For a number of years now, when I first happened upon images online about this area down along the coast of northern California, I’ve been pining year after year to capture this rare event. What event? Well … first off, I’m not a big flower kinda’ person when it comes to making images. I don’t make special efforts to seek and find flowering blooms – it’s just not all that inspiring to me. But, plunk me down into the desert during wintertime where there’s a “Super bloom” happening and I’m already planning to be there, I’m all in!
I digress …
Same goes for this little slice of paradise in a deeply covered revine somewhere alone Highway 1 just south of Carmel Valley about 15 or so minutes. Perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to finally make the effort to scope out this place. So, driving along Hwy 1 like a lost dog, attempting to follow as many bread crumbs folks on internet sites have left behind in their wisdom to help others find this place, affectionately known as Calle Lily Alley. Why? Well, it’s filled with blooming Calle Lily’s – you know, the kind of white fleshy platters with a yellow plumes coming out of the middle during full bloom (otherwise curled like a roll of paper towels) you typically see during Easter Sunday and perhaps at funerals as well. It’s completely different when you see them growing in the wild in all their glory as they shoot skyward to grab a few hours of sunlight. Remember – they’re set in a deep revine. The unique thing about this revine is fresh mountain water makes it way to the ocean as there’s a steady little stream rushing water onto the beach/ocean not but a couple hundred meters westward – where fresh water turns into seawater. The ground is moist and soggy underfoot along with lush green shrubs and plants that flank both sides of the revine – spare the occasional Poison Oak shrubs.
Since I wasn’t in the area to specifically shoot this – more of a “while I’m here” kinda thing. I only brought my walk around camera (Fujifilm x100F), no tripod, filters or anything else to assist me in any attempt to getting creative, so I was fixed to one focal length at 28mm. Having so, it challenged me to work the revine as creatively as possible – not being able to zoom wide or in tight. I actually had to use my feet to zoom in and out – go figure!
I finally found the revine about 5pm’ish and stuck around until about 6pm or so. I really wanted to stay for sunset to grab the Golden Hour, but I had a hungry someone waiting for me in the car. The time I was there, the lighting was still a bit harsh for my liking, but felt it was a good enough first visit. Two last points of notice … shoot with your widest angle lens, work on crafty compositions and definitely wait it out for sunset … until next year as this event starts around mid-March and lasts about a month or less. Many blooms were starting to wither and brown around me.
Even though my workshops are photo centric, several have accompanied me on these photographic sojourns over the past 5 years everything from pro-level camera and even with a point-and-shoot camera and still had an enjoyable time in opening up new perspectives on local culture and how to make more memorable human connections. You will also find how to make more compelling travel photos as well! You will also learn how to interact within the local environment that allows you to be both present and invisible at the same time!
And, along the way, you just may discover a deeper appreciation for the world around you as being more inviting and welcoming in places you thought were only in storybooks. New friendships formed. New perspectives gained. Refreshed outlook on humanity … all through the lens that’s met with open arms and warmed hearts.
Come join a rewarding journey into a magical world of the visual language. You’ll soon realize it’s easier than you think!
… aka Behind The Scenes. Just to give you a little idea of how we roll during a given workshop, there are many opportunities to learn (cultural and photographic), have fun interacting with local culture around us and making endearing human connections that stay with you for a lifetime!
These BTS images were from a journey into Tibetan life somewhere in the deep throws of Yunnan Province.
Above are a few images captured by past participant, Penn Austin … Thanks Penn!
China is rapidly changing. Ancient cultures are losing ground to modernized society as the country yearns to step onto the world’s stage as a leader in industry, technology and the modern cultural scene. With its rural heritage dating back a several thousand years, even with today’s breakneck speed at which China is growing, you can still find cultural gems in the far reaches of the country’s lesser traveled paths. Even these areas are fast embracing the consumeristic values of the western world in search of monetary and materialistic treasures.
