Paris!

Yesterday I went to Paris with my ten going on thirty year old daughter. It was on a whim almost. Just the same about about that song about a sleeping lion, where the desire to burst into song was just a whim away, a whim away, a whim away,a whim away, a whim away, a whim away, a whim awaaaaaaaaaay…

By rights I should have been in the UK. I had lieu days to take and had organised myself a little get away to Hull! I know Dear reader, but it’s home, I had plane tickets booked, hotel booked, rides about photography that I could do. But when I booked all that, little did I know that ultimately, it was not to be. Thanks Covid 19!! I still managed to get all my money back though.

My boss came along to see me and asked that despite things being cancelled, was j still going to go on leave, I thought about it for one second, and said, why not! So I was going to have some time on my hands.

That first day was spent in Nantes taking photographs and avoiding the shops to buy a new lens for my XT2. Consolation retail therapy is great but it has a tendency to cost money. So I went and did what I usually do and walk around taking photographs. That was Day 1. I will probably write another article about that later, but there are things about yesterday that won’t wait. Or I will forget and it’s worth not forgetting.

Sooooooooo…. I love Paris. I love the different quarters, and how they all have a really different vibe. I wanted to just roam the streets imagining myself as a Henri Cartier Bresson. Hey I’m allowed to dream!

My daughter also loves Paris and has been on at me to go there for ages. My wife starts getting heart palpitations at the mere idea of me, daughter and Paris, when mention I. The same phrase. So a couple of day before I asked Kate if she was up for it? Surprisingly she was! And what shocked me more was when my wife thought it was a good idea too!!! And who said miracles don’t happen.

I asked what she wanted to see while we were there and she said the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel. I had a moment of lucidity and thought, get the tickets online first fool! So I did!

Friday morning, armed with two cameras, all the printouts for the tickets, and ID, my son drove us to the station in Nantes for the 2hr15min TGV for Paris. I was worried about the inevitable, Daddy, I’m bored, but it never came. Connect 4 on my phone helped. I have taught my daughter about everything I know about this game so she’s a formidable opponent.

We arrived in Montparnasse, and I knew which metro to get on and how to get to our destination. As a thank you to Killian we got home a little Moleskin notebook for drawing in. We found Mark’s And Spencer’s food shop and noted where we would get our evening meal from. I live my daughter but she is notoriously difficult when it come to food.

There’s a detail that I haven’t mentioned yet. Kate is on crutches and I have a walking stick. Thank you arthritis. In the metro there are numerous stairs. She was great getting over all the obstacles.

We arrive at the Louvre via the Carousel du Louvre which looks nothing like a carousel but more like an inverted pyramid. Obviously trying to confuse American tourists.

We started off looking at Greek sculpture. I’m not talking about the paper mache stuff in the local Kebab joint, but the real McCoy. Then I told her how old the statues were. Then it began to sink in. She had studied Greek mythology at school so it was like being amongst old friends for her. Very old friends.

We went on to see the Roman contribution to the world of art. I was amazed by the details in the statues and thinking how lifelike they were. I’m also amazed by the intricacy of the carving. The hair, the eyes. You could imagine them coming to life and going out for a beer and how denarii doesn’t go very far these days…

What I haven’t told you about is the huge number of stairs then you need to go up and down…. get ready for this. By the end of the day we had done nearly 16000 paces and 127 floors according to my watch. We must have been mad. We saw the paintings and Kate was amazed by how detailed they were and how you couldn’t even see the brush stroke. I was taken aback by the colours and pigments.

One of the things you have to do is to see the Mona Lisa. When I was a child the painting was on a wall and there were a huge amount of people infront of it so it was night on impossible to take a photo. Just that was then. This is now. Now there is a line that meanders around like at Disney, and people can get quite close and take their photo. As you go around the line you admire other pictures on the walls. As we were doing the whole cripple thing, on of the Museum staff came and asked Kate if she would like to go right to the front and get a better view. Damn right she did. For the hoipoloi, they get within about 5 meters of the statue, but with the cripple card we were less than tree metres away! I actually felt really guilty about it, but I’m not throwing away my shot, as Hamilton said and I got my photograph!

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Happy as a pig in shit!!!
We then had lunch in the museum cafe  overlooking the rest of the Louvr and the Jardin des Tuilleries, and tearful for my daughter’s ankles I though I would have to give it a miss. Shame really because she would have loved it.  But it was not to be this time. 

We continued with our visit looking for the iconic works that you only get to see in books, or on the old 100 franc banknote.  We finished by the ancient Egyptians and the mummies.  We all need our mummies after all. We had also discovered the lifts. What a Godsend they were too. We saw the Victoire  de Samothrace, Milo’s Venus, that really big painting of Louis XIV looking so butch.  Kate asked me why was he wearing tights, and I told her because it made him look good in heels. 

