Exhibition "Atmospheres Surrounding the Ponds of the Dombes"
In October 2017, we exhibited twenty wildlife and artistic photographs at the Château des Creusettes in the district of Ain in France. The wildlife exhibition entitled "Atmospheres on les ponds of la Dombes" was intended to unveil the rugged beauties of migratory and wintering birds in this huge wetland. We chose to display the living, breathing splendor of the birds that were native to these ponds.
Several hundred-people crowded under a tent to discover these little-known treasures.
An Exhibition That Aligns to Our Artistic Approach
All the photographic works presented at the exhibition "Atmospheres on the Ponds of la Dombes" are in keeping with our artistic approach. Our sceneries are carefully chosen to highlight the birds. The enveloping lights are very soft and evenly distributed, which masterfully showcases the wild beauties of this region. Our scenes are ethereal with one or two birds but never more.
This exhibition is both artistic and naturalistic. The birds are perfectly identifiable. The goal we pursued was to show both the Dombistes (people native in La Dombes) and the people living in the Ain department that La Dombes is full of breathtaking birds—lesser known treasures that must be cared for.
This naturalistic approach does not prevent us from showcasing dreamlike scenes. This dreamlike effect is very important in our photographs. We are passionate about the beauties of nature and we want our spectators to escape into our photographs through the contemplation of our photographs. This is the sole purpose of our art photography collections.
An Exhibition Created at the Castle of Creusettes in La Dombes in Ain
This exhibition took place in a magnificent castle, the Creusettes, located in the heart of La Dombes in the village of Chapelle Chatelard in the department of Ain. Containing over one thousand ponds, this massive wetland was perfect for hosting twenty photographic works dedicated to native birds.
The castle, Creusettes, was built in 1860 by the Lyon industrialist Alfonse Clément-Desormes. It is in La Dombes, halfway between Lyon and Geneva. The red brick house, covered by a glazed tile roof, has been completely restored to its former glory by renovation. Situated near the river Chalaronne, the castle is surrounded by French gardens and animal parks.
The exhibition was sheltered under a huge marquee. We chose a horizontal format with a width of 90 cm (3 feet) to make the entire exhibition completely homogeneous. The community of La Dombes had commissioned this exhibition to be organized in modular grids, in which the spectators could wander at their pleasure. This also allowed us to set up a scenography within the aisles and passages.
Four Years of Work
All the photographs presented during the exhibition were created during the months of May and June in the period of 2012 to 2016. The end of spring is a very interesting period in La Dombes to photograph birds as it is the breeding season for migratory birds or sedentary birds.
Love parades and couples are usually formed during the months of April and May. This is an opportunity to photograph unusual behavior such as dances and offerings of Great Crested Grebe. After the laying occurs in May, the chicks start to come out of the nests in June. This is the period we prefer because the show is extraordinary. We have photographed many scenes of adult coots or Great Crested Grebe feeding their chicks.
We are always surprised by the young swans leaving the nest to discover the ponds at a young age by following their parents.
Every year, the show on the ponds is constantly renewed. We never know weariness.
But La Dombes is not just known for its breathtaking birds—it has hauntingly beautiful landscapes as well. Each morning of our stay, we are welcomed by the first photographic session of the day: La Dombes’ flat landscapes are bathed in soft and subdued morning lights.
Over our past trips, we have become aware of how lucky we are to be able to come every year, and photograph these hidden animal treasures. Indeed, even during our beginning trips, we noticed that many dombistes (inhabitants of the Dombes) were not aware of the treasures that they encountered daily.
La Dombes: Paradise for Wildlife Photographers
For us professional wildlife photographers that specialize in live animals from the wetlands, La Dombes is a real paradise. In fact, nearly 280 species of wild birds have been recorded in this region.
Many of these birds are one of the 94 species of passerines. They are small songbirds, like the melodious linnet or the song thrush ... but also the rook crow. There are also 183 non-passerines. They are generally larger, most of which are game species, such as ducks, but also protected species like storks.
Another distinction considers the breeders: 154 species. The non-breeders are often migrants, winter and summer visitors that number 123 species.
These various birds are not evenly distributed in the ecological space of La Dombes, which can be subdivided into four main functional compartments: the woodlots, the crops associated with what remains of the hedgerow, the ponds, and the eutrophic environment of the villages.
For our project dedicated to the birds of the Dombes, we chose to focus only on the birds of the ponds. A humid environment, the ponds contain beautiful landscapes of reed beds, water flowers, and reflections on the surface of the water. These ponds are perfect cases that highlight the beauty of birds. We could not discover those same interesting sights anywhere else in the woods or in the high forests.
The pond environment includes many species of birds: about fifty nidifies and many migrators, even if the quota fluctuates more than in other environments according to the seasons and years. On the pounds, it is possible to observe crested grebes, pygmy grebes and black-necked grebes. Ducks, geese, shelducks and swans can also be spotted. Eight species of herons, like grey heron, purple heron, and little bittern, are common in this area. Eurasian coot, common moorhen, black-head gull and whiskered tern also call this pond home.
The "aquatic" diurnal raptors are represented in nesting only by the harrier of the reeds. It is necessary to wait for the time of migration or the season of winter to observe species as prestigious as the osprey or the bald eagle. In passerines, only sylviids are well represented as breeders: frightening and turdoid marsh warbler, reed warblers, and the luscinioid locusts, accompanied by the reed sparrow. The other species remain occasional. Given the importance of the "freeze" parameter on the ability of the ponds to retain water birds, their avifauna is less sedentary than those of other compartments: over one-third of breeding species hibernates in winter. It is not always the same individuals; as it is with the case of the gray heron.
The Use of the Floating Hide
To create our photographs, we used floating blinds, described in this article. It allows us to move around the ponds while walking. We can thus draw closer to the birds to observe and photograph them.
In our wildlife photographs, we like to photograph animals at eye level to capture the brightness in their eyes. This is what we call the spark of life.
The floating blind is very mobile and does not make noise. We can thus choose the best angles to seize the light and better emphasize the birds without frightening them.
Some birds, like ducks, are very fearful and cannot be approached easily. To make the photographs of the two common pochard presented in the exhibition, we had to wait for three days in the middle of a pond so that they became familiar with our presence.
The Choice of Artistic Photographs
These twenty artistic and naturalistic photographs show sedentary species such as the gray heron or coots, and migratory birds such as the purple heron or the common pochard.
We limited ourselves to making certain choices from the hundreds of photos we had. These choices were conditioned by our artistic approach but also by the desire to best display these unknown wild beauties. We hope to have achieved our goal.
The Exhibition in Photos
You can click on each photo of the exhibition to enlarge it.
Isabelle and Amar Guillen are two photographers specializing in underwater, wildlife, and landscape photography. In 1987, their photographic adventure began while they both prepared for a degree in computer engineering. The visual beauty offered by the sumptuous surrounding landscapes and the wildlife held within began (and continues) to be their source of inspiration. This has led them to entirely devote themselves to a professional photographic career, allowing them to share their contemplative and artistic interpretation of nature. For the last fifteen years, they have photographed both the animals and their terrestrial and underwater natural landscapes. Their photographic scenes are animated by the infinite mysteries hidden in nature.
Through their photographic gaze of nature, they strive to highlight the importance of its conservation. Isabelle and Amar live and exhibit between France and the United States, both of which supply wildlife, landscapes, and cultures, providing inspiration for the Guillen's work. Isabelle and Amar have published several books including "Lights and Colors of the Charente-Maritime Coast", "Reflections of Haute-Saintonge", and "The Secrets of Underwater Photography ".