29 Dec 2015

My photo of the year

It's that time of year when the media are identifying their person of the year,their car of the year or whatever. So as not to be left out I've chosen my personal photo of the year. Not an easy task as I've taken a few thousand photos in 2015. In Australia,the US and India. Photos of everything from bullock carts to Concorde. From all those photos here's my choice -taken a few weeks ago in Kochi, Kerala,India.
The man is a self employed porter. He carries sacks of rice,spices or whatever on his head from trucks parked in the busy street into a warehouse and vice versa. He gets paid per sack carried. As he goes to pick up a sack he picks up a coloured stick from a man standing by the truck and he hands the stick to another man when he has the sack on his head.The sticks are the mechanism for counting his work.
Kochi is usually very hot and humid. It's hard,physical work and when there are no trucks to load or unload he does not work or get paid.
His life is tougher than most of us can ever imagine and yet he was smiling and waving to me as he worked. Good on him and good riddance to all the snarling, joyless,mean spirited and in many cases outright evil people and corporations who did so much to make 2015 such a terrible year for so many. I'm fervently hoping that you will all get your comeuppance in 2016 but I'm expecting to be disappointed.
Another reason that this is my photo of the year is that for me it really "pops" off the screen. It has the look I am trying to achieve with all my photos. The fact that I had to walk backwards down the street like a paparazzi photographer at a celebrity sighting to take it and that it turned out so well also makes it my POTY.

28 Dec 2015

Happy holidays

Start them early.The twins try out their pink Nikons
It's Monday morning-28th December.The last of the visitors have just left. The house seems strangely quiet. The little,timid cat,Zoe( Zo Zo),has ventured out from her hiding place. The end of the turkey is about to be turned into fricassee. The recycling bin is overflowing. We're exhausted but we all had a great time and not a single tantrum or tear from any of the five children-or six adults. I hope that you all had as great a holiday as we did. We enjoyed it so much we intend to celebrate it again next year.

That's right Poppy.Get close and fill the frame.

20 Dec 2015

Seasons Greetings

Terrigal Beach,NSW,Australia 19th Dec 2015

Seasons greetings to all followers of The Rolling Road wherever you are.
Here,downunder,it's the middle of summer-so it's the summer holidays,Christmas and the New Year all rolled into one long break. So the blog is taking time out but will be back soon.

19 Dec 2015

Another beautiful day

A beautiful day coming up.Terrigal Surf Life Saving Club team preparing to take a row - Terrigal Beach at 6.00am today-Saturday 19th December.It does not get much better than this.Leica X1 photo.

16 Dec 2015

End of the road-the Hindustan Ambassador

When I went to N India in 2000 the roads were full of bicycles,motorcycles,trucks,buses,three wheeled autorickshaws but few cars. What cars there were were either Hindustan Ambassadors or an Indian version of the Fiat 1100 with the Ambassadors outnumbering the Fiats 10 to 1.
The Hindustan Ambassadors were taxis,politicians and dignitaries limos and transport for tourists.
The Ambassador started life a Morris Oxford in the UK  and when it ended production there in 1957 they shipped the tooling to India. The Ambassador continued in production in India until 2014-another 57 years. Surely this must be the longest production run of any car model?

I travelled many kilometres in Ambassadors in 2000.The bench seats with their vinyl covering were uncomfortable and there was no aircon.The legroom was restricted.They were slow and the ride with the cart sprung solid rear axle on India's very rough roads was atrocious. They felt like a 1950s car and they were awful by any criteria. Quite how they found buyers for so many years is a total mystery to me.

In the early 1990's an attempt was made to sell the Ambassador in the UK as the Fullbore Mk10 ( I am not making this up).Why anyone would think that UK buyers would be interested in a such a heap of very outdated junk-even if it was very cheap- is another mystery.Suffice to say that the importer folded very quickly.I presume that they had to dump the unsold inventory out at sea.

