Ode to January

January, with its terrible reputation as being the shittiest month of the year, is 11 days from being over.  Some will say good riddance to bad rubbish, others won’t care, and others will be happy it’s just over and done with. Does Blue Monday ring any bells, even alarm bells?  The concept of Blue Monday (the third Monday in January) appeared in 2005 during a press release from British travel firm, Sky Travel during a publicity stunt.  A formula described this specific Monday as being the gloomiest of the year.

How could this reputation come about?  Could it be that so many seem to start this month with a hangover?  Or at best, with a dry mouth, feeling slightly tired, and having a slightly delicate tummy?  Is the fact of going back to work after the celebrations of Christmas, and suffering the anti-climax that is January a cause?  A jolt back into a reality that we feel we no longer desire?  Is it because we feel guilty about making so many resolutions to better our lives and start anew as the new year begins, and then feel dreadful when we fail after just a couple of days?  Could the answer just be drinking slightly less and not giving a shit about the new year, and therefore an eventual new me?

Mind you, Dear Reader, the weather is usually not the best that one could wish for, but if it were 20°C outside with warm sunshine, then the climate change people would be up in arms.  Whatever we say, we will, somehow, somewhere, annoy a climate activist.  Am I a follower of Saint Greta?  Not really.  Am I just boorish and refuse to sort my rubbish?  No, but I’m not convinced either.  I have problems believing that if I don’t put an apple core in the compost bin that I will go to ecological hell for all eternity…

However, as you will see from the photos in the traditional end of the article gallery, there is light and shade and therefore sunlight, therefore sun…  In the ones taken after sundown, you won’t be able to see the sun, not because of a climate crisis but because the sun tends not to shine during the night.  Mind-blowing, I know.

So, after dissing January, I feel the need to defend it. Within 11 days I will have had my 51st birthday and will celebrate not being dead yet, and being the oldest that I have ever been!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if I snuffed it before then?  It would certainly be a shame.  With my children and wife, the plan is to have a pizza, film, and beer night!  Not the done thing to miss that!  During childhood, I would have the first of a long line of birthdays throughout the year.  Sometimes for Christmas, I would have a “big” present and be told that it was also for my birthday.  I don’t blame my parents at all, and this is not part of my childhood trauma.  I have a son who was born just before Christmas and find myself doing the same thing. He’s no more messed up than I am.  Differently messed up, but not because of that.  I have people in my family born on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and someone born on the 27th of December.  Ah well, it could happen to anyone, and they all seem perfectly imperfect, just like me!

Welcome to 2023

First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.

2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.

For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.

I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.

It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!

La Générale

La Générale refers to a French dress rehearsal before a show or concert but with no senior military officer in sight.  But why am I talking about a rehearsal?  Well, as some of you Dear Readers might know that for my many sins, I am a horn player and musician.  Both can happen simultaneously, despite our reputation! From February 2009 until July 2022, I played the horn for the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet in France.  Some people had cottoned onto the fact that I dabble in this photography lark, and since they had just changed musical direction, they would like me to take some photos of the new director in front of the band.  I of course said yes, and following the lessons learnt during the American Concert, I was feeling quietly confident.

The musicians were asked to attend the Générale in concert dress, all looking very smart.  This would allow me to wander around the stage freely, not annoy the audience, and have complete freedom to try to take a couple of photos.  What a good idea!  It also meant that I had two hours to get the job done in a satisfactory manner.

I had the Canon 6D Mark II with the 85mm F1.8 Canon lens, and the trusty and also favourite, almost to the point of it being a fetish, Fuji Film X100F, with the telephoto adapter which transforms the lens into a 50mm F 2.0 lens.  I could take off that adapter and have 35mm equivalent lens.  To the uninitiated, you will think I have just spouted out a huge amount of gobbledy gook, but I it actually means something to me.  It was out of the question that I would miss 60 photos like last time.  A lesson most definitely learnt!

Sooooo…  I wandered around taking photos and trying to make sure I didn’t just photograph the horn section.  Nobody couldn’t accuse me of favouritism;  except that I had treated some images first for friends and had posted them on Facebook.  Two of those friends were, of course, in the Horn Section.  Ooooops a daisy.  Ah well.  I did, however, tell everyone that these were merely a foretaste of things to come, and I realised I had actually been quite democratic and represented most of the musicians.  Out of the 400 odd photos taken, 124 were presented to the musicians in a private Google Gallery.  Not bad for two hours of shooting.    You will see a small selection of those photos at the end of this article.

