Les filles et un garçon

As I think I’ve already told you, I am in the middle of trying to learn about this portrait palaver! I had watched the videos, I had perused the books, I had bought the equipment, I just needed some willing victims. Erm, I mean models. I was going to see my perfectly dysfunctional family for the weekend in Brittany so I was going to have to charm them into sitting for me.

We were of course late and as usual it was my fault. Who else could possibly be to blame? Just remember that the previous day I had been in Paris with my 10 year old daughter. Now I’m not trying to invent excuses but I’m certainly claiming mitigating circumstances.

But it was still my fault. all my camera gear was downstairs and ready to be loaded into the car. My son was still with us and helped me. I had my backdrop, my flash, my camera, which is pretty important, my soft box, my trigger, and everything, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had forgotten the stand. I wasn’t going to go home to get it, otherwise I would never live it down and going 200km and back for a stand might seem a little unreasonable. I think reasonable is about 500 metres and I will still incur the wrath of my wife.

We made it in one piece and after a while I wasn’t being yelled at either. What I didn’t say was that I needed to fill the car with petrol and that was going to add on time. I also bought some water too. Hey, if you’re going to be late , then be late for a reason! The other reason was that there was loads of traffic on the roads too as it was the 14th July weekend. Our average speed for the 200km was 56km/h.

We settled in, and I unloaded my kit and started cursing myself for having forgotten that blasted stand, bordel de merde de mes couilles, but it’s a learning curve and I had just learnt to load everything myself so I’m sure of everything. Ah well, I was going to have to without the flash set-up and just use natural light.

The next morning my brother in law posed for me and gave me a chance to explain to everyone how the whole shebang worked. I also got a really good photo of him that won applause on his Facebook wall, which is praise indeed! We were going for the philosopher look….

my brother in law, Vincent.

Can you feel that 80mm F 1.8 bokeh creaminess? Just the right ammount to look like an understated sex symbol… Even I’m starting to get flustered!

The results had really given me a confidence boost and my sister in law was so impressed that she needed no coaxing to sit for me. It was going so well that my niece wanted in as well. My wife and daughter had obviously forgiven my short- comings and I ended up taking photos of all of them.

It was a fun moment and I think one that will be remembered for the right reasons. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

Back in Nantes for some street photography

It’s always good to back into town. I took along my daughter, a fuji XT2 and a cheap Chinese lens that was dirt cheap. I mean dirtier than my work boots after a hot summer day. But like my dirty work boots, it got the job done. You will of course see the results at the end of this article.

The lens in question is the 7 artisans 55mm F1.4 (equivalent to a 80mm full frame lens). It’s basically a portrait lens, and it was strange using it for street photography, wow, I just broke a photographic rule. Aren’t I just the ittle Rebel! Traditionally one would use a 35mm or 50mm lens. People have criticsed this lens on youtube and the jist is to say that it’s soft in the corners, and if you look at 1:1 at pixel level it’s not as good as “normal lesnes” . However this is not what i’m about. I try and capture a moment in time whilst wondering around the city. When you look through these photos will you seriously be looking at each individual pixel? Some of my film cameras don’t have lenses that do that compared to my fancy Canon DSLR lenses.

You can see where I’m going with this I think. Yes it’s cheap, but it’s also a metal build, and feels great on my camera. It gets the job done. And even though my old teacher isn’t into the soft silky focus of the bokeh, that’s alright too!

Am I seeming slightly defensive here? Possibly. I have a habit of defending the weak when I can. This lens has been getting a hammering on YouTube and the Internet in general. But it’s OK. For the price you’re not getting the very latest in lens technology that will encourage you to take out a second mortgage on your house! This one only cost me 109€. And for that price it does the job, which is what I ask it to do!

The Internet has become a place of polarisation,and people spout such codswallop about anything and everything. Be that political, racial, sexual, and the list goes on. Yes People, I bought a cheap Chinese lens , and yes I enjoyed using it! Yes I even dared to share some of the results with you!

Photography has always been expensive and even now top end gear costs a fortune. If somebody has a cheaper option then why the hell not!

I bought it as a compliment to my Fuji XT2 which is also a compliment to my Fuji X100F, which is a lovely little camera and with my Mamiya C220 is my favourite camera for street photography.

I don’t know if the following photos are streetphotography or not, people have their own ideas, but they were certainly photos taken on the streets of Nantes. I’m not going to enter into a deabte about what is or is not street photogrpahy. I was certainly happy with them otherwise I wouldn’t dare sharing them with you!

