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The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee

Taking off for Cambodia in July for my photographic work was not going to be a piece of cake. I would have to contend with the monsoon and its diluvial rains… In short, I would have to work under rather unstable weather conditions, in muddy terrain, and under a gloomy gray sky. The climatic conditions were in perfect collusion for me to jump headfirst and take on the challenge of my theme, “The Labors of Hercules” to photograph the beauty and the nobility of the men and women living and working under particularly difficult circumstances. My old bag was no longer in tough enough shape to take along on a new expedition. So I chose the Manfrotto Pro Light Bumblebee-220 PL backpack: MB PL-B-220 for two reasons: – It’s big enough to hold my equipment (2 Nikon D3S and DF cameras, 5 lenses, LED Spectra 900 FT lighting: MLS900FT, 190CXPRO tripod) – The foam gecko harnesses that I wanted to try out. I found the concept and the material intriguing. The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee I went to meet the Khmer miners in Ratanakiri province in the northeast of the country. Mining for zircon and sapphire occurs in the most rustic conditions you can imagine. No trace of dynamite and bulldozing. There are no vast industrial mining operations here. This is all they have for equipment: a bucket, a shovel, rope, wood scaffolding, and of course their hands to dig through the red earth to hunt these precious gems. Dug in the earth with their bare hands and measuring no more than 70 centimeters in diameter, each well is covered by a woven canvas tarp. In all, there are about forty holes that two hundred miners exploit there in the hilly landscape in the middle of a tropical rain forest. The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee For complete independence, whenever I travel, I buy or rent a motorcycle. Reaching the zircon mines at this time of year means traveling down muddy and slippery tracks, and the pouring rain does nothing to alleviate the sense of constant disequilibrium. Packed down with seventeen kilos of photographic material, my expedition partner, the Pro Light Bumblebee-220 PL: MB PL-B-220 went the distance in giving me a real sense of comfort in a situation that would otherwise have been the worse kind of anxious discomfort. The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee The tightly secured ventral straps and the gecko harness that cushioned the weight of the bag on my shoulders made the load feel about five kilos lighter, and that kind of comfort means a lot when the circumstances get that tough. The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee Here’s a small detail that meant a lot to me: I had the idea that I could use the space in the back of the bag’s top, between the main part and the double dorsal ergonomic wall as a place to slide my K-Way, so I could reach it easily. With the rain beating down at a moment’s notice, you have to be able to react to the tough conditions urgently without putting your cameras and lenses at risk. So that’s when I pull out my K-Way without having to open my bag. The labors of Hercules with a Bumblebee I finally reach my destination. I get off the motorcycle. I go up to the men to meet them. I learn their language. I try to understand their way of life. I can already see the sparkling of photo shots before my eyes… Everything moves so quickly in my head, but quite slowly during the encounter. This very intense contrast allows me to capture the essence of a look or an action. I open my bag without even having to look because of the ingenious functionality of the four multi-directional zippers. I adjust equipment, I think about lighting. The depth of field. I study the scene. I choose the aperture. I listen. I adjust shutter speed. I’ve got the shot.

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