Monthly Archives: January 2011
|Just before my kit failed.|
Thank goodness for back up cameras! Today my Nikon D700 decided it was all too much…. JUST as the herdsmen appeared on the horizon with a huge head of furry Mongolian horses. Gut wrenching.
Having switched my 70-200 lens onto my other body (D300), I realised quickly that it was the lens at fault… A frozen iris perhaps? I need to research, because later on it seemed absolutely fine. Dammit. In its defense, it had, after all, been out in -20 degrees Celcius for about 5 hours, performing exceedingly well.
I cannot stress the relief I felt at having additional lenses and kit in the dry bags. Despite extra weight and worry of carrying such expensive gear, I am now positive it was all worthwhile.
All data of wild Takhi dutifully recorded, downloaded, backed up. A massive phew.
Finally, an excuse not to move. 33 hours aboard a big, long, old and incredible train. It’s 5am 26th January 2011, Beijing and we’re lugging hefty suitcases to a bus stop to get to Central Station. Apparently the taxis might not have collected us from the hostel, so the advice was to ‘bus’! Considering it was 5am and we’d gone to bed at 1am, we did remarkably well to get to the station for a grand total of 20p each.
Once aboard and in the right cabin (hard sleeper – not THAT hard but definitely not first class), we established who was on top bunk and who got to go bottom, and we were away. The train left 7.47am and was due to arrive in Ulaanbaatar at lunchtime on the 27th.
Once I’d scouted out my new ‘home’ and run the length of the train a couple of times ogling at all the other compartments and feeling very “James Bond” about the whole affair, I settled down with my book, but for the life of me couldn’t stay awake more than 10 minutes. I have now discovered my most favoured method of travel. Plus, no power sockets = no editing. Frustrating at first, but perhaps a blessing in disguise for I was long overdue some serious downtime. Downtime and still in transit…suits me!
|The Trans-Mongolian express at Beijing, ready for departure.|
|I managed to tear myself away from my bunk for lunch.|
|Robin and Tamsin get ready to accelerate down the hill.|
|The wonderful wall.|
We took some time out in Beijing to explore. What a remarkable experience…and an insight into how cold it might be in Mongolia. As if Shanghai wasn’t cold enough, we have now dipped seriously below zero and the temperature is going to plummet once we head north.
It’s Saturday 22nd January 2011. I’m in Shanghai, staying with an old friend, Johnny, and his rabble of 3 wonderful children and gorgeous wife Tory. I’m looking out to the courtyard where the Chinese architecture is draped with decorations ready for Chinese New Year. We’ll miss the event, 3rd Jan, when the year of the rabbit commences. I can’t have it all I know, for by the 3rd Feb I’ll be in Kazakhstan, having endured and enjoyed subzero temperatures in Mongolia and somehow gotten across borders with local trains, planes, automobiles…horses, if we have to!
Tomorrow we overnight sleeper to Beijing where we meet Tamsin Pickeral, the author of the book, and her wonderful partner Chris, who was a total legend when the time came to organise visas. Having stepped up to the challenge and helped us run applications, collect passports and rally around in general ensuring we were ready for this trip, I am hoping that his skills as sherpa are equally as impressive!
Australia was incredible and I have yet to write about some of the intricate experiences that happened there, but I will. Now I have 2 hours of peace and quiet to edit, and somehow we are ending this day celebrating Burn’s night at a swanky hotel where we’ll be flung around the dancefloor in ball gowns… which we are yet to beg, borrow or steal. A foot massage precedes that event, and a shopping trip to bundle up with fleeces and arctic gear precedes that. So, we have a serious day ahead of us and i really must focus. But, I just wanted to document this moment. A pause in my journey, a pause to recollect, to organise files, to flip through my photos and to have a minute to myself, which is a rarity these days.
