Having a husband who climbs takes you to some unlikely places at unlikely times of year and so we found ourselves in a village in the Swiss Alps one wet soggy and cold day in October. Unsurprisingly there was no climbing to be had, so we were about to leave when I found out there was a local farmers’ cattle show being held in the village. We followed the splodges on the road which led us to a muddy field full of Alpine cows, gruff-looking Swiss farmers and hurdy-gurdy music. Heaven!
Martin failed to see the attraction.
The serious business of showing and judging was taking place and I was keen to start photographing the scenes and characters around me but the looks on the farmers’ faces were a bit scary and a little off-putting.
We’ve a saying round here “shy bairns get nowt” which essentially means that sometimes you’ve just got to dive in and ask for what you want, so I turned to a great looking character, a stocky farmer wearing a traditional felt hat and checked shirt.
I had a little Swiss-Deutsch language tucked away in the far recesses somewhere although I was more tuned into Italian having just come from there. I plucked up the courage and putting on my best smiled asked if he’d mind if I took his photo. “No – I’d break the camera” came the reply. It’s actually quite rare that someone refuses when you ask nicely for a photo, so I tried again but just got a stern Swiss glare as he repeated the reply. If people think they’re not good-looking they sometimes say that they’ll break the lens if you take their photo which is what I presumed he meant, but the glare read to me as “and don’t try asking again”.
Now even more uncomfortable, my better half went back to the car to read his book – rather worryingly a book about a man plotting to murder his wife . . .
I couldn’t let the opportunity go and wandered around taking a few shots from a distance.
Then I noticed a twinkly-eyed and white bearded old farmer who reminded me of a doll my sister had had as a child. I tried again. Before long I’d had his life story and heard about how he’d farmed in the Alps all his life, living way up in the mountains. I managed to interject just enough words to make him continue with his story and I’m sure he thought I understood way more than I did. He happily obliged with a photo and encouraged some of his friends to do likewise.
The ice was broken and after that some of the others seemed to melt too. Hearing his story in the local language had helped me tune into Swiss -Deutsch again, and my confidence was restored which I’m sure helped me to engage with people, and before long I had the set of images I’d been hoping for.
It would have been easy to walk away after that first rebuff and come away disappointed, but persisting paid off. Sometimes you’ve got to work a little harder and chip away until you get the images you want and not make the mistake of walking away too soon.
Some time afterwards I was reflecting on the first man I’d met and his refusal as it’s a little unusual for me to get that response. I went over how I’d asked him and then it dawned on me. In my attempt to launch into my very rusty Swiss -Deutsch I’d got it the wrong way round and had been asking if he would take a photo of me so hardly surprising that a Swiss Alpine cow farmer, hands wet and covered in mud from seeing to his cows might not have wanted to for fear of breaking the camera! I smiled to myself when the penny dropped. Idiot 🙂
‘Splodges’ – very polite. Most dairy farmers that I know have shorter and generally pithier terms. Can you get directional information from splodges? Nice story Clare. I must return to Oman where virtually every characterful face refused and I wasn’t even trying to speak Italian.
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Ha ha yes and following the smell helped of course. We’ll have to try and learn some Romanian now!
Great series. Love the b&W tones.
Thank you Wayne! Yes I love B&W and some subjects just seem to lend themselves to monochrome. Thanks for following my photoblog – appreciated.
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Thanks Ana Lucia – much appreciated and hopefully you’ll enjoy the other little photo stories too!
Great shots Clarets. Did Martin enjoy his book😝?
Thanks Andy – Hmmm he enjoyed just a bit to much 😉