Monthly Archives: December 2010
Really, I think it did begin here, back in 1998 when I escaped the clutches of British society for my first extended overseas trip; I reach out to those memories and emotions as though they were yesterday.
Winding through the wonderful roads of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, I’m off piste with my GPS once more, heading from Sydney 6 hours North in search of a spotty horse. The Knabstrupper. I feel liberated and free and am blasting the music out and singing to my heart’s content.
The hills and valleys are shrouded in vineyards and bush. Noisy bush too, squawking and ringing and alive. It resembles the ranch where I worked back in 1998 – Tom Groggin Station, right on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. I would wade across the undulating path of the Murray River daily on horseback – literally going state to state, for the river divides the two. I am smiling remembering my hi-tech camera I travelled with back then – a Kodak disposable, I believe, with a roll of twenty-four or thirty-six maximum! The last two days I have taken over 1,000 photographs!
I was on the ranch for about six weeks and, upon reflection, I can see how important the period was in my life. I don’t even know how I managed to secure the job or end up there, but somehow I did, and I spent the time riding in the hills, chasing herds of kangaroos or ostriches or wild brumbies…or riding up through the Kosciusko National Park with guests on pack trips, camping out under the stars.
The obsession with all things “ranch” began there, and I don’t think has ever left me. But now, here I am again, thirteen years later, winding through similar territory that is unknown yet totally familiar. I’ve pitched up at a petrol station to admire the view and through the use of my cleverly purchased internet dongle, am able to sit and blog from here…fields and views of mountains and ranches all around. It’s hot – must be early thirties – and today is my first day of sunshine here in Oz and I think I’m finally catching up with myself. Jet lag didn’t get a look in – since leaving Assam five days ago, I think averaging three hours sleep a night/day is enough to make me feel totally delirious most of the time. I’ll catch up…sometime.
Reaching Sydney, Australia, after the mayhem and madness of Bombay, India, was somewhat refreshing. Less than twelve hours later I was on the road north, bound for Simeon Stud, to discover a herd of the finest Egyptian Arabians I have ever met.
My first night was interrupted by the birth of a new foal. My first encounter of the kind. The following day, I was witness to a second miracle…the birth of this little filly below. I just missed the actual birth but it was the moments that followed that will remain with me. Watching this bewildered little angel with four gangly legs become orientated with the world and witnessing the first moment of recognition from first-time mother was quite something. Thought to self: do I really want to go through that myself one day?!
What a privilege to be so up close and personal at a moment like this. Even more so as I got to share it with my elusive brother, fell Piscean Richard, who so happens to be in Australia at the same time as me! Below, he helps bring out a mare to spice up the shoot with one of the stallions.
|Rich and a rather pregnant mare. Or teaser, should I say.|
|A very leggy bundle of joy.|
A visit to remote and untouched North Eastern India was not really on my radar, but as I began researching how and where I could find the Manipuri horse, it quickly became apparent I was up against a challenge. I thrive upon these…and so it was not long later that I found myself headed to far NE India’s jungles in search of (probably) the only Manipuri horses outside of the hard-to-access Manipur region, further south.
I resided in a bamboo hut courtesy of a rather lovely anthropologist and his lovely wife, at their beautiful retreat on the banks of a big winding river, a tributary to the Brahmaputra. The foothills of the Himalayas in the distance decorate the distant views, and between my bamboo hut and that area (known as the tribal region of Nagaland) lie paddy fields, lush grasses, jungle and villages. Doljit, Annegret and I spend the evenings laughing around the traditional clay fireplace, and daytimes enjoying taking photographs and galloping upstream bareback on wonderful little Manipuris.
I’m laughing most of the day long, enjoying the tranquility of the place and for once, not having to go anywhere. No internet access or phone reception is something of a hindrance, but also a blessing. Downtime.
