Wednesday, 29 August 2007


In West-Flanders, one of the provinces that form Belgium, small as it is, it is still divided.

Here I was in ‘de Westhoek’ (the West corner); it is the area of the North French border, the corner between the North Sea and the Flemish Ardennes named so because the landscape changes from flat to hilly.

Yes, Le plat pays, where I was born…

It was the first of August, at the height of summer.

A gentle breeze came from the sea, the distance shimmering with the heat from the land rich in harvest.

The light was too harsh to photograph ‘well’.

But it was now or not, what would you choose when you are there?

In this world where everything is in the fast lane and rushed, where we have no time to ‘stand and stare’ anymore so it seems …

I see so many arriving at some beauty spot, jump out of the car, stretch their arm, look for a couple of seconds, take a few shots and off, on to the next.

Meandering along the tiny canals, the old waterways, aimlessly, wherever, taking in the beauty, we arrived in a typically Flemish village. The small church in the middle, surrounded by an old graveyard, a few houses circled around, to the left the road ends at a Belgian military cemetery.

If you want to hear the sound of silence, that is the place to go, or so one would think?

The rustling of the poplars and light breeze waves the leaves of the trees and we can hear sparrows twittering nearby, their chorus changes into a chirping frenzy, probably to warn of danger to the birds sunbathing in the soft earth, between the carpet of green and the rows upon rows of headstones, uniform, with the Belgian flag enameled into the stone, above the names, the age, the rank.

All those young lives curtailed, so much sadness, the silence has descended within me.

Under a row of poplars is a bench, I sit and day dream and wait for Paul to take his images. It is so peaceful.

We head back to where we left the car, not saying much, thinking a lot.

We try the small church, to our joy the heavy door creeps open with a low groan, a coolness greets us, the scent of incense, and more silence.

Except, there is music playing, hardly disturbing the silence, it is a soft classical melody, with the waves of the sea.

The soles of our rubber shoes squeak on the cold shiny blue stone ashlars floor as we walk around.

I go and sit on the front row, the sunlight streams through the windows, creating pools and patches of warmth and colour. I sit and stare once more, soaking up the atmosphere, looking, seeing new things constantly. In places of worship there's a special mood, a serenity that envelopes one.

The light patterns of the donated window attract my attention, families used to give out of gratitude, if someone had survived a grave illness for example, their prayers had been answered.

The walls are white with some stone left visible in places, it all speaks of sobriety.

How many were baptised in this little old church, how many got married… how many were buried here, part of the Roman tower under which I’m sitting dates from the 12th century?

It is hard to believe that during the Great War this church survived, in the middle of the battle-fields.

Time has stopped, I am at a zenith of peace.

After a while I pick up my camera, check the settings and from where I sit, I take my images, the altar with the fresh flowers, the organ with the shiny pipes and rich wood… the shutter of the camera sounds like a gun so loud.

I walk around and see the wood-carved ‘family’, an old silver lamp without the candle, but the door is open, I photograph the holy-water font which looks cracked and sober.

I look back one last time before the heat and brightness hits us, we pass the old graves with the rusted crosses and fading portraits.

We drive off in silence, still tasting the timeless moment.

My advice to any photographer here is, if it is something that is not ‘a moment’, absorb the mood first, look and you will see, then, take your photos with the emotion and attention they deserve…

Thanx, M, (*_*)

Wednesday, 22 August 2007


1 The Yorkshire Heritage Coast

2. Different in winter.

3. Different in summer. Fishing from high on the cliffs.

4. Autumn, it can get rough and even more beautiful.

5. Always something to photograph!

6. Robert with the man who used to build his boats.... had come to pay him a visit and talk about the old days.

7. The boats get tied up and secured firmly during the high tides.

8. Lovely names and colours.

9. Their pride...

10. Robert, my friend

11. The tear...


Flamborough, on the stunning North- Yorkshire Heritage Coast, one of our fave haunts around here, just under two hours away it is a place that is special, the rugged white cliffs, its inlets and coves, the clear blue water, the sounds and smells now so familiar, we need our regular dose of it. WE ALWAYS find something new to photograph, the sea is ever-changing as is the sky and the light, the seasons.