I have also learned that I have a history here in this city, for my Grandparents were married in Shanghai Cathedral and my Great Grandfather served in the war here. So much to explore and so little time…
|Good for the heart?|
|Tory, Robin, Johnny, Romily and I. No more horses, it’s time to (Highland) dance.|
|First stop in Kosciusko National Park, en route up to Thredbo. Wet.|
This post I dedicate to Tileri, manager of the Dollar Street Gallery in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK. Tileri has been something of a rock throughout the initial stages of this book and continues to be my confidant and assistant back on Planet Earth. Encouragement and enthusiasm all the way, her latest correspondence was an urgent request to hear my stories of finding wild brumbies… So, to you Tileri, I write this!
As you know, in 1998 I worked on Tom Groggin Station in the Snowy Mountains in Australia, riding into the hills for days at a time, camping out under the stars, zigzagging through the Murray River on horseback, chasing herds of kangaroo and emu, drinking stubbies with the boys around the campfire by night. Footloose and fancy free was my (temporary) life as a Jillaroo. I never fully recovered (in a good way) and consequently, to return to the Snowy Mountains meant a lot more than simply revisiting a beautiful place.
|Views across the Snowy Mountains from Dead Horse Gap.|
|Reveling in success of having found the brumbies. Note ‘wild’ brumbies in the background!|
We left Araluen, NSW, having awoken under stars and within swag, and headed toward Kosciusko National Park. We had another brumby adventure in Araluen, but that is for another story and was less successful but equally as magical.
A few hours’ drive brought us into the park, rain thrashing and wind howling. Quite atmospheric. We stopped in Thredbo, one of Australia’s leading ski resorts, and hung out at some bars listening to blues – we arrived during their annual Blues Festival. We planned an early hike up into the hills to try our luck at stumbling across some horses, and laid our heads to rest in our trusty Toyota, at the base of the mountain we were to hike the next day. Finally, a beautiful day…we awoke to crystal clear skies and chirping birds and so sprung to action as we prepared to hike through Dead Horse Gap up to the peaks. The only problem was the bridge had been recently washed away in the floods, so (much to Robin’s initial dismay), shoes were off, cameras were overhead, and we were wading cautiously through icy waters. It was so incredibly beautiful and of course no one was around. Most use the chairlift from Thredbo to the peak and walk the opposite way around, so we were in peace in the wilderness with the birds and bees AND the brumbies.
|All the talk of wild horses and sightings we actually didn’t really expect to see any, but suddenly, we had been walking about half an hour when we came to the crest of this hill and there they were…I stopped breathing as I had sighted a small group of brumbies just a few feet away from me, eating breakfast. I mean, these animals are meant to be flighty but this little mare just stood and chomped dewy grass in amongst the thick bush. We stopped and stalked…and then saw two, three, four, five… jackpot! But they didn’t run, I don’t know why, but we must have stood watching them for ten or fifteen minutes before we heard women yakking loudly from up the path. The horses didn’t actually seem to care, but we decided to make tracks and head up the mountain to ogle at the views and stretch our legs properly. I still can’t believe that we found those horses there.|
The day’s luck continued…we continued on through the park, and my heart started to race as the landscape became even more familiar…. I knew we were close to Tom Groggin and then, there it was! I couldn’t NOT go in, so we confidently bumbled up the winding drive and pulled up at the homestead where thirteen years before I called ‘home’. Trevor, farm manager, graciously dealt with our intrusion and was quick to inform us about the small herd of brumbies that had been rehomed to Tom Groggin. They were living there and being left in peace as though in the wild, and their offspring were being rehomed to families – population control. So, he took us on a tour of the property to try to find them…they were skittish and wild in comparison to the ones we had found early the same morning, and it took us about half an hour to even track them down, and another twenty minutes of bramble-bashing to get within shooting range. They were beautiful. Robin and I got out of the 4WD and stalked up the hill, and we heard stallion snort and stampeding hooves…in the opposite direction! I wanted to be on horseback so much!