We saw the painting of Napolean being all regal and placing a crown on the head of his bride.    When saw Marianne au naturel as she mounted the barricades with the Tricolore, we saw the Radeau de la Meduse, and she was of course médusée Papa!  French joke…

Saying it was all amazing is like completing for the Understatement of the year 2020.  She was the right age, and who knows what it will all lead to in her mind.  I was a good father that day.  This is what she said,  “the Louvre made her feel so young compared to the works of art.” 

We eventually found the exit and by the time she got there she was almost in tears because of her sore ankles. I made it my duty to find a chemist’s and get some painkillers. So we did…

You can’t go to Paris and not have a drink in a Parisian Café. So we did. The waiter was actually very pleasant and completely broke thevsterotype of the pissed off and impatient French waiter that tells you off for not being quick enough ordering…

Sitting down for a while really helped too. We felt rested and the two doped up cripples were ready for the next treat. The Eiffel Tower. It looks like Blackpool’s tower except it has Parisian Class. And the weather is generally better too. We took a taxi. I didn’t want to put her through the steps in the metro again. Our man dropped us off on the Champs de Mars, and we scouted around trying to find the entrance. It’s amazing to think that this towering feat of engineering was destined to be temporary and has yet become an emblem of Paris. It’s also slightly massive! Thanks to Covid we couldn’t go right to the top, but still managed to get up to the second level. The panoramas are amazing and I showed her all the sights that we could see.

We took another taxi to the Rue de Rivoli to go and see WH Smith’s. Now for those of you who live in the UK you can’t imagine how it feels going into a bookshop where it feels like home except it still has Parisian chic.

The final Taxi took is back to the Station and we descended on Marks and Sparks like hunger on the world. Our goodie bags were getting heavier and heavier, but my appetite helped lighten the load.

My son came to pick us up and was lovely about it.

It was her dream fulfilled and I know the memories of that day will stay with her for the rest of her life.

My Mamiya C220

My Mamiya C220, aka my little baby, aka possibly my favourite camera, has just been repaired. It is a Twin Lens Reflex, or TLR for those in the know. Why is it my favourite camera? For a few reasons.

Reason 1. I can actually see what I’m doing. I look into the viewfinder and can see everything really clearly without my glasses. The perception of depth of field is amazing and it’s almost like looking at a 3D tv screen.

Reason 2. It looks so cool! When I’m out on the streets the camera becomes a conversation piece. If I’m taking photos with my Canon 6D and zoom lens, people can get slightly tetchy and think I’m up to no good. Going for the understatement of the year award. However with the Mamiya they seem to think a guy with that big a camera around his neck deserve special respect, even though size doesn’t really matter and it’s all about the moment you’re capturing on film. It starts a conversation and therfore an exchange. You tell them that it’s Medium Format and what that entails. which leads me up to Reason 3.

Reason 3. It’s a Medium Format camera. Now, all the hipsters started discovering film a short while back, and talked about how awesome it was Dude! They were there with their Canon Ae1’s feeling so “with it” because “film is just so authentic man,” and because “film photography is real photography”, and that “digital just isn’t the same man!” Well guess what, you bearded little hipster you, film is how we OG’s rolled back in the day, because that was all there was. That was with 35mm film photography with 135 film. Medium Format just blows their minds because it’ 6 x 6, which translated means each negative mesures 6 centimetres by centimetres. Yes, size does seem to count again. You’re basically getting a huge amount of information on your negative.

Reason 4. Because of the depth of field you get with that 80mm lens. Alright you can get the same depth of field with a smaller lens, but it’s not the same. I’m worried that size is becoming a theme in this article and may show lack of confidence and hidden insecurities…

Reason 5. Did I say it looked really cool? I’ve just looked further up and it appears that I have already said that. Remeber what I said in a previous article about the importance of the “film process” which takes you from buying the film, putting it in the camera, taking the photos, right through to developing, and then scanning your negs, etc. When I use digital, it’s great. I love it. It is so dependable. I press a button and the camera can do so much. It’s like driving my Renault Scénic to work every day. It does the job and does it really well, and I still enjoy it. Taking the Mamiya out for a spin is like getting that beautiful vintage MG out of the garage and driving out to the coast, and just enjoying the wind in my hair, or my memory of what that felt like. It’s a camera that gets me excited to go out and take photos.

Was it good for you too? Right. Let’s get down to the nitty and the gritty and show you some photos. I used two rolls that day. One was Fomapan 120 format ASA 100, and the other was Ilford HP5 shot at box speed. The C220 doesn’t have a light metre so I calculated exposition using “Sunny 16.”