Since 2000 the Indian automotive market has been totally transformed and India has taken to wheels. Now millions of cars are being produced locally each year and Indian roads are full of cars from most of the world's manufacturers.  And the wheel has turned a full circle as the major Indian conglomerate,Tata,owns Britain's Jaguar Land Rover,one of the world's most profitable car companies today. It's a long way from churning out Britain's hand me downs.

I saw a few Ambassadors on my recent trip -most were abandoned by the side of the road or in a National Park as above but a few are obviously still loved and cherished. Perhaps the owners are keeping them ready for use in the filming of the next Marigold Hotel movie.

11 Dec 2015

End of the journey

The final part of my Indian journey.Down to the coast in Kerala and onto Cochin-now called Kochi-and then home. First a couple of days exploring the lakes and backwaters of Kerala. I did not know what to expect for this part of the journey. I had expectations that the waterways would be overrun with houseboats and tourists and it would be a sort of Indian Venice. Well there are hundreds of houseboats,maybe thousands,but they do look traditional and not many of them were actually moving on the waterways anyway.
We did not stay on a houseboat but we did make a number of boat journeys on the backwaters and I really was surprised how charming and unspoilt they still are. You see people fishing,travelling and moving cargo by narrow boats as they have done for hundreds of years and many of the boats are still powered by paddle power. Very authentic but for how much longer.
After the lakes and waterways it was down to the city of Kochi. The old part,Fort Kochi,is really interesting. There are a few must see tourist sites and I wandered down the street and I found the the most amazing scene of small wholesale traders buying and selling rice and spices from little warehouses beside a street which was full of trucks being loaded and unloaded by manual labour.Photographic heaven and very few tourists.
One of the main tourist attractions of Fort Kochi are the Chinese fishing nets beside the harbour. These are still in serious operation. Large nets are lowered into the water and then manualy lifted by men pulling on ropes and the fish extracted. The man who looks like a pirate below is of one of the rope pullers. The nets are worked almost continually during daylight hours. The numbers of the Chinese nets are gradually declining as the catches get smaller due to overfishing and pollution but whilst I was there they were all active. The fish are auctioned in a small auction area on the embankment.The area is populated by opportunistic cats. Food inspectors would be horrified.
The old city of Fort Kochi is in an advanced state of gentle decay and yet you can walk down a backsteet and there in the middle of a row of decaying terraced houses you find a brand new, tastefully designed modern dwelling. So Indian.
Fort Kochi has British,Dutch and Portugese colonial influences and it is really charming in an Indian way. Across the harbour is Kochi proper. The ferry ride costs 10 cents and it is well worth taking the trip. Kochi is a major container port and a vibrant modern but unmistakeably Indian city. A metro railway is being built through the centre and the roads and traffic are the usual Indian chaos but it has a very nice atmosphere.
Kochi was great place to end the Indian journey. I loved India. And the whole experience was very neatly capped by the evening journey out to Kochi airport. It took nearly 90 mins through many typical Indian scenes and traffic chaos and at the end was a modern airport.And the plane left exactly on time.

Photographic notes.I have included some technical notes on the photos as a footnote below. 

