On Being a Photographer - Part Four - About South African Colors

A couple of years ago, I shared a few thoughts on being a photographer. Some still ring true. Others have evolved. I tend to take pictures more often with my iPhone while I am travelling so that I can share them more easily with friends and family. Which doesn’t mean I am feeling like the careless tourists I described in one of my posts. Even when using my phone as a camera, I keep trying to take pictures I’ll be happy and sometimes even proud to share.

I still use my professional cameras and lenses. Of course. Much better definition and bigger files. This is very important if I ever decide to get some of the pictures exhibited in a gallery or published. Foresight, let’s say.

Taking pictures can still be a long process for me though.

I still remember the moment when leaving the MOMA in New York, I noticed reflections of Saint Thomas Church on a building across the street. I can’t remember why I did not take any pictures at the time. Probably because I had run out of film for my camera. I really felt frustrated for a while and I remember thinking: “I’ll be back. I have to come back!” One year later, I was back. First thing I did, I went to the MOMA. The reflections were still there of course, even better than the first time because the light was sharper. I took the pictures I had been turning over in my mind for twelve long months. I was very happy… and even happier when I was asked to exhibit three of them at the “Maison de la Radio” in Paris.

Sometimes my projects are best left in the pipeline because I honestly have no idea how they will evolve. Then I meet people, not necessarily other photographers and artists and we start talking about a thousand different ideas and there it happens. I suddenly know what I’ll be doing for a while.
I'll never forget the time when I got on a plane bound to Cape Town. I was carrying my cameras and lenses along. I kept thinking how silly this was. One small camera would have done the trick because I knew that this time, I would not be travelling essentially for pleasure. A huge part of this trip promised to be rather ghastly. At least that’s what I was thinking and believing while boarding.

And then… a miracle happened. And once again my life took another bend, maybe not the best one but one that should be very positive and get me places I felt I had to go back to without knowing how to reach them after such a long time.

Actually I was on my way to mend my life as a photographer. And I had no idea this would or could happen.

South Africa has sparked off an new awareness of color as such in me. Color had always played an important part in my earlier pictures of course but mainly as a medium to enhance or to emphasize what I was trying to express.

Thanks to the magnificent sceneries and the amazing light in South Africa, from the Western Cape to the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, color became vital, truly essential and even crucial in my work. I became aware of this profound change in my assessment of my surroundings after spending one week in Kruger Park. We had decided to go to Kruger mainly to fulfill a dream. I also wanted to try my hand at wildlife photography, a real challenge for me.

We had wonderful field guides and trackers and we did have incredible and very close encounters with lots of beautiful and impressive wild beasts . I took (a few) great pictures I am very proud of. But what really amazed me was that whenever I climbed aboard our safari car for a game drive, in the morning and in the afternoon, I never felt under stress about sighting the big five or not. I had fallen so much in love with the Kruger scenery and its infinite range of tones that I left the park with countless pictures of the bush and the trails illuminated by the morning or the evening sun rays or shrouded in mystery by cloudy skies.

In South Africa, it was a lot about getting the right settings to bring out the right hues and making the most of the magnificent light.

Now to make this story a little bit shorter… I have to tell you I have been an associate member of the “Société des Artistes Français” (The Academy of French Artists) ever since January 2004. Long story. I entered their yearly show at the Grand Palais in Paris for the first time in 2000 until 2012 when for personal reasons, I decided to stop exhibiting pictures for a while either at the Grand Palais or in galleries.

This year, on my way back from South Africa, at the end of my second trip there, I decided to present a new project to the jury (this is mandatory for “new” artists and associate members as well). I was determined to start exhibiting again in art galleries if my project was accepted in its entirety or even only partially. Time had come for action, I thought.

I did not procrastinate as usual. I sent a file to the jury. Four pictures which I arbitrarily called “South African Colors” and which were characteristic of my awakening to color as such. Choosing them was difficult because I tend to be very emotional about pictures I like. And there were so many pictures I loved from my two trips to South Africa.

There were the white sand dunes. Such a luminous whiteness highlighted by light green succulents below clear deep blue skies.

There was this early morning picture in Kruger Park. A long forgotten mossy-like water hole. Lifeless water. A very strange and forsaken place. A symphony of many green shades. A study in green, brown, blue and grey.


And the mountains close to Franschhoek. The ardent rusty-red laterite, the rugged greyish mountains, the intense blue cloudy skies and the vegetation, once again all shades of green.

