Cassiopée, Queen or Constellation?

The Cassiopée that I will be talking about is neither. She is not a star that looks like the letter W, nor is she an arrogant queen of Aethiopia who annoys the god of the sea. Mine is a barber. She works where I get my beard taken care of was part of the article showing a series of portraits that I did for the salon O Barber, 2 rue de Paré, Nantes.

She is part of this generation that is our future and is part of the Instagram experience, where image has become the king as well as a projection of self-image. Back in the day, when I had hair, yes Dear Reader, there was such an age even though it was many many years ago, we expressed ourselves through our clothes, what we smoked, and the kind of beer that we drank. Now they use a little device that lives in your pocket and broardcasts to the world. Scary isn’t it!

Anyway. Cassi was very happy with the photos I took of her in the barbershop, and asked if it were possible to have some new photos. I of course jumped at the chance to add to my “œuvre” and to add to my “répertoire.” Since the barbershop photos, she had changed her look, as you will be able to by checking here. I was very flattered that she asked me. I asked what kind of photos she wanted, studio, or on location, and black and white or colour. She chose location and colour. I remember my son’s ex-girlfriend Elise, who said I should try and do more colour photography as it was something she thought I was good at. Well, for once, she was right about something, so I thought, right matey, let’s get some colour. Cassi suggested the Île de Nantes, with its machines, and the famous Buren Rings, but my mind went back a week to where I had done my last photos. Trentemoult. It’s a village that just breathes colour and I knew I would be able to get something good out of my location.

Like most plans that have been well laid out, things never seem to go to plan. We had already pushed back the rendez-vous by one hour to avoid the rain. Great. I was bang on time, and even managed to find a parking space, which was part of the plan… What wasn’t part of the plan were train delays, replacement bus services, the wind coming off the river, and my model being an hour late. Improvise, adapt and overcome. We ended up chatting on Instagram following her progress, and my need to improvise, nearly lead me to a café terrace, adapting to a beer, and overcoming the wait, but I resisted, and remained patient, getting out of the wind. Even the ferryman had problems sailing up to the quay.

She arrived, apologising with as much gusto as the wind, and I said not to worry, let’s get out of the wind and start shooting. She was very soon at ease and we got on with it. Wondering around the streets using the coloured walls as backdrops, and getting the shot. In my mind I had been wondering about the colour of her outfit, and how to incorporate complimentary colours into the shots. She wore a little black dress with white polka dots. Perfect! I would take my series of shots, show her on the camera screen, and it gave us both confidence in the process. Wandering around I would see a wall, see the colour in my mind and say, could you possibly just put yourself up against this wall please? Which she did with grace. Then can you just crouch down, thinking how lucky I was not to have to do the same. Middle age and arthritic knees do not mix well.

It’s a beautiful little village, and very bohemian chic, or Bo-bo, for the French.  Very stylish, trendy lefties, ecologically aware rich people, who have gentrified what was a fishing village on the Loire, but still allow the hoi polloi like me to come along and use it as a film location.  At every turning, we would get a new colour and new feel to each photo.  I have actually done black and white photography here too and it works just as well, but the colours are amazing.  Did I mention how colourful the place is?  Because it’s really colourful, and makes the rainbow flag look quite boring!

After an hour we had a certain amount of photos and I had something I could work on.I offered to drive her to the station so she less things to worry about, dropped her off and went to the pub!  Because I can, and more so because they’re open!!  I improvised, finding a spot on the terrase, and Simon, Stephanie, and Evan, greeted me with fist bumps, which has become the new handshake.  Simon came over and asked would I like a Guinness, so I decided to adapt and say, yes please.  It was lovely just sitting down watching the world go by, judging it, and looking at pretty women.  I was overcome with joy.  What more do you need.  Well, a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen for eight months whilst the pub was shut due to government Covid restrictions, invited me over to their table.  At last I was able to talk bollocks again and make people laugh.  Pure bliss!

On Monday Cassi was already asking me when she could have her pictures.  Apparently patience is not her forte.  I said that I would start the editing process and the inevitable cull of photos that Monday evening.  By the end of the first night  the cull had been done.  Some because the composition was off, some didn’t turn out the way that I had hoped, others because the auto focus hadn’t focussed they way I thought it had.  By about ten that night she already had some images for the Gram. 

Where it gets surreal is that I put some of the images in my stories on Instagram, and Google, in it’s wisdom suggested some collages for me, that I added on at the end.  So I thought what the heck and why not. Little did I know that Cassi would react.  She asked me very nicely and kindly to remove one of the stories, because she thought her cheeks were too big on the photos proposed by Google.  I of course took the photos down, but it pushed my mind into questions of self worth, self image, the place of the image in this modern world where we are no longer just an image, but ust create a public persona and sell ourselves to the world!

I told her that I thought she looked lovely on each photo that I had taken. I mean we have to love ourselves. To put not too fine a point on it, I entered Dad mode!

