The man with the cigar

Street portraits. He was smoking a huge cigar that I wanted to capture but the photo didn't please as much as this one. I liked the lights from the barbershop behind him. Just pressed the shutter and it seems to have turned out ok.

Street portraits.  He was smoking a huge cigar that I wanted to capture but the photo didn’t  please as much as this one.  I liked the lights from the barbershop behind him.  Just pressed the shutter and it seems to have turned out ok.

This is what WordPress calls a story, and it seems to be like posting on Instagram, but not posting on Instagram. Do you think, Dear Reader, that it is worth doing in here from time to time. Something like photo of the week? It certainly seems easier to this than write a 1500 or 2000 word article. Maybe just now and again eh….

The FED 5

Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me.  It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything.  It was my first camera.  I was heartbroken.  To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car.  Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss.  It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me.  My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.

It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital.  Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result?  At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing.  Like most of us I was looking for something authentic. 

I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life.  With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth.  My Praktica MTL3 was dead.  It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker.  It was a stiff.  Bereft of photographic life.  It was resting in peace.  It was pushing up daisies.  Its metabolic processes were now history.  It was off the twig.  It had kicked the bucket.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3!  Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence!  So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch.  Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras.  It was either that or becoming a lumberjack. 

Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200!  So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.

On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras.  There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life.  I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition.  And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost.  Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce.  It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us. 

Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German.  One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.

So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video  must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences.  I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page!  I can tell you’re impressed.

Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life.  But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things.  As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia.  Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar.  The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter.  The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me. 

I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia.  Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.  The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990.  It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography).  It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second.  What more could you ask for.  The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on.  Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…

To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera.  This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”.  One dial is for the speed of you your film.  Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc.  For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT.  It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure! 

As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter!  Don’t even bother trying.  I never have, and it still works today!

Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR.  As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully. 

Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway.  The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out.  Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me.  It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons.  Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own!  You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens.  There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait.  Shooting from the hip. 

I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information.  Really great, and almost useful.  But pray tell, is it any good?  What’s it like to shoot with?  Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? 

Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations.  Firstly is it any good?  It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on.  I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge!  What’s it like to shoot with?  Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat!  What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder.  You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was.  That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about.  It works mate, it works!  You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do.  Is it worth me looking into?  All depends on what you’re looking for.  If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on.  I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you!  Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?  Who am I to refuse such generosity?

The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée  in 2016 and feature my daughter.  The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes.  C41 for those in the know.  It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday.  It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression.  I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo.  We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Everything is in the title, to be honest. It’s Boxing Day today, therefore the aftermath of Christmas. I hope you all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. I have a cousin whose plans were altered because of COVID. The post on Facebook showed a beautiful London living room decorated for Christmas and you could feel the deception in her writing. Thankfully Covid doesn’t last forever, and this new south African variant seems slightly less menacing than the one from India. Is the old Empire trying to get back at the Mother country for past wrongs?

At the end of each year, we all seem to have this primaeval urge to analyse the year just gone by. With Christmas just finished, you’ll realise this when you watch the news with all the look-backs on 2021. This year has been yet another year that I haven’t seen my parents. All this Covid bollocks is annoying the shit out of me! I haven’t seen them since August 2019, and it’s long. Too long. I’m fortunate enough to still have my parents still alive, and I know that so many people have been left without since this Covid. At first, I tried to joke about it, but it’s not been a joke for quite some time. Our lives have changed in so many ways and we have seen our leaders being completely defenceless against it. Policies have been brought out, each one being even less coherent than the last ones. Boris has been caught out not obeying his own rules and has so much egg on his face that he could prepare an omelette for the entire country. He appears to be finished as people no longer want a posh bawdy wannabe comedian; I mean Prime Minister, lording it over them. In France, it appears to be just as ridiculous, with the Président Macron contradicting himself all the time and just shouting loudly to show that he is “managing” the crisis. People might accuse me of being a tad conspiratorial when I say that this crisis has been used to erode individual freedoms and “track” us even more than before. The one thing however that is not codswallop is the vaccine which I would urge all people to get. “Big pharma” definitely is making millions out of it all, but do we really have a choice in the matter. I don’t really fancy dying just yet and feel that I may still have things left to do in this strange life of mine.

Now that my mini-rant is over, I suppose it is now the moment to tell you all how our Christmas went. This might take some time, so please try to bear with me. It might even be worth the read. As always, I will try to start at the very beginning, which is still a good place to start. ABC and Do Ré Mi etc. Get out of my head Julie Andrews!!