Central Stupa, Jinghong
Out of all the provinces in mainland China, as mentioned on a few prior posts, my most loved province is wondrous Yunnan. Great weather all year ’round – even in the hot humid months mainly b/c of the clean air quality. Big industry polluting provinces seem to have skipped this province as a whole which gives way for perfect weather. Yunnan is often associated with a coined term of endearment “above the clouds” for its heavenly formed clouds and vast landscapes. Yunnan is home to China’s 2 most picturesque rice terraces – Yuanyang and Dongchuan, photographed by the millions. Yunnan is also a place of diversity … but wait … aren’t all Chinese people, just Chinese people? After all … don’t we all look alike? If you grew up in the west like I did, that’s what our limited education system would have us believing. After living in China for a few years, I began to understand and recognize the suptle facial characteristics of people – at least from a regional perspective. Shorter from the south, taller in the north – in a general sense. Facial features too. This one is a bit more difficult to explain, more with bone structure, eyes, skin coloration and the like.
Far from ignorant belief, of the 54 chinese ethnicities, Yunnan inhabits a wide range of ethnicities from the Han, Miao, Yi, Dai, Bai, Zhuang, Tibetan, Hani, Hui and to a lesser degree Ahka, Jinuo and Kongge peoples each with their own language (not dialect) and ancient cultural history. More than this, Yunnan is an agriculturally rich environment as well, producing the country’s best tea, coffee and a myriad array of fruits and vegetables – many unfamiliar to western palettes. This is what draws me to Yunnan … people and culture. This is what drew me yet again to a special zone not far from the Myanmar/Burma and Laos border. This is Xishuangbanna.
Gracious Ahka ethnic minorities playing temporary hosts
Upon landing at the surprisingly large airport (of maybe 10-15 gates) of Jinghong, the architecture leads you to believe you’re in SE Asia somewhere. Being a border area, strong cross0ver influences in landscape, food, culture, architecture and people confuse the senses as you know you’re still in Mainland China. Temples, for instance, are right out of Thailand/Myanmar complete with elephant statues and tall slender golden stupas. Even the festive dress suits the backdrop. It’s a bit strange having pineapple thai sticky rice and other traditional SE Asian dishes in what you know is still China.
Various ethnic groups at the weekly market.
Before entering this buffer zone, there was a “border crossing” much like they have from state to state in the US, except this border was manned by several of China’s Army complete with full-on battle armor. Pulling us over, having to show Passports, we were asked to get out of the car whilst an over zealous trooper questioned our entry into the zone. Apparently, there’s a huge drug traffic problem crossing the border into China so I guess they’re a bit squeamish about anyone who doesn’t look the part of a local. After a few telephone calls, taking lots of photos of us and our IDs as well as our Guides, they finally allowed passage after about 30mins.
Heading closer towards the border in the ensuing 2 days, deep into what appeared to mostly be jungle and miles upon miles of growing tea, sugar cane, bananas, mountain rice, the bumpy dirt roads seemed endless. Gladly, our Guide knew every turn and switchback as we flawlessly found village after village of the Ahka, Dai and Bulang people. The deeper we went, the more “raw” it got. Villages became more sparsely spaced, ‘roads’ got worse (at times having to get out and help push our car through the deeply rutted mud), dwellings became more primitive. So too does the food. From the familiar to the unfamiliar, if you can sometimes get past our own insecurities around what’s food vs. what isn’t (as a western palette goes), you’ll come away with a richer more fulfilling experience. What’s so different? In the west, we domestic just about everything except cows, pigs and chickens – our main source of meat. Here, chickens & fish run/swim freely about until they’re called upon, an occasional dog and squirrels, worms and ‘rats’ (actually guinea pigs to more precise) are considered staples along with a whole host of plant-based stalks, stems and leaves prepared in ways we’ve never thought of are both delicious and nutritious – all grown wild and organic. This is real food. What makes going to the supermarket so natural? It’s all very much a part of the brief immersion of life as it was centuries ago.
Small, but proud Kongge & Jinuo people
As a natural light (preferred) shooter, I have the ability to shoot from sunrise to (past) sunset. In fact, I love midday photography as I head indoors for portrait opportunities. All I have to do (with a bit of finagling) is use light beams darting in from near darkness inside traditional huts as windows and doors are my friends. And, when that’s not enough, I make light by either adding a bit of it via flash and/or grabbing light from outside and bouncing it off of a reflector – whatever it takes to spill creative lighting on my subject. This challenges your knowledge and limitations of how the camera works in harmony with certain settings which must be done in a few seconds as the light changes as quickly as a mosquito bites (of which there are plenty here in this tropical wonderland).
Friendly Bulang people