Bonjour Rodney. Comment ça va aujourd’hui? Apologies to any French-speaking readers because my French isn’t the best, but I still love France. It’s such a diverse country with interesting landscapes, wildlife and traditions that are brilliant for photography.
But in my experience, France is the European country that Health and Safety forgot. So, when I heard about a festival on the beaches in the Camargue involving large numbers of horses, I thought – what can possibly go wrong? Yep, everything – and that sounds like my kind of thing!
Before you could say pomme de terre I’d booked a flight heading south and found myself standing on the beach, the Mediterranean lapping around our toes and the sound of thundering hooves echoing behind me. Photography has a special power to take us to places and give us experiences like this to savour.
The beach in question was wide, relatively featureless apart from a few raised dunes here and there and the weather was pretty good. I didn’t really know what to expect.
The festival involved the various horse farms (menades) attending and showing off their horsemanship by grouping together and herding a few bulls in the centre of the horses from one end of the beach to the other and then on into town. In principle it seemed relatively simple as the famous white (grey actually) horses of the Camargue are certainly photogenic.
I wasn’t 100% sure how I wanted to photograph the event. I wanted to show what was happening but also try to capture a little bit of what the whole event felt like to me. As the first few horses started to head up past us towards the starting point, I snapped away without a plan. I’d carried my 300mm prime, 100-400mm and 16-35mm zoom and was still pondering my approach. The 300mm gave me speed and excellent image quality, while the 100-400 would give me flexibility. The wide-angle would, if used, give a completely different feel. Sometimes there is no right or wrong in these situations
Finally I switched to my wide-angle lens and decided to get right in the thick of the action. As I’m in my mid-50s, this kind of behaviour is probably pretty daft but it really did get the adrenalin coursing through my veins and on two occasions with horses now moving pretty quickly, I did have to shut my eyes and put my trust in both the horse and rider not to plough over me. I am pleased to say I survived intact but I might reconsider these tactics if I return to the beaches of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer!
Getting a feel for the festival I learned that most of the ‘disruption’ occurred nearer to the end of the beach so made my way down there to find people dashing about all over the place waving things about to distract them. I suppose it’s a bit like police horse training and I have to say that the horses took everything in their stride. It does look rather crazy though.