On Birdsong Avenue.

Birdsong Avenue, Prades, Pyrenees Orientales.

It has been a quiet time for me recently, photographically speaking. Following a number of disappointments –  this one, for example, but there have been others –  I am adapting to the idea of being semi-retired as a photographer. It has been a difficult process, but, looking on the bright side,  I can now enjoy things, places and events without having to take photographs of them. The postcards are still providing some useful income, and I still have a couple of projects I’d like to get off the ground, but the confidence I used to have is missing. In late April I went to north-eastern Spain and then south-western France for a holiday with Jane. Despite some excellent birding at the Aiguemolls de Empurda in Catalonia I took few photographs; only once did I really regret not having the camera to hand and that was when a little bittern appeared on the edge of a reedbed just in front of the hide, posed for a few seconds and then flew off. If only…….

After a week in Spain we moved on to the Tet valley about 25 miles inland of Perpignan in France. The local town was Prades, where we went for shopping, the farmers market and meals out.. On one visit while parking the car I happened to notice the street name – Avenue du Chants des Oiseaux : or Birdsong Avenue in English . How beautiful and how gently surreal! I took a snap with my phone and mulled it over for a day or two before returning with my full kit.  I took a series of exposures as cars went past, using long-ish shutter speeds to give a sense of movement, and a narrow aperture for depth of field – in this case the combination was 1/40th second at f14.

The image haunted me for several weeks after I returned to the UK. Do you need to know French to “get it”? How well does an environmental message come through? Or is it too obvious?  Whatever could I do with a picture like this? Then I was reminded of the Open Exhibition at the Penrallt Gallery and Bookshop in Machynlleth, the theme this year being “Language in the Landscape”. Perfect! The submission deadline had already passed but Geoff Young kindly allowed me to sneak it in at the last minute. I’ve recently been thinking that certain subjects are more suited to black-and-white, so I converted this before printing. As you can see I’ve also added the colour version to this post; does anyone have any thoughts on the colour vs b&w dilemma, one way or the other?


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7 thoughts on “On Birdsong Avenue.

  1. Well spotted mon brave ……. and for the record, for me, it’s colour 98%of the time ….. too addicted to nature in all its glorious technicolor!

    1. Thanks for the response, Brian. Ok, I know it must be difficult to answer this, but given that there’s a message here, would it have come over more strongly in colour or b&w ? For most landscapes colour is critical, but for a more documentary image, does the color tend to overwhelm the content? In a general sense, this is what I’m trying to get my head around.


      P.S. I did try to send you a friend request yesterday……

  2. Black and white version works much better for me… but I’ve spent the past couple of days immersed in black and white film stuff. I often don’t like black and white if I’ve seen the colour version first… as we do in real life of course, but I try to mitigate that with an orange filter on the camera. In this case, the car’s colour is… odd. The b&w version also brings out those strange hub cap shapes that look rather like the Citroen chevrons, perhaps adding to the message.

    1. Thanks for the response Chris. Almost ever since day 1 I’ve worked in colour so looking at b&w as a medium is a new venture. As I said above I’m wondering if the colour in an image tends to overwhelm (or distract from) any message in a documentary image.

      Yes, I agree, the colour of the car is a bit odd. I think it is partly down to reflections of some vegetation somewhere. In terms of the impact of the colour in this image I found the red too strong. In the colour version I think I de-saturated it a bit.


      1. I like black & white photography and consider it a different ‘language’ of image-making across visual media, not just photographs; sketches, charcoal and linocuts have distinctive qualities.

        This type of subject probably works well in monochrome because the important information is about shapes, not colours. It’s hard to visualise in monochrome if you’ve spent your time recording colour but it’s a great thing to do. I find it makes me explore shapes, textures and tonal contrasts instead of dwelling on colours (wonderful though that is).

        A friend of mine loves taking photos in Winter because the trees are bare (their shapes are more obvious) and colours are muted, though I contend that every season and location has potential once you get tuned into seeing things in black & white. If nothing else it’s a great antidote to the constant stream of OTT colour images and can help you see otherwise apparently boring subjects in a new way.

        Even my wife, who knows nothing about photography, enjoys taking photos in B&W with her mobile phone; I was pleasantly surprised at how good the jpegs were and she’s had a few prints made of photos of family members.

        The best way is to go out and deliberately choose to shoot only monochrome images. Choose a local or familiar spot and deliberately search out interesting shapes and tones. Perhaps you can put the camera in B&W mode so the LCD shows review images in monochrome.

      2. hi Simon,

        Thanks for taking the time to respond so carefully.

        However I must say that I disagree with your second paragraph. The graphic qualities are not particularly important here for me. Maybe it really is just me – but the image works because of the message. I loved the IDEA firstly that a street could be named after birdsong, then (and perhaps i am overstating it), that a vehicle passing by could add a counterpoint to that idea. OK, it may be a little crude as an environemntal statement, but that’s how I see it.

        If it DOES have graphic qualities as well then that is a bonus for me.

        As you probably know, I am a great fan of the late Fay Godwin and I feel that it is in the tradition of her work. I’m generalising here but I don’t particularly see graphic qualities in many of her images while I do see messages.


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