year. A gecko was on the glass and I went for a close up of the foot. Using flash, I balanced the light against the enclosure lighting and post-processed the picture to boost the colours and give it an edgy look. Copping to almost a square format has produced a dramatic picture that won me a Gold Award from the BPPA, second prize in the Marwell photo competition and a $200 first prize in my company’sphoto competition. The Marwell competition is interesting as my picture will now be displayed alongside the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in Winchester during July to September. Good company indeed, maybe I’ll get something in there one day.

Always fun are the Ostriches. After probably eight or nine visits this year, I’m convinced that the male bird recognises me. I think of him as “Ollie”, but I don’t know what his name is. He comes up to the fence and I feed him grass from my side (which is greener of course). In return he will pose for my camera with a 17-40 wide angle lens set to its widest setting. An ostrich beak is not as scary as it would seem, if they enthusiastically snap at you and catch your fingers, it’s like getting them slammed in a book. No teeth to rip the skin, just a happy snappy ostrich. At the last visit, we were proudly shown his six chicks, obviously recently hatched, they couldn’t be more than two weeks old. One of the females was obviously the mother, she hissed at us, but the other female came up for a grassy snack.

What else at Marwell? The tigers, always impressive, the meerkats, always amusing (but possibly over-photographed!), the baby giraffe and zebra, the anteater is just fascinating. Marwell is laid out over a wide area with some huge enclosures. There’s even a ‘plain’ where giraffe, zebra and ostrich roam. It’s a very different place to many zoos that have small enclosures. Colchester by comparison is positively claustrophobic.

At our camera club, I was getting very dismayed with the quality of some of the images entered for our competitions, in particular the slides. We have projected digital, print and slide competitions. I made a clean sweep last year of the digital and print competitions, but have not entered slides for three or four years. So, I bought an EOS 3000 on eBay for £20 delivered and a slide film. Using my LensBaby, I shot the roll of film with the intention of using it for the 2010 competition. I’m pleased to report that so far, I’m well ahead in the competition with two rounds gone and two to go. If I win, it will be with some irony that it’s been done with a single film, but a challenging way to do it! Shooting the slide film was a good experience. After over ten years with digital, you get out of the habit of carefully choosing the moments and composition, instead shooting, judging and shooting again. The film camera slows you down a lot and although I still found my self looking at the back of the camera after each exposure, I think I settled back into it quite well. Out of the 36 exposures on the film, probably 20 are usable for competition, a much higher rate than the less than 1% I probably normally achieve with digital!

Another event at the camera club was slightly controversial. Back in 1980 I first heard “Mummies” by Toyah Willcox. The song tells the story of cadavers in Guanajuato, Mexico that were stored in sheds. Now, they are in a museum for all to see. Gruesome, but they are there. In the mid eighties I found the book that inspired Toyah to write the song and finally, some thirty years later, I put the Archie Lieberman’s pictures from the book to music. This was presented for the first time at our camera club’s Audio Visual evening. Four people complained, saying it was too gruesome! – have a look for yourself and make up your own mind.

In my defence, I’ve just documented something that exists – much as Toyah did in her song – I have not glamourised it or mis represented it. If anything’s wrong or disrespectful, it would be the fact that the Mexicans choose to display these bodies to the public. But then, we do it in England with Egyptian mummies on display at the British Museum.

My cousin, Vanessa, produced a baby called Scarlett and in December when she was just six weeks old I shot a set of pictures for her. Vanessa’s husband Christian suggested a shot with the baby supported in his hands. The idea is to get large hands supporting and protecting a small baby. Well the resultant image has been another spectacular success. All the club competitions it’s been in have scored it maximum points or won outright. Not bad, thanks Christian! I’ve also produced an audio-visual of the shots which have reduced not only Vanessa to tears but other viewers who do not know the family. Good tears I would add…

So, as I write I have another series of workshops coming up at Farnborough Abbey (http://www.phooto.co.uk/workshops), a couple of weddings and a holiday in Croatia. Somewhere different and looking forward to it.

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