The Contradictory Contradiction

I have a friend here who said that I am always contradicting myself and that it isn’t logical and how can I say two things at the same time, and I replied that the two things, although contradictory in appearance, are both as true.  That person is a production of French education with philosophy as the subject that all French teenagers go through to learn how to think the way the Education Nationale tells them to think, under the guise of learning all about freethinking and critical thinking.  I, however, am a lot less French despite what some people might like to think, and I will think any blooming way I desire, with or without contradictions.

I’m not talking about my mental state, for once, but photography.  I love both digital photography and analogic photography.  I am bewildered by modern technology and could be classed as a geek, and yet the experience of using old technology that is obsolete for some gets me all excited as a small child waiting for Father Christmas, but being told by their mother to go to bed, otherwise, he won’t come.  It didn’t stop me from waking up at the crack of dawn, and I think my parents might have regretted the decision to buy me a guitar for Christmas and hearing me playing at some ungodly hour of the morning.  As a 49, fat middle-aged gentleman, I can understand them, but my 6 or 7-year-old self didn’t and couldn’t imagine the disturbance that I had caused them.

Oh, how times change!  While I’m on the nostalgia train going to the “good” old days, I have vivid memories of a drawer at my grandparents’ house, where my mother was brought up, and in whose room I would be staying.  Inside this drawer, many “old” things just fascinated me.  It could be my grandfather’s old plumbing ruler or golf tees.  It could be anything but it was an entrance into another world for me.  My grandmother’s kitchen, because at that time, my Grandfather wouldn’t be in the kitchen, was a place where everything was from the 1930s and it all just fitted together.   There was the Anderson shelter, which had been turned into a proper pantry, was a relic from the Second World War where they would have sheltered from German bombs falling on the town and trying to stop my Great Uncle’s shipyards from operating correctly.  My Great Aunt would drive around in an ambulance taking care of casualties.  Amazing people from an amazing time. 

What does this have to do with photography?  Not a huge amount, but is that a problem?  Oh yes, it tells you about my fascination for the old and very new.  I have “a number” of cameras, the eldest being from the 1940s and the newest from 2021, with nearly every decade being represented in-between the two dates.

So I was going somewhere with all this.  Ah yes, lately I seem to be getting back into film again.  In the last but one article, you may have seen the photos from the Mamiya, which is a relatively modern camera being from the early ’80s.  Well, this time, I’m still using a camera from the 1980s, the Pentax ME Super.  For once, I wasn’t using Ilford HP5, which is my “go-to” film.  No, I decided to be different and get out of my comfort zone, and use a new film.  I say new film, I mean Rollei has been around for donkey’s years, but this was a “new to me” film.  May I introduce you to Rollei RPX 100.  I never use 100ASA film, but was turned by Fomapan 100, which you can see in the photos from the Hangar à Bananes.  A fine-grain film, especially when you compare it to the grain from HP even when shot at box speed, let alone 800ASA or even 1600ASA.

The film was developed in ILFOSIL 3, and I thought it was great.  I tried in town and country and was thrilled.  The thing that pleased me the most was that it kept flat, which means a lot to somebody who has ever tried to scan film. The last time I bought a film I played wild cards, and it was also a lot cheaper than HP5 which is a very convincing argument.  I still dream of Kodak Portra 160, but it is getting more and more scarce, and therefore more expensive.  A beginning of the month kind of film.  Oh look at that, my pay has just gone in…

So yesterday evening I was scanning a film my son had shot on a 1960s Kodak camera, and thinking about how he has changed since 2016 when I picked up my Fuji XT2, a slightly more modern mirrorless digital camera. I hadn’t used a modern camera in quite a while and it almost felt foreign to me, and yet familiar at the same time. My fingers seemed to find the controls without looking very far, and it felt very natural.  Maybe my love of digital and analogue isn’t that contradictory after all?

Now it’s time to show you the results of the Rollei RPX 100.  I liked it and am happy I bought more than one roll.  The camera, as I think I said earlier, was the Pentax ME Super.

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.

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!

The obligatory bike shot in the streets of Nantes

To start off with this was just going to be a short preparative article before I publish my the photos from my night time article about night photography in Nantes. I was going to start off by talking the pubs opening in England and Ireland tomorrow. I wanted to show you the way that the new normal isn’t like the old normal but it’s still OK and that you can still enjoy meeting up with friends and rediscovering each other after lock down. Our bars reopened on the on the 11th of May so we’re kind of used to the whole thing. We put on our masks if we have to move around the bar. I might be half English and half Irish, but after a certain quantity of ale we all have to visit and inspect the plumbing. Just put the mask on and don’t forget to wash you hands afterwards;

So I’d finished work at 11h45, and was free for the whole afternoon. When I go to Nantes I always park in the same place. I’m a creature of habit. So, I park, and as soon as I come out of the car park I put my camera to my to check my settings. To start with I had the Helios M44-2 55mm lens on the XT2. It’s a lens famous for its swirley bokeh, but on the APS-C captor it’s more tricky to get, but it’s still a beautiful lens. I take a few shots of Bouffay. The bikes, the tramlines.

I wanted to capture the textures of the street. In black and white one can’t capture colour even if that colour information is present in my RAW files. I was looking for repetition of patterns, wanted to to get depth of field, wanted to play with the light reflecting off the street and capture people coming through the pool of light.

Strangely the pub isn’t very far away from these photos and I strangely I found myself sitting down with a Guinness in my hands… I had my mask on, and my hands have never been cleaner. It’s good to be amongst “my people” once more. I think that’s what I missed most about lock down. Having this social group of people who are good to me and make me want to be good to them. They know their names, and I love them dearly!

Well I wasn’t expecting that to go there… I’m such a sentimental old fool. I have hugged them and have made a real special effort not to break their ribs whilst hugging them.

So here are the photos of the pub where my “people” seem to congregate.

So it was already a great night, but I wasn’t there just for a good time despite rumours in certain quarters that I will always deny of course! I wanted to take even more photos. I had the Fujifilm XT2 and the 7 Artisans 35mm F1.2 lens which turns out to a be a manual focus, 50mm equivalent. I usually like to go wider, but that’s my little secret!

When I’m next in Nantes, hit me up! I’ll usually tell people on my Instagram and come up and say Hi! I might even buy you a beer. If we talk, be ready to talk about photography and this fair city of ours. If you have any questions about the photos in this article then just ask! I don’t bite.

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!

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.