Episode Ten of Photo Number 6 was made possible because we had 5 wonderful ‘stories’ in the bank from our travels through Iceland, the UK, France, the USA, Morocco, Southern Africa and my home state of Victoria in Australia.
First cab of the rank was our journey along historic Route 66 which, in its heyday, ran almost 2,500 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica in LA. Over time the Route has been amended and disrupted but it is still possible to enjoy one section that contains some of the most fascinating memories of a bygone era.
Our first stop was at the Bagdad Cafe in Newberry Springs, California. This iconic diner was originally called the Sidewinder Cafe but was renamed to capitalise on its fame resulting from its starring role in the 1987 film Bagdad Cafe (dir. Percy Aldon).
Owner Andree Pruett is a vibrant and amusing woman who admits she continues to manage the hotel more out of loyalty to her deceased husband’s dream than a desire to live and work on a largely abandoned backwater road.
As we continued along Route 66 we had the opportunity to photograph numerous abandonedbuildings. I love capturing ghost towns and derelict buildings. They are so evocative of a time long past when America’s mother road was a lifeline to the millions of hopeful travellers making their way to a new life in California.
Perhaps the most Iconic site on the route is Roy’s Motel and Cafe in Amboy, California. The architecture of this historic site is classic Mid-Century Modern Googie style. As the town of Amboy decayed around it the cafe and it’s petrol pumps continued to supply the passing trade. The property went into foreclosure in 2005 and a patron of preservation, and chicken shop chain owner, Albert Okura purchased the entire town for $425,000 in cash with a pledge to return it to its former glory. It was wonderful chatting to Albert about his venture and the pride in his work is palpable!
We completed our road trip in Utah at the ghost town/museum town of Nelson. More tourist town than historic ruin the town still provided golden photographic possibilities and an opportunity for Stig and to clown about!
Iceland’s Thermal Heart
In the first episode of Photo Number 6 we traversed the mountains, valleys and seas of Iceland pursuing photographic opportunities and experiences. Left in the vault from our time there was a story on the country’s volcanic origins and the role the subterranean fires play in shaping Iceland’s environment and society.
We met up with volcanologist Morgan Haldeman at one of Iceland’s most significant thermal sites at Geysir. She explained that Iceland sits directly over two tectonic plates that are very slowly parting. The resultant upflows of hot magma heat the island’s subterranean structure and adds more material to the sub strata.
No more clearly can this be experienced than in the remarkable Silfa Rift Valley. This deep rift is the earth’s surface is filled with crystal clear freezing water and it was formed by the movement of the Tectonic plates. I sent Stig on a dive in the freezing water ostensibly because I wanted to get shots from above. Yeah right!
The second to last piece in the thermal puzzle was completed by a visit to Hellisheioi Geothermal Power Plant where heat from the island’s core generates much of the Island’s electricity and heating. Most of Iceland’s energy is generated from thermal power making the country one of the leading users of zero carbon footprint alternative energy.
Finally, no discussion of thermal energy in Iceland would be complete without a visit to the Island’s main tourist destination the hot baths at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. The Spa is man-made and attracted 1.3 million visitors in 2017. The Blue Lagoon’s high mineral and salt content purport to boost health, particularly for skin disorders like Psoriasis.
Williamson’s Tunnels and Gormley Statues
Our time in Liverpool was dominated by Beatles nostalgia and football two of the cities major claims to fame. However, our left over story was equally fascinating and quite quirky.
In the Edge Hill area of the city a series of underground excavations were carried out under the behest of businessman and philanthropist Joseph Williamson. Some excavations resembled tunnels whilst others are more like deep vaults. It is still unclear why Williamson I undertook this venture but it may have been motivated by a philanthropic urge to provide employment. The excavations ended up filled with debris and rubble until archaeological investigations were carried out in 1995 and the slow process of re-discovering the tunnels commenced. Today the Friends of Williamson Tunnels provide the opportunity for the public to explore sections of the Labryinth.
Photographing the tunnels provided a unique challenge.
Anthony Gormley is a sculptor whose work has been displayed at various times on beaches all around
the UK. One of his major art works been the creation 100 cast-iron figures, each weighing 650 kilos and modelled on the artist’s own body. These statues have found a final resting home on the beach at Crosby in Northern Liverpool. They stand as silent sentinels staring in silent expectation at the horizon. Gormley intended the installation, called ‘Another Place’, to explore man’s relationship with nature. It is an astounding and profound sight. The statues are at the mercy of the elements and reflect the passage of time as they corrode and become encrusted with barnacles.
My favourite Paris cemetery is Pere Lachaise. This historic burial ground in had a rough beginning. At the start of the 19th Century Paris’s existing cemeteries were almost full. To cope with demand several new burial grounds were opened including Pere Lachaise.
However, the cemetery was shunned by Parisians as being too far from central Paris. The administrators at Pere Lachaise showed great marketing acumen by shifting the graves of Jean de la Fontaine and Moliere to their site which boosted demand for burials considerably. More famous names were interred there over time boosting the cemetery’s famer and popularity.
Today it houses some of the most famous names from the fields of classical music, literature and art as well as contemporary greats such as Piaf and Jim Morrison from the band The Doors. Even though Jim’s grave is modest and hidden away it attracts more visitors than any other.
Having visited Pere Lachaise many years ago I was so keen to share my passion for the cemetery’s artistic origins and grandiose tombs with the P6 audience. Many things had changed since my last visit, most notably the erection of a Perspex screen to shield Oscar Wilde’s grave from visitors wanting to perpetuate the age-old tradition of kissing his tombstone!
The cemetery is a must see for locals and visitors to Paris alike because, not only does it remind us of the depth of artistic talent resident in Paris over centuries it also is a place for quiet reflection amongst the hurly burly of Parisian life.
From Pere Lachaise we crossed Paris to visit Les Invalides. Originally a hospital for war veterans this magnificent building now houses the Tombs of many eminent French military commanders including of Napoleon the Second and Marshall Ferdinand Foch Allied Supreme Commander in WW1. A visit to Les Invalides is a sober reminder that France has spent much of it’s troubled history involved in military conflict externally and internally.
Naan Ku Se – Namibia
We had the opportunity of visiting a marvellous game park in South Africa in Episode 9. In Namibia I wanted to visit another park that had a point of difference. Naan Ku Se is a park teeming with wildlife and culture under the stewardship of two remarkable people, Rudie and Marlice van Vurren. Their reputation for conservation extends across Southern Africa and their focus, through the Naan Ku Se Foundation is to help preserve and strengthen the cultural integrity of the indigenous SAN Bushmen. At Naan Ku Se SAN families come to camp and live as their ancestors would have. Our time spent with these indigenous families was intensely moving.
Animal rescue is a big aspect of the van Vurren’s work. Most animals are returned to the wild but, in the case of three Cheetah kittens orphaned very young Marlice chose to raise them herself. Seeing these wildest of animals fearlessly pace around in our company was a unique and surreal experience.
We came away from Naan Ku Se inspired by the van Hurrens’ vision and energy.