My winning Slow Moment

David Pechey, 19 January, 2018
We asked David Pechey, the winner of our 2017 photography competition, to tell us the story behind ‘Bus Queue’, and to explain how he managed to capture such an extraordinary Slow Moment.

It was fantastic to see my photo given pride of place at Inntravel’s Slow Moments exhibition. But, in truth, its journey to the Joe Cornish Galleries – and to winning the competition – was a rather fortuitous one. First of all, my wife Christine and I were not supposed to be where we were when it was taken. And secondly, even having taken it, I was not planning to enter it into the competition until I was persuaded to do so by a photographer friend.

We were on holiday in Sri Lanka, and on this particular day we had to take a six-hour bus trip on narrow, tuk-tuk-clogged roads in tropical heat and humidity towards the capital, Colombo. Our programme included a two-hour break for lunch in the port city of Galle. As we arrived in Galle, we drove into the impressive 17th-century Dutch Fort, with its vast, fortified ramparts – erected to ward off colonial invaders. Once inside, we were captivated by the narrow streets, markets, temples, homes and residents of the old city. We came to the realisation that, in our whole lives, we might only ever have these two hours in Galle, and that the old city was too fascinating and inviting for us to spend that time in an air-conditioned restaurant. So, instead, we set off exploring…

After a while, we found ourselves on a narrow path on top of the ramparts with an elevated view down into the busy streets below. We came upon a mosque with an adjoining madrasa, just as lessons were finishing for the day. I managed to get a photo of the imam, relaxing informally on the madrasa steps surrounded by his students, and believed I had captured an intriguing travel photo. Many of the boys dispersed on foot across the city, but six of them (those who were to feature in the winning photo) appeared to have a longer journey home and crossed the street to a bus stop.

They then did what they probably do every day, and instead of waiting for their bus in the full glare of the afternoon sun, they scrambled up the rampart to shelter in the shade of the overhanging trees near to where we were. I realised that, if I dropped down a few feet, they might make an attractive silhouette against the clear bright sky, dressed all in white. It took a couple of shots to get the exposure right: I wanted to preserve some of the detail from their uniforms rather than rendering them as fully black silhouettes. In fact, the reflected light from their clothing lent an almost translucent quality to the images.

But those first pictures were quite static, with the boys standing like statues in the heat. I kept them in the viewfinder, hoping that something would happen: perhaps one might sit down or reach for the branches above, or a boyish scuffle might break out. Then, suddenly, one of them spoke and the boy on the far left leaned forward, either to reply or to hear better, and the subsequent chatter along the line caused the boy on the far right to remove his cap in a somewhat theatrical gesture. This was the image I had been waiting for. The shutter clicked and we belatedly headed to the nearest café for a very long, cold and refreshing drink!

Several months later, and I was in The Lake District on a photographic hiking break with a friend. Some typical Lakes weather – rain and low cloud – had confined us to barracks, but I knew the September deadline for the Inntravel Slow Moments competition was approaching, and this was evidently on my mind. I had already got a couple of monthly ‘runners up’ to my name, but I was still looking for a strong submission – and that elusive winner. Searching through my files, I showed the picture of the imam to my friend. He declared it a solid travel photo. However, he also said that the image contained all the information the viewer could wish for, whereas the photo of the boys in the bus queue contained a mystery. “Who are those boys?”, the viewer wants to know. “Where are they, and why are they there?”  More than that: the viewer needs to know what was happening to cause the two ‘wingers’ to react in the way they did, to produce those intriguing poses. My friend insisted that, if the photo competition was entitled ‘Slow Moments’, then the ‘Bus Queue’ boys had to be my submission. So that’s what happened, and the rest is happy history.

Winning the competition was a huge thrill, and comes high on any list of accomplishments. And seeing my image on the wall at the Joe Cornish Galleries was an additional pleasure, especially as Joe has been my photographic idol for nearly three decades. Now, as a result, Christine and I have the exciting task of arranging to take up our fabulous prize – a week's holiday "In Search of Dalí". Catalonia is a beautiful part of Spain, and although we have holidayed in the region before, the sites of significance to Dalí are all new to us, so we should have plenty of new experiences to savour. We have enjoyed many great holidays organised by Inntravel in the past, so we know that this one will be a special highlight. As part of the prize, I’ve been asked to create a portfolio of photographs of ‘Dalí's Catalonia’ – and, while this is a new responsibility to shoulder, I haven’t taken a holiday during the past 25 years without a camera in my hand, so I look forward eagerly to accepting the challenge

Discover Catalonia

You can head off in search of sun, sea and Salvador Dalí – just like David and his wife Christine – by choosing one of our walking or cycling holidays amid the beautiful landscapes of northern Catalonia.
More about our self-guided holidays in Catalonia >
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