Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bull bars and inquisitive cows

click photo to enlarge
The main subtext of motor vehicle manufacturers' advertisements is that buying their vehicle will say something about you to the world. They're pretty much right, but what is said isn't always what they imagine. Take off-road vehicles. When I see a 2.5 ton Land Rover Discovery barrelling along the highway, transporting a mother and child on the school run, I think, "That driver must be a half-wit." If it is fitted with bull-bars I think, "That driver must be a complete and utter half-wit with the cognitive powers of a dead ant." What causes me to have these thoughts? Simply the redundancy implicit in using a vehicle of this sort for domestic travel, the selfishness involved in cocooning yourself in a place of safety at the expense of other road users, and the environmental impact of such transport. As for the bull bars, well, the chances of hitting a bull on Britain's roads is marginally less than running over a member of the royal family, so what's the point? Now I know that my thoughts about the drivers of 4X4 vehicles cannot be right: many must be perfectly pleasant, intelligent people, and those that I know certainly are! The trouble is, a large number of them, through their driving, seem intent on making me think otherwise.

Yesterday, as I was photographing the motte and bailey of the former Norman castle at Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire, it occurred to me that the "petal" lens hood on my Zuiko 11-22mm lens is a pretty useful bull-bar, or rather cow-bar. I was in a field taking my photographs when I was approached by a small herd of young cattle. I took a couple of shots of them as foreground interest for my image of the castle mounds, then turned and climbed over the stile out of the field. The animals followed me right up to the fence and crowded around, seemingly wanting their photograph taken again. As I obliged the boldest of the bunch pushed her wet nose so close that I felt it bump up against the lens hood which, very conveniently, saved the filter on the end of the lens from getting snotty.

Taking a couple more shots I reflected that these were the friendliest cows I've encountered for quite a while. However, when I came to process this shot I revised my opinion. I think what I'd taken for friendliness was pushiness; a lack of the social graces due to being badly brought up. What makes me think that? Well look at the cow in the background cleaning its nose out with its tongue. Ugh! Gross! Didn't its mother teach it anything?

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On


Matt said...

You've been on my RSS feed for about a year and I haven't stopped by to say hi until now.

I enjoy your photography and writing. You have a casual yet clever style with loads of charm and a refreshing simplicity.

This post got me thinking enough to write a comment because it shows how different my motivations are from yours, but the end result is the same.

I personally do not believe humankind is able to control the world's thermometer. I hate labels, but I guess you'd call me a political conservative.

However, I share your disdain for SUV's. I've driven a Prius for the last 4 years. My motivation is to keep fuel revenues from the middle-east and to save money. I've told many of my "true believer" environmentalist friends that if saving the world through changing peoples energy habits is truly your goal, then realize people have different motivations and appealing to these motivations is essential in order to change their behaviors. I, like many people, don't believe the world's environment will be significantly changed by human energy consumption so I have no motivation based on that argument to change. This to me, is why the Prius is such a success. It's a multi-motivation energy saver. It appeals to those who believe they are saving the earth through smart energy use, it appeals to those who are cheap and don't want to spend a lot of money on fuel, it appeals to the technology and gadget geek, it appeals to the Hollywood star trying to portray an image and so on...

Anyway, that's my two cents worth. You have great blog. I'm amazed at your consistent quality.

Tony Boughen said...

Hi Matt,

It's good of you to take the trouble to comment at length. My posts tend to be succinct - I aim for about 300 -400 words, so my arguments aren't extended in the way they might be if I was speaking. My main beef with SUVs is they're an inefficient (and hence environmentally wasteful) way of transporting four people around and are unneccesarily heavy (for the use to which most put them) and consequently are dangerous to road users in more rationally sized vehicles whilst offering impact protection to their users.

Your arguments have a lot of merit, but I guess I would differ from you in arguing that appealing to people's self-interest can usually get you quite a long way in the right direction, but sometimes society in the form of government has to step in and make some ground rules. This is not least because there are whole industries - advertising, manufacturers, etc - spending billions annually, dedicated to persuading us to act against our own personal interests. And they're often very successful: why else would anyone who lives in the suburbs, whose furthest off-road adventure is parking on the pavement (sidewalk), buy a 4X4?

Anyway Matt, thanks again for your thoughts on the matter. My wife said she was surprised that no one had responded to this particular "rant" (as she calls my polemical pieces), so she'll be interested in what you have to say too!

Best wishes,

Marcin said...

May I add to this discussion that SUV's, as used on public roads, can in fact expose their occupants to new hazards:

Tony Boughen said...

Thanks for the contribution Marcin. I wasn't familiar with that particular reference.

I recall reading a few years ago that Isuzu 4X4s were prone to rolling over. I also read that many off-road vehicles are built with stiff bodies, with much less in the way of crumple zones than family cars. Apparently, in some types of crash the occupants' bodies are prone to decelerate more rapidly than if they were in a "normal" vehicle. This causes significant harm. Of course all this is counter-intuitive, and many SUV buyers (and others) think such vehicles are always safer because they're big and strong.

Regards, Tony