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 Olympus Trip 35

After the success of my review of the Fuji Film X100F, I thought I might have to present another camera to you.  For the non-techy of you, don’t worry, this camera is a doddle to use, and my daughter was using it when she was a seven year old!  It won’t get complicated. 

I wanted to use a film camera to do it.   I will presume that you have no experience of using a film or vintage cameras also, so Millennial friendly, and after a certain age, you will be meeting an old friend.  I would like to introduce you to the Olympus Trip 35.

As the name might suggest the Olympus Trip was a camera designed for travel photography and for the mass market in the 1960s and 1970s (production stopped in 1988).  A point and shoot.  No gimmicks.  Although this is not a style or fashion blog, this camera is a beautiful object, and if you thought you had people coming up to you and telling you how sexy your camera was with the X100F, then you’ll get even more people coming up to you telling you how gorgeous your camera is.  It is one of those timeless cameras that just oozes sex appeal.  I replaced the original wrist strap with a more chunky and comfortable version from Amazon.

There are some things that you will not be able to do with this camera.  You won’t be able to add another lens.  You get a 40mm Zuiko F 2.8, however the 40mm focal length will have you covered for the majority of situations for your photographic trip, and also gives beautiful results, especially with modern emulsions!.  Just look at the X100F photos and it will be self evident.  You won’t have all the modern conveniences of a Modern DSLR or even mirrorless camera, but you won’t have any problems with batteries.  There aren’t any.  The power for the metering comes from the selenium cell (which contrary to appearances isn’t a New Romantic group from the 1980’s).  You will have get film for it.  It take film from ISO (or ASA) 25 to 400 which, for when you’re on the road is fine, and will cover most eventualities.

Loading film is so simple that a child of seven could do it, and my child, when seven years old did it easily.  Then basically, you’re ready.  Off you go and explore.  I haven’t talked about how to focus the camera.  So….  The camera uses the principle of zone focussing.  You turn the lens and you will see a face, a couple, a group of people, and then a mountain.  If you turn the camera around so the top is the bottom, and the bottom the top (Pride reference, even if I am slightly late), you will see the distances marked out: 1m, 1m50, and 3m to infinity, but not beyond.  We’re talking photography, and not a film based on Ants, or Seven Samurai.

There are two shutter speeds, 1/200th of a second and 1/40th and the camera chooses which one it uses.  But 1/40th with a 40mm lens shouldn’t give camera shake.  So you can cover light from F22 at 1/200th of a second to F2.8 at 1/40th of a second.  You will see an F stop dial on the camera, and that you will see in the viewfinder.  When not using a flash, just put it to A (automatic).  If ever there is not enough light, there is a little red flag that pops up into the viewfinder, and the camera shutter won’t fire.  It’s idiot proof!

I will include a video from YouTube to show you how to load the film as it will be easier than describing to you in written language.   

So get out there and start taking some photos!  Go on the streets.  Go on a Trip.  Just get out there and start using it.  Have fun and share photos if you want!  Mine are from a trip to Portugal and the Canary Islands from 2016 taken on Ilford HP5 Plus.  Make of them what you will…

Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

Cloé in front of my lens

It was last Friday, and we were only doing 36 hours this week at work, so I was free on Friday afternoon. I like to go and visit my son, and his girlfriend, as I know I’ll be allowed to have a nice cup of tea and be able to talk photography without being told how boring I am. My daughter-in-law asked if I would like to come round as she was doing a photoshoot with somebody from Instagram. There was a friend to do make up and hair, and we would take it in turns being made up and photographed. Sounds like a deal right?

I of course turned up to early as they were getting the other girl from Nantes. I was asked if I could get pizza and off I went to get pizza; It’s easier like that. I got back and everyone was there. Elise, my ex-daughter-in-law, Maureen, to do the make up, and Cloé the girl from Instagram who was along for the ride. That morning I had piled up all my gear and put it in the boot ready for the off. I had a couple of lights and some modifiers for speedlights. It was going to be a good day. Tea, and pizza in the same phrase has to be a good omen.

Elise does a bit of YouTube and has a three light set up for her videos. Fine for video but not so good for photography. As you might have seen I have been exploring the use of artificial light in photography and seem to be on the, if not right path, then certainly a path that is taking me somewhere. So, I wasn’t a fan of these video lights and thereofre set up my own. A flash, that would flash into an umbrella and the light would come back through an translucent white diffuser giving off a nice soft light. Yes I’m a big softy! I had a new led light to act as a hairlight, and was able to turn the power down so it wasn’t too harsh.