Several weeks ago, I got a mail from the president of the photography department. The members of the jury have chosen one picture, the fourth one. At their request, it will be printed in a very large size. It then deserved a new title. I called it: “Vertigo, South Africa”. 

Not only because the conditions in which I took the picture were rather extreme. But mainly because South Africa does make me feel dizzy in many ways.

Almost at the center of the picture, one dark cormorant is flying very low over some dazzling white eddies. Exactly what I was hoping for, a cormorant with spread out wings and straight neck above the foam. The perfect shape and the most incredible contrast - black over white. The second cormorant on the right was a complete surprise. I discovered it after downloading the pictures on my computer. It is still diving below the emerald water and trailing behind him a thin streak of bubbles. The kind of picture you take without even realizing it can turn out this beautiful. Lucky day!

Showing “Vertigo, South Africa” in the Grand Palais in Paris, in February 2017, may well lead me to a new beginning as a photographer.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Bull's Eye! (Kruger Park, South Africa)

Early November 2014, we met Popeye in Johannesburg and the three of us went off into the unknown… Kruger National Park. Not quite though. It had taken a lot of planning with a very nice woman from Siyabona Africa to make reservations almost at the last minute (end of August 2014 for the first week of November 2014!). We were to spend one whole week in Kruger Park and we’d be staying in three different private lodges, in three different areas of the park which would be a perfect dream come true!

The first lodge, Kings Camp, belongs to what’s called “the Greater Kruger Park”.  Its full name is “Kings Camp Timbavati Private Nature Reserve”. We flew there on the 2nd of November, 2014.

When you are staying at lodges, the game drives (two per day) are done in safari four-wheel drive cars. Usually in an open Land Rover unless you are inside the Park and then the Land Rover or the Toyota has to have a roof. Plus you are never on your own. You are with a field guide or “ranger” and his tracker. You are not supposed to leave the car unauthorized and it is strictly forbidden to talk in a loud voice, to stand up or to move around in the car whenever you’d feel like taking the best picture ever… Just sayin’.

In Kings Camp, the Land Rovers are roofless. The field guide is driving and has a rifle within arm’s reach. If there is any danger, his instructions are to shoot to kill. Kind of scary, I know when all you want to do is to take pictures… peacefully after all. And then you learn to live with it. Actually you forget about the rifle very quickly.

The tracker is facing the “whatever” can appear suddenly and his seat is not at all comfortable, said Swee’Pea who couldn’t resist to try it out. But this is the place where tracks can be seen at best…

The first and the second drives were quite uneventful even though we spent quite a long time watching a young female leopard, several buffaloes and a couple of rhinos. They weren’t very close to us. And it was obvious that they were very used to the cars from the reserve because all they did was to observe us briefly while they were going about their business, looking utterly bored by the way!

The savannah was more or less what we had expected to see in Kruger, maybe a little bit more desolate than we thought it’d be. The skies were mostly grey and cloudy which boosted the bareness. November is the beginning of summer but there hadn’t been much rain in winter either. Nothing to compare with the drought Kruger Park has been going through for more than one year though.

That afternoon, we drove around past the waterhole. It was mid-afternoon already so no wild beasts around. Too late or too early!

And then there he was - our first bush elephant in the wild. A bull. “Not very old”, said our ranger. Elephant bulls live on their own while the females gather together with the calves until mating season.

I wanted to take pictures. Who wouldn’t? The elephant was quietly watching us, leaning against the skinniest skeleton of a tree. Later on, I was reminded that our ranger then made a strange decision. He switched the engine off. I don’t think I noticed. I was in the mood “I-am-taking-pictures-and-don’t-ask-me-to-notice-anything-else-around-me”.

For a long time or what seemed to be a long time and actually was a very, very short time according to my camera clock, the bull watched us from behind the tiny trunk. During exactly 59 seconds. Not very friendly because anyway who can expect friendliness from a wild animal even when your mind gets totally distorted from watching too many Disney movies… or you have been dealing with tamed animals in zoo-like facilities.

No. This elephant bull was watching us very inquisitively. He knew there was “something” there except that there was silence where there should have been a motor running. (We learnt much later on that they have been experiencing problems with electrical cars in Kruger. Wild beasts are used to the purring of the engines and not to the cars per se. They are born and live with that sound around them. They recognize engine sounds but not cars. Electric engines are very silent. Take away the sound and the animals will tend to feel they are in danger when facing silent cars, the “unknown” for them. When the park was trying out a few electric cars, rangers were faced with unusual aggressiveness from the “Big 5”. End of electric cars in Kruger National Park, so far.)

