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….

Barber shop portraits

Dear Reader,

I have neglected you and have been away for some time. I needed to get rid of the introspection and get over it. I have also tried to learn new things and have been experimenting with using speedlites and light modifiers. Now you have already seen the beginnings of this exploration, but I have managed to find new victims, I mean models and was even asked by my barber if I could take some photos for them too.

My father always taught me to be good to people. Goodness will never be wasted. If somebody throws it back in my face then it is a réélection on them and not me. As long as my motives are pure then all is good, so to speak. I have been to that barbershop since it opened and have followed their progress over the years. When I am in Nantes I seem to always have a camera around my neck, as you never know when that “shot” would come along. And whilst waiting my turn I might take a couple of photos and I would of course give them a copy of each photo.

I am more an introvert so the idea of meeting a complete stranger and building a quasi instant rapport with the person is a pretty daunting prospect. Maybe it is what is the most difficult for me. I have been given various means of getting through this scary barrier. Some say, fake it ’til you make it, but it’s not really for me. One thing I did use was get the person to pretend being in a photobooth. I’m generous and so give them 5 shots instead of four, to pull funny faces and get it out of their system. It generally works and I encourage the person in front of the lens, and show them the first images and get them more at ease… I suppose if it works, then it works.

They also see me getting all my kit ready and set up, and you can see a kind of wonderment in their eyes, as if this guy is really serious, so we’re going give it a good go.

So last week I had dropped a message to my son asking him to give me a hand and be my assistant. He was there for moral support and to help me lug my equipment from the underground car park to the actual barbershop He did it brilliantly. So we arrive and they were waiting for us. We introduced ourselves to everyone, new staff, and learnt each other’s names. It’s always nice to say Kim, instead of hey you. Cassiopée was used to being in front of the camera and was fine posing and smiling, and what was worrying me was not being able to get a “real” portrait. Paco, the poor lad was just busy cutting hair.

This of course, raises the subject of what is a “real” portrait.

Portrait photography is about capturing the essence, personality, identity and attitude of a person utilizing backgrounds, lighting and posing.

I don’t know how far I am managing to take this concept on board but I’m trying. So, Cassie was easy to photograph, but Kim was a different matter. She told me before shooting that she didn’t feel at ease being photographed, but when showing her the photographs when I took them, she began to build her confidence, and her colleague helped her too. We did single portraits, then a whole load of portraits of the two girls together. I think the extrovert side of Cassie helped Kim to be less conscious of the camera. It was there but by the time she finished she could have gone for more. Thank heavens for Cassie.

I knew that my camera settings were the right ones for the result I wanted, and my lighting set-up was the way I wanted it and I was getting consistent results which is good too, which just allows me to get on with taking the photos and concentrating on the person in front of my lens. Who doesn’t look good in a low key portrait. I think they have certain elegance that you don’t get in different portrait formats, however much I might love candid street portraits.

Photographs of the inside of the Barbershop.
Inside the barbershop

As I had been asked by the boss to take the photos I felt it was not the time or moment to experiment and decided to keep myself in the “safe” zone. I’m lucky in the way I have a daughter in law or daughter who are always up for being photographed and don’t’ care me trying something new. It had been decided that I would take some portraits of the barbers, and some of the Salon itself. Looking back I was just trying not to take up too much space and for the ambiance shots I might have been better using a wider angled lens to get a larger angle. Each “job” has its constraints I suppose.

Soooooo, the equipment contained the Canon 6D Mark 2, the
Godox TT600 Flash Speedlite, an umbrella with a diffuser, and a Manfroto stand, and a black and white reversible, collapsible backdrop. The two lenses i used wer the 16-35mm F4.0 ans the 50mm F 1.8.

Thank you also to O Barber Nantes, to Cassie, Kim, and Paco, and Bryan who just happened to be there, for being really kind to me and accepting me and letting me getting on with some photography.

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.

Kodak Portra 160 in action

I have already shown these photos on Facebook and Instagram, but I wanted to share them here too. I had the pleasure to take a film camera out to Nantes with some Portra in it. Kodak Portra is one of those iconic films that everybody waxes lyrical about and I can understand what the hype is about. I certainly love it and the results the I mananged to get from it. I would love be able to work out how to make my digital photos have the same feeling, but when I take film shots I don’t have to worry about it.