“Right, you know I’m a Dad, and strangely enough I see the world through the eyes of a Dad. I will therefore talk to like a Dad. You will listen, and listen well. We are allowed to have complexes concerning our physical aspect, especially with al the images that are on Instagram, Facebook, on on the more traditional media. We live in an age where “Image” is king. Well you have to put it in its place. There are men who like arses, some boobies, some like skinny girls, some like girls with a bit more body. But that only counts in physical and sexual attraction. You can’t base a long-term and durable relationship on just being pretty. If you boyfriend just stops at your physical appearance, it might be time to change boyfriends. There is already so much hate in this world, and enough people to hate us, why waste time hating ourselves, when others can do it perfectly well for us. Shouldn’t we love ourselves the way we are already? With an unconditional love? And here’s something else, we are more than just our good looks! We are our own person! we have so many facets that shine in this world. Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves shine, but we still shine despite that! There I’ve said it!!! Think what you may. You’re a great girl. You are pretty. You have beauty. Please let yourself shine. The world needs it!”

Sometimes this world that we live in is so perverse. The media fills us with all our complexes. The say we are too thin, so bulk up, or we are too big, so slim down. You have long hair, then cut it. You have short hair, then let it grow. You have curly hair, then straighten it, you have straight hair, then curl it. The day we can accept ourselves the way we are, the world will become an easier place to live in.

I’m fat. There, you might have already guessed it. Do I look like Brad Pitt? Nope. But then again, Brad doesn’t look like me. His loss. Do I love my body and do I have issues with it? Yup. Will that stop me living? Nope. Will I ever be a top model? Probably not. Do I care? Not in the slightest. I am me. My body helps me move around, to love, to work, to hug my wife and children. That’s a damned good start.

Anyway. Let us leave the stage for Cassi and the colours of Trentemoult! Canon 6D Mark ii, and the 85mm f1.8 Canon lens.

Cloé in front of my lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good morning Dear Reader…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Vocation

This can sound something like a strange word nowadays, but as a Catholic, it was omnipresent during my youth, or at least I thought so. When I was at boarding school, the monks taught us about the monk’s life and how one could become a monk. The local parish priest when I was younger was convinced that I had a vocation to the priesthood. During my teenage years I did wonder, but then hormones struck and knocked me for six.

As i would discover, that drive for sex is a powerful thing. I had been introduced to sex by a babysitter and at 9 years old, it is too young and it robbed me of my innocence. But that is another story and I only shared what happened in 2007, and the first reaction of somebody close to me was, well at least he didn’t bugger you. Therefore, it could have been worse, but I can still see the images in my mind as if they happened yesterday. He wanted me to eat his cum, and I said no, I took back the power, and he knew that dynamic had changed. I wasn’t going to be a victim any longer. Not very pleasant, but as that person said, at least he didn’t bugger me. Small mercies…

That was not supposed to take that route. I wanted to stay positive, and it also shaped me and formed me into the person that I am today. It gave me the strength to say that unlike my abuser, this, will, stop, with, me. Maybe I have suffered it, so that others do not have to.

Anyway. Which is English English for let’s change subjects and take a right turn and not be so heavy.

When I was 6, I discovered my vocation. I saw the Guards parading on Horseguard’s Parade on the TV and I told my father that I would do that one day. I would be a musician and play in front of Her Majesty. I would learn the trumpet. My father said why not go with the horn. There are fewer horn players, and you’ll have a better chance of getting in.

So, I did. I learnt my craft and at 16 applied to join the RAF as a musician. The horror in my mother’s eyes as she realised that I was serious, and worse, ready to go in as an enlisted man and not an officer… Everything was done to dissuade me. I had weight to lose, and by summer, I was ready, and even more serious. That Summer we went to the US and southern Canada, which is a marvellous trip but not good if you want to lose weight. My mother’s first husband who died, had been in the Navy, and had started a business with an old Navy friend. It ended up killing him, and i realise now why my mother was like that.

My mother had decided that my vocation was to do my A levels, and then go to university, and study either business, law, or foreign languages. As it turned out, it was not my vocation either. It was in a pub after a Hull Philharmonic rehearsal, that one of my mates from the orchestra, said well you could do worse than sign up. In all fairness, she didn’t stop me this time, and after going through the application processes, I took the Queen’s shilling on the 4th of October 1991. I was 19. I went through basic training and was back squadded due to fitness or rather lack thereof. I went through the process again and almost made it. The problem was that the emphasis was on being a soldier, which is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a musician. One of the lads in my platoon was having a rough time and decided to slit his wrists. He was my mate. Potentially someone I would have gone to war with, and have gladly given my life to protect. I took it very badly. My idea that this might not be my vocation changed. The band that I was about to join had been out in the Gulf during the first gulf war, as had a couple of people form the orchestra I had known in Hull. Some had come back with the traumas still fresh in their minds, like the guy who had driven his ambulance into a minefield, and as he was being guided out could only think about his daughter. One of the guys in the band was found dead, with a hosepipe leading from the exhaust of his car through the window. It was too much for him. Some of the training staff were alcoholics as the advice of the day, was to het hammered, and forget about it that way. The mental health guidance given to the armed forces nowadays was a distant dream. I though probably that for my own mental health it was probably a good idea to get the f out of there. Subconsciously maybe, I failed a combat fitness test, that sealed my fate and off I went back to civvy-street. At least this time it was me deciding bout my vocation or lack thereof.  I remember my OC asking me what I would do, and I said I would probably go back to studies and see where it could get me. 

