Friday, 16 June 2017

Early One Madeiran Morning

The warm, humid, flower scented air greeted me as I stepped out of the cool, conditioned atmosphere of the hotel around 7am. I was still feeling a little groggy and bleary eyed, but I wanted to wander through Funchal in the quiet of the morning and head for the fish market with the camera, before it filled up with too many tourists. 

As I headed down Avenue Sa Carneiro, there was a group of local youngsters, late teens, early twenties perhaps, all gathered around a Renault Cleo parked up on the wide promenade. There was dance music thumping out of the car stereo and they seem to be still buzzing from partying all night. They were a little raucous but good natured enough. They went quiet, throwing wide eyed looks at each other as the group parted to let me pass. There were stifled giggles from some of the girls as I strode through in my rather obviously touristy attire. Across the road there was a burger van, there to cater for the late night/early morning partygoers in need of breakfast.

Every weekend in June there are concerts, street performances and a huge fireworks display out over the harbour, all part of the Atlantic Festival. There were little groups of activity all along the otherwise empty promenade in preparation for the first night of festivities.  As with any kind of activity like this, there is always an audience. Older folk, usually, take a seat or just stand and watch as chattering workmen go about their tasks. Maybe I noticed it more, being in a different place, but there seemed to be a lot of just observing - people sitting and letting the world unfold around them. Some sit alone looking out to sea or watching boats come and go in the harbour. Some sit in pairs, occasionally making an exchange of comments.

As I approached Mercado dos Lavradores - The Farmers Market, I paused across the road and just did what several locals were doing around me. I watched.

There were the flower sellers, just setting up on the wide pavement. The two women were dressed for the tourists, in traditional costume. The younger of the two was talking with a passer by, an acquaintance it seems, who appeared to make fun of the traditional hat, carapuca, that her friend had to wear. 

All along the streets there are little espresso bars where people stop, briefly, to sip down the morning caffeine. Here, outside the market, people were a little more leisurely, some sitting at tables perusing the newspaper, and some simply staring into their coffee, not quite ready to take in the activity around them.

On entering the building, I passed by the aromatic flower stalls, the colourful mounds of fruit and veg, and headed straight to the fish market. The locals had already gathered on the steps overlooking the hall below, and I paused for a while to observe with them, while acclimatising to the rising fishy smells. 

The people buying fish here seemed to be mostly women.The housewives and restaurant owners, I presume, seem to spend a long time discussing the cuts and prices. One pair of ladies were with one vendor for about an hour and watched like hawks as the vendor carefully cut up his wares. Whatever the language, you can always understand the gestures and sounds for “no way!”, “Too much”, “smaller”, “bigger” followed by the final smiles of agreement and exchange of cash.

Some seen to cut more carefully than others, or maybe its a matter of different techniques and cuts.  Some hack more than cut, quickly making chunks. Others are almost like surgeons, slowly deliberating and assessing before making precision incisions into the flesh.

I descended the steps and hovered around the periphery of the rows of stone slabs, steel sinks and chopping boards. Doing my best to stay out of the way as crates of Scabbard Fish were dragged around the floor, I started looking for pictures. 

I’d been shooting for while, wandering from place to place. A couple of times I got a prolonged stare from the some of the women going about their shopping. I knew I stood out, white legged in my shorts and wearing my creatively decorated “summer” hat! There were still no other sightseers around at this point, so I carried on wandering and snapping. At one point, I stopped to change lens, and as I looked up, someone beckoned me from across the room.

“Hey camera man!” he called with an insistent wave. I walked over to where he stood, behind a stone slab where he was working on what looked like Tuna.
“Americano?” he asked
“No..err…”, I grappled for the Portuguese for Welsh, only to come up with the French!
“Inglés?” He continued. Then I remembered.
“Galés!” I blurted out, and for a second he looked thoughtful.
“Ah, Galés,” he nodded, then picking up the cleaver, looks more like a machete really, in one hand, and giving the thumbs up with the other, he struck a pose.
“You take my picture camera man Galés!”

