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Set in stone. By Me.

self-promotion at its finest

in Book Reviews , Monday, May 11, 2020

It’s been quite a struggle, but finally a few fruits of creativity under lockdown are beginning to emerge. The first, completed a few weeks ago, had to wait for the physical evidence to be announced, and this arrived today.  My “proof” copy of a small Blurb-produced book, which I’ve called “Set In Stone: glimpses of Valle Verzasca” was delivered this morning by UPS, and I’m pleased to say it looks pretty good.

Set in Stone front cover

According to my self-penned, er, blurb:

“South of the Rhone Valley and the Gotthard massif lies the Italian-speaking Swiss Canton of Ticino. And while Ticino certainly has it’s fair share of tall peaks, the highlights, geographically speaking, are to be found in and around a series of glacial valleys descending from the high snowfields, with tumbling rivers feeding into the Maggiore Lake. Any one of these valleys, including the Maggia, Calanca, and the Centovalli, would keep most landscape photographers busy for years, but the jewel in the crown is the Valle Verzasca, through which the river of the same name runs. The Verzasca valley is around 25km long, stretching due south down from the village of Sonogno, through an endless sequence of cascades, rapids and gullies until it reaches the artificial Lake Vogorno. The bedrock of the Verzasca river is mainly gneiss, and over the millennia this has been eroded by the current to reveal fantastic banding and layering patterns in the rock, which in turn has been sculpted into spectacular forms. The transparent dark green and emerald waters and the scattering reflected light from the surrounding forests come together to create countless surreal and unexpected scenes, both wide and intimate. I am fortunate enough to live close enough to the valley to visit pretty much on a whim. The photographs in this small book are gathered from nearly 20 years of such visits. Yet on each visit I discover something new.”

It feels good to have this done. Nobody will buy it of course, but that’s not the point. What matters is that it draws a line under years upon years of seemingly aimless and unstructured photography and ties into a coherent project which I feel pretty satisfied with. Although this location is getting more or more well known, both by general tourists and photographers, to the extent that now (well at least up until current events) it has ended up being a no-go area from May to October, I haven’t seen much in the way of physically published photography from the area.

I have tried to select a format which keeps the price at least manageable. And it actually looks nicer than I expected. For my previous foray into Blurb self-publishing, I chose a what is practically a deluxe hardback format, which really does look nice, but ends up with an absurd price tag.

It would be tempting fate to say that this is the first of a series, but I do have some ideas…

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La Magliasina

going with the flow

in Photography in Ticino , Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Magliasina is a short, scrappy, torrential river which emerges on the slopes of Monte Gradiccioli in the Malcantone region of Ticino, and 15km later drains into Lake Lugano. At its mouth, it marks the boundary between the villages of Caslano, and of Magliaso, where I live, and which gave the name to the river.

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For most of its length it is hidden from sight at the foot of a deserted, steep sided narrow valley. There are a few crossing points where bridges have been built to allow paths to join the two sides of the valley, but mainly the river is heard, not seen.  I’ve been exploring it bit by bit for quite some time. I’ve largely moved on from the more easily accessible spots and, based on large scale topographic maps tried to work out where there might be interesting hideaways. Although such spots might sometimes be approached by following deserted, disappearing paths, reaching them almost always involves some serious off-piste traversing.

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Sometimes I strike gold, sometimes not, but more than once I’ve ended up with more of a scramble on my hands than I bargained for. In a few cases I’ve been forced to question my sanity. In some parts the valley side is very steep, and the soil is unstable. It also tends to be covered in vicious undergrowth in summer, and treacherous rotting tree trunks and branches all year round.  If photos were graded by the physical difficulty in taking them, I’d have quite a portfolio by now.

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In the lower reaches the valley is much broader, but even more strangled by undergrowth. Now and again I come across signs that in earlier times, the area was actually inhabited, partly farmed, and the river was a focal point. Today few people seem to realise it even exists.  Oh, there are rock pools here and there which are clearly the treasured secrets of teenagers looking for a summer hideaway.  And there are a few easily accessed and popular areas such as the Maglio del Malcantone, but largely the river keeps well away from view.

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It’s become a bit of an obsession, but unlike my other obsessions, it is within walking distance of my front door. So far I’m continuing to make new discoveries, and there are more to be found. For example, the ruins of a 100 year old hydroelectric plant lurk somewhere in the woods. I think I know where, but it’s a stretch I haven’t explored yet. And I haven’t started on the high upstream section.

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Probably it isn’t all that sensible to go off exploring like this on my own, but nobody seems interested. Every now and again I am reminded that while Switzerland is a very safe place from a society point of view, nature here can be pretty bloody dangerous. I should probably invest in a rope. And a loud whistle.

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You can see more, if you want, in my Magliasina album on Flickr.

 

Uncompetitive spirit

although with right incentive…

in Photography , Monday, October 08, 2018

I’ve never been one for competition, of any kind. I prefer to do things my own way, to set my own goals, and not bother too much what other people are doing. This is not restricted to photography - I have the same attitude towards all forms of work and play. I certainly compete against myself, for example setting time or difficulty targets for mountain biking, but I really have little interest in fitting in with some set of restricted parameters to compete with others. The fact that I’m a miserable antisocial loner doesn’t help much, mind you. But when it comes to photography, and indeed all arts, I really, really do not get the idea of competing. How can we say that one person’s mode of self-expression is better than someone else’s ? It strikes me as being more harmful than anything else. Of course if you treat photography as a technical endeavour then it can work - prize for the razor-sharpest photo of nothing in particular, prize for the highest resolution brick wall, prize for the most slavish conformance to the Rule Of Thirds. Etcetera.

