L’œil du Cyclone

Dear Reader, some of you might know that I don’t live too far away from Nantes and that I can be found wandering the streets of Nantes with a camera, or sitting in the pub talking with friends. So, nothing new here then.  You might not know that I sometimes publish said photos of Nantes, and even the pub, with friends of course, on Instagram.  I also sometimes go out and participate with other photographers in what is usually a solitary pastime. 

Nantes Grand Angle, a sort of collective of photographers from Nantes, often has events (with local partners) that want to get their event onto the local social networks and get some “viral” publicity.  The game is you go to the event and then talk about it on your social accounts and people might be interested thinking well, he went to see this, why don’t I go along too.  It’s the basics of social marketing. 

Why do I usually see photography as a solitary pastime? Because I get a certain amount of social anxiety.  For most extroverts, those pushy people that are in favour now, the word “mingle” gives them a buzz that they seem to thrive on.  I, as an introvert, find the words “new people”, or even the idea of “meeting new people”, “social”, or “mingle” just fill me with dread.  It’s akin to going on one of those terrifying rides at the fair. It’s scary, thankfully doesn’t last very long, leaves you feeling empty, very awkward, sheepish, and makes you want to run away as soon as possible.  sonds like my sex life on a good day.

So against my better judgement, I confronted my fear, and went on an outing with Nantes Grand Angle.  I could always just stay at the back and be subtle and try to fade into the background.  It also meant that I would visit a new place, Le Lieu Unique, which as its name might suggest, is certainly unique!  The Lieu Unique also contains the Tour Lu (sans T pour le jeu de mot de merde en français, et oui, je suis rendu à ce point là !)  It originally house the LU biscuit factory (des petits beurres de LU, which is another pun for the Happy Birthday song).  Dear Reader, I apologise for the years of therapy that you will need to get over that last paragraph.  It’ll teach you to speak French!

Right, back on track.  The Lieu Unique, which indeed is unique as the name suggests, houses not only an exhibition for introverts to take photos of for social marketing, but a bar, a reading room, a bookshop, and if I’m not mistaken, a hammam, as well as a whopping great tower.  It is a hothouse of culture where you can get fed, drunk, steamed, and get some culture, leading to the acquisition of a little intelligence! Maybe, depending on the order you do each activity.

I was there with my fellow photographers, some of which were annoyingly extrovert, to live the experience of Art from Taiwan in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”  The Lieu Unique boss, had, uniquely, gone to Taiwan in 2018, had been to an exhibition at The National Museum of Fine Arts of Taiwan, and had invited some of the artists to come to Nantes and show their work, purely an artistic venture.  Since 2018, the world has changed not only through COVID, but also because China would like to get its hands on Taiwan for economic reasons and political ones.  Taiwan came to the front in modern terms when the Kuomintang government who lost to Mao’s Communists, fled Mao and fled to the Island of Taiwan, setting up a new independent government, that China still hasn’t gotten over and is still very upset about.

In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle».  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ROC transitioned from a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy with a semi-presidential system. Taiwan’s export-oriented industrial economy is the 21st-largest in the world by nominal GDP and 19th-largest by PPP measures, focusing on steel, machinery, electronics and chemicals manufacturing. Taiwan is a developed country, ranking 20th in GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in terms of civil liberties, healthcare, and human development.  Again, something that China isn’t overjoyed by.  So as you can imagine, such an exhibition is as much political as artistic.

So now we have set the scene, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  The expo itself.  I admit not knowing a huge amount about Taiwan, however, since visiting the expo, I have read up to find out more about its history and culture.  It’s Chinese but at the same time properly Taiwanese. I will include official links to the expo and the English documentation at the end of the article.  But what I really wanted to do with this article was to talk about my experience of the exposition and the way the exhibits left their mark on me.

The first exhibit, Exhibit A, or Battle City – Scene, by Chang, Li-Ren, model, just blew me away with the complexity of the modelling and the realism recreated in model form.  The artist came over for the oeuvre installation and I can imagine a rather rotund Asian chap on all fours adding details to his masterwork.  Not based on reality, but the artist just wants to give an impression of what Taiwanese urbanism looks like.   There are cars, housing, and motorbikes, but the whole place is devoid of people.  It’s very eerie, yet totally fascinating and a photographer’s dream.  The whole thing is massive (7600mm x 8100mm x 2600mm), and the attention to detail is fascinating.

Exhibit B, Future Shock, by SU Hui-Yu, video, talks about a dystopian future, unfortunately, a not-too-distant future according to the artist influenced heavily by the American author Alvin Toffler, where people are drowning in information, and unethical technologies.  Maybe it’s happening already?  Definitely though provoking and frightening in equal measure.

Exhibit C, Braindead travelogue, YUAN Goang-Ming.  At first, you have the impression of traditional Chinese brush art, but with non-traditional means, like using markers, but also gold and jade.  From the centre of the painting, shoot out 10 disks of images showing the artist marking his territory in the landscape.

Exhibit D?  I’m going to keep the rest of the exhibition secret, because the idea is that you go and have a look yourselves, especially if you live in Nantes!  Did you really think that I would or could reveal all?  No!  Leave them wanting more!!!  Oh ok, you can have a few more pictures, but that’s your lot.  Go down there and have a look.  It’s free to visit; and you won’t be left unmoved…  You really get a feel of what life is like in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”

Links and all that:
Le Lieu Unique
Nantes Grande Angle
The documentation in English (pdf file 0,99Mo)

I would like to thank Nantes Grande Angle and our guide, Tanguy, not only for his welcome to the uniquely Lieu Unique but also for his great expertise. The poor man even had a look at this blog to see where I would publish my write-up. Brave too, and probably already in therapy. I hope I have done him justice!