The factory shut its doors on Wednesday at 5pm, and we were freed. No need to come back until the 3rd of January 2022. Might as well go home and try to get into the Christmas spirit, whatever that is. My short-term memory seems to take the mickey yet again. I know I went out with my daughter to Nantes for the day and we ended up in the pub eating fries and having a quiet glass of something with friends and just enjoying being together, which is what pubs are for, after all. The drinks are just a side attraction. I’ve just looked at my phone and it was last Saturday. Thank heavens we have our phones to tell us what we did. Anyway, it was on that evening that I said to my friends that I would try to come along to say hello on Thursday night before they shut for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Back on track. I sent a text to my wife that since we were both on holiday, then we would go for a drink at the pub, and then attempt vainly to get a table at a restaurant for a nice little something to eat. Full of optimism, I even texted my son to say that since it was going to be -2°C the next morning at 2am when he goes to work, that I would take him in. Strangely enough, he took me up on my offer. So off to work we went, and I asked when the “girlfriend” would come over. That night I was sent out by Madame to do the Christmas food shopping, and take my son to wash his bedding in anticipation of the “girlfriend’s” visit.

Driving to the shops, he let slip that it wasn’t even sure that she’d be there for Christmas. Oh, clucking bell! Red lights just started flashing, and the drama was just beginning. He looked so despondent, and above all didn’t want to “talk about it.” So that was that. I don’t know if bullshit tolerance is at an all-time low because of my age, or that I simply don’t need this shit anymore. My daughter was amazing at helping me with the shopping, and even packing it all away in the car boot. I know she’s at that “difficult” age, so I was just enjoying being a good guy for once, instead of Papa, who just understands nothing! Small mercies, people, small mercies! We picked up my son and his spotless sheets and went home. He would shower and then just go to bed because of his early start the next morning. My daughter had prepared something to eat in the microwave and everything was hunky-dory, even though a little subdued because of the mal-être of my son.

I arrived home and dumped the shopping in the kitchen.  My wife was getting ready for our date night and looked lovely!  We don’t get much time like that so every minute is so special.  I couldn’t get my poor upset son out of my mind.  Well, stop talking about it then.  Well, sorry for being concerned about my son.  But merde, we never go out, and just let them deal with their own shit!  I had been told and remembered that is more important to be kind than right and to choose my battles well.  This was not the time or place.  I kept driving and shut the f up!  Probably a wise decision.  

We arrived at the pub and said hi to people behind the bar and to other people that can be found behind the bar but not tonight.  They’re all friends anyway, and I do enjoy their company but tonight is date night.  I had some vitamin G, and Madame had a Leffe.  The restaurant is just across the street and yes, they had a table for two. You know that funny feeling you get when you kind of recognise the person sitting at the table next to you, but that’s all.  No precise idea.  Little did I know that the lady lived in Newcastle the year after we did, and moved back to France the year before we moved to the Vendée.  It turns out that it was the mother of a young friend that used to work in the pub and whose girlfriend still does.  Definitely a small world.  It also reminded me not to diss the French too much when I talk to my wife in English when out and about.  Or even about and out.  You never know.  I know that the French need to be put right on a wide variety of subjects, but it was still time to be kind and not right again….  Damn you conscience!!!

I was allowed a pint before going home.  Wonders never cease!  I saw the weather for the next day and sent a text to my son telling him it might well be raining at 2am and would he like me to take him to work at 2am.  Again, strangely he took me up on my offer.  I can hear my father telling me what a big softy I am, and my mother telling me that I am too soft.  Ah well…  There goes a day….  Again….

On the way to work, my son seemed slightly better than the previous evening, so I supposed they must have “talked things through.”  I knew that it was a tad early in the morning or in the middle of the night depending on your point of view, but since he was finishing at 11am I could have a lie-in.  Or at least that I what I told myself.  Little did I know that he would phone me at 8am telling me he had finished and could I please pick him up!  Oooh, the little bugger!!  Give me 10 minutes son, and I’ll be on my way…  10 minutes later I was indeed on my way to get him.  However, it was his turn to be nice to his old man.  I didn’t care if he was going to see his girlfriend for Breakfast, he was going to help me finish the Christmas shopping in the market in Clisson.  He carried everything back to the car for me.  Bless his little cotton socks. 

So this all sets the scene for Christmas Eve.  Virginie, bless her, would tidy the downstairs part of the house, whilst I would take Kate to Nantes, and eventually find some stocking fillers for the children. I would then be in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal.  Boeuf Bourgignon, from a vintage recipe by a certain Constance Spry.  Those who know will just know!  I was busy as a little beaver, ok, let’s be serious for one moment, a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver.  I am always wary of skinny people who cook…

Everyone was there.  Well, my wife had spent time preparing the salmon, fake caviar, and foie gras.  The “girlfriend” was taking photos with her new camera and a rather snazzy lens.  Everything is always fine when we just talk about photography.  My daughter, or so it would seem, decided that she no longer wished to have her photo taken.  I know this is a cue for me to put my camera down and change subjects.  The “girlfriend” however, did not.  Oh, bugger.  Here we go again.  The shit storm had just been let loose and words were said and things just got shouty all of a sudden.  