Photographer's notes.The photos in this Indian series were taken with either my Leica X1 or my Leica X Vario in a ratio of 30/70.I tend to use the X1 in markets, on my early morning walks and where I do not want to carry around the bulk of the X Vario.
I predominantly shoot with both cameras set to A on both aperture and shutter speed with auto ISO.For some shots I use exposure compensation and always make the adjustment by guessing/experience.
I use single point focus and now multiple field metering most of the time.I shoot RAW(DNG) and S Fine jpegs with the jpegs set to the standard setting.
I never use the built in flash unit and I almost never take a photo using the LCD screen as the viewfinder. I have a Voigtlander optical viewfinder on the X1 and the Leica EVF on the X Vario.
I try to ensure that the IQ from both cameras is as close as possible and I try and use the jpeg files where possible.I use the DNG files where I need to adjust shadow and/or highlight detail. The ratio of formats in the Indian photos is about 50/50 jpeg/DNG. I download the images into Lightroom 5 and I have a custom preset for converting the DNG images to a standard "look" which is very close to the jpeg output.
I took 323 photos on the trip and have used 77 in this series.
I don't chimp - review the photos on the LCD- after I have taken them. I just trust that they are OK and usually they are. When I have time - which was rarely on this trip-I download a day's shots onto my iPad and review them. I don't edit them until I get home when I can see them on a full size Mac monitor.
I have six batteries-the cameras both use the same battery type -thank goodness.I have four genuine Leica batteries and two cheapo batteries bought off eBay.The cheapo batteries seem to perform as well as the genuine Leica batteries.
I prefer to carry my cameras in my hand rather than on a strap around my neck. I use the standard length Leica neckstraps rather than some fancy overpriced artisan wrist straps. Both cameras have half cases to protect them. Again no fancy handstitched Italian leather overpriced artisan models but a couple of Chinese specials bought off eBay for $50 a piece. I would prefer to use the cameras without the half cases but they do live hard lives so the cases are a necessity.
I really have no time for all the prissy overpriced Leica related fashion items such as straps and worst of all bags. When I am not using them my cameras are carried in a foam insert -cost $9.50 on eBay- in my standard el cheapo backpack.
I am now very familiar with both cameras and can use them intuitively. I also stick to a consistent technique for the camera and Lightroom settings so that I have a predictable and consistent output.

8 Dec 2015

Picking tea

More of my Passge through India.From Coonor in the highlands it was a very long full day drive to the tea growing country and the hotel in the hills well beyond Moonar. The first part of the journey was the descent from Coonar.To describe the mountain road down from Coonar as dangerous is an understatement. Blind hairpin bends,sheer drops with little or no guard rails and a road full of suicidal drivers and riders makes for an interesting experience. Indian drivers have two objectives -firstly to reach their destination in the shortest possible time and secondly to pass anyone on the road in front of them. If the pursuit of these objectives requires them to overtake a bus or truck- even if they are driving a bus or truck themselves- on a blind hairpin bend then they go for it.

After the descent it was a long drive across a plain to Udumalalpettai through the biggest windfarm I have ever seen. Many of the turbines are individually owned and in the villages there were small shops advertising themselves as turbine maintenance and repair specialists.
Lunch in a vegetarian restaurant in dusty,chaotic Udumalalpettai was an interesting experience as the locals obviously rarely saw westerners and they certainly had not had one eat in that restaurant before going by the way they stood and watched me eat my dosa. I passed on the local tap water graciously and went for the bottled.
Then it was a long climb through a major national park where allegedly there are many tigers. I saw a herd of buffalo and quite a few monkeys but of course no tigers.

The road into Moonar is spectacular as it passes through steep hills totally covered in tea plantations.They stretch as far as the eye can see. Now the guide knows that tourists want to photograph this sight so the vehicle pulled over and I dutifully took a few photos knowing only too well that they are totally boring and useless.Back in the vehicle I deleted them.

The next day was one of the best of the whole trip as in the morning I went on a walk with a guide down the hill from the hotel,through spice plantations and down part of beautiful Bison Valley named after the bison which used to roam there until 20 years ago.The valley is a major spice growing area and it is reasonably affluent by Indian standards.The walk was spectacular and yielded a few photos including some of the local kindergarten and a school.

Late morning the heavens opened but I travelled by a Mahindra jeep over the hills on rough tracks to see the tea plantations close up.Fat chance. The rain was pouring down down and the clouds were very low. However on a hilltop road I spotted a group of tea pickers hard at work. Photo op! Out of the jeep and into the tea plantation. Further down the hill we encountered a large group of pickers walking home. We stopped and and they all climbed aboard laughing and smiling. We dropped them near their homes way down the mountain.The poor girls had a long walk to work each day-perhaps an hour uphill and then a whole day of tiring manual labour in the damp with just a wrapped around plastic sheet for protection and then a long walk home. And yet they were all smiling and laughing as if they did not have a care in the world and perhaps in their world free of social media,smartphones,apps etc they did not.

