It is easy to rush around, grabbing photographs and missing the wonder of the changing dance of light on the surrounding slopes and watery surfaces. I am standing in a favourite spot. Most of the time I am alone. A curious young motorcyclist comes and asks for ‘photograph’. His brief presence adds to the mood of the moment.
The early evening breeze rustles and whispers through the palms; birds seem unfazed by my close proximity; dragonflies pause from their flights. This is the photographer’s golden hour not only because of the magic of the changing soft light, but also because of these special moments in nature.
At first, my creativity was quelled. Being in the same place for a number of weeks, with the same old views, from the same old positions can stifle the desire to explore. It can also lead to a more intimate awareness of the nuances of light. For the last fifteen or more years I have stared at the skyline of the foothills of the Western Ghats. I have become familiar with the gullies and clefts. I have looked out onto them at all times of day and night, with all manner of skies, and during severe drought and monsoon.
It is only now, that I am beginning to see detail. Using watercolours, the number of interpretations becomes endless. Here are some of my latest renditions.
When I travel, I usually have at least one camera is in my bag. I have found that the camera can help to break down barriers. The digital has the advantage of having an immediate record of the shot that can be shared with the subject. When staying at Finlay’s Guest House in Chiang Mai, Ratree was keen that I would take photographs of her and of the plants which she is so passionate about. This developed into a small project to capture the essence of the garden that she has created. The result is small booklet, Ratree and her Flowers.
At Cardamom House, in the foothills of the Western Ghats and on the shores of Kamarajah Lake, a diverse environment encourages a wealth of birds, butterflies and flowers. The staff team have become enthusiastic photographers. Put a camera down for a few minutes, and one of the team will have picked it up and disappeared in pursuit of a bird, or be experimenting with macro and abstract photography. There is now an enormous library of images on both the computer at Cardamom House and on my computer. Some of these images have been used to compile a photographic booklet, Cardamom House: A very special place. Again, the intention has been to capture the essence of the place.
Other projects are in embryonic stages … and will remain secret until completed.
I love ‘poking around’ on Art Trails and Open Doors and Workshop Events. The inspiration comes in three areas:
- Looking at the work of artists, whether in oils, ceramics, silver, wood or photography encourages me to explore a wealth of ways of interpreting ideas and form;
- I am nosey and visiting artists’ studios and workshops gives me the opportunity to ‘nose around’ not only their studios, but sometimes their gardens and even homes and to gather source material;
- A sense of discovery accompanies following a trail, which leads me into previously unvisited areas of the countryside. Discovery of the unexpected can fuel my imagination, leading me into new artistic projects, both visual and word.
It was whilst chatting as we hung banners publicising the 2012 Emsworth Arts Trail, that it was suggested that we might be able to organise a similar trail in South India. I certainly don’t want to be a tour leader. The landscape photographer, Charlie Waite, has visited us at Cardamom House with Light and Land Groups on photographic tours of South India. This kind of tour may suit photographers. However, painters and textile artists have suggested to me that they want something different – a chance to appreciate the work of local artists, to investigate something of the complexity of the cultures and, importantly, time to ‘play’ with ideas and start developing projects that might be completed once back home.
So far, my thinking is that a two to three week trip might satisfy these needs. There’s an artist’s colony in Chennai. Mahaballpuram is the home of stone carving and also hosts a variety of businesses selling crafts from across India. Kanchipuram is known for its silks and saris. Pondicherry has a hotel associated with an artist in residence programme as well as a guesthouse over an art gallery. It is also a place to find ceramics and handmade papers and many other craft forms. Guests at Cardamom House, Athoor, can visit local artisans such as weavers and potters, as well as going to a flower market for a different form of artistic interpretation. It is here, in a rural area, surrounded by the vivid colours of birds, butterflies, flowers, rice paddies and palm groves, that artists might find the time to rest and relax and allow their ideas to germinate.
…. And then there are the Western Ghats, with their different landscapes, cultures and crafts. Further afield is Kerala. The possibilities are endless.
Monday was Cow Pongal in Tamil Nadu. This is the day when the cow is blessed for her vital role in the lives of the locals and everyone has new sets of clothes. At Cardamom House, we had four VERY rich Americans staying. We needed to impress them. Good reports to their friends could mean more rich guests. However, their pongal was not turning out as they had expected. They had already missed out on the big Bull Running Festival in Madurai. Their visit to Athoor village with Pandi had been disappointing. The cows had already been painted and few people were around. They were getting disgruntled. NO problem. Farmer Kumar had a cow in calf as well as her two calves. Perfect. All that was needed was a bath for the cow, so that she was sparkling with cleanliness for the ceremony, and then we would all be ready. Pongal rice had been prepared and placed in the house temple. Bananas were prepared and laid across the rice. Fresh incense and paints were bought. Great … … except the cow lost her footing and fell in the tank. She needed to be clean, but she didn’t need to go swimming. There are steps out of the tank, but these are very narrow and covered in ten years worth of slime. Various attempts were made to entice her out – lifting her out supported on a raft, to name but one method. No luck. All she was interested in was eating the straw on the raft the rescue team had constructed. The team tried pulling her out, using a climbing sling that I happened to have in my rucsac, the way you do. They tried pushing her. They tried shoving her …. Eventually the rescue team and growing band of onlookers began to lose interest and wandered away. Shankar contacted the fire brigade, but they said that they only dealt with fires. Plan B for celebrating Pongal Cardamom House Style began. Pandi took the guests back into the village, and managed to find someone to invite them in – wonderful. At least the Americans saw something a bit different from the things they might have seen on a normal tourist trip. Meanwhile, back at the tank, only Farmer Kumar, young Kumar and one other remained, swimming around with the cow. The calm ambience brought inspiration. They decided to fill sacks with sand to make a ramp. To everyone’s relief, brains won over brawn . The cow scrambled up the ramp and continued chewing at the grass as though diving into a tank for a swim was an everyday occurrence. Chris was all for cancelling everything, but Farmer Kumar insisted that the cow had to be blessed. So Pongal Cardamom House Style went ahead. The cow was given a new halter. She was painted – not very artistically. Her horns were painted in a bright blue enamel paint. She was fed with bananas and pongal rice … and for good measure, Jancy, the dog was painted as well.