Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Art of Underwater Photography

I am a news picture nut. I spent 40 years pursuing the trade on seven national newspapers, picture editing three of them during their great eras, but brilliant photography in any genre always thrills me. Modern easy public snapshotting is now the norm but it's destroying the newsmans' art, driving those talented men and women into specialist areas, barely able to make a living. But I still love the work of the other camerafolk whose passions take them elsewhere.  Today it's the depths of the seas.

Every year the annual awards showcase these underwater men and womens' extraordinary talents. It's the Best Underwater Photographer of the Year competition awards. And what a magnificent collection they are. Here I give you just a taste of them. Click on the pictures to enlarge them. Enjoy:

A diver swims next to a huge shoal of fish in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico - this won the gold award in the Wide Angle Traditional category

A close up of a mako shark opening its mouth wide off the
coast of the Neptune Islands, Australia - this won the gold award
 in the Wide Angle Unrestricted category
A fashion model swims with a whale shark in the Philippines, Pacific - this won the silver award
 in the Commercial, Conceptual and Fashion category
A trio of pelicans dunk their heads in the water off the Central
Coast, in New South Wales - this won the honourable mention
 in the Wide Angle Unrestricted category
Two seahorses embrace in Singer Island, Florida, which won Bronze in the Animal Behaviour category
A close up of a shark off the Faial Islands, Azores - this won 
the silver award in the Animal Behaviour category
A seahorse next to a shipwreck in Eilat, Israel - this won
 the silver award in the Compact Cameras category
A close up of a Goby in the Red Sea, Middle East - this won the bronze award in the Compact Cameras category

Watery depths: A large fish is encircled by a shoal of thousands
 off the coast of Eden Rock in Grand Cayman

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The French give up wine - Sacre Bleu!

Word comes this week that the French are no longer drinking wine. Mon Dieu! What is the world coming to?  Apparently this decline has been going on for years. Those delicious bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux are disappearing from their dinner tables. In 1980 over 50% of French adults consumed the crushed grape daily - now it's just 17%. By my reckoning that's eight out of ten of our Gallic brethren don't imbibe.

Now, I love the stuff. Rarely seen without it, but there's more.

Denis Saverot, editor of La Revue des Vins de France magazine, says it's the working class who made it popular in the first place. He blames the war.

"Basically the soldiers went over the top pickled on pinard, the strong, low-quality wine which was supplied in bulk. Up until then the Normans, the Bretons, the people of Picardy and the north, they had never touched wine. But they learned in the trenches. By the 1950s there were drinking outlets, cafes and bars, everywhere. Tiny villages would have five or six."

Sounds fine to me. So, where did it all go wrong?  Denis continues.

"It is our bourgeois, technocratic elite with their campaigns against drink-driving and alcoholism, lumping wine in with every other type of alcohol, even though it should be regarded as totally different," he says.
"Recently I heard one senior health official saying that wine causes cancer 'from the very first glass'. That coming from a Frenchman. Our elites prefer to keep the country on chemical anti-depressants and wean us off wine. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren't taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing."

He ends. "The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy."

Denis has got a point worth us Anglais taking on board. Traditionally we use beer and pubs in the same way - to socialise. We always have. Got a problem? Have a beer and a chuckle with friends. That's the difference between a round of drinks and anti-depressants. Communal pill popping never solved anything. We later added wine, French originally and now universally available, to our hospitality. Are we also to go the way of those across the Mer?

Oxford-based French writer Theodore Zeldin has the last word, and this might sound familiar.

"A business-style culture has made huge inroads into France - the bane of all those who prefer to take the time to savour things. Companionship has been replaced by networking. Business means busy-ness. The old French art de vivre is still there. It's an ideal. Of course times have changed, but it still survives. We have a duty to entertain, to converse. And in France - thanks to our education system - we still have that ability to converse in a general, universalist way that has been lost elsewhere. "
"That is the art de vivre. It is about taking your time. And wine is part of it, because with wine you have to take your time. After all, that is one of the great things about wine. You can't swig it."

Order me a glass of Bordeaux immediately - and send my psychiatrist packing.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sharksucker

Sharksucker fish

The Natural History Museum has released this fascinating picture of  the genus Remora or Sharksucker fish which uses the unique sucking disc on its head to attach itself to large marine animals such as sharks or turtles. There has long been legends of a fish that sticks to sailing ships and has powers to slow them down. Now scientists have shown that this fish developed a modified dorsal fin just for this use.

One wonders if mammals also developed along these specialist lines. One, perhaps evolved into the Bankersucker which attaches itself to customers accounts thus drawing off sustenance to convert into yachts and bonuses.

Or the Benefitsucker that seeks out taxpayers, particularly targeting daft councillors with empty five bedroom houses?

Or the MPsucker, a particularly brazen species that spots empty flats near the Houses of Parliament and attaches them to Commons expenses forms.

David Attenborough should be alerted. There's a series here for next Christmas.