Cassiopée, Queen or Constellation?

The Cassiopée that I will be talking about is neither. She is not a star that looks like the letter W, nor is she an arrogant queen of Aethiopia who annoys the god of the sea. Mine is a barber. She works where I get my beard taken care of was part of the article showing a series of portraits that I did for the salon O Barber, 2 rue de Paré, Nantes.

She is part of this generation that is our future and is part of the Instagram experience, where image has become the king as well as a projection of self-image. Back in the day, when I had hair, yes Dear Reader, there was such an age even though it was many many years ago, we expressed ourselves through our clothes, what we smoked, and the kind of beer that we drank. Now they use a little device that lives in your pocket and broardcasts to the world. Scary isn’t it!

Anyway. Cassi was very happy with the photos I took of her in the barbershop, and asked if it were possible to have some new photos. I of course jumped at the chance to add to my “œuvre” and to add to my “répertoire.” Since the barbershop photos, she had changed her look, as you will be able to by checking here. I was very flattered that she asked me. I asked what kind of photos she wanted, studio, or on location, and black and white or colour. She chose location and colour. I remember my son’s ex-girlfriend Elise, who said I should try and do more colour photography as it was something she thought I was good at. Well, for once, she was right about something, so I thought, right matey, let’s get some colour. Cassi suggested the Île de Nantes, with its machines, and the famous Buren Rings, but my mind went back a week to where I had done my last photos. Trentemoult. It’s a village that just breathes colour and I knew I would be able to get something good out of my location.

Like most plans that have been well laid out, things never seem to go to plan. We had already pushed back the rendez-vous by one hour to avoid the rain. Great. I was bang on time, and even managed to find a parking space, which was part of the plan… What wasn’t part of the plan were train delays, replacement bus services, the wind coming off the river, and my model being an hour late. Improvise, adapt and overcome. We ended up chatting on Instagram following her progress, and my need to improvise, nearly lead me to a café terrace, adapting to a beer, and overcoming the wait, but I resisted, and remained patient, getting out of the wind. Even the ferryman had problems sailing up to the quay.

She arrived, apologising with as much gusto as the wind, and I said not to worry, let’s get out of the wind and start shooting. She was very soon at ease and we got on with it. Wondering around the streets using the coloured walls as backdrops, and getting the shot. In my mind I had been wondering about the colour of her outfit, and how to incorporate complimentary colours into the shots. She wore a little black dress with white polka dots. Perfect! I would take my series of shots, show her on the camera screen, and it gave us both confidence in the process. Wandering around I would see a wall, see the colour in my mind and say, could you possibly just put yourself up against this wall please? Which she did with grace. Then can you just crouch down, thinking how lucky I was not to have to do the same. Middle age and arthritic knees do not mix well.

It’s a beautiful little village, and very bohemian chic, or Bo-bo, for the French.  Very stylish, trendy lefties, ecologically aware rich people, who have gentrified what was a fishing village on the Loire, but still allow the hoi polloi like me to come along and use it as a film location.  At every turning, we would get a new colour and new feel to each photo.  I have actually done black and white photography here too and it works just as well, but the colours are amazing.  Did I mention how colourful the place is?  Because it’s really colourful, and makes the rainbow flag look quite boring!

After an hour we had a certain amount of photos and I had something I could work on.I offered to drive her to the station so she less things to worry about, dropped her off and went to the pub!  Because I can, and more so because they’re open!!  I improvised, finding a spot on the terrase, and Simon, Stephanie, and Evan, greeted me with fist bumps, which has become the new handshake.  Simon came over and asked would I like a Guinness, so I decided to adapt and say, yes please.  It was lovely just sitting down watching the world go by, judging it, and looking at pretty women.  I was overcome with joy.  What more do you need.  Well, a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen for eight months whilst the pub was shut due to government Covid restrictions, invited me over to their table.  At last I was able to talk bollocks again and make people laugh.  Pure bliss!

On Monday Cassi was already asking me when she could have her pictures.  Apparently patience is not her forte.  I said that I would start the editing process and the inevitable cull of photos that Monday evening.  By the end of the first night  the cull had been done.  Some because the composition was off, some didn’t turn out the way that I had hoped, others because the auto focus hadn’t focussed they way I thought it had.  By about ten that night she already had some images for the Gram. 

Where it gets surreal is that I put some of the images in my stories on Instagram, and Google, in it’s wisdom suggested some collages for me, that I added on at the end.  So I thought what the heck and why not. Little did I know that Cassi would react.  She asked me very nicely and kindly to remove one of the stories, because she thought her cheeks were too big on the photos proposed by Google.  I of course took the photos down, but it pushed my mind into questions of self worth, self image, the place of the image in this modern world where we are no longer just an image, but ust create a public persona and sell ourselves to the world!

I told her that I thought she looked lovely on each photo that I had taken. I mean we have to love ourselves. To put not too fine a point on it, I entered Dad mode!