La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

The Natural History Museum, Nantes

The following story is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  It is all lies.  Who was it that said; never let the truth get in the way of a good story?  As with most good stories, this one is about a group of friends that met in a pub.  One was an English Irishman, or Irish Englishman, I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, a Welshman, who we shall call Dafydd, a Frenchman we shall call Thibaut, and a half Spannish, half Colombian girl, who lookd like a super model and who tried to convince me to take up Keto.  Later we were joined by two Albanian girls, their brother, and the dog, who was a boy and not a girl, as my Welsh friend Dafydd thought.  Throw into this melting pot, a French Artist, that we shall call Lucy, anything to protect the innocent, and we have all the characters!

My mate Dafydd, had been trying to get me down to the pub for a week, and for some reason, and against all my wishes, I couldn’t.  However, the evening before Father’s Day was the perfect opportunity.  Son was off with friends having a party and somebody’s house, and I don’t even want to know any of the gory details.  But, as the big softie that I am, and because it was raining like a cow having a pee, as they say in French, who had obviously been having a great time drinking beer, hadn’t found the toilets, and just as he was arriving in the barn needed to pee and couldn’t hold on, and just let go, I took them in the car and dropped them off.  No cats and dogs here matey!    My daughter had been very persistent in asking her mother to go to the cinema to see a Japanese manga cartoon, and my wife had obviously been softer than I had, and had agreed to take her.  Offer it up to the Holy Souls Darling.  Kate loved it which is a good thing I suppose. 

I was on my own and decided to take up my friend’s offer of meeting down the infamous pub in Nantes, where my nose just seems to lead me every time.   I was suitably smart casual, and the beard looked better than Papa Smurf’s!  I reached the pub, said hi to everyone, bought my over priced, but never the less, wonderful pint of Guinness and sat down at my friend’s table.  Introductions were made, and the evening had started.  Dafydd was on great form, and jokes started flying, not all of which I could repeat here, in order to protect your chaste ears Dear Reader.  We discussed the origins of sheep jokes, which we all seemed to find ball breakingly funny.  Apparently, the Welsh would steal sheep along the English border to annoy the English.  The punishment for which was having your arm cut off.  The punishement for shagging them was only to be severly whipped, so the Welsh would slyly say that they only wanted to have sex with them.  Laughs, were being laughed, and being as infectious as the dreaded lurgey.  Laughing turned into Dafydd flirting outrageously with the Albanian girls and us teasing him, but gently.  He “is” our friend after all.  Apparently three minutes of heaven is better than two minutes of heaven!  All of a sudden, this young thirty something pretty girl walks up and sits with us.  To me, anyone in their thirties is young.  She was a friend of Dafydd’s.  I will call her Lucy, so as to protect the innocent. I learnt she was an artist and we started talking about her art.  She had an expo on at the Nantes natural history Museum, allying art and science.  I said I would have to go a long the next day and see it.  I don’t think she believed me.  It was one of the last days of the French curfew, so at 23h Dave came along and said we needed to finish our drinks and go home.  So, we did!  You don’t disagree with Dave!

Fast forward to the next morning.  The morning of Father’s Day.  That one day of the year, where my kids feel guilty and are nice to me for the day.  Kate came up asking which tea I wanted.  This was turning into a very agreeable morning.  Themnall of a suuden, my daughter turned into a she-devil, and started yelling that she didn’t like caramel, and stormed off into her room slamming the door.  Well that was unexpected.  It transpired that my son had been to the bakery, and had got her a little something. That something was based on caramel, and she threw the something into the bin in disgust.  My wife and son might quite have liked to have tasted this caramel thing and were equally as disgusted with Kate.  Welcome to my perfectly dysfunctional family!  However, he came up stairs with  a pain au chocolat aux amandes, which as I may have explained before, is the crack cocaine of French Patisserie, and also a favourite of mine.  You can diabetes just by looking at it!

Eventually Kate calmed down and became human again, and by the time I was ready to go out, she was fine.  I took my camera, my daughter, and the car, ventured into Nantes and even found a parking space.  Now my daughter is 11 and has been known to be a little “difficult” with the kind of places we visit, but everything seemed good for the moment.  She enjoyed the fossils and the different kinds of rock and stones, and we both agreed that one actually looked like a willy.  Hey, it made us laugh. We saw skeletons, and the massive collection of taxidermy.  Towards the end of the visit, we arrived at the exhibit I had wanted to see the most. The young thirtysomething’s exhibition.  To say I was blown away would be putting it mildly.  Her art was amazing and can be seen in the gallery below, or you can visit it like we did at the Natural History Museum in Nantes.  I can’t sing her praises loudly enough!

We finished our day by going to my favourite place in Nantes, the John Mc Byrne Irish pub.  We came out of the car park, looked up at the sky and thought, hmmmm, it won’t be long before it rains.  I saw a flash and three seconds later heard the deafening thunder.  Strangely enough, our pace quickened slightly.  We got to the corner of the street where the pub is and the heavens opened up on us.  The umbrella, which was there to give us a false sense of security, and maybe even keep us dry, was a complete fallacy, and proved to be bloody useless, I mean unfit for purpose.  We arrived at the pub, and were soaked through.  As we looked out of the window, there was a small stream forming in the middle of the street.  You had to be there to really grasp the severity of that poor cow that needed to pee…

We eventually made our way home and finished by getting for Monday morning.  Yes those Sunday evening blues.  The photos from that eventful day, were taken on the Canon 6D Mark 2, with the Helios 44-2 analogue lens, and then I switched to the Canon 16-35 F4 lens for those super wide shots.