Elise started off and it interests me immensely to see somebody else start working and see how they interact with the model. The model being Cloé already made up by Maureen. I would take the occasional “behind the scenes” for Elise. I wasn’t happy with the light, so when it was my turn I turned everything off and just allowed my lights to work their magic. i’m becoming a fan of this soft light and seem to have understood the basics of how it might work and what it might do for me.

Cloé wa already “warmed up” if you can say that, and we started talking about her complexes about the way she looks. I showed her the first photos that we were getting and she seemed happy with the way it was going. I shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It means that I can see my black and white image on the screen and it gives me an idea of what I will achieve later whilst editing. I will however only edit my RAW file, as each pixel contains so much more information than a JPEG file, and although less destrucive than back in the day, it is still a feature of JPEG files even though they have progressed immensely over the last 15 years.

We kept talking and caught her laughing at some of my Dad jokes that she hadn’t heard before. I would see a picture I like and then activate the shutter. The first few reminded me of Anne Frank, and what she might have looked like had she have survived the war. Now I’m feeling sad about all that suffering in the camps. What an utter waste of human life.

Anay, we kept going and the feeling of the photos changed and looked slightly more modern. It is 2021after all. I switched to the X100F which is usually for street photography but holds it’s own in a studio environment, and the 35mm equivalent lense was great for getting some full body shots. The fact that Cloé was sitting on the floor gave a very flattering angle and I think I might just have to do it more often.

Before showing you the photos I would like to say a huge thank you to the three girls for putting up with me and the very generous feed they gave me. It gives one such a boost, and at the moment it’s a wonderfull thing to have. Covid is getting right on my wick, and although I know that this situation is temporary, it feels slightly less temporary.

So the tools used for this shoot… Canon 6D Mark 2 with a 50mm F1.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100F with a converter so I could go from a 35mm equivalent to a 50mm equivalent. The fash was a GODOX TT600 speedlight with GODOX X1T triggers.

Good morning Dear Reader…

I seem to have a thing for old fashioned, black and white, low key portraits and as I evolve as a photographer it seems to be my “new thing” to learn about. The person who says he knows everything and no longer needs to learn is wrong and probably has his head up Where the sun tends not to shine. The beginning of wisdom is to know that we know nothing and that realisation seems to come with age, not for everyone, but for me at least.

I wanted to discover this world which was foreign to me. Now I seem to have a knack of being able to take portraits of places and let the viewer have a feeling of having visited those places and sharing my vision of these places.

But can I really I hear you say, “Even the news and documentary photographers can change the meaning of a photo just using the angle used to record the shot.” But there is still emotion.

Don’t forget that photography really does allow you to see what I see looking through a viewdinder at a given time and place. It is the only art that allows that. Paintings you say in disgust! But I would reply no since due to the very nature of that medium we are already in an interpretation of what the painter saw. We could say the same if a writer, especially depending on the skill of that said writer. We have a portrait, and a representation, but only photography permits you to to physically see what my eyes saw.

The next part against this arguement is about what we do in a darkroom or on software on our computers, I can begin to interpret my scene and maybe show you how I might have felt. This is what I try to do with my art.

I do this through my quasi exclusive use of black and white photography, and in a portrait session I can use my lights to give different feels. I will of course give you examples in the traditional gallery at the end of the article. The sitter or victim depending on your sense of humour, remains true to his physical representation as I don’t transform the person as people do in advertising or in fashion. If you have a so called defect, you’re keeping it. I’m not going to change your shape, or make your skin a smooth as a baby’s bottom, that’s your affair and not mine, but with angles and lighting and asking you to pose in different ways, I can change how people might envisage you and hopefully catch your essence on film or on my screen.

There is forcibly a certain rapport that is built, however temporary, but it will be as real as I can make it to make my representation of you as real as possible. And that Dear Reader, is how I see my role when acting a portrait photographer. With friends, and family this rapport is easier to create as it already exists and i am working on my introvert side to try and work through my shyness whilst still using my ninja introvert skills to get am image that is pleasing to all parties. It has to be a win win situation for both of us, the sitter, and the photographer, which allows the third party, the viewer of the photograph to feel something.

Have I been spouting a whole load of bollocks as usual, or is some this nearing intelligent observations? Who knows? I sometimes have these thoughts in my mind and I should probably get them down on paper more often. You never know when something worth recording might pop out of my brain. Yes. I have just woken up and the memories of my photo shoot yesterday and the previous evening’s time spent making selfies (however artistic) to try out my new light set up and get to learn what I can get out of it are still fresh in my semi conscious mind.

