Black and white photography

Bw diner Tucumcari

Traditional diner, Tucumcari, New Mexico

I recently watched a TV programme about Don McCullin, veteran photojournalist, whose iconic black and white photography had me looking at some of my own humble archive shots.

Famed for his war photography and images of urban strife, McCullin took viewers on a tour of modern day Britain as he revisted and photographed places he’d been to many years before. Armed with old-fashioned but stalwart cameras which have seen much action, he was equally comfortable wandering around in towns, talking to people, asking them if he could photgraph them and taking candid shots, as he was joining a local hunt in the countryside to get some excellent shots (although I was glad to hear he didn’t think much of fox hunting).

All his photographs are in black and white – the detail is superb. Viewers were taken, at the end of the day, into his dark room. He develops in the “old fashioned” way; no digital cameras for him. At 83, he’s still working…or should that be doing what he loves doing?

Every now and then I try my hand at some candid or street photography. In this shot the customer in the diner had laid his stetson on the seat beside him, and I liked the row of chairs lined up against the counter. But I didn’t ask if I could take his photo as I didn’t want him to pose. I had my lunch, left the diner and he was none the wiser.  But I’m glad he was there for my picture.

Bw old timer in diner

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Rufous Motmot

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What better thing to do on a cold, gloomy and snowy January afternoon than trawl through the archives of photos taken in Costa Rica. We were there getting on for two years ago, and I’ve still not ID’d some of the birds and other wildlife we saw.

I knew this was a Motmot, but had forgotten what sort. The guide must have told us because as soon as I looked it up I remembered the “Rufous” part of its name. I clearly remember, though, that the guide pointed out its tail which was moving from side to side, like a pendulum. “Tick tock” he said.

Rufous Motmots eat invertebrates, small vertebrates and various fruits. They feast on beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and small crustaceans.

Anhinga

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These birds are pretty spectacular, and I was delighted to get this shot of one, wings spread and gleaming in the sunlight, at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston.

They are  sometimes called snake birds or water turkeys. Their full description can be read here.

That aside, what really attracted me was the detail of the feathers on the body, giving a fluffy look, and the silvery gleam of the wing and tail feathers.

I’d never seen or heard of an anhinga before, but on my first visit to Brazos Bend I saw one and asked a ranger what it was. Thereafter, and on almost every visit since, I’ve seen several, maybe perched on a branch or partly submerged tree sticking out of one of the lakes, but usually at a distance.

This one, so close to the path was obligingly close, very still and rather beautiful.

Wildlife on the Wing

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Reviewing 2018, I’ve just looked back at some of the photos I took in September in the Dordogne, and have offset some of the current darkness of midwinter with a spot of captured sunshine.

Insects and wild life dominated, and I was transported back to warm sunny days when I watched wildlife on the wing and completely lost track of time as I did so.

There were plenty of butterflies, and on one particular walk by the River Vezere, I noted down the all species I saw (with a bit of help from a butterfly ID book when needed). The list was impressive.

Adonis blue, Banded Grayling, Comma, Meadow Brown, Wood White, Cleopatra, Brimstone (those two are so alike), Clouded Yellow, Large and Small Whites, Scarce Swallowtail (that was a happy, lucky sighting). My camera was out, but it was impossible to concentrate on taking photos of everything I saw; I was happy to stroll, gaze and snap. Some of those insects seemed to know when the lens was on them too – some stayed still, while others decided to move just at the crucial moment.

In addition to butterflies there was the Carpenter Bee I spotted, along with Hummingbird Hawk Moths and Dragonflies patrolling and quartering their patch.

A pair of  iridescent Kingfishers flashed past, close to the surface of the river, and by night I saw a solitary glow worm low down in a hedge, its rear end a bright luminous green, a fat delightful toad on a path near the river bank, while overhead bats were out finding their supper.

Pintail

P1060583I’m rather fond of pintail ducks. They have beautiful markings on their backs and bodies, their feathers are varying soft shades of brown and cream, and they have those distinctive pointy tails, after which they’re named.

They are elegant, classy birds and I saw this one recently at Martin Mere Wetlands Trust.

The sun was low in the sky, casting a golden light on the pebbly beach of the lake where this Pintail was waiting for the late afternoon feeding session of Greylag Geese, visiting Whooper Swans, Ruff, Coots, Mallards, Shelduck and many more!

Magpie

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This handsome magpie was perched near the marram-covered marshes at RSPB Marsh Side, near Southport on the Lancashire coast.

Magpies have a bit of a bad reputation and are not liked a lot, as they have a reputation for predating nestlings and eggs of song birds. But their main diet consists of beetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms and leatherjackets. In winter they will eat fruit, berries and grains and scavenge from bird tables and feeders, and they do eat carrion and can catch small mammals and birds. So theyr’e not entirely carnivorous, but neither are they vegetarian.

We have at least one family of magpies living near us. They visit the bird feeder, have learned to balance on the fat ball holder while having a good peck at it, and they certainly do scavenge given the opportunity.

Close up, they’re stunning, striking birds, especially when their black plumage catches the light and takes on a sheen of purple, green and blue.

They’re known as thieves, attracted to bright shiny objects. Rossini wrote music for them – The Thieving Magpie. Monet painted one in his snowy winter scene La Pie, and in Cheshire, where I live, traditional half-timbered black and white houses are known as magpie houses.

There are a few collective names for magpies; the one I like best is a mischief of magpies, which captures their slightly cocky attitude, especially when they’re seen strutting around.

Acoma people

Roadrunner clan family

When I visited Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, I was very aware of the boundaries I was expected to stay within while I was there, and to respect the customs and privacy of the residents.

The only way to visit is with a guide, and he gave plenty of interesting information about this remarkable place. He also said not to take photographs of people without first asking their permission. Fair enough, that seems only polite to me in the context of respect for their culture. And when asking it’s also fair to have no expectations – agreement or refusal – both are on the cards.

I’d already paid a modest photography fee and had the permit on display. I’d taken a lot of shots of this stunning, ancient village, and was enjoying views over the desert from the elevated Sky City, where the tour was.

Made for J&A!I bought some beautifully hand decorated pottery from one of the stall holders selling his wares. I’d chosen a turtle motif and he explained that the turtle symbolises good health and long life, asking who the dish was for, wanting to know a little about the people I was buying it for.

I asked  – quite tentatively – if I could take a photo of him with the pottery dish I’d chosen. No problem. He proudly held up the dish and posed.

I’d learned from the guide that the residents of Acoma come from different tribes, but had forgotten to ask which tribe the friendly potter belonged to.

As the visit drew to a close, we came upon some of the residents sitting in the sunshine, probably watching our group of tourists gathering for the descent (there was a bus to take everyone down to ground level, but we opted to walk down a rocky ravine used by the locals – more adventurous and scenic).

I asked – again tentatively – the three family members sitting together in the sunshine if I could take their photo as they looked an interesting family group. They said yes; again no problem, and they wanted to know something about me and where I was from. They were all members of the Roadrunner tribe – mother on the right, daughter in the middle and younger son on the left.

I learned names of some of the other tribes from them – all names, as I remember, relate to nature and the environment. Before leaving Acoma I bought a hand decorated pendant made by someone from the Cornstalks tribe. The turtle dish was for a gift, the pendant was for me, but the encounters, conversations and photographs are what really remain in my mind as the best souvenirs.