Friends and Social

Social Media is a thing. It exists. Some hate it, others love it, some are simply addicted. It is in its essence very much much like the internet. It is a tool. It is the perfect reflection of humanity. Of all that is bad about humanity with trolling, bullying, abuse, etc, but it also a reflection of all that is good, offering information, a source for learning, a tool used to raise awareness, or money for various good causes. Social media allows us to connect in a way that was impossible when I was a child, and even as a young man.

With Facebook, I can keep in touch with family back home, exchanging news and photos. I can keep in touch with people that I knew 30 years ago at school. I have made friends online and have even met some in real life.

The other Saturday was one such occasion. Those who don’t know me might not realise that I am half English, half Irish, living in France since 1994. When I arrived I was immersed in my wife’s French family life and didn’t really get into the Expat thing. As time has gone on, I have changed and really appreciate the support that fellow immigrants from the mother country, or Empire, can give you. This has been centred around the John McByrne Irish Pub in Nantes. However Instagram has introduced me to people in Nantes, and allows me to talk to people about photography and won’t fall asleep in the first five seconds…

Whilst on Instagram I started following a guy from South Africa and his family who life a little further south in the Vendée. We would chat and I would follow how the renovations in their French house were going. I am in admiration of somebody who can do that, as experience and a smidgen of wisdom, has shown me to be totally incompetent in this domain. I have sufficient insight to realise when I should leave something to the experts.

Anyway, we chatted and everything, and then one day they say that they are going up to Nantes to visit one of the museums and I suggested immediately that we meet up, and that I would probably be in town anyway.

As is turned out I was. We exchanged numbers and whilst I was waiting for them I was next to the Sainte Croix church, and thought what a good idea it might be to take a couple of photos. Strangely enough (irony) I had my camera with me. Canon 6D Mark ii, with the 16-35mm lens. I know that with this setup I can usually get a few keepers that allow me to capture Nantes in a way that you don’t see everyday.

They arrived and I offered to show them the pub. You never know when it might come in handy. We ordered our drinks and talked some more. About our different experiences in work, with the children, with schools etc. Then the match began. Wales vs France in the Six Nations.

They talked about wanting to see the Castle in Nantes, and oh what a surprise, it wasn’t too far away from the pub. We walked there, walked up onto the battlements, and walked right the way round. By then the children were hungry, so I offered to introduce them to PitaPit and they loved it.

We parted ways and wished eachother good luck getting home. It was a good day!

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….

 

Sainte Anne, and the Grue

This weekend I haven’t taken any photos, but as they say so well in Blue Peter, here’s one I made earlier.  These photos are now two weeks old. They were taken from different sides of the Loire. The first were taken in the Hangar à Bananes on the Saturday when I was with my daughter, and the ones overlooking the Loire the day after when I went to see my pregnant friend, who, by the way, is no longer pregnant, and has a new baby at home. 

More important news for the family. My son has passed his driving test.  This is of course wonderful and we are very happy for him.  However it means that he has to have a car to drive and find work.  He had the choice between my “Dad” car, and his mother’s smaller car.  As he’s over 6 feet, he decided on my car. It also has cruise control, and a speed limiter, so there’s no excuse to get pulled over for driving too fast.  This is all well and good,but it means that I have to get a new car. Ah well. Somebody has to sacrifice himself, and so I sacrificed myself.  

Now with a new car, even a second-hand car, you have to get used to it and take posession of the space.  Now I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but I seem to spend quite a lot of time in my car. It’s like an extension of my home.  When you see people picking their noses in a traffic jam, it’s because they are, in their heads of course, still at home and behave as if they were.  I listen to music in it. I eat in it. I drink in it (water of course). And I use it to go to places to take photographs.  

So that Sunday, I thought, ok, I’ll go into town, and I took my camera along with me just in case…  Yeah well, I know “you” believe me.

Where am I going with this?  Yes, the photos from the North side of the Loire were taken on the Sunday when I saw my pregnant friend, at the Butte Sainte Anne, where I had been once before and messed up my film development. Right.  I’d taken the first photos from one side of the river, and the next day, I took photos on the other side of the river. That makes sense doesn’t it?  

The Jules Verne (a native of Nantes) Museum is at the top of the hill, and the statue of the boy is Jules as a boy.  The other statue is of Capitaine Némo with his sextant looking down the river towards the sea.

The Monday was the 11th of November, Armistice Day, and it’s a public holiday here in France. I thought it would be good to spend some quality time with my daughter.

She is my reluctant model, but will allow me to take a couple of shots of her.  Then she starts getting moody, and says, “aller Papa, on se dépêche làààààà!” So I make a noise and continue my way.  And then stop to take another photo. This of course is the last straw and I’m told how “j’en ai marre Papa. Aller!!!” So I move on.  We try and find the Altercafé only to find that it has changed owners and no longer exists. I see her dreams of Orangina and chocolate brownie go up in smoke.  As any father worth his salt, I make sure we find somewhere else. We ended up going to Evil M (or Mac Donalds for the uninitiated). It was during this outing that I took the photos of the huge crane.