You can go to Flamborough Head with the light house, but we love Smuggler’s Cove… You arrive through the small village, the road opens up, the gulls welcome you, there’s a big parking, and that’s where his van stood, always the first thing you saw, winter summer, always a fire going in a drum, the back doors open, people…

I took many portraits of this beautiful man, gave him copies the next time for which he was always grateful, but being a true Yorkshire man… I always had to pay for my crab! Hihi. Gladly, because these people deserve every penny, such a hard life!

This is about Robert, my friend, who is no more; I just heard he died last month.
All his life, except for the war, he lived in Flamborough, born into a proud family of fishermen; he was also a life long volunteer of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
He eyes shone when he told me that all the boats belonging to him and his family had lovely names like ‘Madeleine Isabella’ and their signature is a white rose, the Yorkshire symbol!
He still went out to inspect his crab pots every early morning, well in his eighties, the women cleaned, prepared and dressed them, most for the fishmongers on markets, the rest for the back of his van, parked in his place at Smuggler’s Cove, where he sold them, that’s how we met.
I love fresh crabs and he loved people…
If you're lucky, you encounter some people in your life that are special, add something, who leave a lasting impression even if you met them only occasionally enrich you forever, Robert was such a man.
I remember the times we sat together, chatting and laughing, wonderful. He loved holding my hands in his huge, rough, calloused hands.

When he heard I was from Belgium, he grabbed my hand; in front of his distant, watery eyes he saw the horrors of war, as we sat next to his dressed crabs, in silence.
I grew up hearing about it; I grew up amongst the many graves in Flanders.

It was a winter’s day, bitingly cold, I’ll never know if the tear on his cheek was the icy wind or …
His kind face etched by the tearing wind and salt and sun and conditions of the North Sea, his pale blue eyes damaged by glare, here he is squinting, but, he had the most amazing gaze. I can't go back there yet, I need some time, give him a place in my heart...

Time is precious, best use it for good, have a lovely day and thanx for your time, Magda, (*_*)


This poem is published with the kind permission of Brian Hutson.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


Please do not COPY or use any of my images on websites, blogs or any other media without my explicit permission. © All rights reserved.

Willem Vermandere is a famous Belgian Artist.

He is a sculptor, singer songwriter, musician, writer, poet and painter, but also a wonderful philosopher and raconteur. His style is a quiet sobriety, he writes his texts from the heart and his deep beliefs and convictions and humanity.

I have followed his career over the years, been to some of his concerts, my boys grew up with his music, he sings mostly in Flemish which they loved. They were used to hearing French, Dutch and English, but thought it hilarious that someone was singing in our dialect, using our pithy language in such a juicy and story telling way.

As a professional photographer, it had always been a dream to photograph him, but somehow the wish was strong but the courage weak to even try and approach him. Except for this time...

A couple of months ago I heard an interview on the radio, and I suddenly felt: It is NOW or NEVER!!

This man has no internet I was not surprised to hear!

Without too much hope, I pleaded my case, I obviously found the right words. I had a great understanding and respect for the fact that Artists and 'well-known' people have an absolute right to their privacy.

I was not insistent (opdringerig), I'm still surprised today that we got permission!

It is not something he'd often agree to ...

Now, I know that Willem only has time, in his very busy schedule, for recognised media professionals like us.

A one off, that we still cherish.

A date was set, we could go around. I had written that I did not want a 'set-up' portrait, that I would photograph him at whatever he was doing.

It turned out above anything I'd hoped for.

He lives in a small lovely and typical village in Flanders.

As we parked our car, he arrived pushing a wheelbarrow.

He put it down and came to us, pointing his finger, ‘AAAhhh Groot Britannie!’

I could see he was ‘dressed’ for sculpting, the blue cloth cap and pants streaked with the white dust of exotic stone.

He told us to follow him, we walked the side path of his house, it was a lovely day, the sparrows chirping away in the warm loamy soil. Round the back, he showed the piece he was working on, he returned with a pneumatic chisel and whilst talking above the infernal noise, he was roughly chipping away. I smiled tongue in cheek and told him how disappointed I was, he turned and came back with the hammer and ‘proper’ chisel, went to the hands he was sculpting, the finer details…

Next he took us to a piece of beautiful granite, which was in a further stage of finish.