I came back hoe and was told by my parents that my father had been promoted and would be changing not jobs but cities also.  I was told to move to Newcastle first, and with no real idea of what my future would be made of, I headed off. Didn’t really have the choice.  But I do miss my childhood home and city.  Hull will always be the place I knew as home.

My mother told me to apply for such and such a course and to my amazement, I was accepted.  There was one of the students that was in a local TA band, and whilst casually having a pint in a pub, the owner said he was in the same band.  I joined the Burma Band of the Light Infantry.  This is what I was really after.  The music, the ceremonial duties, and playing soldiers from time to time.  I still knew how to shoot, and seemed to fit right in.  That Summer we went to Gibraltar with our battalion, and O irony struck again.  The band I was going to join, was on tour there at the same time.  I saw what could have been, but I was happy.

It was that year that I finally realised that the girl in Germany that I had been writing to since the age of 13, and thought I was in love with, wasn’t going to have any future.  It was then that I started to become a fatalist.  I met a French girl that would eventually become my wife and mother of my two children.   Things seem to happen for a reason as if God was giving you a gentle nudge in the right direction.  I still didn’t know what I was destined to do.  However, I knew that this girl was going to be part of it.

I wasn’t destined to complete my studies and became a proper College drop out.  Possibly because I was trying to please others rather than myself.  I’m still an occasional people pleaser but with time I am getting better, and soooo over it!  We had started to create a relationship out of mutual attraction, a good dose of sex, and actually liking each other as people.  Virginie was fed up of the UK and didn’t see her future there, she wanted to go back to France to live, and that she would like me to go with her.  I was scared shitless.  This was serious and would be a massive change.  I spoke reasonable French and even now, my written French is better than my wife’s is, as long as I know which words are masculine and which are feminine. And there was me that thought I was destined to live in Austria of Germany.  Guess not.

I still had no idea on what I was doing and what the future held and just seemed to get on with life and settle down into French life.  Any idea of vocation and career went out of the window.

We got our first flat, and life just seemed to roll by without any set direction.  I had asked Virginie to marry me back in 1993 and she said yes.  Nevertheless, it was still up in the air.  We went to see my parents in the UK for Christmas 1997, and was told by mother to bloody well get on with it, as there is no point in just letting your life slip by.  Be proactive and set a date.   We did.  It was decided that on the 21st of June 1998 we would get married.  In April of that year, Vrginie and I did the Catholic tango and I knew that my destiny was to be a father.  We had each bought a pregnancy test, and when I arrived home I was told I could take mine back.  From that day, I thought right, here we go.  God had intrusted a child to me and my duty was to help him become the adult he was destined to be.  My father is somebody who lost his father when he was 11 years old.  And when he became my father in 1974 when my widowed mother remarried, he adopted me and was there for the duration.  I realise now, that the instant that you become a father, you’re a father for the rest of you life.  He had set the bar really high for me, but I have always tried to live up to his example.  He is a just man, and always ever so fair.  Each time I have disappointed him, I felt so awful each time.  So this was my destiny!

I have two children.  I love both of them dearly and am trying to do everything I can for them to help them develop into the people that God wants them to become.  You can’t un-become a father.  It’s part of your very essence.  I don’t care about a career, as what I do to earn money does not define who I am.  My social rank, does not define who I am as a person.  Despite the Army telling me I was weak, I know that through my battles with what life has thrown at me, I have the mental fortitude, and strength, to keep going.  I have acquired wisdom.  I have acquired knowledge.  I still suffer from depression but it does not define who I am.  You have to keep going, because others are depending on you. 

My son is now the age I was when I left the UK.  He too has a French girlfriend, and we like her immensely.  I wish them both well, and that they too, find their vocation.  I hope part of that is to become parents.  I’m ready to become Grandpa, and let the next generation get on with their lives.

More  Portraits

I have a wife, and my wife has friends from her work. I therefore have friends from her work. One of these friends has a husband. This husband is therefore a friend of mine. Not only that but we were invited to celebrate his birthday with him. As my present to him I said I would take along the studio and set up in the garden. Which,believe it or not is exactly what I did.

I was up for the experience of photographing other people outside my perfectly dysfunctional family. I wanted to see if I could build up a relationship however temporary with my model and end up with a half decent photo.

I based it on a self service photo opportunity and not force anyone who didn’t want to pose, to pose. So out come the extroverts and then the shy introverts.

Booze helps as always and people were getting more relaxed as the booze started having an effect.

Only drink with moderation, if you can find him that is.