My sitter in this series was Sergio Uribe, how is a very dear friend and one of those people that wonder into our lives for a reason. The session was about showing him my appreciation and thanking him for being my friend. Strangely i can hear the theme tune to Golden girls in my head. I obviously am need of a cup of tea and some toast. Thank you Dear Reader for continuing to read what I say, and help me get up and face my Sunday…

The holidays

Hello. I have a friend called Julie Dodge and she is a photographer in Brooklyn NY. I have asked her to mentor me and maybe put me in a different direction with my photography and help me develop as a photographer. She’s full of talent and is somebody that I admire greatly. She suggested that I write this article.

Did you see what I just wrote there? I said the holidays, not Christmas but the holidays. Does that mean that I’ve become all woke and don’t want to offend? Not bloody likely. Christmas has come and gone and now we’re in that holiday limbo, before New Year’s Eve but just after Christmas.

Even during winter I sleep with the window open so as not to be too hot in bed (and don’t go reading anything unto wards into that statement, this is not that kind of blog!!) and we have just come out of the other side of Storm Bella. At least according the noise of the wind. and not that wind either!

When I think back to two weeks ago, Christmas felt so far away. I had 36 hours left at work and the whole holiday thing just hadn’t sunk in at all. Christmas could have been 6 months away and it wouldn’t change a thing. 2020 has been weird like that for everyone. The Christmas tree was up and running at the very end of November as was quite common. Maybe just a way of people trying to find a modicum of normality since normality just ran away with the light beer virus and some guys getting freaky with a bat in China.

I listen to the radio at work which is a wonderful and a great way to stay up to date with things happening at home back in Brexit land. On BBC RADIO 2 (that I can’t help hearing the jingle in my head when I say it) they had decided that they would play only Christmas music on the 1st of December to usher in the Christmas Season. Best day ever at work! I love it. You’re constantly listening out for Whamageddon or All I want for Christmas is You. That music would accompany me throughout December and keep me going.

The factory was going to shut for Christmas and I would finish work on the Friday lunchtime of the 18th.

I had been doing a whole load of product photography for the company. They have an excel file showing all the references of all the hardware that we use and a photo of each article. However the photos they have are not up to the required standard. Crap would cover it too. I told my boss about this and said I could do a better job of it. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it would allow me to learn something new. I went onto Google, YouTube, and then on to Amazon to get a light box, which is a box of light which allows you to get a well lit photo of each screw, hinge, and other things that I don’t know how to translate into English. That’s not as bad as it seems. Everyone talks French at work. Strange isn’t it. The only English they all know is how to ask where Brian is. Brian is invariably in the kitchen. But not when I looked for him!

This also explains why I had my camera with me. As of the 15th of December we had finished with confinement and had now entered a new phase. No confinement but a curfew. They also said that the curfew would no be enforced for Christmas Eve which meant that people could spend Christmas together, but would be enforced on New Year’s Eve. This is despite our dear President’s love of secularism or the infamous French concept of Laïcité. Go figure. Maybe it’s a sick joke, or could it be that he knows that he won’t be voted in next time if he cancels Christmas.

But I digress, or in French, je diverge, parfois je dis bite! It was Friday afternoon and I was freeeeee. Yes. Freeeeeee!! I’m free, I do what ever I want, any old time…. I decided to head into Nantes to make sure that my family would have the same amount of gifts and therefore not be jealous. It was wonderful. This new found freedom and all I had to do was to be home by 20h! I of course had my camera with me and it was the closest I had been to normal for ages. My last stop would be the HAB Gallerie, which is on the Île de Nantes, and where there is a massive crane, but don’t forget that size does not matter. And a crane can be grey or yellow and that is fine too. It felt wonderful! This is where the photos in this article are from in case you were wondering. I think the photo of the huge crane give it away.

Christmas came and went as did the food, my son, his girlfriend, quite a bit of drink, and some great laughs. We are now in the Christmas anti climax. No church this year. Maybe Covid is laïque as well. All a bit strange really, but it was good to be able to celebrate as a family. But “strange” has been the bass continuo of this year 2020. 2021 is just around the corner and people are putting way too much hope into it.

With vaccines, time, and the continual social distancing, things will get better. Things will gradually become less strange. I even dare to think that people with rediscover social interactions and above all discover how important they really are. Some will look back and think I did well to get through this, some will regret not having done enough to help others. Some will have toilet roll till the ends of their days. But when we come out of the other side of this period, we will have all changed. Society will have changed. There will be a new normal, and not necessarily the one that that the hippies are hoping for, but a new one anyway, in which we will need time in which to find ourselves.

Thank you for still reading the drivel that seeps out of my mind on a more or less regular basis. There will still be photos to look at. Until that happens, I wish all of you a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas. May your God bless you.