The Lockdown Diaries Part I

Now I realise that this title might sound like the beginning of a series of posts that will have even more episodes than the Avengers film franchise, or for those of you who are my age, even more films than in the Sly Stallone Rocky series, minus the boxing. And I’ve purposely not indicated how many episodes there might be, so like that I’m covered and I know you’ll just keep coming back for more.

As you might have guessed, and I think I’ve already said before; let me just go back and check… Yes I have said before, my big lockdown project was to eat cake, drink tea, take a couple of photos and get this film photography funk over and done with, like flared trousers in 1980.

With the help of YouTube, calming myself the “f” down, and a couple of purchases on Internet, I sorted myself out. Now I knew that I could take a reasonable photo. But developing was a different matter. I had lost confidence, and it was time to grab the bull by the horns, which is easier than grabbing it elsewhere, and just start at the very beginning, which as Julie Andrews reminded us, is a very good place to start.

When you take photos with an analogue camera, you need an analogue camera, check, some film, check, and then you load the film into the aforementioned film camera, and go out and take some photos. I did this in my village, and you’ll be able to see where I walked: the vines, the park, and the prairie where there are lots of ponds, with lots of ducks who had been doing what ducks do in the Spring and swimming with the ducklings and being fed bread by my daughter. The noise of the frogs, the animals, and not my fellow villagers from the Vendée, was deafening!

When you get back from your walk, you disappear into your bedroom and set out the developing kit, minus the chemicals, on your bed, and hope that you still remember how to get the film from inside the film canister, onto a plastic spool, which goes into a drum, and then a cover goes onto the drum to keep everything away from any light. Oh yes, you do this by putting everything you need into a developing bag, and doing all this by touch and without seeing what you’re doing. If this sounds like a lot of faffing about when you can just use your phone to take “pics”, well you’d be right, but I’ll get back to you on that, later on.

You take this “drum” into the bathroom, and put it on a shelf and then prepare you chemicals. You will need a developer, a stop, and a fix, and I’m not talking about smoking a cigarette that makes people laugh. The developer will make the pictures (in negative) appear on the film. The stop, you’re not going to believe this, will actually “stop” this process, and the fix, will fix the image on the negative by disolving the excess emulsion that was on the film. Then you have the cleaning process which will allow you to have some wonderfully clean negatives that will dry, and then can be cut up into strips, and then put into sheets that will protect the negatives.

But enough of all this negativity! Let’s make those negatives into positives… Bloody hell I’m sounding like some American self-help book! I do this by scanning each negative which will make a positive, and I end up with a picture on my computer. Yayyy, go me. Good job I’m not called Nads!

As you can see I’m really into recycling in a big way, because I’m sure I’ve used that joke before.

I then class these photos by camera used to take them, and by date. It’s my OCD going into overdrive again. My house is untidy despite the efforts of my long suffering wife, but my hard drives are so well organised, that a librarian would be proud of me.

After this I get to play with the images on my computer and then after minimal editing, I publish them, either on Instagram, on Facebook, or here.

So I have these images ready to share with you. But further up I talked about faffing about and why don’t I just used my phone like everyone else. Well? Firstly I’m not like everyone else as my parents will tell you. Some people will say the film photography is about slowing down. You take your time to think about the shot, you look at the scene before you and take the time to decide what elements are interesting, what to include and what not to include. You think if this picture that I can see I my mind’s eye is worth taking and worth the expense and time to develop it. But that’s only part of the story. I like the process of capturing the photo with film. You click the shutter, wind on the film, don’t look at the back of your camera to check if your picture turned out OK or not, and hope for the best. With time, this becomes “normal” and might teach you some patience. I also like using the old camera. It’s looks better hanging around my neck than my phone. When people see you using a film camera, people look at you as if you are more worthy, and a craftsman exercising his craft. There’s the touchy feely side of actually going through an analogue process and manipulating something tangible and getting a result from that process, instead of just creating an electric image. The quality of those images with the famous “grain” may not be as sharp as some digital images, but they have a certain quality about them that cannot be produced digitally. There’s also the thing about converting nearly all my digital into black and white, so why not just cut out the middle man and do everything on black and white film?

The two main film cameras that I use are the Canon AE1 Program, and the Pentax ME Super. I have others of course, but these are the main two and the following photos were taken on the Pentax using a 50mm F1.7lens and Ilford HP5 black and white film.