I had an “Oh bollocks!” moment.  We had a situation Houston.  I had a screaming 12-year-old in the living room, two very young adults in my son’s rooms arguing about how Kate had been mean.  Female violence is not like male violence.  Men will just kick several tons of crap out of each other, and then go and have a beer and get over it.  It would appear that this isn’t the same approach with ladies, where one will talk about an unclean hob, and what happened to her brother.  I know it was low, but don’t go down that road.  It’s not good.  So my wife came down and asked what the hell was going on, and I had been in the kitchen creating culinary miracles so I only had second hand and possibly biased information.  

Situation report for everyone.  One 12 year old in her room feeling shitty for having ruined Christmas, two you adults arguing in their room, over analysing everything and getting everything wrong.  One furious wife, and how dare they ruin her bloody fucking Christmas, and they had bloody well get a fucking move on downstairs because everything was ready.  At the precise moment I was wanting to put on body armour, and a helmet and take cover.  I would have been quite happy to go and take cover in my own room and sod the food.  A cheese sandwich would have been fine, we could always eat the stuff on Christmas Day!  

It is better to be kind and not right, and it was time for a cheese sandwich however appealing it might seem at that very moment.  Who could imagine that some cream cheese on one slice of bread, Branston pickle on another slice of bread, and a couple of slices of mature cheddar, could make a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver, rather happy and forget WW3 that was starting.  The children were told how furious my wife was and how they had better bloody well come downstairs this bloody instant.  The “girlfriend” said she was going to see her mother.  Oh clucking bell, here we go again but assured us that she would be back soon.  I took cover on the sofa, and eventually, the “girlfriend” came back, and my daughter had remembered how it had been decided that presents would be opened at the apréro.  The daughter went to tell the lovebirds that it was time to come down for the presents.  Two attempts were needed but her peacekeeping skills were amazing.  Five people around my table were no longer wanted to kill each other, but open presents.  Peace had come back to the proceeding.  Our own little Christmas miracle.

The youngsters spent Christmas Day with her family, and therefore not my problem anymore.  My daughter stayed with us.  I sent a text message to our neighbour asking if she wanted to come round for tea, or drinks.  Seeing what time it was I knew it would be drinks.  Ah well.  Into the breach once again!  It was nice.  I was calm.  I spoke to my parents who indeed told me how soft I am with that lad, and how Christmas can lead to a little drama.  I think that I am not a fan of drama. 

September

Hello Dear Reader.  I’m not talking about the song by Earth Wind and Fire, but the month.  At least it’s being an ear worm and I can hear you hear you singing it in your heads.  I’m talking about September, the month, the return.  We have accomplished our re-entry into our everyday lives, and the routine that was missing in August is back.  The days are slightly cooler and have become more agreeable.  Instead of 33°C, we are back down to 23°C.  The nights are slightly cooler too and we no longer need our fans on all night like we did in August. When it’s hot, some people are in their element.  I, however, am not one of those people.  When you’re cold, you can always put a jumper on, and have a cup of tea and go inside.  But as contradictory as I am, as one friend recently pointed out to me, I do enjoy sitting outside on a Summer’s eve having a beer or three…

I love the holidays that August is famous for, but the obligation to enjoy yourself every day during these days of relative freedom is a pain in the arse. I don’t want to be melancholic, but this forced enjoyment of a good time is too much for me.  Club Med would be a nightmare!  I like my routine back.  Back at work and happy to be there.  We still have our weekends and can still enjoy them.  The jumpers are still in storage, but you hear the word “mi-saison” as the announcer of a more bearable climate.  The French news has gone the rentrée clips to showing how our Dear President has not been as good at selling submarines as other countries that can offer different and possibly more desirable options…  The Voyages à Nantes is over, and we will look for those works of art that have become permanent.  You can see grapes in the supermarkets, and other more autumnal products.  Soon we’ll be talking about the wine harvest…  In the UK it will be words like “chilly” making their return to everyday usage.  The merits of a “nice cup of tea” which will warm you up will become an object of conversation once more.  Biscuits or cake?

My daughter was born in September and this week is her birthday.  She will be twelve going on thirty.  I think she should run for President, as she seems to know everything already.  Let her fix the country.  If people go on strike, she could always sulk in her room and go on her phone…  That’ll show them!  At least she takes the dog out for walks around the village.  As any doting gather, I think she’s brilliant and can be hilarious and despite hating and eye rolling at my dad jokes, she still seems to enjoy them.  She can also turn into a she-devil at any instant and I’m trying to work out whether this is traumatic for me or just making life a little more interesting than it once was.

