The Father

I’m not going to talk about the new film with Anthony Hopkins, where we see the effects of Alzheimer’s on an elderly man.  No, I am going to talk a little bit about my own father, as everyone in the family knows, is destined for the Sainthood.  I have been made to swear by my mother not to talk about private lives of family members, so I will try not to give too much away.

I phoned my parents on Friday and everything was great at home, my mother going out to play golf, and my father going out to play bridge with the boys.  I said I would phone them later during the week. I hear people complaining that they haven’t seen their parents for x months over COVID.  I haven’t seen my parents since August 2019, so please, for the love of God, stop complaining and count your blessings!

On Tuesday night, after work, I called home.  My mother answered the saying how they had had a bit of an“eventful weekend”, and that my father had had a heart attack.  So having stolen my father’s thunder, she said she would pass him over; John do have the phone upstairs?  He did, and we started  talking.

As you may know, I live in France, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away saying that my parents live in the UK.  In some respects it could be on the other side of the world, seeing as how we can’t see each other.  But over lockdown we have “heard” each other.  But what about the now ubiquitous “Zoom” meeting I hear you saying.  You can “see” each other with that.  My mother, bless her, is a technophobe and zoom is something from the realm of science-fiction. 

So, I was allowed to talk to my now thunderless father, and asked, what did I just hear?  Have you been trying to be interesting again?  I was given the low-down and got all the medical details.  I still don’t get it.  He was a high level athlete as a young man, not a huge drinker, nor a total abstainer, we seem to mistrust them.  He is not what one could call a “big lad” as I am.  He eats very healthily.  It was just bad luck, and blocked arteries.

It’s the kind of situation that puts you right up against your own mortality, and I have friends of my age who have lost their parents, and not in the fishing aisle in the sports shop. I am constantly aware of how far I am and how helpless that makes me feel. I love both my parents with all my heart, and dread “that” phonecall and hoping that althought enevitable, I will never have to face it. I asked as politely as I could if he could possibly refrain from dying please, until I actually manage to get over to the UK for my next visit, next summer.  He said he would try and I hung up, knowing that everything was fine with him.  It was as if the weekend had been less eventful, verging on the boring.  But it does give you a bit of a scare.  It’s not always nice living so far away.

Post Scriptum

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

A certain Ben Franklin

The envibility of death is ompnipresent in our world, some being closer to it than others. Do I want to die? Not really. Am I ready to die? As a Catholic I woud prefer to get to confession first. Some see death as a deliverence, and I think it was Voltaire who said, “The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.” I think he also said it was the only real way to say Merde, to God. Death is part of life and I think not to be feared. But I would prefer that certain people would hang around for a little longer so they can share even more of their wisdom, their sense of justice, and above all, their love!

 

It pays to be a winner

At school I wasn’t a winner.  Not really.  There was one time at prep school when I won the First form prize, which was a book about birds.  I still have it! I once entered a competition to win a first day cover of stamps featuring various fish native to British rivers, and won the first day cover as well as postcards of the stamps.  I wasn’t a great sportsman, something which seems to have followed me through my life and therefore didn’t have the chance to win a cap for my school.  Whilst I used to wear green for a living, I would often hear the phrase, “It pays to be a winner gentleman,” being yelled by certain junior NCO’s.  I was of course never that winner, so would have to repeat the exercise with all the other losers.

You get used to being a loser.  In certain respects, it’s great because you don’t have to bother yourself with that maternal ambition that was imposed on you.  It lowers your expectations and you get used to accepting your fate in life.   You ramble along, as you may have seen and read Dear Reader, I am a rambler.  I was fine with that.

Then of course I moved to France.  Try being English in France.  Then again maybe don’t.  It’s worse than being French in the UK.  They lost WW2, yet celebrate VE Day every 8th May.  Oh sweet Caroline, I mean irony!  But that’s fine.  It’s in their mind-set of being the inheritors of the Glory of France.  Then the bastards went and won the World Cup in 1998.  They are ghastly when victorious, and I remember saying to myself, they’re going to talk about this for 20 years…  20 years came and went, and they only went and won the bloody thing a second time!!!

Whenever they beat us at rugby, I am inundated with mentions of how great they are, and yet when we beat them, I am allowed to remain silent and hide in my office!  This losing does have a tendency to teach you about humility.

Now I will talk about the B word, yes, Brexit.  As I may have let slip, I am a remainer, and therefore “lost” the vote in 2016.  Since that time, my life here in France has been in suspended animation, suspended rather than animated.  My future was dependant on a “deal”.  Then Boris came along.  I was going to be buggered one more time, yet despite the odds, we “won” an agreement that would allow me to stay here.  But knowing the French, nothing was certain.  That uncertainty doesn’t help a guy’s mental health and Brexit has taken it’s toll on me.  But less of the grumbling. 

On the 22nd June, 2021, I receive an email from the prefecture telling me to come and see them on the 9th July, with this mail, my old carte de séjour, my residency card, which allowed me to remain in France, and will allow me to remain further.  I arrived here in France on the 9th of July 1994, to start the rest of my life.  I got that mail, read it, and had tears welling up.  For the first time in 5 years, I was turning into a winner.

That week I entered a competition on Instagram.  One of those things where you win a basket full of samples from a shop, and you have to like the post, post the names of two people on the comments, and they will announce the winner in a story.  This was for a shop that sold CBD products and I thought why the hell not.   Well when the story came out announcing the winner you’ll never guess who won.  Yes me!!!  So for a perpetual loser like me, this was amazing.  I was high on the positive vibes.  Things are calmer at home and at work, and I have less pain in my arthritic knee.  Maybe it does pay to be a winner after all. 