As a thank you, I was invited to the concert the next day.  After a Barber appointment to tame my overgrown beard and a visit to the pub just to say hello to the staff and friends, I headed off to Cholet for my Rendez Vous with music listening.  Keep music live etc!! 

Naturally, with the change of conductor, there will be a change of musical direction.  Each person had to get used to the novelty, and the new conductor has to make his mark on the orchestra, which is perfectly normal.  I had heard all kinds of things and wanted to make up my own mind.  The concert theme was “Heart of the Forest.”  I was determined to take it all in with no preconceived ideas.  Just enjoy the bloody music, you fool.  So I sat down and did just that.  The sound at the back of the auditorium differed completely from what I had heard the night before.  As a musician, we hear the concert from where we are on the stage.  The audience really hears that difference.  I was blown away and just sat there enjoying watching my friends create music.

With time, the orchestra and the new musical director will get to know each other, and I look forward to seeing their next concert and seeing the outcome of this new relationship in future concerts, and it goes without saying that I wish them the very best of success for the future! 

Now for the photos, and not just the horn section…

Back to the Côte Sauvage

Sometimes you just want to spend time alone, not because you hate other people, even if I sometimes find it difficult to love my fellow man.  People, or too many people, or people that are too intense just leave me shattered, and ready for an emotional breakdown.  My mother in law is one of those people.  She is the polar opposite of me.  She loves people, loves the gossip, can’t stand her first husband or any other of her ex’s, and her opinions on everything are the exact opposite of mine.  Could this be her calling in life?  Is she there just to make me question my own beliefs and reinforce them, or is she just a pain in the arse?  Possibly both…

Last weekend the idea was that we go up and see her.  At first, it was going to be my wife and son, but not my daughter, and then it became my wife and I without the children.  I must be a glutton for punishment.  Killian had been using my car as an extension of his room to store his crap in since he left the girlfriend.  I was getting sick of the whole thing and said if he didn’t get my car sorted then I wouldn’t be going either.  The little bugger got all the stuff in my car out, and so I had no choice.  Shit!

I have talked about the way I either need 10 pints worth of Heineken (other beers do exist) or Prozac to be able to deal with my mother-in-law.  And how this technique has evolved into being stone, cold, sober.  Not as fun but allows me to get in the car if things get too intense, escape, leave, and do some photography. 

As it was Sunday, I went off to mass at the local Benedictine monastery.  This is because I genuinely wanted to go to mass and fulfil my domincal obligations to keep the Sabbath holy.  It was also my Dad’s birthday, so I would be able to call and sing him Happy Birthday. 

No, I would not be back for lunch as I would be out doing some photography, and having some Ian time, to partake in my number one solitary pastime; photography of course, what else?  But don’t worry about me for lunch, I will look after myself….  On the Quiberon peninsular, they have what they refer to as the Côte Sauvage, or the Wild Coast.  Despite the high temperatures, we have to pinch ourselves to remind us that it actually autumn, and the end of October.  However, on this Wild Coast you were left in no doubt which season we were in despite the warmth.  Very slightly breezy, so I really did need my cane, and I found the white horses on the waves as they came crashing down on the shore against the rocks so beautiful.  You can really feel the power of the ocean as those waves come in.   It reminds you on how small you are, compared to God’s creation.

Despite the wildness of the coast, the ocean, and the waves, I managed to find my peace…

L’œil du Cyclone

Dear Reader, some of you might know that I don’t live too far away from Nantes and that I can be found wandering the streets of Nantes with a camera, or sitting in the pub talking with friends. So, nothing new here then.  You might not know that I sometimes publish said photos of Nantes, and even the pub, with friends of course, on Instagram.  I also sometimes go out and participate with other photographers in what is usually a solitary pastime. 

Nantes Grand Angle, a sort of collective of photographers from Nantes, often has events (with local partners) that want to get their event onto the local social networks and get some “viral” publicity.  The game is you go to the event and then talk about it on your social accounts and people might be interested thinking well, he went to see this, why don’t I go along too.  It’s the basics of social marketing. 

Why do I usually see photography as a solitary pastime? Because I get a certain amount of social anxiety.  For most extroverts, those pushy people that are in favour now, the word “mingle” gives them a buzz that they seem to thrive on.  I, as an introvert, find the words “new people”, or even the idea of “meeting new people”, “social”, or “mingle” just fill me with dread.  It’s akin to going on one of those terrifying rides at the fair. It’s scary, thankfully doesn’t last very long, leaves you feeling empty, very awkward, sheepish, and makes you want to run away as soon as possible.  sonds like my sex life on a good day.

