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.

Sorry

Hello Dear Reader from a rather sunny corner of France! My mood is like the weather. Warm and blue skied, and my disposition as sunny as you could wish.

I have had it said to me that my last few posts have been far too inward looking and intopestcive. So if you’re reading this then it means you have been patient with me and I would like to thank you for it. One person even said that “I had flogged it to death!” Again fair criticism and with hindsight this is probably true. Thank you for being honest enough to tell me. Tough love…

I would however like to try and explain myself. To start off with this blog was going to be about photography and showing photographs from when I went out every week with my camera. It was going to show the photography that doesn’t get shown anywhere else.

Like most creations it seems to evolve and change over time. The Covid19, the crazy bat fuelled light beer disease came along and changed all our lives. The writing, as a creative experience, evolved too. Then I wrote my first article with no photos. Wow, what a rebellion against my original goal.

So, when writing, one can have a tendency to write what one knows the most about. Well,for me, that would be me, my past and present and what I hope my future might look like. Stuff came out of my head and onto the screen. I would write with no censorship. It became a therapeutic exercise.

The article I wrote in November was a liberation for me and a new experience. Ok, a bit dark, darker even than he dark side with their cookies. But over the next articles, with some ever so important therapy, it has allowed me to heal and has given me so much peace of mind. I would even say it has helped me vanquish my inner demons, that have been there for far too long.

It’s like I’m so happy that I want to share this happiness with you too. It’s new for me so just let me get over the novelty value of the whole shebang, and then we can go back to boring photos of cats, Nantes, and other places. I might even share some of my photographic processes with you.

When this person told me all this, I was furious, although calm. But in retrispection she wasn’t all wrong. We all have issues, all of us. The past always creeps up on us and can shout “Boo!” at the most inopportune of moments. And let me assure you, this has happened. But, evacuating and exorcising these troubles has been a revelation to me. I have been told, “we don’t do therapy.” And I get that. Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone. I’m lucky. But you don’t have to cry alone, I had help, and this help has changed me, and I like who I am right now. Not perfect, but perfect enough for me.

Thank you for bearing with me up to here. Again I would like to offer my apologies for making anyone uneasy, or even shocking you. It is my story, and I accept each and every detail of it. I possess it and it no longer posesses me. Let’s hope my story can have a happy ending, but get this people, it’s not over yet. And that’s great.

La Rentrée – or Back to the Grindstone

Summer has officially come and gone, and I have finished my first week of work.  Is Summer just the month of August or does July count?  Whatever the case is it now time to look back and take stock? 

2020 has been a strange year, going for the understatement of the year…  At work instead of the usual four weeks off we were off for only three  weeks. We relaxed during the month of lockdown but I don’t think it could be described as holiday even though I was more than rested when I went back to work on the 22nd of April.

Fast forward to July.  In early February I had planned and booked a trip to my hometown of Hull for mid July as a kind of pre-vacation.  How very French of me! Well, that was the idea. Then Covid came and said maybe you might want to think again about that.  So I thought about it again and stayed in France.  I still went on leave, but stayed in France.

I went to Nantes and did some architecture photography, and Kate wanted to go to Paris, so we did.  Then it was off to Bretagne for the rest of the weekend. I got shouted at and escaped to do more photography, and offered a photoshoot to my sister in law and then my niece and daughter wanted to get in on the act.

Soooooooo….  my proper leave starts and my wife and daughter go off to see a friend and then on to see my mother in law. That Sunday I go off to do a photoshoot for a friend who wanted to record her pregnancy and share the sex of the baby.  It was great to see n old friend and share something so intimate with the couple.  They have asked asked me not to show the photos, but you can take it from me, parenthood suits both of them.

That night I was going to become a resident of Nantes. It was the first night of the holidays for a friend of mine from the pub. I knew that I was going to have a drink or two, so thought it wise to book a hotel room, as it would be less expensive and so much wiser than driving home under the influence….

The following Tuesday I had a photoshoot for a friend who does Yoga.  She wanted some photos outside so we went to the Chaussée des Moines just outside Nantes. 

The Thursday of that week saw me in Paris with the hero of the moment, Jean Guillaume! A great day out!  It was also the day that I required my now old camera.  The Olympus Pen EE S. 

I put a roll of film in it and took it out for a test drive.  What better place to do it than in the Voyage à Nantes. I have just finished scanning the negatives and might even get around to dedicating a whole article to it.  My daughter fell in love with it and has claimed it as her very own. I am presently in negotiations to reclaim it.

I finally gave into my daughter and she took the Olympus Pen, some colour negative film, and are had a father and daughter day in Nantes visiting the Voyage à Nantes again. She can be affair and a very fussy eater but hot that day.  Miracles can happen! That day I was test driving my new old Olympus Trip 35. My old one had decided that time was time, and it was time to retire. This new camera was made in May of 1971 so is older than me. I will scan those negatives today. Update: they are scanned and turned out the way I wanted so go me!

The last week of my hols arrived, and as the impetuous fool that I am, I had promised my daughter a last trip to Paris. That will teach me to make promises. Photos will follow. Honest!

I know this article as been a bit strange but it has allowed me to clarify things in that mess of a mind of mine so I suppose hasn’t been completely useless. At least you know what to expect in the coming articles.

Thank you Dear reader for bearing with me during this befuddle, and now you have an insight into how my brain works. I suppose I have to say it’s great to be back at work with structure, rather than the life a photographer for a short time. But I did enjoy the freedom to do what I love and keeps me going emotionally. I think back to when music was taking over my life and time away from work. Maybe photography is doing the same. I sincerely hope not. When I’m out taking photos, I don’t think. I do. It’s almost like a visual meditation. I feel free. I feel like I’m taking up a challenge to get the best images from what is around me. Sometimes that is the Eiffel Tower which is notoriously bad at playing hide and seek, or it can be the local duck pond, or of the vines. I really must start going to work earlier to catch the countryside that I drive through too. Lately on my drive to work, it’s at the exact time that the morning dew is evaporating and it gives a surreal look to the countryside. I reckon we’ll soon find out if I managed that.

Have a great week, sorry for not having written earlier but I needed to do my mental filing and sort out my memories of what Summer was all about. Whatever it was about, it wasn’t your usual Summer. But I’m not the only one that felt that. I, like a lot of you I think, crave a return to a relative normality where we can shake hands and hug our friends, where we don’t have to constantly worry if we have a mask or not, where we can connect again, and where we can become fully human again. And don’t mention Brexit!!

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…!