Close to home – thanks Stuart!

Close to home – thanks Stuart!

The excitement of the new, different and exotic drives us to explore, to leave our hotel rooms and walk out into new cities looking for interest, quaintness and, hopefully, a bit of understanding.   When I lived overseas I gladly took every opportunity to explore the city I lived in, the surrounds and the whole country.

However, since I’ve been back in my home country, despite living in a different state, that same excitement and wonder at difference hasn’t been a motivator. My friend, Stuart Sipahigil, is a great advocate for a ‘close to home’ approach with photography, and I took a leaf from his book.

So yesterday, with a rare day off work, I decided I would treat my new home exactly as if I was in an exotic location in another country. (And for people from other parts of the world – this IS an exotic location). I slipped on my good walking shoes, packed a spare battery and went off to find the interest, quaintness and, maybe, understanding that the many international visitors look for when they arrive in my little part of the world. What catches my eye, and camera, in other countries? Beauty, signs, glimpses of fascinating activities, people living ordinary daily lives that I will never lead. Patterns and textures, the foundations of ‘why’ and ‘how’ of that city, town or village. Interesting juxtapositions and contradictions.

Was I able to find them in my own small town? In abundance. This was not a brisk walk, this was a meander, with turns onto sea walls and paths beside railway tracks and rivers. I chatted to the local fishermen, lazing away their afternoon with a couple of rods leaning on the guard rails. I waved at train drivers, and waited while the big Pacific gulls drifted on the wind above me. I shared the attempt to shoo the silver gulls away from a picnic lunch and found it interesting how the natural beauty of the coast could, within metres, become an industrial site.

Close to home is exotic, and worth the walk. Next week, another direction to explore.


Posted by DeborahH, 0 comments
Allie the Alpaca

Allie the Alpaca

Last week was Roaring 40s weather – cold, windy, rainy, chilly, nippy, and did I mention cold?   There were reports of snow at 6oo-700m level, so with an early shift end I decided to head off to play in my favourite landscape – snow.   However, as happens driving in country areas, odd signs catch your eye and the one to the Alpaca Farm and Teahouse caught mine.

A quick detour I thought, until I met Phil, the alpaca man. Phil is filled with passion for, and information about his animals, particularly the alpacas. He took me out to see them, and allowed me to lead Allie, a large creamy-fawn coloured male around on a lead. Allie adores eating and leading him involved a fair bit of pulling on his lead as he happily munched his way round the property.

Alpacas are related to the camel, but definitely not built for carrying loads. Llamas, like Pirate, are able to carry up to 30kgs still not adult human size though. Several of the alpaca females had cri (alpaca babies), and these fragile, leggy little things are gorgeous. All colours – white, fawn, brown, black chocolate and one gorgeous multi-coloured one.

The mums spit at the males as soon as they are pregnant, and given that they are usually pregnant 3 weeks after giving birth, there isn’t much time for the mums to be in a good mood. Playful cri will be spat at, even Allie – a non-productive male – will be spat at. We went down to meet Allie’s dad – and not much love lost there either. Male alpacas are not friendly with any other male alpaca. Jealousy…

Phil won’t breed his alpaca females until they are 2 years old, even though many commercial breeders will start them at 12 months.  With an 11 month pregnancy, and another cri on the way within 3 weeks, the females can have a fairly short lifespan – around 12-15 years.  Phil’s herd are looking at up to 18 years of comfort on his farm.  And they aren’t eaten at the end of their breeding life, which he stops at 10 years.

Phil doesn’t only have alpacas and a llama on his farm, but also a variety of native and introduced bird species, rabbits, sleek little ferrets, happy Christmas-fattening pigs, trout in ponds, sheep, a crazy goat, a couple of rescue dogs (the ugliest in the home, Phil said, as if he hadn’t taken them, no-one would) native plants and an emu.

The history behind the animals – ancient history in some cases from Egypt and South America – was fascinating, and the knowledge behind the native plants and wildlife was interesting. People who love their work, do the research and enjoy it all are wonderful to be with.

I ended up buying a soft, silky alpaca scarf, woven from the wool of some of the alpacas I had seen, didn’t actually get to the tea drinking bit, and promised to come back with family.

Um… I didn’t mention that the crazy goat likes to pull out the emu’s feathers and eat them, did I?




Posted by DeborahH in Burma, Cultural dimensions, Daily Life, Village life, Weekends, 0 comments
The gold leaf makers

The gold leaf makers

Henri Cartier-Bresson says “Just be there”.  Basically his advice is not to think too much about what images you are making, not to plan overly – just be there and shoot what happens.  This is advice I take very seriously, I certainly am not an over-thinker about my photography.

But… and I think there is always a ‘but’, in the just being there, certain elements stand out and beg to be photographed.  For me, in Burma, the bare feet struck me.  No-one wears closed shoes, things (flip-flops) are de rigueur and frequently taken off.  Another aspect of Burma that fascinated me was the little personal Buddhist shrines.  In a country where every turn brought you to a pagoda, stupa, temple, church or mosque, these small shrines spoke of a personal rather than a public relationship with whatever the divine is.  So even though I was just being, and photographing anything and everything, no matter where I was these elements crept into the images.

In Mandalay I visited the gold-leaf makers.  A small factory, down a dusty back street was filled with beauty and hard, relentless work.  The gold is beaten flat, beaten flatter, beaten even flatter. It is made thinner and thinner until you can almost read through it.  This work is heavy.  The mallets weigh over 3 kgs each and the workers stand, barefoot, shrine in front of them, lifting and hitting, lifting and hitting all day.

Inside the women carefully scrape the gold leaves onto wax paper and, using cattle horn knives, cut them into squares.  These squares are sandwiched between leaves of paper and sold, or pressed onto wooden or clay sculptures and sold to temple markets. The squares of gold leaf are sold to the devout to offer to Buddha at the main temple in Mandalay.  This offering is limited to men – no women can be trusted to carefully press the gold onto the side of the Buddha. Over the years the Mahamuni Pagoda Buddha has increased in size by 15cms, making a  fairly shapeless lump.

Just being there gave me a chance to talk to the workers, look closely at their work and appreciate the strength, delicacy and beauty of their work.  And just being there also gave me the only gold leaf coated camera flash.


Posted by DeborahH in Art and Craft, Burma, 0 comments