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They are a restless lot and chewing the cud, snuffling through leaves or merely running away in blind panic, is the usual happening when I raise my camera lens. Maybe the lens makes me look like a large menacing single-eyed cyclopes, but whatever it does, it makes animal portraiture difficult. Mr Bull positively puffs and blows if he is with his harem in Spring and Summer and only now in Winter is he bored enough to discount the camera and look at me in a tired, “well take the picture then”, sort of look.

Sheep take off in an instant and your only hope is with a long lens. That safe distance, sheep brain cell distance means every shot takes on a Capability Brownesque feel of sheep in the field, but nothing close enough for expression. I need to haul out the big gun zoom and fill the gap. This sheep was grumpy and stood ground for a moment. Its a little blurred as I had to crop in, but its a start.

Little pig was a delight. Her name is Nellie and I will write a post in her honour soon. One thing I want to do with this blog is to allow some of my four and two legged neighbours to have their moment of fame. Nellie is very busy. Pig snouting busy. I only managed to get this shot because it was feeding time and Nellie was in a frenzy of anticipation.

The cows have absolutely fascinated me since arriving here. They have characters, they have relationships, they have emotional outbursts and do pose. Cows with their amazing eyesight literally stop, as if a alien ship as zoomed them down to earth and everything around them is well alien. They freeze and only those big eyes move, judging whether to stay put as being still means your invisible, or to fly, to run very fast and worry about why, later. But what I love, and its sounds rather stupid when I write this, is how different their features are. There could be some inter-mixing of the gene pool given the breeding with just four regular bulls, and some do have similar features, but with close study they are as diverse as we humans.

Some are, horrid to say, prettier than others, some have really strong features and strong characters too – first to come forward to assess the situation. Others are timid, their eyes lowered, looking at their feet, and often hiding behind the rest of the herd, intimidated and trying to remain unseen. There is a strong hierarchy and companionship is often. Many will pair off and literally spend their days eating together, sleeping and washing together. My time here as reinforced more than ever a respect for animal husbandry carried out with respect and feeling. Poor Nellie is going to be bacon in the New Year. I find it upsetting as for me she is now a real character, and the land she lives on is big enough for such a little pig to be no trouble. I would keep her, but then that’s not the point of farming – it has a function. But here she is. And later I will explain why she is rather important to me.

Judi Castille French sheep portrait

9 thoughts on “Portraits

  1. I know why you are having trouble with animal portraits. As the late, great war photographer Robert Capa said, “If the picture isn’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.” That just doesn’t mean physical space. It means emotional closeness. Taking pictures of animals is like taking pictures of humans. You have to hang with them without lifting a camera until they are comfortable with you. My best work comes from “the inside out.” I’ve spent enough time just being with my subjects so that when I pick up a camera they don’t even think about it. Even then, the camera is intrusive. But, not so much.


    1. So true and the local cows are becoming far more laid back. My aim next year is to chuck in a small camp chair and stay for some good time, so I become part of the hedgerow and as you say, they will realize I am harmless. Nellie was difficult, she was on the go all the time and I only got a few shots that made sense and were not blurred [shutter speed to sort here]. The apples were far more interesting than me, but being a pig, she comes when called anyway – forever friendly.


    1. If I could have made an offer I would have taken her as I have room. But she is worth more than cash to them, and no substitute for home reared pork. I am reading a book about pigs at the moment and in this he mentions all the famous pig stories. I adored Charlottes Webb and Piglet in Winnie The Pooh. When I go to England soon I am even taking the train out to Hobbs Cross Farm in Essex just to go and see the piggiewigs.

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      1. Thanks, yes it will be nice to catch up with friends, family and to see London lit up for Christmas. First stop Selfridges windows and a wander inside, buy a copy of English Vogue [missed it – not really a fashion follower, but like it for the photo spreads], and then maybe Jermyn Street to buy a few presents.

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    1. I know, and so excitable. We snuck apples into her field last week and she was positively bouncing about and squealing. There is a great list of food that Wilbur eats in Charlottes Webb and if she was mine, I think she would be a very spoilt cottage pig.

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