Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

Cloé in front of my lens

It was last Friday, and we were only doing 36 hours this week at work, so I was free on Friday afternoon. I like to go and visit my son, and his girlfriend, as I know I’ll be allowed to have a nice cup of tea and be able to talk photography without being told how boring I am. My daughter-in-law asked if I would like to come round as she was doing a photoshoot with somebody from Instagram. There was a friend to do make up and hair, and we would take it in turns being made up and photographed. Sounds like a deal right?

I of course turned up to early as they were getting the other girl from Nantes. I was asked if I could get pizza and off I went to get pizza; It’s easier like that. I got back and everyone was there. Elise, my daughter-in-law, Maureen, to do the make up, and Cloé the girl from Instagram who was along for the ride. That morning I had piled up all my gear and put it in the boot ready for the off. I had a couple of lights and some modifiers for speedlights. It was going to be a good day. Tea, and pizza in the same phrase has to be a good omen.

Elise does a bit of YouTube and has a three light set up for her videos. Fine for video but not so good for photography. As you might have seen I have been exploring the use of artificial light in photography and seem to be on the, if not right path, then certainly a path that is taking me somewhere. So, I wasn’t a fan of these video lights and thereofre set up my own. A flash, that would flash into an umbrella and the light would come back through an translucent white diffuser giving off a nice soft light. Yes I’m a big softy! I had a new led light to act as a hairlight, and was able to turn the power down so it wasn’t too harsh.

Elise started off and it interests me immensely to see somebody else start working and see how they interact with the model. The model being Cloé already made up by Maureen. I would take the occasional “behind the scenes” for Elise. I wasn’t happy with the light, so when it was my turn I turned everything off and just allowed my lights to work their magic. i’m becoming a fan of this soft light and seem to have understood the basics of how it might work and what it might do for me.

Cloé wa already “warmed up” if you can say that, and we started talking about her complexes about the way she looks. I showed her the first photos that we were getting and she seemed happy with the way it was going. I shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It means that I can see my black and white image on the screen and it gives me an idea of what I will achieve later whilst editing. I will however only edit my RAW file, as each pixel contains so much more information than a JPEG file, and although less destrucive than back in the day, it is still a feature of JPEG files even though they have progressed immensely over the last 15 years.

We kept talking and caught her laughing at some of my Dad jokes that she hadn’t heard before. I would see a picture I like and then activate the shutter. The first few reminded me of Anne Frank, and what she might have looked like had she have survived the war. Now I’m feeling sad about all that suffering in the camps. What an utter waste of human life.

Anay, we kept going and the feeling of the photos changed and looked slightly more modern. It is 2021after all. I switched to the X100F which is usually for street photography but holds it’s own in a studio environment, and the 35mm equivalent lense was great for getting some full body shots. The fact that Cloé was sitting on the floor gave a very flattering angle and I think I might just have to do it more often.

Before showing you the photos I would like to say a huge thank you to the three girls forputting up with me and the very generous feed they gave me. It gives one such a boost, and at the moment it’s a wonderfull thing to have. Covid is getting right on my wick, and although I know that this situation is temporary, it feels slightly less temporary.

So the tools used for this shoot… Canon 6D Mark 2 with a 50mm F1.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100F with a converter so I could go from a 35mm equivalent to a 50mm equivalent. The fash was a GODOX TT600 speedlight with GODOX X1T triggers.

Good morning Dear Reader…

I seem to have a thing for old fashioned, black and white, low key portraits and as I evolve as a photographer it seems to be my “new thing” to learn about. The person who says he knows everything and no longer needs to learn is wrong and probably has his head up Where the sun tends not to shine. The beginning of wisdom is to know that we know nothing and that realisation seems to come with age, not for everyone, but for me at least.

I wanted to discover this world which was foreign to me. Now I seem to have a knack of being able to take portraits of places and let the viewer have a feeling of having visited those places and sharing my vision of these places.

But can I really I hear you say, “Even the news and documentary photographers can change the meaning of a photo just using the angle used to record the shot.” But there is still emotion.