Feel free to give me your feelings about the photos and any feedback is always welcome. You already have a link to the lens for a bit more info. The group in the photos is Polka & Co and the play French Jazz and I’ve heard them a few times playing in town! The restaurant Chez Maman is one on my favourites and also has the gift of just being opposite the John McByrne Irish pub, and just happens to be Daddy’s Happy Place…!

The end of lockdown in France

As of midnight the confinement is officially over in my area of France. We are green and not red. Were we to be red, then we would still be up the Covid Creek without a paddle, but as we’re green, we’re good to go.

What I have just said might seem strange. And of course you would be right. It sounds like a British Army exercise, but it’s not. Nooooo! This is France after all. The country has been divided into green areas on a map, where the virus is less prevalent, and red, where people are still up to their necks in it, whatever “it” may be.

The Reds, and the Greens

Today, I need to fill in a form to say why I am outdoors and I have a document from my firm saying that I have to be at work. Otherwise I have to stay in, except forgoing to work with the right authorisation, shopping, going to see my doctor, going to see my family for vital reasons, or for childcare, exercise, but only for one hour, and within 1km of my house, if I have to appear before a court, or the police, or the participation in an action of national importance.

Tomorrow, I will be allowed out without an authorisation, but only in a radius of 100km from my house. If I use public transport I will have to wear a mask. If I go to the barbers, I have to have an appointment, usually taken online, pay by card, and wear a mask. I will experience this next Saturday when I might just be able to stop looking so unkempt.

Certain restaurants will be open, but for click and collect and using online payments. The Pub is still shut. Almost seems a waste of time going into town… But I still will go. I need to take a camera in to be repaired.

It’s going to be the end of lockdown, but not back to normal.

I remember the joy of being able to go back to work. I’m hoping to really appreciate having some more limited freedom back too. My daughter will be going back to school physically for two days a week and working from home for the rest of the week with lessons being sent in by her teacher.

My wife will be going back to work in a week’s time, driving her school bus, but it won’t be in the same conditions as before. Masks all round.

Lockdown is over, and we’re entering a new phase, but it’s far from over. It’ll be nice to get out though.

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.

The confinement

If ever you weren’t aware, there’s this virus going around, that was named after a light beer, and then the producers of said beer went mad and told the scientific community to get their shit together and give it a name that sounded less like drinking beer out of a bottle through a wedge of lemon. COVID 19 was born.

It seems to be one of those Chinese exports that nobody wants, but it gets through anyway. If you listen to the conspiracy theorists it was created by the French and Chinese as a joint venture, without the joints, and tested on bats first. Maybe there were some joints after all…

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have scientific logic. I’m just a guy who writes stuff and takes a few photos along the way.

Things started off gradually at work. In my corner of France, when the shift starts, everyone says hello. Now the French are a bit weird about this, as they are on quite a few things, and I’m not talking about a drug crazed idea in Wuhan, where Jean Jaques smoked a spliff and got intimate with a bat. The rule is that you must go to each colleague and not only say hello, but shake that person’s hand, otherwise it doesn’t count. The same thing is true of the “bise” and is discussed at great length by a fellow compatriot, a guy called Paul Taylor in a video. I don’t know the bloke, but if you see him, tell him I said hi.

Anyway…

So this hand shaking thing was the first thing to go. And was to be replaced by hand washing and hand sanitiser. Then came the inevitable hand santiser and soap, or just one of the above, discussion. One of my colleagues got quite tetchy about the whole thing. Sharing a coffee together and having a chat at the coffee machine was over. You went to get your precious, and then had to go back to your post where you treat like a ring that makes you invisible and go mad….

Then one Saturday night, the French Pirme Minister, said that all social gatherings were to cease, and places like cafes, restaurants, clubs, and cinemas were to shut. And in one foul swoop, he only went and shut the bloody pub!!! Shit had just got serious.

You have to realise that the pub is not there to give me a place where I can be a socially acceptable alcoholic, but also a place where you can find my social support nechanisms. The people that work there and frequent this marvellous institution, are not just people in a bar, they are my friends. I’ll see you guys on the other side of this madness.

That next week, things seemed less funny at work. Social distancing came into fashion, as did saying hi to everyone, by just saying hi to everyone (see above about the handshakebusiness). There had discussions between Unions and Management about how they would treat a possible shutdown of the company of we had to go into confinement, people working from home, and how we would be paid if we couldn’t work from home. But it was still up in the air. People started predicting when it would eventually happen.

It happened on St Patrick’s day at 12pm. We all said goodbye to each other and left work as if we were going on leave, but it was more sinister than that. We didn’t know when we would be coming back, and we weren’t all going on holiday either. We would all be staying at home.

It’s now the 6th of April. We have been on lockdown for exactly 21 days.

Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.