So against my better judgement, I confronted my fear, and went on an outing with Nantes Grand Angle.  I could always just stay at the back and be subtle and try to fade into the background.  It also meant that I would visit a new place, Le Lieu Unique, which as its name might suggest, is certainly unique!  The Lieu Unique also contains the Tour Lu (sans T pour le jeu de mot de merde en français, et oui, je suis rendu à ce point là !)  It originally house the LU biscuit factory (des petits beurres de LU, which is another pun for the Happy Birthday song).  Dear Reader, I apologise for the years of therapy that you will need to get over that last paragraph.  It’ll teach you to speak French!

Right, back on track.  The Lieu Unique, which indeed is unique as the name suggests, houses not only an exhibition for introverts to take photos of for social marketing, but a bar, a reading room, a bookshop, and if I’m not mistaken, a hammam, as well as a whopping great tower.  It is a hothouse of culture where you can get fed, drunk, steamed, and get some culture, leading to the acquisition of a little intelligence! Maybe, depending on the order you do each activity.

I was there with my fellow photographers, some of which were annoyingly extrovert, to live the experience of Art from Taiwan in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”  The Lieu Unique boss, had, uniquely, gone to Taiwan in 2018, had been to an exhibition at The National Museum of Fine Arts of Taiwan, and had invited some of the artists to come to Nantes and show their work, purely an artistic venture.  Since 2018, the world has changed not only through COVID, but also because China would like to get its hands on Taiwan for economic reasons and political ones.  Taiwan came to the front in modern terms when the Kuomintang government who lost to Mao’s Communists, fled Mao and fled to the Island of Taiwan, setting up a new independent government, that China still hasn’t gotten over and is still very upset about.

In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle».  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ROC transitioned from a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy with a semi-presidential system. Taiwan’s export-oriented industrial economy is the 21st-largest in the world by nominal GDP and 19th-largest by PPP measures, focusing on steel, machinery, electronics and chemicals manufacturing. Taiwan is a developed country, ranking 20th in GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in terms of civil liberties, healthcare, and human development.  Again, something that China isn’t overjoyed by.  So as you can imagine, such an exhibition is as much political as artistic.

So now we have set the scene, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  The expo itself.  I admit not knowing a huge amount about Taiwan, however, since visiting the expo, I have read up to find out more about its history and culture.  It’s Chinese but at the same time properly Taiwanese. I will include official links to the expo and the English documentation at the end of the article.  But what I really wanted to do with this article was to talk about my experience of the exposition and the way the exhibits left their mark on me.

The first exhibit, Exhibit A, or Battle City – Scene, by Chang, Li-Ren, model, just blew me away with the complexity of the modelling and the realism recreated in model form.  The artist came over for the oeuvre installation and I can imagine a rather rotund Asian chap on all fours adding details to his masterwork.  Not based on reality, but the artist just wants to give an impression of what Taiwanese urbanism looks like.   There are cars, housing, and motorbikes, but the whole place is devoid of people.  It’s very eerie, yet totally fascinating and a photographer’s dream.  The whole thing is massive (7600mm x 8100mm x 2600mm), and the attention to detail is fascinating.

Exhibit B, Future Shock, by SU Hui-Yu, video, talks about a dystopian future, unfortunately, a not-too-distant future according to the artist influenced heavily by the American author Alvin Toffler, where people are drowning in information, and unethical technologies.  Maybe it’s happening already?  Definitely though provoking and frightening in equal measure.

Exhibit C, Braindead travelogue, YUAN Goang-Ming.  At first, you have the impression of traditional Chinese brush art, but with non-traditional means, like using markers, but also gold and jade.  From the centre of the painting, shoot out 10 disks of images showing the artist marking his territory in the landscape.

Exhibit D?  I’m going to keep the rest of the exhibition secret, because the idea is that you go and have a look yourselves, especially if you live in Nantes!  Did you really think that I would or could reveal all?  No!  Leave them wanting more!!!  Oh ok, you can have a few more pictures, but that’s your lot.  Go down there and have a look.  It’s free to visit; and you won’t be left unmoved…  You really get a feel of what life is like in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”

Links and all that:
Le Lieu Unique
Nantes Grande Angle
The documentation in English (pdf file 0,99Mo)

I would like to thank Nantes Grande Angle and our guide, Tanguy, not only for his welcome to the uniquely Lieu Unique but also for his great expertise. The poor man even had a look at this blog to see where I would publish my write-up. Brave too, and probably already in therapy. I hope I have done him justice!

He’s still wider…

Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.

The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.

So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.

My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.

So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.

Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!