Don’t forget that photography really does allow you to see what I see looking through a viewdinder at a given time and place. It is the only art that allows that. Paintings you say in disgust! But I would reply no since due to the very nature of that medium we are already in an interpretation of what the painter saw. We could say the same if a writer, especially depending on the skill of that said writer. We have a portrait, and a representation, but only photography permits you to to physically see what my eyes saw.

The next part against this arguement is about what we do in a darkroom or on software on our computers, I can begin to interpret my scene and maybe show you how I might have felt. This is what I try to do with my art.

I do this through my quasi exclusive use of black and white photography, and in a portrait session I can use my lights to give different feels. I will of course give you examples in the traditional gallery at the end of the article. The sitter or victim depending on your sense of humour, remains true to his physical representation as I don’t transform the person as people do in advertising or in fashion. If you have a so called defect, you’re keeping it. I’m not going to change your shape, or make your skin a smooth as a baby’s bottom, that’s your affair and not mine, but with angles and lighting and asking you to pose in different ways, I can change how people might envisage you and hopefully catch your essence on film or on my screen.

There is forcibly a certain rapport that is built, however temporary, but it will be as real as I can make it to make my representation of you as real as possible. And that Dear Reader, is how I see my role when acting a portrait photographer. With friends, and family this rapport is easier to create as it already exists and i am working on my introvert side to try and work through my shyness whilst still using my ninja introvert skills to get am image that is pleasing to all parties. It has to be a win win situation for both of us, the sitter, and the photographer, which allows the third party, the viewer of the photograph to feel something.

Have I been spouting a whole load of bollocks as usual, or is some this nearing intelligent observations? Who knows? I sometimes have these thoughts in my mind and I should probably get them down on paper more often. You never know when something worth recording might pop out of my brain. Yes. I have just woken up and the memories of my photo shoot yesterday and the previous evening’s time spent making selfies (however artistic) to try out my new light set up and get to learn what I can get out of it are still fresh in my semi conscious mind.

My sitter in this series was Sergio Uribe, how is a very dear friend and one of those people that wonder into our lives for a reason. The session was about showing him my appreciation and thanking him for being my friend. Strangely i can hear the theme tune to Golden girls in my head. I obviously am need of a cup of tea and some toast. Thank you Dear Reader for continuing to read what I say, and help me get up and face my Sunday…

The holidays

Hello. I have a friend called Julie Dodge and she is a photographer in Brooklyn NY. I have asked her to mentor me and maybe put me in a different direction with my photography and help me develop as a photographer. She’s full of talent and is somebody that I admire greatly. She suggested that I write this article.

Did you see what I just wrote there? I said the holidays, not Christmas but the holidays. Does that mean that I’ve become all woke and don’t want to offend? Not bloody likely. Christmas has come and gone and now we’re in that holiday limbo, before New Year’s Eve but just after Christmas.

Even during winter I sleep with the window open so as not to be too hot in bed (and don’t go reading anything unto wards into that statement, this is not that kind of blog!!) and we have just come out of the other side of Storm Bella. At least according the noise of the wind. and not that wind either!

When I think back to two weeks ago, Christmas felt so far away. I had 36 hours left at work and the whole holiday thing just hadn’t sunk in at all. Christmas could have been 6 months away and it wouldn’t change a thing. 2020 has been weird like that for everyone. The Christmas tree was up and running at the very end of November as was quite common. Maybe just a way of people trying to find a modicum of normality since normality just ran away with the light beer virus and some guys getting freaky with a bat in China.

I listen to the radio at work which is a wonderful and a great way to stay up to date with things happening at home back in Brexit land. On BBC RADIO 2 (that I can’t help hearing the jingle in my head when I say it) they had decided that they would play only Christmas music on the 1st of December to usher in the Christmas Season. Best day ever at work! I love it. You’re constantly listening out for Whamageddon or All I want for Christmas is You. That music would accompany me throughout December and keep me going.