The following photos were taken on Portra 160 film using my Pentax ME Super, which as the name suggests is pretty cool, during the month of May just after lockdown and in Nantes where I can be found often with a camera around my neck.

Portra 160 is described as having a natural color palette with low saturation and low contrast. It has breathtaking color, sharpness, and very fine grain. I really love these colours. Normally the name Portra might suggest Portrait and you’d be right in thinking that. For portraits it’s magical. But it also seems to work in street photography.

I do love the Cathedral in Nantes and haven’t been back inside since the fire. I miss it and the music from the organ which was magnificent and depressingly no longer there.

https://shootitwithfilm.com/how-to-shoot-kodak-portra-160/ This could interest you too

https://www.alexburkephoto.com/blog/2019/5/16/metering-and-shooting-kodak-portra-film And here is another link that you might want to have a look at. Loads of info and worth a read. I wish I had have know about this first. I don’t think I was too far off though.

https://fstoppers.com/film/unofficial-film-film-look-long-term-review-kodak-portra-400-502260 This article is on Fstoppers and discusses Portra 400 but it’s a good read too.

Canon and the Helios 44-2 58mm

It was a Sunday after a night celebrating a friend’s birthday with a “couple” of drinks. Which meant I was a tad on the tired side. Not hungover of course. Let’s just say that I needed to move my booty and air my mind.

As those of you who know me might have guessed already that meant making sure I was fit to drive. I was fit to drive. Grabbed my Canon 6D Mark ii and stuck on the Helios 44-2 58 mm F 2,0 lens.

At 58 mm we are leaving the standard focal lengths and heading off into portrait lens territory. How bold of me! Especially as I would be using it on the streets of Nantes. It’s a M42 screw mount lens and therefore needs an adapter in order to work on my modern DSLR. Manual focussing and without focus peaking and with my bad eyes is not easy unless yon use the flippy outy screen and zoom in,which meant that even I could get some in-focus images.

The Helios is a Russian lens from the Soviet era and the build quality could be described as slightly solid. When I first bought it I had placed it on my dining room table. It fell off the table onto the tiled floor and damaged a tile… But you dear reader are sensible and don’t do that kind of sh*t so you’ll be fine.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the bokeh that this lens gives out. If you like creamy bokeh goodness with a bit of a swirl then you won’t be disappointed. Try and spot it as you look through the photos. The bokeh whores amongst you will not be left wanting.

Île de Nantes with the XT2

It was the first full day of leave from work and I wasn’t able to get to the UK so what is a guy to do? I was devastated but it became clearer and clear that my trip to Hull wasn’t going to happen. You can take the man out of Hull, but not the Hull out of the man. Retail therapy would cost a fortune. An interesting idea with many merits, but my credit card might not be OK with that… So I decided to go out to Nantes with my camera.

Some of you might remember me talking about Sean Tucker in my article about the portraits with one speed lite. His latest video was talking about minimalism in street photography and how he would go around the Barbican for some modern architecture photography shots. Believe it or not but I don’t actually live in London, no, I live near Nantes and so did the next best thing. The Île de Nantes is an area that is under development and has some very interesting architecture with lots of texture.

Nantes is one of those places that is old and has gone through so many mutations over the centuries but has always found a way of reinventing itself. Some of you might have realised that I frequent a certain establishment in the quartier historique of Bouffay, which is where the staff of the Castle used to live. There are long boulevards with Hausmannien architecture. Other areas with traces of various workshops from the beginning of the 20th century, the Passage Pommeraye, that 19th century collection of shops that have become such a feature of Nantes. The Île de Nantes had the naval dockyards that after the decline of shipbuilding in Nantes were transformed. And so it is the turn of the rest of the Île de Nantes.

I wanted to try and find shots which were based on form and light almost as if I were trying to give my eyes and vision a workout. I was using the FUJIFILM XT2 with the 16mm f2.8 lens. It was a lovely day too!

I think it might have to be something that I should try more often….