With twenty hours to go, we board the overnight train from Vienna to Bucharest, except the Austrian operated OEBB train has broken down somewhere up the line. Instead, Romanian operated CFR step in and send up one of their iconic specimens from the 1980s, but the sleeper carriage hasn’t arrived and a fight ensues on the platform between irate ticket guard and angry grandma. I place a bet on Grandma and duly find a seat in the first-class carriage. Upgrades are all well and good, but I’d have preferred a bed.

The Nun

D800e / 500 f4 / Transylvania

Time to scare away the bad. A nun walks the circumference of one of the many painted monasteries in Transylvania. As she goes, she beats a wooden stick to the rhythmic chants of bible verses pouring through loudspeakers secured under the eaves.

The Potter

D4 / 35 f1.4 / Transylvania

An overpowering smell of drying clay permeates the small outhouse conjoining a textile workshop with a road-side cafe. We stop briefly for a bite to eat, to stretch our weary legs from a week of traversing the Transylvanian highlands, and to leave the rest stop, apparently, with more than we’d arrived. Two hand-thrown glazed dinning dishes and a rather large hand-spun Romanian carpet now protrude from the boot of the rental car, partially obscuring the rear view mirror as we continue our journey south.

The Smith

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Transylvania

His hammer obliterates the small shard of metal, literally removing the composite from existence. Smiling with a purpose, he picks up a long thin piece laying by his side and starts repeatedly beating one of the ends, his eyes now clouded over with a Jovian frenzy. As he pulverises the metal it begins to emanate an orange glow. Over and over he pounds the malleable material, turning and twisting until orange turns to red, red to white. Lifting the smouldering filament, he flips a cigarette from hand to mouth and proceeds to puff away using his hard-earned lighter. A gimmick that I’d easily watch all day long.

The Tourists

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Transylvania

Stopping briefly at the base, we look back and take in the past few miles of sweeping downland. We’ve already climbed a thousand feet or so, the small forest-lined winding roads chocked with running water, fallen trees, and flocks of sheep. Now tittering above the forest line, the grand vista of the lowlands takes our breath away as mountain grass turns to mottled forest to yellow field land to the blue beyond. Yet looking ahead we see promises of a twisted and steep ascent to our final goal; the glacial mirror of lake Bâlea. A gently flowing alpine stream gurgles and cuts the narrow valley in half, lush green carpet curving up either side to steep rocky walls peppered with brown bushes and the occasional mountain goat. Two cyclists pass us on the flats, they shout and wave, double down, and continue waging  their own battle up Romania’s infamous Transfagarasan pass.

A Paddling Dog

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Transylvania

With an almighty splash the mountain dog submerges itself in the glacial lake with only it’s nose peeping above the water line. It gracefully swims in circles as if showing the world it knows how to doggy paddle before dragging it’s sodden hulking frame back out to the shoreline, all the while looking fairly smug with its decision for a dip in the hot afternoon sun.

Outside An Egg Museum

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Transylvania

The painted egg museum didn’t really keep me entertained, in fact it was more of a walk-in walk-out affair if I’m honest. Catherine was still inside ogling the Faberge collection whilst listening to the monotonous audio guide. She has a patience I’ll never possess. I instead walk the length of a live railway line laying adjacent to the museum, the sturdy tracks bracketed either side with ornate blue-green carriages evidently parked since the 1940s. They lay in the still air, derelict and forgotten, yet there’s movement inside, a curtain twitches and a loud gruff voice echoes from somewhere within. I discover the carriages have become living quarters for the less privileged and their dogs. The tracks are quiet and peaceful, the sun is hot, so I sit on a deserted platform edge and people watch for an hour or so. This place is idyllic beyond words.

On A Bear Hunt

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Transylvania

The clearing in the forest ahead is a perfect ambush spot for a brown bear, or so we’re told as we climb towards the national park plateaux an hour south-west of Brasov. The going is easy at first, long dwindling national park routes funnelling tourists past bird watching spots and large colourful maps. But then we take a steep right turn and begin to climb up towards the dark forests nestling below the plateaux grasslands, and beyond to the ice-capped peaks of the Carpathian ridge. Hours pass as we traverse the depths of the forest, occasionally spotting large claw marks raked deep in to tree trunks, some old, many new. We reach the ambush clearing and take a well earned breather, drinking cold elderflower cordial as we sit on the earthy buttress roots of a tree only last night upended by the mother of all bears. Worms and insects still squirm in the loose soil. We set off again on our trek through the dark forest, eventually thinning out to sparser woodland and at last the plateaux; an emerald-green belt of vibrant summer grass and lily-white field flowers, perfect grazing ground for the nomadic alpine cattle and the Carpathian brown bear.

A Winter Lake

D800e / 14 – 28 f2.8 / Transylvania

Bâlea lake shimmers in the cool afternoon sun, dappled light cascading through heavy dark cloud gradually melting recent snow at the waters edge.