I made it up to her this Saturday by going into town and having tea at Chop Chop.  She had a hot chocolate, and I had French Earl Grey tea. We also had a Brookie. It is a concoction which is a mixture of chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you put on weight by just looking at it. Bad, and yet so good at the same time.

Now this week I decided to go back to the cathedral for mass.  I was seeing a different friend this time, and we hadn’t seen each other for about a year for various reasons, but she got me when she said she’d baked a cake!  A rather nice one too. I said I would bring the tea. 

The French are great with food, and cake, but tea is not their forte!  Every time I go back to the UK I always stock up Yorkshire tea, which is like drinking a cup of home each time I make a cuppa.  My friend is Algerian and appreciates tea about as much as I do. It’s always the small things you miss. It has been known for me to spend a lot of time and effort just to go and find that little something.  When we were on holiday in Honfleur this Summer, they had an English section in the local supermarket. Needless to say, the children and I bought a big bag full of stuff, and had to go back to get what my French wife had told us to get…  Oops.

Soooo…  We talked, drank tea, ate cake, talked again, drank more tea, and ate more cake.  I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon when the weather is so depressing outside.  However I didn’t make the same mistake as I did last time. Oh no. I had learnt my lesson. I peed before going off to mass.  I made sure I had enough time not to have to walk at a brisk pace and with purpose. The service was lovely and the music was amazing.  It adds so much to the mass, and the organist played at the end of mass while I said my rosary. I left the cathedral and headed off to get a burger.

In the street where the pub is, there’s a new place that sells vegan burgers, and it’s such a refreshing change, and the owner is a great guy.  And as I’m a well brought up gentleman I went to the pub to say hello to my friends working behind the bar. Again, that is the only excuse you’re going to get.

Nantes in Novembre

Halloween has come and gone and the countdown to Christmas has begun, but no trees until at the earliest the beginning of Advent or at the latest St Nicholas’ Day.

The weather is now officially miserable and rainy. And with the hour having gone back the nights seem to be staring earlier. The rain is not proper rain, but drizzle. It’s not cold yet but the humidity is making itself known. As I drive though the country I can see leaves changing colours, falling and turning into mush along the roads. I can see mushrooms sprouting out of nowhere and remember not to take them from fields that have had crops in them.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to dive in to a cafe, and have a nice cup of tea and piece of cake. The French are making great efforts at tea, and though not up to Yorkshire standards, it is becoming more and more drinkable. I have stocked up on Yorkshire Tea pre-Brexit, so should be good for a while. Thank heavens for extensions!!

For the photographers amongst us we are facing the other challenges that Autumn sends our way. Bad light, rain, and worrying about getting our gear wet. I still think it’s worth going out though. You might think that you need the sun, the good light, the warmth of Summer or Spring, but each season has it’s own particular beauty and deserves its place in our photographic collection. The soft light will lead to less contrasty images, and you will have to think more about the scene in front of you.

Photographs are like ideas. They are there waiting to be picked and put down on paper, or on screens, and shared. Are we really inventing and creating or are we merely recording what is there?

People have accused me of being and artist, and I have told them that I am nothing more than an observer and documentalist.

I have heard a definition of art saying that art is the transformation of matter by the artist into something new. Drawing is taking the graphite in the pencil and applying it to a page, painting is taking the pigments, putting them into a medium, be it oil, acrylic, or water, and applying them to another medium, be that paper, canvas, or anything else that will let the paint stick to it.

Now in photography one could argue that the matter is light, that we apply to a film in our carmera or our sensor… I see people creating things either in the darkroom or on the computer. Is it art? Possibly. But I feel that what I do isn’t. I do some minimal editing, the basics if you will, reframe and then publish. I might apply some of the basic rules of art to my photographs, but does that make me an artist? I don’t really think so.

When I was studying the horn, yes dear reader, for my sins I am a musician also, I was told that when you play your concerto in front of an audience, you are reciting the text on the page of music before you. The phrasing is given by the composer, as well as indications of nuance and dynamics. Alright, not before the classical period, but they followed conventions that were deem so self evident that there was no point in writing them down… so! I play my concerto. The audience may listen to it and maybe moved by the composer’s music, and when they clap at the end, or throw bottles of beer etc., is it due to the music, or just my playing of it? I won’t be as prideful to say it’s my playing. I am just reproducing what is on my page. The same things goes for photographs.

Once that concerto, or photo is out there, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the audience or you, the viewer. It might inspire an emotive response, but it is not me, it is your response to the stimulus before you. It might remind you of something. It might spark that souvenir from the past that I talked about in my last article. You might even interpret it in some way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The photos were taken on the x100f. I’m off to mass so I will love you and leave you. I hope you enjoy looking through these photographic offerings.