The factory was going to shut for Christmas and I would finish work on the Friday lunchtime of the 18th.

I had been doing a whole load of product photography for the company. They have an excel file showing all the references of all the hardware that we use and a photo of each article. However the photos they have are not up to the required standard. Crap would cover it too. I told my boss about this and said I could do a better job of it. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it would allow me to learn something new. I went onto Google, YouTube, and then on to Amazon to get a light box, which is a box of light which allows you to get a well lit photo of each screw, hinge, and other things that I don’t know how to translate into English. That’s not as bad as it seems. Everyone talks French at work. Strange isn’t it. The only English they all know is how to ask where Brian is. Brian is invariably in the kitchen. But not when I looked for him!

This also explains why I had my camera with me. As of the 15th of December we had finished with confinement and had now entered a new phase. No confinement but a curfew. They also said that the curfew would no be enforced for Christmas Eve which meant that people could spend Christmas together, but would be enforced on New Year’s Eve. This is despite our dear President’s love of secularism or the infamous French concept of Laïcité. Go figure. Maybe it’s a sick joke, or could it be that he knows that he won’t be voted in next time if he cancels Christmas.

But I digress, or in French, je diverge, parfois je dis bite! It was Friday afternoon and I was freeeeee. Yes. Freeeeeee!! I’m free, I do what ever I want, any old time…. I decided to head into Nantes to make sure that my family would have the same amount of gifts and therefore not be jealous. It was wonderful. This new found freedom and all I had to do was to be home by 20h! I of course had my camera with me and it was the closest I had been to normal for ages. My last stop would be the HAB Gallerie, which is on the Île de Nantes, and where there is a massive crane, but don’t forget that size does not matter. And a crane can be grey or yellow and that is fine too. It felt wonderful! This is where the photos in this article are from in case you were wondering. I think the photo of the huge crane give it away.

Christmas came and went as did the food, my son, his girlfriend, quite a bit of drink, and some great laughs. We are now in the Christmas anti climax. No church this year. Maybe Covid is laïque as well. All a bit strange really, but it was good to be able to celebrate as a family. But “strange” has been the bass continuo of this year 2020. 2021 is just around the corner and people are putting way too much hope into it.

With vaccines, time, and the continual social distancing, things will get better. Things will gradually become less strange. I even dare to think that people with rediscover social interactions and above all discover how important they really are. Some will look back and think I did well to get through this, some will regret not having done enough to help others. Some will have toilet roll till the ends of their days. But when we come out of the other side of this period, we will have all changed. Society will have changed. There will be a new normal, and not necessarily the one that that the hippies are hoping for, but a new one anyway, in which we will need time in which to find ourselves.

Thank you for still reading the drivel that seeps out of my mind on a more or less regular basis. There will still be photos to look at. Until that happens, I wish all of you a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas. May your God bless you.

Off to see the King

At work lately we’ve been having four day weeks and it’s wonderful! There are slightly fewer orders coming in but that’s OK. There’s enough to keep everything rolling by. And who doesn’t love having a day off? Those who said not me, are either liars or simply mistaken.

So that Friday I decided that I wanted to stay away from the house and get my booty off somewhere to take photos. But where? While I was edging closer to be a full time professional musician I did a spot of teaching in a place called Vihiers. It’s miles away, but still a nice drive out. I stopped edging towards music, and photography has taken over. One of my pupils talked about the Abbaye de Fontevraud. I looked it up on the Internet and started learning about it.

I’m half English and part of that is being real with the French. They need this. During and before the Hundred Years War, this area of France was English, and our King was their King. Those of you who aren’t English might have heard of Robin Hood, who looked just like Kevin Kostner and had a mate who looked strangely like Morgan Freeman. There was the Evil Prince John who became King when Richard the Lionheart (who looked really badass and you could mistake him for Sean Connery) went off on a Crusade to show just how badass he really was. Their mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, her Husband Henry Plantagenet, their son Richard (the famous badass), and Isabelle d’Angouleme who was married to John. Her bad… We all make mistakes.