The horses are wonderful and the bamboo housing on stilts only inches from the water’s edge is complete with open-air bamboo bathroom nestled in bamboo forest. Showering under steaming hot water, whilst looking up at the stars is a very exotic experience! I recommend Doljit and Annegret’s place to anyone who is in need of escaping and who wants to meet some very special people, very special horses and enjoy a lot of tea in a little piece of magic at the end of the earth.
|“King”, Manipuri, peeks out of his stable with traditional Manipur head dress – all ready for a game of polo.|
Today was not about action. Inching our way around a few grubby streets in the dusty heart of the pink walls of the pink city of Jaipur, Rajasthan in amongst an escalating cacophony of horns and squeals of hawkers and beggars and put-put-putting auto-rickshaws and bells and cyclists and children running and animals lolopping along sidewalks and rambling along sidestreets and pigeons flapping and pecking and cooing and swooping and samosas sizzling on street corners and tourists gawping and buses and cars and taxis and labourers and workers….we were two photographers chasing pigeons and dreams.
|Surender and his incredibly old and amazing camera|
|1, 2, 3….”cheese”|
|Taking a copy from the negative|
|Developing using the bucket and bottle method.|
|Incredible machinery and raw materials.|
|Vibrant and totally natural colours.|
Incredible processes and procedures, not to mention results. A few hours wondering/wandering around this wonderful mill was serious food for thought. Expect a new, organic and wonderful range of Astrid-cards in beautiful handmade gift boxes, sometime soon. I’m totally inspired…but must complete The Majesty of the Horse first – prints, etchings, cards of all the beautiful horses I’m meeting, shooting and riding right now, will be available all too soon. 2011 set to be a busy year then; bring it on.
Friday 17 December 2010 – tools are down, and I have just hopped off the most wonderful black stallion who I galloped through the sand dunes at sunset. The final night up here in Rajasthan’s rural town of Dundlod, where we’ve been staying in a big old beautiful and historical fortress – which I will introduce another time.
Driving back to the fort, I find myself sitting in the car, surrounded by hundreds of young and old men, on a huge procession marking the Day of Ashura – marking remembrance of Muharram. Shia Muslims mourn for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Islamic Prophet Muhammed at the Battle of Karbala in year 61 AH. It was quite remarkable how the crowds swarmed us – the only vehicle on the road it seemed.
To my surprise there was no feeling of threat, only that of mild entertainment on the faces of the people peering into the car. For once, I was the fish in the fish bowl. They waved, I waved back. I picked up my camera, they ran away like a frightened shoal of fish. They smiled, I smiled. I put my hand to the car window and a little paw came up to meet mine. A unique kind of bonding and understanding yet we remained worlds apart, and only so by a few very opaque millimeters of window glass.
My experience in pictures:
|Pretty obvious why this caught my eye. And just around the corner, see below.|
|Boys, boys, boys.|
|I was spotted.|
|A moment shared.|
|I wonder what he was thinking.|
|Rolling around at a stunning haweli|
|Just before the horse danced for me…|
|A Kathiawari – a relative of the Marwari – and just as much of a treasure|
Just one shoot over a period of 3 days…in the desert in Rajasthan, about 3 hours from Jaipur. It was remarkable, memorable and I think I have captured some true goodies to add to the book’s ‘majesty’. I might even have a ‘cover’ shot…but I’m keeping that one under wraps for now.
|Race-goers hanging on to Duralock’s finest fences!|
|Race 1 – in the Parade Ring|
Dubai’s Meydan racetrack needs to be seen to be believed. It’s quite magical and almost unreal the way it is lit up at night. We were in the paddock, cameras balanced on monopods, as we ogled at the sleek and slender athletes prancing around pre-race. It was here that I was scooped up and interviewed live by Dubai Racing Channel. Both unexpected and totally nerve-racking, it was far less painful than I had first imagined, and I quite enjoyed chatting about the work I am doing and the journeys I am making.
Being track side with all the photographers was equally thrilling, watching and feeling the horses thunder past, dirt flying and shutters shutting.
|Meydan Racetrack Paddock from above|
|Race 3, Thursday 2nd December 2010|