I hope you enjoy my efforts.

Confinement – The Endgame

Yes, I said Endgame. Well, kind of. My confinement started on the 17th of March, and I go back to work tomorrow morning, the 20th of April. You know when you were at school, and your teacher gave you the “and what did you do during the holidays?” essay. This is the more modern equivalent. Also I’m now 48 and no longer 8.

Did I go to the zoo? No, they’re shut. Did I visit my grandparents? No, they’re dead. Did I buy any sweeties? Just a couple. Where did I go? Not very far believe it or not. I stayed at home. It’s the destination that seems to be in favour at the moment, at least for the large majority of the population. Except for those Keyworkers!

The keyworkers, of course, have our admiration, not just because they have new celebrity status, let’s hope that one day they receive not only the recognition they deserve, but also maybe some financial reward. I think that we secretly admire them because they are allowed out. Maybe societal values changed in some way. Maybe our priorities have changed. Maybe our goals have changed. Maybe.

So. I was going to be stuck at home for a while. With my family. With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend! With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend, and not being allowed to go off to Nantes to escape and have some “me time.” Yes my own personal time to do the things that I can only do on my own. I’m not talking about masturbation, although it has become very fashionable, the sale of sex toys having exploded, much like the genitals of the owners of said toys. No. I’m talking about photography. Wandering around aimlessly (or Flâner in French) just taking in the scene, and recording it in a hopefully artistic manner.

All of a sudden I have the luxury of time. The question is, how am I going to spend that time. After the initial novelty had worn of, and having enjoyed laying in bed, I had to get up and do something, even out of pure boredom. I’m not one of those people who did sport, or made videos playing my musical instrument, I’m me. I do what I can.

I decided to sort out my camera gear. First my digital systems. Sorted out by cameras in two bags, with lenses, batteries, and other accessories. I have a Canon bag, and a Fuji bag. Then stuff for video, including tripods. I saw what I had done, and it was good. I entered smug mode. But there was the question of my film photography gear.

I have been in a film funk for what seems like ages (2017). I just couldn’t get my film development right. It was annoying me more than a mosquito on a hot summer’s night. But I had time, and decided to tackle the problem head on. I still had chemicals, and my development kit, and some films that hadn’t been developed. Good heavens, it worked!!!! I didn’t mess it up!!!! I believe in miracles, Baby. Where you from, you sexy thing? You sexy thing yeah.

Soooo, I sorted out all my film gear, and got that special smug feeling again. I still had some film and dared to dream. I put in some film into one of my most idiot proof cameras and took it out for spin. It is allowed after all. I am allowed out for “exercise” and those of you who know me, know how sporty I am. IE not sporty at all, but I needed to get out for my mental health, and they say that walking is the best kind of sport for fat people like me. I just took my camera with me.

Once back, I got my act together and set up my darkroom. It worked! And a friend on Instagram helped me out and I took his advice and the results were great. I was over the moon, and my film funk was over! Since that first day I have taken more photographs on film and think it will now play an increasing part of my photography. We’ll just have to see Dear Rader.

I started feeling guilty for not raising money for the NHS like Captain Tom, feeling guilty for not giving nightly concerts on the French Horn, feeling guilty for not baking fresh bread every day, and yet I did what I could. I have actually baked a cake, which was very nice, and my daughter seems to have the baking bug. She spent time making cakes, and various biscuits. My wife has taken time not only to tidy, but organise the house. I have taken time, not just for photos, but also for cooking for my family. We have all taken time to get to know our son’s girlfriend. The girlfriend, and son have taken time to be in their bubble and get to know each other in a way that only confinement can offer.

That word, time, seems to becoming ever present. Time. Just take a little time to let that sink in. We haven’t been on holiday, but we have been blessed with time off, to spend time on the more important things. Our lives have had a parenthesis. Time out to decide on how we really want to spend our time. The question isn’t , “will we change?” but how have we changed. We are living in strange times. A before, and an after.

I’ve enjoyed spending some time with you Dear Reader, but it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen and make something lovely for lunch.

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Lourdes.

For those of you who don’t know Lourdes, let me tell you about it. It is no ordinary place, and there is a feeling of profound hope, and healing, that strikes you immediately. There are mountains, souvenir shops for Catholic pilgrims, and the sanctuary itself.

Oh. I said that “C” word again. Except this one doesn’t rhyme with “punt.” I am unashamedly Catholic, and had drifted from the church, but I wanted to drift back.