He showed his wooden sculptures, his hands caressing as he stopped or passed, he pointed out materials, walking through, we arrived in his studio, where he kept all his paintings and lithographs, one after one he proudly exhibited them in front of us. Having also painted, we conversed about different techniques and pigments and papers.

I looked at his hands, no callouses I noticed, a few knicks... being a musician, he told me he has to take care of them!

We moved on back outside, he was just back from a few days in Burgundy, where he had visited the quarries and handpicked new stones, he showed us some of the smaller ones, the larger ones would come…

A tall structure he was also working on, 3 tons it weighed. A pick axe he lifted, which at the moment he wasn’t happy with, it was too blunt. Another chisel, another stone, it was like he had been starved and needed to chop, the stone chunks and chips were flying everywhere, a big one hit me on the chest, we all stepped back as the possessed artist hammered away.

Of course I was worried for my lens!

We returned and entered the coolness of his house, he talked about his instruments, his music... and played and sang for us, the bit he had composed that morning, whilst he was waiting for us to arrive.

By that time, since we were in such close one on one conversation most o the time, I had lost the nerve to lift my camera and stick it into his face, I’d nodded at Paul, like so often, he understood, we work so well together. He was going to do the reportage!

Here is Willem, surrounded by some of his collection, his clarinet on the table; it was the instrument of his father who taught him. In the bg you see some of his smaller wood carvings.

My granddaughter walked into my shot, she was mesmerized by his mastery on the different guitars and string instruments, an accomplished musician.

He picked up what I think was a more recent acquirement of which he was very proud, the bass clarinet. The sound of it is still beautifully vibrating in my bones, deep and rich, but played in a hauntingly nostalgic way with a tone heard in Hebrew music. An unusual instrument that he uses on his latest CD, stories and songs all about the GREAT WAR... people who survived it and that he used to know and listen to... I can recommend it, but it IS IN FLEMISH...

Here is a poet who can bring the pearls of tears from the depth of my soul.

We reminisced about being born, as I call it, ‘in the shadows of the poppies!’

He took his house keys and informed us (and his wife, probably in the kitchen) that we were off for a pint to the corner pub, well, the village only had one, I told him, ‘our treat’, ‘then I’ll have two’ he laughed.

It was visible that he was well known and liked there amongst his people.

Sitting around the table, he concentrated on Paul when he realised by the accent in the Flemish that hey, here was something… yes he was born in Cape Town, no his mother tongue was English. He stroked and scratched his beard, well well, of all the… you know what, a South African lecturer and storyteller asked my permission to translate some of my texts, he’s done some of Jacques Brel.

He insisted we accompany him back so that he could photocopy the texts for Paul.

It was the midday, the heat of the day, cool in the house, I spotted his wife, she always kept outside of his public life.

Not often have I seen such kindness in a face. We had a wonderful moment together, so this was his muse, she rayed with a confident intelligence, one of those people, tell them half a word… they know the rest…

We left each other somewhat reluctantly, feeling good and close, it was clear we had all enjoyed the experience.

Me, that day I met the 'MENS' Vermandere!

His website:

ANOTHER (later) STORY 2009:

All the best, thanx, M, (*_*)

Thursday, 16 August 2007














Brugge is the capital of the province of West-Flanders in Belgium. A medieval city, rich in history, culture and architecture, called the Venice of the North because it is riddled with canals and small bridges. The Governor’s residence (1) on the Market square, the Belfry all carry the emblems (2), often great care and creativity went into the details.(3)

The inhabitants are known for their pride and great sense of humour.

It is well known, that in 1301 King Philip the Fair was received gloriously in Bruges. Bruges was wealthy and the women proud, they had dressed for the occasion in all their finery…

Alas, his spouse, Johanna of Navarra shouted "I thought I was the only empress, but I can see them here by hundreds!"

Heavy was the punishment which resulted ingreat unrest and the Brugse Metten and later the Battle of the Gilded Spurs

A lot of proud women adorn the walls of buildings, reminding us, carved in stone. (4, 5, 6)

Here is another aspect of a city that some people dare to say from, 'that there is nothing left to photograph'! It has ALL been photographed a zillion times…. Maybe, but not by me it hasn’t.

Who do you photograph for in your free time?
There is a tiny street in Brugge called 'The Blind Donkey street'??? Tee hee.

If you look, you will see; the light is never the same twice?

