The magic of Arabian nights and days
It's amazing the ways in which blip brings change to people's lives. Leanne Marshall, known as DesertCamel, was not a photographer when she joined blip nearly six years ago – the occasional snapshot of family birthdays or holidays was about her lot. A South African now known for her stunning and often quirky images of life in the Arabian Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain – which she fondly refers to as 'the sandpit' – she currently has her work exhibited in a local art gallery, while her photographs of Bahraini doors have been the subject of a magazine feature article.
"My photography started in Bahrain, when I joined a photo group run by friends. There were four or five of us, and we would go to places that I mightn't have gone on my own. I'm naturally shy and don't like approaching people - in fact many of my people images are shot from the back - but my friend Bev (who used to blip as Camel Country) would charm people with her winning smile, and we'd be invited to take whatever images we wanted!"
The photo group evolved into a group of blippers (Leanne is the only one still blipping) in November 2011 when another friend, knowing they were keen photographers, told them about blipfoto.
"Because I don't work in Bahrain - we are here because of my husband, Niall's, job - it was something to keep me busy. After looking at a lot of blips, I decided I wanted my pictures to tell the story, as I don't write much; I use my photos to express myself - they have to be the journal themselves.
"My very first blip was of living room furniture on the beach, for which I got a lot of comments, and I realised that this was a different thing that other people found interesting. Blipping gave me the impetus to go out and look for unusual subjects to capture. Over the years, it's given me a totally different perspective. Bahrain is a small island, and every day there's something unique; no two days here are the same.
Getting off 'automatic'
In time, Leanne mastered her initial fear of taking her camera (a Nikon D40X, though today she mainly uses a Nikon D7200 and a Fujifilm X30) off automatic and started experimenting with different settings, encouraged by fellow Bahrain blippers who were more experienced photographers.
"It seems strange now, but in the early days I used to be really nervous about that! It was only when I began to understand how changing the aperture and ISO could create such different effects and DOF that you just can't get on automatic that I became more confident. Occasionally though, I do still use automatic settings if the conditions are difficult and I don't want to miss the shot – I think everyone does that, to a degree.
"Once, I'd got up early to go with someone to photograph a market and it was still very dark when we arrived. I kept my camera on the 'no flash' setting, and got some great pics. The person I was with had her camera on manual the whole time, and all her shots were blurred. I think she thought I'd 'cheated', but at the end of the day, I had pictures and she didn't. To me, getting the photo is the result you want.
"I'm completely self-taught and have never been on a photography course – I'm very envious of blippers who have access to that sort of thing as I'd love to learn more," says Leanne.
"All of this has happened for me because I started blipping"
Lack of formal tuition certainly hasn't held her back. Leanne credits blip with having enabled her to participate in three American Women's Association of Bahrain (AWA) photography exhibitions over the years, which has led to greater exposure for her work.
"All the photos I've exhibited, barring my man with the umbrella, were blips," she says. "The money I made from the first exhibition allowed me to upgrade my camera, and in fact that happened twice.
"Then I was approached by an artist who wanted to print my photos of Bahraini doors onto canvases, so she could paint over them to create mixed-media artworks. When she started her own gallery, ArtDivano, my photos were reproduced as bookmarks, cards and so on to be sold there. Now she has started the mixed-media works, and they are gorgeous.
"None of this would have happened if I was back in South Africa. And if it weren't for blip, my photos wouldn’t have been included Andrew Weaver's book 'Glow', either. Really, all of this has happened for me because I started blipping."
Tips from blip-scouting friends can help
With more than 2,000 continuous entries under her belt, Leanne says that she can't imagine letting a day go by without blipping.
"My husband, and friends on Facebook, often find blips for me now! Lapsed blippers help me, too, by pointing me in the direction of things they've seen, because they know the sorts of things that make good blips.
"Another thing that spurs me on is that many friends who have left Bahrain follow my blips to keep connected, because they feel it's 'their Bahrain'. This place has a way of getting under one's skin, and it stays a part of people after they move on; they want to see that it's still there – the date palms, the markets, the rickety bicycles, the lanes in the souk and the sights there; the boys riding their horses down to the beach at sunset."
It's hot out? Blip from the car!
Outdoor photography in Bahrain's soaring summer temperatures – right now the daytime temperature is in the mid-40s Celsius, with high humidity – is a serious challenge for blippers. Leanne's top tip for this sort of camera work is to stay in the air-conditioned comfort of the car, where possible.
"Generally I use my phone. I sit in the car and have to blip from there. If I know I'm going to have to get out, I drive with the windows down so the camera lens can defog before I get to my destination.
"Another problem with summer is that there are fewer people out and about in the heat. I tend to revert to sunsets, ripening dates, things like that. One thing that's made it harder this year is that all the fishermen's shacks I used to blip have gone; they've been removed to make way for new development - a loss of for this country, which has always relied on the sea. They were part of Bahrain's heritage."
She did record them, though…. so perhaps another collection on the way, courtesy of blip?
Odd though it may seem, Leanne has never yet managed a blipmeet outside Bahrain, though she feels very connected to her fellow blippers.
"Blip is almost like having penpals all around the world, with a common interest in photography, who share a piece of their life with you every single day. I love sharing my days here – and especially my camels, after whom I've named my journal." ☐
Remarks collected by Tanya Lunn; Cover photo by Leanne Marshall
We would like to feature some recently joined blippers. If someone caught your attention, please let me know at 'Michele@blipfoto.com'. Self nominations will be considered too!
Last, but not least, if you've not done so yet, pls take a few minutes to respond to the community survey, which will close on August 20!