“Right, you know I’m a Dad, and strangely enough I see the world through the eyes of a Dad. I will therefore talk to like a Dad. You will listen, and listen well. We are allowed to have complexes concerning our physical aspect, especially with al the images that are on Instagram, Facebook, on on the more traditional media. We live in an age where “Image” is king. Well you have to put it in its place. There are men who like arses, some boobies, some like skinny girls, some like girls with a bit more body. But that only counts in physical and sexual attraction. You can’t base a long-term and durable relationship on just being pretty. If you boyfriend just stops at your physical appearance, it might be time to change boyfriends. There is already so much hate in this world, and enough people to hate us, why waste time hating ourselves, when others can do it perfectly well for us. Shouldn’t we love ourselves the way we are already? With an unconditional love? And here’s something else, we are more than just our good looks! We are our own person! we have so many facets that shine in this world. Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves shine, but we still shine despite that! There I’ve said it!!! Think what you may. You’re a great girl. You are pretty. You have beauty. Please let yourself shine. The world needs it!”

Sometimes this world that we live in is so perverse. The media fills us with all our complexes. The say we are too thin, so bulk up, or we are too big, so slim down. You have long hair, then cut it. You have short hair, then let it grow. You have curly hair, then straighten it, you have straight hair, then curl it. The day we can accept ourselves the way we are, the world will become an easier place to live in.

I’m fat. There, you might have already guessed it. Do I look like Brad Pitt? Nope. But then again, Brad doesn’t look like me. His loss. Do I love my body and do I have issues with it? Yup. Will that stop me living? Nope. Will I ever be a top model? Probably not. Do I care? Not in the slightest. I am me. My body helps me move around, to love, to work, to hug my wife and children. That’s a damned good start.

Anyway. Let us leave the stage for Cassi and the colours of Trentemoult! Canon 6D Mark ii, and the 85mm f1.8 Canon lens.

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.

Jean Guillaume ce héro!

I am truly blessed. I have some very good friends that are wonderful people.  Jean Guillaume is one of those people.  He personifies kindness, gentleness and positivity, and an example for us all. No wonder he got to marry Stephanie who is just as wonderful!    You may remember in a previous article that I went to Paris with my daughter.   It was a great day out, but I of course had to put my daughter first.  So I did, but I did say that I would go back to do some photography on my own so I could concentrate on capturing images and not to have worry about somebody else. 

Now some of you may know that I frequent a certain establishment in Nantes and some of my friends seem to hang out there too.  Some are in front of the bar and others behind the it. I was sitting outside talking and Jean Guillaume comes along to meet up with his wife who is with us.  We’re all talking and I let loose that I’m going to Paris on such and such a day and he says he’ll be in Paris with his Mum and that we should hang out.   What a great idea. Sounds like a plan.  I needed to go to the barber’s and he should probably come along with me. We are men, but sometimes we need pampering too.

It’s decided we’ll go and get ourselves done at the barber’s. I look up various addresses online and get us booked in to Grizzly Barbers.  The name sounds fun and I get him the works. He deserves it. Self care is important and it’s good to be good to a friend when you can. 

My wife and daughter had gone off to see a friend north of the Loire and it was half way to her mother’s house so they went up there too. 

I was a “free man” but used this freedom to get myself sorted out.  So Thursday came around and I headed up to Nantes to get the train to Paris.  1st class was only 5€ more so decided to treat myself.  Slightly larger seats and a bit more leg room.  And you get to feel extravagant.

I was on time for the train except my electronic ticket didn’t want to work.  I tried pushing up the luminosity of my phone but to no avail.  The departure was getting closer and the guard called Rennes, who told him that my ticket was valid and I was allowed on the train accompanied by the guard.  The train journey itself was fairly uneventful which is a good thing and my friend asked which wagon I was in and that he would meet me off the train.  I arrived and headed towards the top of the platform, and after showing him a photo of exactly where I was he said turn round and  saw him!  My first stop would have to be Marks and Spencers to get a picnic lunch.  They have sandwiches which are like having a bite out of my childhood and spark so many memories.  He knew the area and we went off to eat in a park.  It was wonderful just chatting and sharing.

Sitting in the park chatting.

After we had eaten he showed me around the Montparnasse Quartier where he used to live and hang out. It was all very beautiful and very Parisian.  I explained that the only imperative that we had was to be at the barber’s for 1pm, and prepare ourselves to look great afterwards.   It felt good to back in Paris and it was great being there with a friend.  I knew a little of the area but was far from knowing it an intimately as Jean Guillaume.   There were some great photos to be had and he was so patient waiting for me each time and telling me that I was about to be run over etc. 