So no engine running. But… and I guess this was really wrong… There were three people taking pictures in the car. A nice Australian honeymooning couple sharing a camera, Popeye and me. And I was probably and by far the most active of them all, producing rather loud clicks at regular and close intervals.

The place where we had stopped was rather quiet. So just imagine: “Click! Click! Click!”…

The bull probably decided that enough was enough. He had to investigate. He took one step forward. Click! Two steps forward. Click! He did not even start trumpeting which meant that he was not this upset. He just kept on coming straight at us. Which was for me the most perfect angle I could have dreamt of. He was exactly at right angles to the side of our car, coming directly towards me since I was the one sitting right behind the ranger. Such a perfect spot!



I kept shooting and shooting. He kept moving forward and forward. What a sight! (Through my lens, of course.) I loved the way he was swinging his trunk with every step which was becoming more and more determined. Oh, what a sight! I kept shooting. I was not in a hurry. Wow, this elephant was such a magnificent bull. Besides being our first wild bush elephant!

And then, he loomed up almost unexpectedly extremely large!

I then heard the young bride say something nervously, a few words I did not really catch, so totally hypnotized by this encounter and still clicking away.

Popeye was sitting on my left. He bent towards the ranger, gave him a not so friendly little tap on the shoulder and said: “Let’s move off. Now!”

And we moved off, just like that, giving him a wide berth. The bull looked bewildered. So this had been a car all along… after all! He turned around at once and walked away, taking long, placid and stately steps. We managed to follow him for a while. 


I was feeling a little bit irritated though. This had been such a perfect moment… for a photographer!

They were all very nice to me. Never tread on a photographer’s toes when she thinks she is hoarding up great pictures. Just wait…

We had an excellent sundowner in the middle of nowhere, at sunset, all  together. We did not talk about the elephant. The young couple was flying back to Sydney the following morning so there was a lot of small talk and it was fun.

I had enough time to download the pictures of the afternoon drive before dinner was served. And then I had a real moment of panic! I remembered having to zoom out and constantly bringing the bull into focus. I remembered feeling very nervous because this was the first time I was taking pictures of a wild animal on the move.

But I had not fully realized that from 4:40:35 p.m. to 4:42:59 p.m., the bull had gotten much closer to me than I ever felt he was.

From over there...


 to there…

This elephant never displayed any real anger though. He probably had been rather distressed by the sudden lack of sound of a motor and by my clicks which would explain why our ranger and the tracker were not overmuch worried. The question remains: What would he have done when meeting with the physical obstacle of the car, assuming that our ranger would have allowed him to get that close?

Grab my camera? Definitely not! Push the car away which would have meant overturning it? Hard to find a really satisfying new ending to this story because as they say, all’s well that ends well!

All in all, spending one week in Kruger Park, going on eleven game rides and having many very close encounters with the Big 5 plus lots of other wild beasts, we felt perfectly safe there. Certainly safer than walking around Cape Town or even in Paris at night, waving an iPhone like a red rag!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


About One "Earth-Mother", Clouds and Rainbows in Northern Brittany

Two years ago, while he was landscaping the seawards garden, Yves needed to create new contour lines which sometimes meant digging deep into the ground in order to add new rich soil. I stayed at Les Tertres to oversee the whole process. One late afternoon, Yves knocked at the door and with a grin, he presented me with an oblong and rounded granite rock. “I think we just unearthed the Celtic goddess who’s been watching over your gardens and protecting you. Do you want to keep “her”?”

It was an enjoyable and poetical theory and “she” rests on a huge rock Yves had put down while landscaping the first garden, some fifteen years ago.

My “Earth-Mother” looks good, happy and contented and the stone does look very much like a palaeolithic idol after all.

And now what’s the relation between a stone, clouds and rainbows?

I have deep Celtic roots which explain why this stone means so much to me… besides the fact that this chunk of granite was found so deep in the ground, a place where it did not belong to. Something that my Celtic forebears from the “Montagne Noire” would have liked so much. I remember old people from my village pointing their forefinger towards the laden skies: “Children, be careful, the sky is going to fall over our heads”, in a most sepulchral tone. Were we scared? Not really but weren’t we all somehow “Chicken Little” at one point of our young lives!

I live in Brittany, another Celtic “Mecca”, and because my house overlooks the ocean, I spend a lot of time watching the sea and the sky. Not because I fear it’s going to fall. But simply because the sky in Brittany is breathtaking from sunrise to sunset… And do not get me started on talking about the Milky Way at night!