Under the bypass

D800e / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Bucharesti

Flight Path to Bucharest

D800e / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Bucharesti

Two uniformed police officers slouch at the other end of an empty first-class carriage, diligently tapping screens and half-listening to four Hungarian ticket officers telling stories of ticket-touts and stowaways. They all laugh politely at yet another joke told by a mildly overweight aging male inspector, his glasses propped on the end of his nose as if waiting for the green-light to jump. Everything is calm. Five hours into a twenty-hour journey on the CFR operated train running overnight from Vienna to Bucharest, this is the Romanian Red Eye.

With twenty hours to go, we board the overnight train from Vienna to Bucharest, except the Austrian operated OEBB train has broken down somewhere up the line. Instead, Romanian operated CFR step in and send up one of their iconic specimens from the 1980s, but the sleeper carriage hasn’t arrived and a fight ensues on the platform between irate ticket guard and angry grandma. I place a bet on Grandma and duly find a seat in the first-class carriage. Upgrades are all well and good, but I’d have preferred a bed.

Twenty hours sitting stationary in an air-conditioned first-class carriage sounds fairly nice when it’s hitting the mid-thirties outside, but we’re dressed for a hot night in an economy sleeper, and within thirty minutes start shaking from the icy air permeating the ruby-red interior of the empty carriage.

Midnight passes and our carriage, having stopped at Budapest to take on a small contingent of misfits looking to head east, now resembles a no-mans-land of strewn bodies trying to make the best of a missing sleeper. To find the toilet is to play pick-a-stick with lifeless limbs as you tiptoe across a zombie wasteland. The occasional snore causes a monumental shift in limb positions, requiring toilet-goers to find a different route each time. We go easy on the water.

1am approaches and a man sits down behind me, he must have gotten on at the border. His face reflects in the black mirror of our shared window, the forlorn and slightly deranged stare out into oblivion silently betraying his acute drunkenness.

As the night deepens a new sense of panic resonates through the trundling three-carriage train; mobile devices have started to run out of juice, but there’s only one carriage with electricity. Bags of dead devices are soon being smuggled in from other carriages in a time-tested movement of ‘lost people looking for the toilet’. Once plugged in the devices diligently alert the general public that they have indeed been plugged in and are thankful for the top-up. The charging points are temperamental with cut-outs every few minutes, the phones, however, are keen to reiterate their thanks as the power returns. It’s an endless, sleepless night.

As 3am chimes, a woman staggers through from second class, no bag of dead devices this time. She momentarily becomes the focus of the entire carriage as the sliding doors clatter closed, waking everyone up from their awkward slumber. Covered in a heavy layer of sweat, shirt saturated, hair strands pasted across her face, she poses under an a/c unit shaking her hair in a subtly sultry manner, evidently cooling down from the lack of a/c elsewhere on the train. The scene briefly looks like a cheap beer commercial from time past, just without the beer. Chuckling, I return to staring at my reflection in the window, contemplating cold beer and comfy beds.

  • Beijing
  • Tianjin
  • Xin Jiang
    Xin Jiang
  • Yunnan
  • Vienna
  • Kampuchea
  • Budapest
  • Brighton
  • Transylvania
  • Shanghai

Shooting analogue was a combination of artistic bliss and personal bankruptcy, so when digital cameras hit the market we all thought the same thing: win win. But after 15 years shooting digital, my field-work attitude had shifted for the worse; I became accustomed to the high FPS my Nikons could turn over, became lazy when bracketing for HDR, began to abuse high ISO, just accepting the grain in all weather. I’d even leave my tripod at home and just make do with image stabilistion. Above all, I’d become lazy, relying on technology to finish a process I’d start in my mind. I didn't start like that during my analogue days; back then it was sacrilege to 'fill the buffer', as it were - we thought, composed, and captured with each and every click. Romanticised maybe, but true.

So I changed.

Capturing one solid image for a collection is pretty easy, anyone can take a great image with a bit of skill, practise, and luck. Seriously, anyone. Two great images - still not hard and sometimes they even look good together. Three, four, and five start taxing the cranium; you need to start thinking ahead, above, and beyond. You start to sweat. Working up to ten images takes dedication, time, and skill, but once you have your collection, you get a real sense of achievement.

Forcing ourselves to select a limited number of images amongst an infinite number of possibilities enables us to think deeper about our photography, it gives us motivation and focus during times of lack-luster malaise, and it aligns our thoughts, encouraging exploration and thematic expression in collections.

IOIMG isn't typically about obsessive image matching for competitions or exhibitions (although I'd go so far as to say the images in your collections should, in some way, compliment each other), nor is it particularly constrained when choosing subjects or themes for image pools; I like to use  IOIMG as more of a guiding principle designed to help maintain standards and encourage exploration in my photography as I explore the many different avenues within the discipline.

Without a guide, we'd get lost.

Share This