With time flying by we headed to the car and drove to the barber’s  and managed to find a space just outside.  I was amazed!  I would be scared poopless driving in Paris by my friend seemed to thrive on it.   Maybe the fact of it being August and really empty helped.  They had all gone on holiday!  A word of advice to anyone visiting the capital. Go in August, half  the people aren’t  there and the half that are still there seem to just want to chill!

and managed to find a space just outside…

When you enter Grizzly you can tell that it is a very high end and high quality barbershop and the service was excellent.  My barber and I talked about our mutual passion for photography as he shaved my head the old fashioned way, and then proceeded to do my beard.  I made sure my barbershop virgin friend got the whole whack.  Hair cut, beard cut, getting his nostrils waxed, and a neck massage to finish with.  He deserved it.  It’s important for guys to have a guy place for being pampered.  Even if you don’t go every week, it’s worth it maybe every three months.  It wasn’t cheap, but so worth it, and worth every cent!   I’m looking forward to going back.  Definitely an experience.  Jean Guillaume was certainly more than happy with the whole shebang and felt fabulous, and looked great!  What more could you ask for?

felt fabulous, and looked great!

I spotted a camera shop and we parked up and went in.  It was like a child entering a sweet shop with many things of great beauty.  I saw a 15mm lens for my Pentax ME Super, but at 1350€ I thought it might be difficult to justify spending as much.  And my wife would kill me!  I did however come away with a little Olympus Pen EE S half frame camera which is something I’ve been looking for for such a long time. An amazing find, and the day I go back to Grizzly, I may have to go back and visit that little shop.  It was turning out to be a great day. 

I was asked where I wanted to go, and I said the Marais, aiming to get to the rue des rosiers which was, and still is, the epicentre of the Jewish community in Paris.    It’s an amazing place and on Sundays it can get very busy.  I went into a Jewish bakery.  Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!  I was about to correct that.  We had been in book shops with art, we had sat in beautiful gardens eating chocolate covered raisins.  We even got as far as Beaubourg.  Time was still flying by, and we had to go and see a friend and give him his flat keys.  Another good deed for the day.

Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!

The last stop of this epic day was going to be WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli.  Bookshop, with such a great choice of books.  I ended up buying The English, by Jeremy Paxman, and a couple of books to give me some light reading about what it means to be English, and Irish.  They also have some food essentials for anglophiles like Yorkshire tea; I already had some but still came away with a few goodies for my wife and daughter.

We sat outside the café where we had parked. Wine for one, and a pint of 1664 for the other of the two friends. They discussed everything and more. They were chilling as friends do and looking back over the day they had shared together with new and old experiences for both of them. It felt good to be alive.

They discussed everything and more.

The last stop was Gare de Montparnasse where the trip had begun. We headed off to Marks and Spencers to get our evening meal. I had selected a few sandwiches to eat on the train, and a few more goodies for home too. We headed up to the platform to where my train was to leave from. Little did I know then that I would not be getting on that train. Jean Guillaume waited with me for my train. There had been a blue Adidas bag that had been left on the train and over the loud speaker came the announcement that the person who had left said bag should come and get it and that the train was being delayed.

After a certain time, soldiers had got onto the train, more police had come along. Things weren’t looking good. Crunch time came when I got a text message from the company to say that the train had been cancelled. My friend was still with me and explained what they had just said over the tannoy. I had my bags with me and my walking stick over my arm. Apparently they were gong to try and sort out hotels for us and allow us to take the train the next morning.

Now whilst listening to this i turned around and hit somebody with my cane. Not hard, but enough to get “the look” so I very quickly apologised and with Jean Guillaume we diffused the situation. But we got talking to the lady I had just agressed with my cane. Then all of a sudden he said, “I can take you back!” My first reaction was to say no, but the idea worked it way very quickly into my head, and we would drop off our new friend Annie on the way back. I phoned Virginie to prepare a bed for our guest and I knew we had what we needed in our bag to make a wonderful breakfast.

The decision had been made. We would drop off Annie in Angers, and then head home to Nantes. We found a corner shop that sold us some water, and a couple of chocolate bars for Jean Guillaume for energy, and then a café that would sell us a coffee. Those little Parisian coffees that just wake you back up. We said that we would pay gas money and road tolls. It was out of the question to leave our friend out of pocket! I also said I would do some of the driving if needed to help out.

The trip back was quiet, at least for some of it as I had drifted off to the land of nod. I was woken up and asked to just chat to our heroic driver. It was a pleasure and we looked back at our day, and how wonderful he now looked, as well as plans for the future, and we put the world to right. I took over the driving, and when we needed more petrol we stopped off and I filled up the tank. We got to Nantes station a 3.30 am, and I found my car. The machine to pay for the ticket didn’t seem to want to work and neither did the interphone when we tried to talk to a technician. There was a homeless guy sleep with his girlfriend sheltering out of the rain who lifted up the barrier for me to get out of the car park, but I still paid at the exit and thanked him for his efforts.

I thanked Jean Guillaume, my hero, for getting me back to my car, and he went home to his hunny to surprise her, and I drove the last kilometres to get home to my wife and daughter. Heroism is when you go above and beyond the call of duty, and Jean Guillaume was a true friend and a true hero. So thanks once again, Jean Guillaume, ce héro!