I like to explore off the grid and as off the map as I can get. Usually, this turns out pretty well and I don’t get into too much trouble. Sometimes, however, I do get into slightly awkward situations that are a bit dif cult to explain. I’ve explored with my camera all over the world, and often got into slightly embarrassing situations, but nothing a smile couldn’t get me out of.
Southwestern France is a plateau area cut by rivers and deep gorges that has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During medieval times, armies fought their way across this terrain, pilgrims forged the trails that still remain today, and citadels and forti ed cities grew and ourished. This is a country I have enjoyed exploring in-depth, both on my own and leading small groups of photographers.
One day, on my way from Cahors—an ancient city that sits in a loop of the River Lot—to Montpazier—one of the rst citizen-controlled bastides of ancient France—I saw an extremely intriguing dirt road branching off the highway. Without further ado, I put my foot on the brake and made a screeching left turn off the highway and into the dirt. Before I knew it, my dirt road had branched into two dirt roads and I took the right fork (perhaps because it was the road less traveled that I am always seeking).
Before long, my fork branched again and I made another impulsive choice, this one to the left. By now the road had dwindled to little more than a cattle track with grass growing between two ruts on either side. It was pretty clear to me that I was lost, but I continued to barrel on, bumping along in my little car.
The next thing I knew, the track, such as it was, ended right next to an extended French family having an elabo- rate picnic in their backyard. There was a red-checked tablecloth, many bottles of wine, and numerous farm ani- mals—mostly pigs—wandering around. Of course, my hope was that I would be invited to the picnic, but this is one case in which my lack of language skills did not work in my favor. The patriarch of the family seemed outraged that I would drive up to their private party and didn’t speak their language. And in no uncertain terms, he stood up, pointed a commanding nger in the direction I had come, and ordered me out.
I wasn’t able to precisely retrace my route, but usually there are compensations for getting lost. In this case, I backtracked, took a different turn, and found an abandoned monastery to photograph under a dramatic cloudy sky. Of course, I stopped for photography. The good news also was that I had my own picnic—fresh baguette, tomatoes, and paté de campagne. What could be better than a great photographic subject and a yummy picnic, discovered while one was busy getting lost?
As it turns out, the ancient church that I photographed, Sainte-Croix-de-Beaumont, is on the French approach to the famous pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela. The complex belonged to the Knights Templar and is almost entirely abandoned. The ancient granite stonework in the interior of the church has been maintained. But otherwise, the complex is quickly heading for ruin.
All morning it had been gray and threatening to rain, leading me to think about black and white. I wandered through empty elds with my camera on tripod and got a stunning view of Sainte-Croix-de-Beaumont before the storm broke. As it started to pour, I took shelter in an abandoned building and waited for the storm to pass.
Photography and my camera gives me an excuse to explore the wonderful world around us. One of my great pleasures is sharing this joy of exploration with friends and guests I take with me.
For Information on Harold's upcoming Photographing Flowers Workshop, click here.