So this is kind of crazy for me who enjoys history and discovers more of the Anjou region which is just down the road from the Vendée. On the way I recognised a place where I used to buy foie gras when we first moved here. I called in on the off chance of being able to make a purchase and take something good home for my family. It’s changed a bit since 15 years ago, and offers different products. I left some money there and felt happy about buying something directly from the producer that was made on site etc. And it tasted really good too.

Sooooo… I turn up in the Village of Fontevraud l’Abbaye and I even managed to find the said Abbaye. 11€ for the entrance ticket, which seemed reasonable.

A bit of history here for those who can’t be bothered to click and have a read. Basically, the abbey was founded 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. It developed and flourished during the Plantagenet era, went downhill after the Plantagenets were no more, however by the Hundred Years War things were going downhill, and during an inspection in 1460, the abbey was found to be barely inhabited. Fast forward to 1457 reforms were introduced by the then abbesse Marie of Bretagne. Louis the XI gave the place his blessing and the place started to really try to get back on its feet again, but without a huge amount of success. In 1491 there came Renée who was from the French Royal family (the Bourbons, french royals and not the rather tasty biscuits or whiskey). I’m not going to translate the whole of the French wikipedia article but you get the gist right? Things got better, and by the time the French decided that Royalty wasn’t for them during the French Revolution, things were OK!

However as the revolutionaries weren’t into Royalty and because of the so called “Enlightenment” philosophies, they weren’t into religion in a big way either. That continues to this very day. I promise not to get political! They basically get rid of the nuns, and by 1804, Napolean, yes him again, decided to make the place a prison, and it remained so until 1963.

When I went there I wanted to feel the Royal side with Richard the Lionheart and feel the medieval legends in the walls. But I’ll risk being contraversial, and say that I felt more the “prison vibe” and it might be because of the less than sunny autumnal weather, but I could feel the buildings being a place of great suffering. Quite ominous in fact.

Since 1975 it was converted from a prison into a Cultural Centre for the Region. You can see a few “colour” photos of the latest art installation which was very impressive.

Would I go back? Possibly, but not in Autumn.

Back in Paris

I’m happy to tell you that I am feeling better than I was when I wrote my last article. Mentally I seem to be on waves and at least now I know things will get better. At the moment I seem to be OK. Right now we’ve got that said we can go on. In another article I had talked about photos that I had wanted to share with you all.

As you can read in previous articles, my first visit with Kate to Paris was based on where “she” wanted to go, and this visit was to be no different. Kate had decided on the Louvre and Eiffel Tower for our first visit. This time it was going to be Les Invalides and the Champs Elysées.

During this last visit to Paris I was with Kate and we started off checking out Les Invalides to make sure that Napoleon was still dead and wasn’t up to ruining Europe. He is still dead, but maybe over compensating with his huge tomb. Maybe he was the Petit Caporal after all. Maybe…. Anyway, our modern day politicians are managing to mess everything perfectly well by themselves. Did you see how I got political and edgy without mentioning any names there? As I told my father the other day, it’s not a good day if you can’t make a dig at the French or make a small child cry.

So back to Paris, hoping to avoid the train adventure from the visit with Jean Guillaume. It was a lovely day and we were ready to have some serious fun. Foot wear and walking stick in hand, we were ready. We arrived and of course headed off to Marks and Spencers to get an early lunch. Oh shock and horror, they hadn’t been delivered with sandwiches. I was devastated. I wanted a bite of my childhood again. But it wasn’t to be. We got a couple of salads and some fruit and headed off to the little park where I had eaten with Jean Guillaume.

Then we had to revisit the Metro. I still love the metro for it’s different stations and all the tiling. It just has a little magic of its own. I know that with the crowds of Parisians, police, delinquents, junkies begging for money etc, we might have a tendency to forget it. I think as I am no longer a regular user that I am no longer blinded to all that. And don’t forget, it was still August where all the Parisians bugger off on holiday and leave their town to us tourists.