I am not a fan of Shadenfreude, except when France is the cause of it.  In the Euro 2020 competition, happening in 2021 because of Covid, no winners there really, France was knocked out of the tournament by Switzerland. I haven’t said a word about it at work.  Wouldn’t be cricket after all.  Oh and we beat Sri Lanka in the Cricket too!  On Tuesday night there was the fateful match, between Germany and England, and I don’t want to hear anything about two world wars and on world cup!!  Even though…. We beat them, for this first time in a tournament in the knock out stages since 1966 when we beat them in the world cup…  The English side of me was very happy, and yet I have been gracious in victory and not mentioned it at work to my French colleagues despite the desperate urge to do so.  Even if I were to mention it, it would be wasted on them and wouldn’t be cricket!  Damn you gracious VICTORY!

Hello everyone

Hello everyone, and by that I mean people who actually read this blog and seem to enjoy it. Here I will not be facetious or try to be funny, but in the contrary be deadly serious. Well, maybe not deadly, but definitely a little serious.

I have a question for you. Why do you follow this blog? It can’t be for my great looks, charm and obvious charisma! I’ve been looking at my stats and have found the article I wrote about the X100f to be very popular. And I have to admit to being surprised. It was an article that was too long according to my mother, so that has to be true. It may annoy the shit out of me, be she is often right about these things, but I see people coming back to it again and again.

Is that kind of thing interesting to you? Is it the camera, is it the way it makes feel when using it? What about using different kit? I’m talking about the helios lens, or maybe the 16-35mm lens. Would you like to hear more about that too?

These are sincere questions and I’m interested in what you might have to say. Are there any other subjects you would like me to talk about?

Yeah, I know, it’s all soul searching, but if I can share things that interest you, then it might be a more pleasurable experience reading me as I ramble on. The idea after all is to write something that will interest you, interest me, something that I have a minimum of knowledge of, maybe have a laugh together, etc.

So, give a shout in the comments and let’s try and make this, whatever it is, a two way, sharing, experience that can benefit us both.

As I said, this is an article, hors du temps, and is trying to strike up a conversation. Don’t be scared, firstly because this is the Internet and people can, and often do say what they think in a most forthright manner, and secondly, I don’t bite. Thanks for stopping by…

PS your weekly article will be out on Friday 2nd of July at 17h French time. It pays to be a winner…

Beauty of the Mundane

Every now and again you come across an article in a newspaper or a video on YouTube that makes you think in a way that a cute cat video won’t. Sometimes it might be a new newspaper with just a different look or feel to it. Or a new book from an author that you don’t know. As a child I discovered the Independent newspaper being delivered all of a sudden and falling in love with the photography inside it. Looking at these images and being touched by them. Not just the subjects, but the pure beauty of the images. At that time journalism in the newspaper industry meant black and white images taken by people in the field, film cannisters being sent back to the newspaper, people editing the photos in the darkroom, and then either being scanned on drum scanners or plates being made which were then incorporated into the different page layouts and then printed on the presses.

Wow, that just took me back to having breakfast with my father every day as a child before school in the sun room gazing at the newspaper and the garden. The smell of coffee on my father’s breath, and him looking so dapper in pyjamas and his dressing gown. Amazing how one can time travel in one’s mind in a split second. Radio three on the radio which gave such a calmness to the whole situation.

But onwards and upwards! Recently you discover a YouTube channel that makes you think… I have a few that I watch on a regular basis, mostly about photography but I suppose that’s not a huge surprise to you! If I’m not mistaken, then this is the video that made me think a little further. I’ll just let you watch it first and then we can continue.

Seeing is so important in photography as it is in any visual art. I’m not going to pretend to be some wonderful artist. I will have a go at being a visual documenter, and I think I may have already touched on this in a previous article, but I’m going to do it again. Couldn’t find the article so it must have been a discussion on a comments section from a Facebook post. Anyway….

To me, Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found this has little to with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them

Elliot Erwitt

That resonnated with me. It made me want to explore the idea of photographing the ordinary, but trying to see how light treated those scenes or things, and try to capture the beauty in it. Having worked recently with artificial light, I have become a lot more aware of light in my photography and how I might use it to get the most out of an image. The brief is to try and take a few photos a day of my ordinary every day life and the objects that are in front of my eyes, and publish them on an Instagram account.

Julia Margaret Cameron: soft-focus photographer with an iron will

From her housemaid to Alfred Tennyson, the indomitable Victorian wrestled everybody into her studio, dressing them up as characters from Shakespeare and the Bible. For years, these tableaux have been out of fashion – but two new shows cast this pioneering photographer in a new light

So let’s welcome Beauty in the Mundane, the new IJM account! This is a side project and will have it’s own little feeling to it. There is a new profile pic, or auto portrait for those who like think of themselves as better than the rest of us. One kind follower pointed out, “Hello ton autoportrait est flou🤔,” to which I replied, “Je sais. Mais ce n’est pas le fin du monde…. ça donne une impression de l’irréel or ce compte est que du réel. Mais merci de m’avoir prévenu.” O Irony! I then pointed him to an article from the Guardian, and started talking about the need to embrace imperfection.

So there is this new project to try and see this ordinary and try and see its inherent beauty, be that by form, shape, light, the was the light creates form as it falls on an object. Don’t expect huge landscape vistas, or portraits. It’s not that kind of thing. It might be utter bunkum and look like three shades of crap, but then again, it might not. There will certainly be an evolution as there should be be always. I don’t don’t where it will lead, or if it will be nothing more than just a personal photographic exercise. It might provide some high art. I don’t know yet,

I’ve just started. But if you don’t follow then you won’t know. Don’t want you missing out on anything do we….

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.