Here are the photos of the community of Bison Valley and the tea pickers.

4 Dec 2015

My passage through India

After the pick of the crop of the Indian photos in the previous post here's the first batch of the rest.
My trip started in Bengalaru - more usually known by its former name of Bangalore-reached via Singapore on always consistently good Singapore Airlines.
When you call a company's call centre nowadays or when one of those scam callers pretends to be Microsoft technical centre the chances are that they are in Bangalore. It is the call centre centre of the world with literally thousands of call centres domiciled there and it is India's IT capital. Problem is that it does not look like it. The airport is very smart but it is downhill from there. I spent two days in Bangalore and it poured with rain the whole time. The traffic was appalling,the roads are a mess,the pavements (sidewalks) are in a terrible state and the place is filthy. I saw six other westerners whilst I was there.You could not confuse it with Silicon Valley.
My hotel was pretty poor although the staff tried hard. My humour was not helped by the fact that it did not serve alcohol-after a day in Bangalore a beer is almost a necessity. All I can say is if your Indian journey takes you in or out via Bangalore stay there for as short a time as possible.
But whilst you are there do have lunch in the bar at Koshy's. It's a Bangalore institution. It looks as if it has not been renovated since the British left in 1947.The waiters are immaculate in white waiter's tunics. The food is Indian and western -it is good and cheap and the beer is cold.
After Bangalore it was a drive south to one of India's leading tourist attractions,the Palace of Mysore. It really is magnificent but my visit coincided with an Indian national holiday and it was beyond crowded. Apart from the Palace Mysore is another dirty city.The photo of the cow in the street was taken early morning in one of the main streets in Mysore.
Photography is banned in the palace so cameras have to be placed in lockers at a gatehouse. However mobile phones are not banned so of course tens of thousands of tourists were shooting away with their smartphones whilst camera users scratched their heads. But every evening from 7 until 7.30pm the Palace is illuminated by thousands of old fashioned incandescent bulbs. It is pure kitsch and quite wonderful and there are no restrictions on photography.

The camera/smartphone issue has to be addressed in Indian tourist sites.Even when cameras are not banned there is often a charge to use a camera and a bigger charge to use a video camera but no charge for a smartphone which is obviously silly. The regulations were drafted before smartphones and like so much in India it will take a long time to adjust the rules.
India really is bureaucratic. Pay for lunch in a restaurant like Koshy's and your waiter could take your credit card to a man in a glass booth who will stamp your bill and pass a chit back to the waiter who will bring a credit card reader to you so that you can insert your pin number- they have wifi card readers and pin numbers. He then returns to the booth where another chit is generated and passed back to your waiter and then passed to you.
When I exchanged money at a hotel I was somewhat surprised to be asked to sign my receipt which was promptly handed back to me. Passing paper is the number two pastime in India still despite a high degree of computerisation.The number one pastime is trying to get killed on a road journey.

From Mysore I travelled south to Nagahole National Park in an attempt to see a tiger in the wild. More on this futile execise in an another story.

Then from Nagahole it was a long and winding journey into the hill country taking in a trip on the Southern Mountain Railway. This is a narrow gauge rack railway built by the British in 1908 to carry them up to the hill stations and away from the summer heat. The 26 km long railway is UNESCO World Heritage listed and still runs steam locomotives although sadly not pulling the train I travelled on. I was expecting a prim toy tourist train,like those in Austria and Switzerland,full of western tourists but in fact it is a serious railway carrying locals and freight up into the hills and although it was crowded there was only a handful of western tourists on it. And like everything in India it was scruffy .But it was authentic and great. Higginbotham's book stall-see photo- on the station at Ooty is a classic and I particularly like the smiling passenger-with her feet on the seat-in the train I photographed at Coonoor Station.That's the best things about India-it is all so different -and there are  smiling people everywhere.