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ATAURO, EAST TIMOR – AN EXCITING PHOTOGRAPHY ASSIGNMENT

Coconut palms in Atauro, East Timor

Coconut palms in Atauro

I have an unusual photography assignment. I am to go to East Timor and photograph the island of Atauro in East Timor for a research programme taking part there. They require photos for a website, articles and perhaps a book. I am excited. This sounds like the sort of work I particularly love.

Beachfront at Warunwan village, Atauro

Warunwana Village, Atauro

As I skim through the pages of google I see photos of turquoise waters, palm trees, multi coloured coral and fish and the excitement grows. I discover that Atauro has the most spectacular reefs and the biggest biodiversity of reef fish and coral of anywhere in the world. There are few places to stay and few tourists, most of whom are divers and come from nearby Australia. My job however, is to photograph the local people, their lives and their environment.

Children running on the beach at Beloi, Atauro

Children running on the beach at Beloi, Atauro

The only way to arrive in Atauro is by boat from Dili, East Timor’s laid back and sprawling capital. The boat crosses a very deep channel where schools of whales and dolphins can often be seen. In windy weather it’s choppy to say the least!  After about an hour and a half we approach the coast, cross over the reef and are soon in the clearest waters.  The boat tethers just outside Barry’s Place where we will stay for our first couple of nights before venturing inland.  The palm roofed bamboo huts are set in gardens on the beach. It’s a comfortable, friendly place. There are some tourists, researchers, aid workers, English teachers and me.

Woman digging for shells in Beloi, Atauro

Woman digging for shells in Beloi, Atauro

Within minutes of arriving and being designated a hut I am walking along the beach with a camera on each shoulder. One of the projects the researchers are working on in Atauro is the work of the women.

Woman in Atauro carrying empty water bottles

Atauro, Woman carrying empty water bottles in Adara

At this time of the year each day or night at low tide, they are out digging for shells.  It isn’t an easy job, they are looking for food, there are several varieties and it takes them hours to fill their buckets. We are lucky, low tide is at the end of the day, just before sun set. The beach is a hive of activity. Farming seaweed is also a major business. Bodies of men and women in shallow water are bent over tending to the seaweed. Women are digging for shells, small boats are out fishing and children are running and playing with starfish that have been marooned on the wet sand.

Child in Beloi, Atauro collecting starfish

Child collecting starfish in Atauro, East Timor

There are so many photographs to make as the sun goes behind the hills and disappears to the other side of the island where we will go in 2 days. The next day we take a truck up the hill behind Barry’s Place that leaves us along a fork in a dusty road. We walk on to the village of Warunwana, dropping back down to the coast passing mangroves and sweet water pools shimmering in the early morning light. There are palm trees everywhere, I learn of the many varieties that exist. Photographing palm trees and their uses is part of my assignment.

Woman walking between cultivated seaweed in Atauro,

Atauro, Woman looking at her seaweed cultivation

As we approach, a man is high above us, cutting down coconuts and we are immediately given one. It is delicious and thirst quenching after our walk. We stop and talk to the people who I find are always smiling and friendly.

Chopping down coocnuts in Atauro

Atauro, Chopping coconuts

Time to move on, there is another village to walk to, Akrema. Atauro is an island that has to be discovered on foot. We walk a lot, every day for hours. Sometimes a truck or a jeep will take us to a certain point but from there the only way forwards is on foot. There is a fixer working with the researchers and he is excellent. He also carries my camera bag, which is great as some of the walks are very steep and dangerous. I yell ‘Thomas!’ frequently as there is always something I’m stopping to photograph and inevitably the lens I need is in the bag.

Mangroves at lowtide in Atauro, East Timor

Mangrove at low tide in Atauro, East Timor

Over the following days we visit more villages. We cross rocky beaches, jungle paths and see hundreds of ancient shells still lying around. There are caves that have been painted thousands of years ago, destroyed by the Protestants who believe them to be ungodly. We sleep in cabins on the beach and lie in hammocks for a brief rest before taking off on another hot dusty trek.

Smiling children in Atauro, East Timor

Children in Atauro, East Timor

We stay at night at Thomas’s in the mountain in Anartutu. As I learn to differentiate the palm trees and their uses, I learn that an important one is the one used for making palm wine which is very appreciated by the local people. I photograph the work involved and we all drink together.

drinking palm wine in Atauro

Drinking palm wine in Anartutu,

We see the blacksmith at work, children in school, women weaving on looms using palm thread, and the daily quest looking for food. They grow corn and beans, rear chickens and pigs and use every edible plant and tree. Most of the people on Atauro are on avery low income but are some of the happiest I’ve ever seen. Photographing them was a pure delight.

Woman carrying bottles Atauro

Atauro,Woman carrying empty water bottles in Adara

In the main town on the island called Vila, there is a co-operative workshop, Boneca, run by women who do intricate embroidery using sewing machines.  They produce very pretty bags of all different shapes and sizes and various dolls all made of material. It was set up some years ago by an Italian woman who trained and set them up. Unfortunately as the currency in East Timor is US$, the products are very expensive but most visitors try and buy something to help support them.