Which is all a long preamble to say I entered a competition. Not exactly National Geographic, but instead a competition run by my local bricks and mortar camera shop, Foto & Ottico Carpi of Bellizona (of which more below). The competition required a submission of just one photo, of an animal. Any animal. And the first prize is an Olympus E-M1 MkII, so not exactly nothing. Still, despite my having plenty of photos of animals (not that I’m any good at all at wildlife photography), I still dithered up until almost the last moment before sending in my entry.  You may be able to spot it in the screenshot below:

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The quality of the entries to the competition has really taken me aback. This is a competition run by a small, if excellent, shop, in a small provincial town in one of the sleepiest parts of Switzerland, open only to subscribers to the shop’s mailing list. It just goes to show how many really excellent photographers there are, and that despite all the sneering about selfies and camera phones, there is still a very significant section of the public who take photography seriously. Of course, these could all be the shop owner under different pseudonyms :-).

I’m not sure when the winner will be announced, but I am sure it won’t be me.

Footnote:

Foto Carpi is a family business, run by the professional photographer Milo Carpi, located in the Main Street of Bellinzona, Ticino. They are an Olympus Pro dealer, Nikon as well I think, and also stock Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and a surprisingly good range of accessories. They even sell film. I got my last ever rolls of Ektachrome E100G there. They quite often run open days supported by the importers of their main brands. It’s really encouraging to see such a business managing to survive in these times, but the icing on the cake, and really surprising thing are their prices: I only really look at Olympus prices, so I can’t say for sure that this applies to all brands, but their Olympus prices consistently undercut even the lowest prices from Swiss internet box shifters. And this with personal service and advice, the security of being able to personally bring in any defective or damaged item, and a hotline to Olympus Switzerland. I try to give them as much of my business as I can.  And I often find excuses to stroll past their window display.

 

Chromatic abberations

vario, panned

in Photography , Monday, September 25, 2017

A few posts ago, I wrote a rather dismissive impression of the new Rollei Variochrom film. Unfortunately, I’d bought 4 rolls of the stuff, so I felt I should do something with it. Having discovered what it actually does, which is to transport one back to the Good Olde Days of wildly inaccurate colour and grain you could eat for breakfast, it occurred to me that the part of the world I’m constrained to wander during the working week might actually benefit from this treatment. Well, it would be hard to make it look more dull than it actually is - although Dog knows I’ve tried over the years.

I’m pretty much at odds with todays retro film community, which seems only interested in the flaws and weaknesses of film. There are certainly people doing fabulous work today with film, for example Bruce Percy, but the film camera hipsters don’t actually seem to be interested in photographing much else than their cameras. 

Oh dear, have I got off track again ? Where was I ? Oh, yes ... Variochrome.

When used forewarned and with intent, I have to admit it can be quite interesting.  I quite like the following sample, although its not really my thing.  In the right context Variochrome is interesting, but I still pretty much stand by my earlier comments.

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The canister light leak I encountered on the first roll repeated itself, by the way, despite my taking special care in loading, unloading and handling the film.

Oh well, only another 2 rolls to go.

 

Exploring Malcantone

up in the bad lands

in Photography in Ticino , Friday, May 27, 2016

I’m very lucky to have lived for most of this century in the region of Malcantone, right at the southern tip of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, in Switzerland. Malcantone is mainly pre-alpine, apart from the Vedeggio and Magliasina flood plains, and sits between the Lugano (Ceresio) and Maggiore lakes. It borders on a similar region in Italy, and is actually a pretty beautiful area. It does have a certain level of tourism, but I’m always surprised at how little. With quiet, wooded hills leading up to mountain ridges, shaded valleys, rustic villages full of memories of faded glories, and plenty of history, along with good food and wine, it has a lot going for it.

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Malcantone pretty much means “bad lands”, and was a place to be avoided in medieval times. Unfortunately, that was tricky, as it was either that, or the plague-ridden marshes, if you wanted to travel north from Milan. A couple of years ago I discovered the ruins of the Miglieglia Castle, perched on a high outcrop over the Magliasina river. Although it was clearly pretty big, it seems to have been wiped from memory. Nobody appears to know anything about it. You can walk to it, if you follow the “Sentiero delle Meraviglie”. And then there are the silver and gold mines. And the remains of houses and villages deep in the woods. And the painfully photogenic villages of Sessa, Astano, Breno, and more.

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I guess it’s just a little too far off the beaten track, although considering in has a small, but international, airport (just) with its territory, and is easily accessible from the city of Lugano, it’s hardly remote. Probably Swiss pricing has a lot to do with it as well. But also the weird Swiss, and especially Ticinese, approach to tourism. Bars and restaurants close on Sundays and holidays, facilities like the Lema cable car which takes you up to a stunning viewpoint over Lake Maggiore stop running at 5pm, even in summer when it’s light until 10. Totally crazy.

Oh well, if it were different I’d be ranting about bloody tourists all over the place sticking their tripods in front of me and clogging up the roads and mountain bike tracks.

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