Molly, I think I’ve introduced her to you, is now a deb at the grand old age of 10, and has made her grand entrance in the pub, where I can be found from time to time, enjoying a pint of overpriced Guinness.  Me, that is, not the dog.  That dog of ours is one clean living dog, or a total abstainer!  She attended a Saturday night at the pub, and was noticed and loved by everyone.  She received strokes galore, was made a fuss of, and even had a couple of chips as a treat from the chip shop down the road.  My major concern was that I would lose her, but my hand stayed firmly on the lead, and the only trouble was her getting tangled in chairs.  I was amazed by the reaction to her, and she might be allowed to come out with me more often.  She’ll keep her canine eye on me, making sure I don’t get into any trouble. It’s amazing how that mutt has worked her way into my heart and is a real doggie dog, and always seems happy to see me.  To be honest, she’s happy to see everyone, but she knows how to make you feel special, in a way that only a dog can.  Unfortunately she can, with time, and dirt on her, become a little stinky-poohs, and on Tuesday I came home and gave her her cuddle, discovered a dog that had been to doggie hairdressers and was now as soft as you wish, trimmed up, and smelling lovely.  Maybe not as pleasant as finding a banknote hidden away in your wallet, but not half bad anyway!

This is supposed to be a photography blog, or at least from time to time, so let me tell about where I am on the photographic plain.  I’m still there.  Last weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine.  I could have gone into Nantes with my camera, and visit all those places not usually open to the public and get some more “exclusive” photos, but went to Clisson instead.  I never got there.  I had the Mamiya and a couple of rolls of film with me.  Exploring some of the local villages near where I live, I even managed to go to the Château de la Preuille, a local castle that has been a favourite of mine since arriving in St Hilaire in 2001.  With Medium format film, you get 12 images with each film when shooting with the Mamiya C220, and the amount of detail that is captured on the negative is amazing.  The project was to take pictures locally and see what I could get, and the restriction of 24 shots was interesting too.  It obliges you to make that little extra effort when composing your images, as you don’t want to waste that special film.  If this article has photos, then it means that I have developed my film before Friday at 17h.  Otherwise, they’ll have to be added later on. UPDATE: It appears that you will have to wait for the photos of Château de la Preuille but they will be put on here. For the moment, you get a bit of Saint Hilaire.

I shall continue to revel in this comparatively cooler weather, with the sunshine, and not much rain forecast for the next ten days.  I look forward to seeing you in my next article.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, then be careful!

Hello Dear Reader

It has been a quiet three weeks over here in France.  I went to see my wife’s family in Brittany, and strangely enough I could go out, take some pretty photographs, and not get any grief from my mother-in-law.  Yes, miracles can happen. 

England and football had definitely come home just before buggering off to Rome.  Those three poor lads who missed penalties and got so much flack for it.  Disgusting.  I listened to the match on the radio in the car on the way home, but got home before the penalties, which would have been too horrible to listen to.  At least we got further than France, and beat Germany.  Small mercies, people, small mercies!  

My eejit son got back with his ex-girlfriend, but apparently with “different rules,” and “different bases,” and asked me to accept everything wholeheartedly.  Very optimistic, that boy!  There are more red flags in that relationship than in the last Congress of the Chinese Communist Party… And to quote the genius that is Forrest Gump, “and that is all I have to say about that…”  I’ve been forbidden from saying anything else. It happens, I suppose…

They have jabbed once me.  I think there is definitely a conspiracy about the COVID vaccinations.  Why don’t the injections hurt like hell, the way they used to when I was a child???  What is this utter madness?  As of the 21st July, the “passe sanitaire” has been imposed, firstly on theme parks, cinemas, and libraries, where more than 50 people can gather.  As of the 1st August, you cannot go to restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, and basically anywhere where everyday French life happens.  The President sounds like a scratched record, vaccinnez vous, vaccinnez vous!  Strangely enough, people are starting to feel a little iffy about the whole situation.

There are now huge demonstrations against this “passe sanitaire” and people are comparing it to the “Ausweis” that people had to carry about during the Occupation.  Has Macron committed political suicide?  Many are hoping so.  I’m for people being vaccinated but want it to remain a choice.  Aren’t we free to refuse a medical act?  Have Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité, just disappeared from France?  Many think so.

A friend had his 26th birthday, so the weekend before, I took him up to Nantes to buy him his present.  As we are still allowed to frequent cafés etc, we enjoyed ourselves and only had two teas, and one visit to the pub.  Such restraint!  I was amazed.  I could have taken him to at least another two places.  He dared to tell as we were ordering tea number two, that he was no longer hungry!  I quipped, you don’t need to be hungry to eat this…  These youngsters!

I am still allowed to wander the streets of France, and might keep doing it and my goal, this week, is to take some photos of the Voyage à Nantes Art festival!  I might not be able to sit down and have a pint, but I’ll be a brave boy about it! Yipeeeeee!

Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!