Atauro, women weaving with palm thread

Weaving palm thread

 

Atauro is a sizeable asset of East Timor, it will eventually be exploited for tourism but before this happens roads will need to be built and the problem of water shortage addressed. From what the researchers have found, the island has been inhabited for thousands of years. The existing families are organised in clans and they explain their traditions and show us hidden places that are sacred. They are very religious Christians, most of whom are Protestant.

Atauro, women sewing at Boneca

Atauro, sewing in Boneca, a women’s co-operative in Vila

We find time to snorkel during the time I’m on Atauro. It is absolutely stunning – I wish I had an underwater camera but I had so much stuff to carry that I didn’t and kicked myself for forgetting the GoPro. I shall no doubt return to Atauro to finish the photographic project as there was not enough time to cover everything. As a photographer you are dependent on circumstances, weather, activities taking place and in this case, the tides.

 

 

 

 

Champagne Photography Tour

champagne, cellar, champagne cave, champagne cellar

champagne cave of independent grower producer

How about a one day photography tour in champagne?  You’re in Paris, you fancy a day in the country, you love photography and you like champagne. Who doesn’t?   I take tailor made photography tours to champagne.  I meet you at Chateau Thierry which is only an hour from Paris on a local train, pick you up and take you on a fantastic photographic tour of the vineyards of the Marne Valley and beyond.  There’s no need to go as far as Reims or Epernay although we can begin there too if you prefer.

This is how our day could evolve:  I pick you up and we drive out following the river Marne which is covered in vineyards on both sides and is one of the most spectacular sites to see.  We could even go immediately to the House of  Pannier and photograph their spectacular cellars followed by a tasting.

vienyards, champagne, working in champagne

Working in vineyards of champagne

After a while, we will visit an independent grower-producer, take pictures of the cellars and enjoy a glass of champagne (I’m driving so have to refrain!).  The real story of champagne is not just the huge fancy houses of Epernay and Reims but the thousands of independent champagne grower-producers that dot the countryside.

Poppies, windmill, champagne, scenic, country

A scene amongst the vineyards of the Mill near Mailly

The cellars you visit will be small,  but you will have the time to take pictures of them properly.  Some have attractive vaulted cellars and others not, the challenge is to come out and make good pictures.

No photography tour in champagne could be complete without a walk around Hautvillers, the most picturesque and famous of all the villages and the birthplace of champagne. There are lots of photos to make here, the charming little signs on all the ancient buildings, the views in many directions, the old church where Dom Perignon is buried, the café,  the vineyards all around and much more.  I like to stop off at the ‘AU 36’, it’s actually a champagne bar that offers tastings which can be accompanied by a plate of local delicacies providing it has been ordered in advance.  For a more substantial lunch there is the highly rated Rotisserie at Ay, a few kilometres away.

café, Hautvillers, country café, outdoor café,

Café in Hautvillers

After a lunch break our photography tour continues and I would recommend a visit to Fleury la Rivière where we will visit the ‘Cave aux Coquillages’  which belongs to a champagne grower-producer fascinated by palaeontology.

cave aux coquillages, cave coquillages, cave champagne,

Ancient shells and fossils in the Cave aux Coquillages

He has excavated the cellars under his house which  is filled with the most extraordinary shells and fossils dating back hundreds of thousands of years that were found there.  Whilst Patrick explains and shows us how this came about, we take photographs of these amazingly beautifiul and original cellars. At the end of the tour Patrick gives us a tasting and you will discover how good Patricks champagne is.

After this,  depending on the time,  we could go on and visit another independent champagne producer or we might spend the afternoon taking pictures of scenic places and walk amongst the vineyards.

Photographically it offers a great variety of images from landscapes to macro shots of champagne bottles in darkly lit cellars.  A wide angle lens and a telephoto are the 2 lenses necessary to obtain a variety of shots.  A tripod is also essential for good photographs of the cellars.

champagne bottles, champagne cellar

Champagne bottles in cellar

champagne, Guy Méa, Champagne bottles, champagne cellar

The Wolf at champagne Guy Méa

As I offer tailor made photography tours, the circuit and cellars we visit will be adapted to your interests and can begin anywhere in champagne.  The circuit mentioned above is only a suggestion.  Someone more familiar with the area may prefer to visit the Cote des Blanc, the villages of Cramant, Oger and Avize, where we can also visit local champagne cellars, and take scenic shots.

If you decide that you would like to visit a well known champagne house such as Castellane, Mercier or Moet et Chandon in Epernay or Pommery, Taitinger or Mumm in Reims I can also accompany you.  These visits are not geared to photography but the cellars are spectacular and worth seeing.

A photography tour in Champagne is a unique experience.  It is best to come between May and November.  As well as visiting places that you would never find alone, I will be there to coach you in photography and help you return with an excellent set of pictures offering a variety that you would not have imagined.

cave au coquillages

cave au coquillages