Anyway back to the visit. At Les Invalides we were greeted by the Gendarmerie Nationale who wanted to check our bags and make sure that weren’t going to do anything naughty. We were fine and headed off to buy our tickets. The first display showed horses with various bits of armour and mannequins showing how dashing French Cavalry Officers used to be. Luckily for the British, our Cavalry was better and we actually got quite good at thrashing Frenchie and giving him a damned good whooping…

We saw huge amounts of swords, and I still don’t know why we don’t pronounce the “W.” But it does explain why we nicked the idea of the Busby from the French for our Guards in the Household division. Those swords could do a lot of damage.

We worked our way around and looked at various weapons that the French had and imagining the damage they could inflict on somebody. We saw the works of Vauban and his genius in building defences. We saw exhibits from the First World War in which my grandfather fought, and exhibits from World War Two, that despite what they might like to believe wasn’t won by the French even though they might have come a close second if we’re being gracious with them. We got on to Indochine where the French started giving up their colonial possession’s, including North Africa, but we don’t talk about that, and then on to the Cold War. Which technically we won, but should have been much more gracious in victory and maybe we wouldn’t be having the problems we actually have in Russia today.

Anyway… We managaed to find the exit and after passing through the gift shop buying here a couple of BD’s in the series that she is reading, about French kids during the Occupation. It was time to check on Old Boney!

The building that houses him is beautiful. Very French. Stylish, and the tombs are amazing. Some dedicated to Generals who gave their names to so many streets in France. Foch, Vauban, Turenne, de Lattre de Tassigny, Philippe Leclerc de Hautlecocque. Even the Capitaine Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle who wrote the French National Anthem. Ok, so they’re not all bad however French they may be…

It really was very inspiring, and I almost feel guilty that the British beat the French at Waterloo. Almost…. It is true that we the Prussians with us, and that Napoleon’s artillery was rendered useless by the mud. OMG, I’m turning into one of them. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp Meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Back onto the metro and up to the Place de l’Etoile. Kate wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe that we usually see on TV when the Gilets Jaunes weren’t very happy with the little Manu, and the police wanted something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, it really is quite impressive. Kate wanted to visit the Champs Elysées, so visit it we would. I had decided to walk from one end to the other. It is supposed to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, and at Christmas time, when it is all lit up it really is very special. That day it was still pretty good though.

Kate was getting peckish and it was time for this photographer to have a coffee. The place we ended up was bright yellow and you might need some sunglasses if you go there. The Café Joyeux is an amazing place. Their staff are mentally handicaped, and managed by team leaders who guide them and help them have a meaningful job and career. The service was impeccable and everything felt so natural which is a fitting tribute to their professionalism. It really is a very “Joyeux” experience, and if you’re in Paris then please drop in and see them. Oh, and the coffee is amazing too. It’s a proper café and not just a social project. We have to power to change things.

We continued our trip down the Avenue and saw the original Guerlain Shop that was opened in 1914. Now the Parisians are just amazing at making things that are beautiful, and here it was particularly true, and everything smelt amazing.

For her upcoming birthday I had decided to buy my daughter some clothes on the Champs Elysées in H et M. Ok it’s not the most luxurious of brands but there was that little extra special feeling because of the location, and the trip was about Kate and not necessarily me. We came away with two dresses, some shoes, some hair stuff, and somewhat poorer, but it was her birthday after all…. And during a Daddy daughter day, stuff like that happens.

It was just lovely having time together and walking together. She was wearing Doc Martens boots with a bit of of a heel, but she managed to keep going. We would sit down and just breathe. I love that corner of Paris and always will do. We arrived at the Place de La Concord where the French decided to end the Royalty a little more brutally but guillotining them and it is amazing how beautiful a place it is now compared to the place of suffering and bloodshed all those many years ago.

We managed to get to WH Smiths before it shut to get a goodie bag with all kinds of sweets, pickle, and tea to take home. Kate fell asleep on the train home. Which isn’t surprising for a girl who had walked more than 22.000 paces in one day. Bless her cotton socks.