When people go on pilgrimages, even unofficial ones like this, we talk about the voyage being almost as important as the destination. This is, of course, not just the physical journey, but the mental, and spiritual voyage also. I’ve wanted to return to Lourdes since I was 9, and this time I took my son with me.

As a parent you can only do so much, and part of my faith is to know that I can’t control everything in my life, let alone in the lives of others, and that there is something else that is beyond my comprehension. I wanted to help my son in his life, and despite maintaining a dialogue, I had done as much as I could. I could do no more, so I asked Our Lady to look after him. We all need a mother, and most of the Jewish people that I know, seem to agree that a Jewish mother is the best. And you don’t need to be a Jewish to be a Jewish mother. It’s a state of mind. And if God decided on a Jewish mother for His Son, then it was good enough for me. As a Catholic, we see Mary as being a mother to all of us. So when the proverbial **** hits the fan, you ask your Mum if she can help, before you ask your (heavenly) Father. Mums have a way of talking to Dads that help make things alright.

That’s something I understood once I became a father myself. God has that relationship with us. In Judaism, and Christianity, He does anyway. A father loves his child. Even when that child is “naughty,” we still love them. We might punish them, but we always want to forgive them. God is the same with us. You could argue that it’s a way of showing humanity through divinity.

Wow, this got heavy all of a sudden!

Anyway. I went to Lourdes to try and reconcile myself with God. To ask forgiveness for my many sins, to make reparation, to heal, and to try and return towards my Father. We do this with our own fathers here on earth, and so it was the same process for my soul. Does that make sense?

My son was my carer, and he did his job admirably. He also benefitted from his trip. In the Sanctuary there is an overwhelming sense of peace. We went to the grotto, and prayed. We did the night time procession and recited the rosary holding our candles. We bathed in the baths with the water from the source that appeared when Mary asked Saint Bernadette to dig. That source is still there and provides water for the many pilgrims. We put some of that water into bottles to take home with us. I went to Confession.

We also went up a mountain, and came down again. It was almost as much a religious experience as the rest of the pilgrimage. When Moses goes up the mountain to receive the ten commandments it is to be closer to God. At the top of that mountain we saw a nun talking to a young friend. They were laughing and taking selfies. We saw a priest praying from his Brievery. It was a moving experience seeing the cloud coming over the summit. We saw the clouds clear, and we looked over the valley to the other mountains. I still don’t understand how people can look at that scenery and doubt the existence of a creator.

Anyway. Let’s talk about the photos. They were taken with the X100F which is compact enough not to be noticed, and a little less heavy than my DSLR and all the lenses that I use with it. It limits me, but makes it all simpler. No unnecessary questions about which lens to use etc. Feel free to comment on the article or the photos. Any feedback is always welcome.

Countryside in October


The weather today is officially depressing and even more so because it’s a Monday. I was so annoyed with life that it now is Friday afternoon. 5 days to get to the second sentence is possibly a sign. Of what, I don’t know…

The tree that is in the photo is “my tree” that I pass every day to and from work. I’d taken photos of it on film, and in digital but hadn’t been back to see her for a while. I’ve just checked Instagram and the last photo I took dates from February 2017! It’s as if I had neglected a friend that I had not seen for ages but still pass in the street just exchanging glances and a swift hello.

It was time to remedy the situation. I had left her in black and white, and returned to her in black and white. She didn’t have much to say for herself. Being a tree might have something to do with that, but she was still there. Still covered in ivy. Still with all her branches. Still a part of my workday.

The field of maize was still there. The maize replacing the wheat harvested in Summer. By Tuesday it had been harvested and all you could see in the field were the remains of stalks not over 6 inches high, and yet the day before had been as high as a man. Time goes on and the field will be used to produce a winter crop. Such is the way in the countryside.

Some fields had be let to fallow and recover from growing our food. Nature reclaims them for herself and plants grow up the fence posts and in the ditches by the sides of the road. At least they’ve gone back to green instead of the drier washed out colours of a hot summer.

It’s now Friday afternoon and I was only at work this morning. The sun is out, I’m in a t-shirt, and it’s 19°C. The rain has done its job, and isn’t there to dampen the earth or my mood. When I was a child I imagined the rain being God having a shower. I couldn’t bring myself to think of Him having a wee on creation.

I think He’s out of the bathroom.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.