There are places in the world where you open your eyes in the morning and you know the sky will be blue from morning till night. Not a cloud. The sun shines all day long. So boring!

The sun shines all day long in Brittany too. It does. It has to  from a scientific point of view, if I may say so. But some days you only see it from time to time or not at all. In Brittany we have a saying: “The weather is fine at least several times a day.”  We use it to convince our friends that living in Brittany is not too much of a hardship actually.

Before I start ranting about our cloudy skies, let me make clear that I am not about to give a lecture about clouds. Wikipedia does this a thousand times better than I ever would. I won’t even try to post pictures of specific clouds, because tonight this is not my point. I just want to share with you our Breton skies when one lives by the sea. Most of the time, they look like scenery for a movie filled with magnificence, enchantment, sumptuousness, grandeur and drama of course.

Whenever we don’t wake up surrounded with fleeting wisps of mist coming up from the sea, our blue sky is never totally clear. Translucide clouds leisurely float away (a “vaporous mass” in meteorological vocabulary). And the sky looks like a crisscross of plane tracks. Our Breton skies are filled with evanescent aerial freeways… all day long!

Then the clouds may get more powerful. There are strong winds in Brittany. Clouds move away and then they come back stronger and more intrusive, not necessarily rain-bearing, and very often in strata, in very closely spaced layers, almost in 3-D.

Most of the time cloudy skies do not mean that it will rain. Do you see the blue streaks here and there. Sunny weather may not be this far away! The wind blows and sweeps the clouds out. But they will come back because above the sea, the air mass is very unstable. (Listen to the meteorologist!)

And they can get very impressive…

Even sunsets are cloudy, some so cloudy that the sun is barely discernable. And then there are days when clouds bring out a fiery sundown.


What about sunrise? In my area, the sun rises over the fields (east) and the clouds over the sea (west) take on a delightful pink hue.

Beautiful, I know but does it rain in Brittany? Will those clouds end up being useful besides being a delight to the eyes?

They do. They do. It rains a lot in Brittany. One has to learn to live with/under the rain. I enjoy sunny days but in the summer, one look at my garden and I wish it’d rain more often… Brittany is a very important agricultural area in France. Farmland needs rain.

And I need to talk about rain clouds if I am to write my story about the most incredibly strange rainbow I have ever seen in my life.

So don’t worry, it rains in Brittany. And rain clouds can be glorious too. The sky never looks dreary, at least not where I live!

Fascinating how you get to see the waves of rain coming before they are actually going to come down on you!

Stormy weather is often backed up with the most wondrous luminosity. Storms  coming from the ocean are usually extremely violent with high winds.

The sun is shining again after the rain. This fact is very well-known, isn’t it?
In Brittany like everywhere else, the stopping of the rain and the return of the sun may give birth to a very beautiful phenomenon: a rainbow.

I have watched hundreds of rainbows in Brittany, like this one. They appear quickly and then they fade away so gently. Lovely rainbows.

We arrived at Les Tertres on Friday. It was raining. On Saturday morning, we woke up at dawn which is not extraordinary actually since the sun rises around 8 a.m. nowadays. Eastwards, there was the most fiery sunrise at the end of our garden, over the fields.

Westwards, the sky was a little bit cloudy, hazy, I’d say, over the sea. No rain at all. Not yet! It was still quite dark though besides the reddish glow from the rising sun over the clouds.

And then on our right, half a rainbow appeared, arising from the horizon, right from the ocean. Really. One half of a rainbow, taking shape determinedly. A slice of rainbow. Not enough time to run upstairs to grab my camera. My phone would have to do!





 A few minutes later, its other very incomplete half appeared over the hill on our left. Not as strong though. Almost dull, probably because the sun-bathed clouds below had this glimmering orange glow.

At that point, we were standing outside on the terrace facing the sea.

And this incredible thing happened, right in front of us. The two halves tentatively met for a very ephemeral moment. On the right a double rainbow appeared, so faint that it looked quite ghostly… 
Then the rainbow fanned out, complete with a dantesque setting of sulphurous clouds and dark slats.

 One gigantic fan which did not fade away as usual. It simply vanished in a few minutes. Behind us, the sun was still flaring up but not for long. Very dark rain clouds were sweeping into the sky.

Then dolphins appeared from nowhere, energetically fishing right below our house. About fifty of them. They had probably been there from the beginning but we were too mesmerized by the rainbow. We only noticed them a few minutes before they moved away, still giving chase to a school of fish.

It looked like rain and it rained all day long! I love Brittany.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*