He laughed, and the couple of people who had gathered to watch ( yes, even in that short time an attentive audience had formed! ) joined in as they dispersed.

I noticed a few people taking snaps with their phones, selfies with the ugly Scabbard Fish, as a the trickle of sightseers increased. Very soon the fishermen, fishmongers, their everyday customers, and not forgetting their regular, early morning audience members, would be outnumbered by visitors. Just as I started my way out, I had to struggle against the incoming flow of a torrent of Japanese tourists being led by a tour guide. Once they had passed I climbed the steps, and almost immediately, the distinctive, cold, sharp odour of fish and their entrails was replaced by a warm mixture of floral, fruity, earthy and spicy aromas. I’m getting a bit peckish by this time and buy a few bananas, then it’s back out onto the street. There was a little more traffic now, and I followed a man carrying a large sack of potatoes on his shoulder across the road and away from the busier streets. 

Sitting down under a tree to eat my purchases, I noticed the thermometer outside a nearby shop. 21 degrees, at 9am.  Nice.  Its going to be another good day.

More Photo's from Madeira HERE

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

FfotoAber Photo Marathon

I've never done one of these Photo Marathons before. I'm a plodding sort of person. I like to wander, with my camera, taking my time to shoot what it occurs to me to shoot, as and when images unfold in front of me. I see what I see and photograph accordingly. I love taking candid images around town, or, sitting and waiting for the light to change in a landscape out in the hills. I've done photo a day challenges, sometimes for a couple of consecutive years, but without any thematic structure, leaving me free to choose my subjects, or, more frequently, my subjects to choose me. This has its difficulties too, but I always came up with something, sometimes spending hours over any one image. So working with themes, within a fairly tight time frame, is not something I would normally choose to do. But it's good to challenge yourself from time to time, and step out of your comfort zone, so this year I signed up for the Ffoto Aber event in Aberystwyth. These events have been running for some years now, and seem to be increasing in popularity. Six photos in six hours, two themes being handed out every two hours.

 A small crowd set off from The Morlan Centre as soon as we had the first two themes - The Other Side and Four. I strode confidently off into town, with that "how difficult can it be?" attitude. I thought I could easily think "outside the box", and come up with some fantastically original interpretation in the time allotted. Then my brain froze. Time seemed to speed up, and a slight panic set in.

"The Other Side"
I also thought about a gravestone, a shot over a wall or from the inside of a shop window, but somehow ran out of time before moving on to the next image...


Part of my problem was that I kept getting distracted by all the things I wanted to photograph, rather than concentrating on what I had to take! I felt like a child whose mind keeps wandering, going off at tangents, rather than putting their efforts into the homework that has to be finished on time. Only this wasn't just about simply handing in the homework on time, there were no simple "right" answers, and the results had to look good. My inability to come up with the ideas and produce images I was really happy with, was both frustrating and somewhat humbling.

I tried not to head straight down the butchers where a lot of people went, although, in fact, the winner in this category was a shot of raw meat.


 I was pleased that I completed the challenge. I can't say that I was really happy with the images I produced, and I was exhausted by the end of the day, but I think I learned a few things. I learned that, in a situation like this, I tend to overthink things. Also, on the technical side, I came to realise how much I rely on a certain degree of post-processing. Not being able to make various little adjustments once the shot was taken really added to the challenge. Normally I tend to work with black and white, but for the sake of consistency, I decided to shoot entirely in colour. I guessed, based on what I'd seen from previous events, that one of the themes would be a colour, and I really didn't want to give myself the added challenge of interpreting a colour theme in monochrome! Maybe next time.

Probably my most literal, obvious, and badly composed shot!

All in all, a very challenging, but enjoyable day for most people, I think.  The results are fantastic to look at. There are similarities in many images, as you would expect, but also great diversity in style and content - see them on Ffoto Aber's Facebook page.

I must put in a good word for the organisers, a dedicated bunch who work hard to make this event a reality year after year. There was slight chaos when it came to downloading everyones photos, understandable under the circumstances, but over all, a well run event bringing people of all ages and abilities together. You might just see me there next year.