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"A" is for All Aboard!

A96c is a staple in my photo letter collection. During the initial selection of possible letters for a design, it’s included in the short list around 50% of the time. What’s in this letter that would warrant such popularity? The clear structure would be a good reason. Then there’s the wonderful contrast between the letter and the background. That counts a whole lot. The beautiful whites-that-fades-to-blues-that-fades-to-greys add to the appeal, as does the classical touch of the decoration on the bell at the bottom.

All of this may be great aesthetic reasons to love this letter, but the best part about it is the day it was taken. It was May Day in Switzerland; spring in Europe. It’s so different to spring in South Africa. Here, it arrives too soon after winter, it lasts about a full 5 days and then the summer switch is flipped and the heat dial is turned to full-blast. In Switzerland, spring has to be lured out gently and patiently which means that on this day the mercury wouldn’t rise above 14 degrees Celsius, it was overcast all day with a constant icy breeze and some rain. But it was still only the second day of what would be five weeks of our photo trip, and staying indoors with a cup of whatever would soothe our bodies was not an option. So we took the train from the Gare Cornarvin towards Montreux to visit the so-called most popular tourist attraction in Switzerland: the Chateau Chillon.

Along the way we decided that we’d transfer to an old favourite: the CGN boats that criss-cross Lac Léman every day of the year. Armed with Swiss Passes, we could easily hop between trains, boats, buses, trams and mouettes throughout the country. On a previous visit we’d seen a boat arriving at the castle and we wanted to be on that boat this time around, as it affords a much more scenic approach to the castle than the bus route does.

So we transferred from land to water at Cully. We waited on the landing in what seemed to us to be extreme winter conditions, and not too soon the boat came into sight and approached us at a steady pace. The sky was grey, filled with cotton ball clouds, which were reflected in the Earl Grey-coloured water. On the horizon France was a sombre, dark land mass. Some swans floated gracefully in the lake and the stately vessel edged closer. Although it seems bleak, the beauty of the scene cannot be denied, and indeed set the scene for the photo i did not yet know i was going to take.

With the weather being less than balmy, we spent some time indoors before venturing outside. After all, we had taken the boat to take photos of the castle, and it wouldn’t do to attempt that through the windows! So we zipped up every jacket, wrapped every scarf tightly, pulled our caps low over our brows and stepped out on the deck. Soon the castle loomed on the horizon. While it crept closer, everyone pulled out their photo-producing equipment and snapped away. Of course, the best vantage point was the bow, on which were mounted the ship’s bell. And of course, that’s exactly where most photographers were standing, clicking away at the castle.

Although i wanted a good photo of the castle as well, the bell intrigued me more, as it had all the qualities of an exceptional letter: clear lines, good contrast between letter and background and an entrancing colour palette. So i waited around until there was a gap, aimed and took a few photos of the bell. The initial shots were still crowded with cables and a flag, and the angle distorted the letter i was hoping to capture.

Patience eventually awarded me with exactly the letter i wanted. After a few minutes, more passengers moved towards the door, and before the background was spoiled with mountains and highways, A96c was taken. Many more photos followed throughout the day, but this ordinary item turned out to be the most extraordinary image of the day.

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