It is always a thrill for me to return to the city where I was born.
Melancholic, nostalgic, yes, the streets are filled with the ghosts of loved ones.

Sitting on the wall along one of the canals, (7) I lift my face into the sun, I close my eyes, I see them, passing briefly and furtively in front of my screening eyelids, refracted by the tears, caused by the blinding light and intense deep emotion.

These people are forever part of these walls, stones and streets.

I love the non-touristy places, where there is silence, where I can hear the sound of distant voices and laughter, the echoes of familiar footsteps, where I can recall, the little blond girl, at the hand of a grown-up, looking up, always full of questions...

But it is also a happy reunion and revisit of places that are so dear to me and so filled with joy and happiness.

This is the Potterierei, a place where my paternal grand-mother, my quite formidable godmother used to drag me, I never knew why, it was way out of the familiar neighbourhood, I remember the slippery cobblestones… no footpaths on those narrow streets.

It is a along one of the canals (8), dappled sunlight flecking walls and windows, highlighting both the sunflowers inside and the cobweb (9). Yes, it is mid summer, the webs are old or the spiders are early?

More on a green door, it looks like it’s long not been used! (10)

I walk on under the rustling leaves, weaving different patterns on the houses. I love the light-play, on more doors, one with a decorative knocker (11), and another with the typical ancient door-spy (12)… Brugge has lived through many dangerous times in its long existence for almost 2000 years!

It was invaded by about everybody in Europe, so many influences, arts and languages, no wonder we are such a resourceful and industrious people, our Flemish such a wonderful and colourful mix, with words and expressions that are so very pithy.

I suddenly spot another old tradition, which I though was long gone… The public announcement on the wall of the church, that someone has passed, who they were and when you can say good-bye…

Sometimes the wind and rain takes care of things if it’s on for too long, I see some remnants of older notices… (13)

Again, the city where I was born, that I know so well, that is so much part of me, that I am so much part of.
Forget the touristy spots, the picture postcard pretty, beautiful as they are. Forget the beer (if you can?), the chocolate (mmm???), all that is necessary for commercial survival...
Let me take you to the corner of two narrow cobbled streets, the white washed house with crow-stepped gable roof, the ornate hanging old lantern, which once used to work on gas...

I remember the lamplighters charged with the task of lighting the lamp at night and extinguishing it in the morning, snuffing out the light, going around with their long burning torch! As a child I did not like the acrid smell!

Yes it’s good to go back once in a while and revisit…

Thanx, M, (*_*)

Thursday, 9 August 2007


Channel traffic. One ferry company has 25 crossings a day!

In English: The Dover Strait,
French: Pas de Calais,
Dutch: Nauw van Kales.
Flemish: Het Kanaal.
It is the narrowest part of the English Channel. The shortest distance is from Dover in the county of Kent in England to Cap Gris Nez, the Cape near Calais in the d├ępartement du Pas-de-Calais in France, the closest point between those two countries with a distance of only 33 km (20 miles).

We went through on the 26th, during the night, which has its own charm; the moon glistened on the black water, highlighting the spray and wake. We were standing on the top deck; some seagulls accompanied us gracefully and eerily.
Dotted lights all over the Channel, Ferries still crossing, boats waiting, sloops fishing, some intrepid sailors yachting, yes a very busy place!
The lights of Dover receding, those from France getting closer, a romantic experience, special, well we enjoy those things in life...
We had left our cameras in the car, for once only wanted to savour the moment and the atmosphere, without any pressure. We were on holiday, well... partly...
I just read something very appropriate: Confucius said that the secret to happiness is:

"If you find a job that you like, you'll never work a day in your life."

On our journey back, very different, we caught the SWEET light... and even more traffic!
The light was out of the ordinary, I did not want to set my camera to 'adapt' and change the way it actually was in reality, what it was doing naturally! I took it straight, overly bright, sparkling, blinding, star-effect, even some flare. To my eyes, Nature is so beautiful, so wonderfully incomparable and varied, why do we get this ‘need’ to always tamper with it, control it, and change it?

Away from the port of Calais I spotted a yacht cutting through the oily sea, the big ships in the busy lane seem to lie in wait..

Another lovely memory in the book of my life, I came home with plenty..., beauty, love, goodness, friendship and professional satisfaction.

Hope your day is plain sailing, thanx, M, (*_*)