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How to Photograph the South West of France

Posted on May 06 2017


Author Harold Davis provides a guest editorial. A lifelong professional photographer and world traveler, as well as sought-after teacher, he articulates the connection between photography and the personal experience of a foreign place. When using his judgement about photographic choices, he considers both the present time and the influence of an ancient past, as well as weather and lighting conditions, and of course he addresses the role of the landscape in presenting natural features and man-made artifacts.

Get inside the head of this marvelous man whose writing is as evocative as his art (and find out what he eats for breakfast!):

“The fractured high plateau in the southwest of France between the Dordogne and Lot Rivers has been inhabited for millennia. Some of the oldest known art in the world is found in this region in prehistoric caves such as the Caves of Lascaux.

In modern times, the underlying topography, structure, and fertility of the land holds sway. Barren and windswept plains abruptly lead to great fissures, where ancient villages cling to the side of cliffs, protected from enemies since ancient times. The picturesque habitations, and the wild landscape, makes this a natural area to delight photographers.

On a spring day in early May, I woke at a bed and breakfast in Monpazier, France. I sipped my café au lait, and nibbled the croissant-aubeurre that the mistress of my accommodations had provided. The croissant was still warm from the bakery oven and crunchy on the outside but moist within—perfectly croustillant.

Outside an impetuous spring storm had brought driving rain. While I am always mindful of Ansel Adams’ dictum that “unless you are out in the rain, you can’t photograph a clearing storm,” photographing in wet weather can be a challenge, particularly when navigating via back roads in an unfamiliar country.

I finished breakfast, packed my bags, and said farewell to my hosts, making sure to keep out the shower cap I use to protect my camera on the tripod in wet weather. It wasn’t cold, but I did need a raincoat.

Then I set out in my small car, taking the smallest roads I could find using my detailed Michelin map, happily planning to get lost without turning on my GPS. The high alluvial plains of southwestern France, criss-crossed with pilgrimage routes and the battlements of ancient conflicts, have a pristine sense that lend themselves to compositional photographs that emphasize black and white elements.

As I explored small hamlets and abandoned churches on the road from Monpazier to Cadouin, the rain lessened. But the sky was still cloudy and gray, and I began to consider what kind of imagery I could make in the stormy weather. It seemed to me that conditions were perfect for black and white photography.

In today’s world of digital photography, black and white is about more than a choice of film, or the absence of color. In fact, on an image-by-image basis, black and white is a choice, and is specifically chosen for visual impact and to make a statement.”

—Harold Davis, author of The Photographer’s Black and White Handbook

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