A surreal day, all in all, and we left there somewhat numb from the experiences. Then we drove a very, very long way to Melbourne.
|On top of the world.|
|Returning to Tom Groggin. I do believe we were being hounded by horseflies when I took this!|
|Here we are.|
|Trevor taking us out 4WD’ing to locate brumbies and trample blackberry bushes.|
|Hiding behind the lens.|
Practising Polocrosse. I swear all this horse action is killing me. I don’t want to be on the ground anymore, I want to be in the saddle! Grumble grumble. I haven’t looked at my shots from this moment yet, but I can’t wait as I think they’ll be spectacular – or in the very least will conjure up some warming memories every time I review them! The moment I shot them I had a line of miniature people all lined up behind me, aged 4 and upwards. It was a special moment. Using me as a buffer, all you could hear were giggles and clicks: click, click, clickety-click as horses stampeded and shutters shutted. Wonderful stuff, I think I’m spreading a disease. Horses and pictures. Beautiful.
Goodbye soft feminine paws, hello workers hands. Today I noticed rough callouses appearing on my digits and I’m feeling somewhat weathered and worn and desperately in need of some pampering. This morning’s 430am start was just another in a long, long line of ridiculous starts, complimenting my erratic routine and all that accompanies my adventurous and nomadic lifestyle that is a necessity whilst shooting for this book. Are the physical sacrifices worth it, I ask? Read on, and you decide.
Today I was perched on a tractor at the crack of dawn (see below) watching barrier trials at Sydney’s Rosehill Racecourse. I was suddenly hit with the realisation of how incredibly lucky I am to be accessing all areas at so many places around the world. Front row seats aren’t even this good.
I watched newcomers frolic cautiously to the barrier and practise their entries and exits – I gained a whole new respect for the guys involved, for it’s an understandably frightening affair for a horse to be boxed in such a way and there’s no reasoning with them if they do become afraid. There is tension, heat, sweat, fear, excitement and power – a frenzy that the sport of racing would not flourish without; but still, one that takes acclimatizing to.
So, my initial question about whether or not all the physical ‘benefits’ of my work are worth it…. I hope you agree with me that they most certainly are.
|Calming a novice in the start barrier.|
|Ready to train.|
|Gai deep in thought.|
|Fresh off the track.|
It is 9am, Sunday 2nd January 2011, and I sit in Room Nine cafe close to Oxford Street, downtown Sydney, downloading pictures and swigging flat whites like they’re going out of fashion. It’s a grey day, but not really a ‘grey’ day. We have been up for five hours and trackside for two of those, watching in admiration as the incredibly gifted Gai Waterhouse organises the morning’s training session at Randwick Park, Sydney. It was incredible to watch. There was a silent energy in the air, almost like when you stand under electricity pylons and you hear and feel that electrifyingly magnetic buzz. Zap. We watched Gai’s beady eyes sizing up each and every magnificent creature that appeared before us. Fresh and alert, some more ready to go than others, perhaps too much so, but still, all very controlled and carefully managed.
As for my photos…well, they’re nothing special, I was more happy to be there in the presence of such a well-respected trainer, than I was worried about getting great shots, for some reason. I couldn’t get close enough to the running horses for fear of spooking them, and so I resigned myself to the fact I was there to observe, document and be witness to the special occasion I was a part of. A special occasion that Gai drives six mornings each and every week. Gai has a sparkle in her eye and a gleam in her smile and is as professional as they come…I was taking notes.
So after seeing the live action from the track on New Year’s Day, to being a voyeur on the very same track whilst these intelligent and athletic animals are put through their paces, I feel I have had the perfect combination of action with these Australian Thoroughbreds.
|En route to the start post.|
What a way to spend the day… New Year’s Day in the glorious sunshine in Sydney at the races. In the paddock, trackside, sun beating down, horses’ coats gleaming. We hung out with the other track photographers who were totally intrigued as to why there was an unfamiliar English girl in cowboy boots lingering with her long lens over the fences, asking questions that would indicate she wasn’t at all familiar with the track, let alone the City.
Then we found the Press Room, a vibrant buzz of global communication. Pictures and words being created and put together in a juxtaposition that could tell the world what was happening there – right there, right then. It’s all so immediate and quick and futuristic – technological developments that allow such immense amounts of data to be sped so incomprehensibly to all corners of the world. I still don’t understand why that astounds me but it continually does!
So now I sit sipping coffees from today’s ‘office’…differing from yesterday’s office and tomorrow’s office – even this afternoon’s office….and marvel at how liberated all this makes me feel.