The Phenomenon that is Johan de Meij

For my many sins, I am a musician and not just a depressive dude with a camera.  I play the French horn.  Some might even say that I’m a French French horn player, without being corrected by my autocorrect.  So this music thing…  I play the horn in a Wind Band, in Cholet, in the Anjou region of France, with good food and wine.  I wonder what decided me to join them…  There are a series of concerts every year with each concert having a given theme.  This next concert’s theme is about the planets.  The programme will be The Planets, by Gustav Holst, and the third Symphony by Johan de Meij, Planet Earth.

If you want to read Wikipedia to tell you about the Planets by Holst, then you can click here.  I will now give you my version of events.  Gustav Holst, a man with Swedish, German, and Latvian origins but born in England, wrote a series of pieces that made up the Planets Suite.  His ancestors must have settled before Brexit!  This was ground-breaking stuff, akin to Stravinsky and his Rites of Spring.  However, this program is about the planets, so we’ll leave Spring to Igor, the composer and not Frankenstein’s whacky assistant.  As any trailblazer will tell, they just weren’t ready for it man, and that it was ahead of its time, which to be fair, it was.  He started writing the suite in 1914, and the first movement was “Mars, the bringer of War.”  Quite eerie when you think about what happened in 1914.  Composing finished in 1917 and the première took place at Queen’s Hall, on the 29th of September, in 1918.  There were seven movements, and when I was a child, I always wondered why the planet Pluto wasn’t included.  What did they have against Mickey Mouse’s dog???  Then I learnt Pluto was only discovered in 1930.  The poor planet was demoted in 2006 and is no longer considered a planet but is still a heavenly body…  Just like Yours Truly!

This music that first disturbed people, has, over time, and thanks to John Williams, become the music of space and the stars, wars or no wars.  Some have accused John Williams of nicking everything in the first movement, Mars the bringer of War, and using it to compose the music to Star Wars.  I’m not saying he nicked it, but… A nice American gentleman, Charles Cornell, has exposed his point of view in a YouTube video 

When you look at it like that you can get where those people are coming from.  But in a completely nonpartial way, I couldn’t give a flying fart.  Both composers’ music is wonderful, and I think one could call it more homage than pilfering. Mind you, there are certain similarities.

When you look at the Planets Suite, you notice the Earth isn’t mentioned.  One person that noticed this and who could do something about it, is a certain Johan de Meij, whose name is engraved on a plaque on our rehearsal room in the Cholet Conservatoire.  A Dutch trombonist, he moved into composition, arranging, and conducting.  In the Wind Band world, he is very well known and respected.  Nearly all of us will have played some of his music at one stage in our careers.

The third Symphony takes us from the beginning of our Lonely Planet, Planet Earth, ending with Mother Earth.  It isn’t as much a narrative, but a more auditory exposition of ideas in an abstract form.  A soundtrack with electronic sounds helps the symphony become one musical experience as opposed to the classical three separate movements.  Planet Earth really is a continuation of Holst’s Planets.

It’s a whopping significant piece and a joy to play despite a few difficulties to challenge the horn player.  We were very fortunate to have Johan come and visit us, not just to say Hallo, but to explain the piece to us, conduct us and rehearse us.  The poor lad was full of cold, but shared his wisdom and experience with us, which I’m sure will prove itself invaluable for our performance on the 14th of November in the Théâtre Saint Louis in Cholet.  We worked on aural skills listening to the chords and listening to them to adjust the tuning and seeing where we fit into those chords. It might be an insignificant detail to you, but the seats are very comfortable and the acoustics are pretty damned good too!.  Holst couldn’t make it. Must have had something else in his diary for that weekend! 

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.

Why do I bother taking photos?

Sometimes you read an article, or watch a YouTube video that makes you sit up and think, yeah, that person’s right about that. Why do I even bother? Is it about self-validation through the Gram? Is it the process? Is it to provide a document?

Watch the video first and then we’ll come back and have a chat. OK?

So why do I bother taking photos? Well? Have I slipped into the “selling myself” on the Gram, and also trying to find a social acceptation and validation through my photography? Quite possibly, but not solely, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t give a damn about the likes. I love it, but despite that I would still continue. This past week I have been on holiday. I have been looking at the weather to see what kind of light I could get, but more importantly to see if I would get rained on! Sgt Gilbert once told me dinnae worry Petal, your skin’s waterproof. And he was, of course, right. But I do prefer being dry, the way I like my Martini.

So why do I do I bother? I could go on about my fascination with cameras that started at an early age and developed as time went on. You can read about all that on my About Me page. I still get off when I go into a camera store, but strangely more when I go into a film camera store and see all the historical models and stuff from another era, que les moins de vingt ans, pourraient jamais connaître, as Aznavour said in one of his songs. But it’s not just the kit, despite having spent a certain amount of money collecting. I have to justify each thing I buy and it has to allow me to progress. Sure I’d love a Leica, and maybe one day I might acquire one, but I don’t need one to progress. But above all, I love the process. I love the process of going somewhere, getting my camera out, and just taking a photo. It’s amazing. My OCD loves doing film photography, because there are more steps to getting the photo and you have to go through more hoops to get there. Choosing the film you’re going to use, putting it into the camera which will shape the photographs you will take, and winding on the film after each shot. I also love the sound that the camera makes. The click and hearing the mirror going up and smacking back down telling you that you have just created and image. I don’t get that with digital cameras, but I still love Digital. It really is getting out, and just seeing what you’ll get. If I want more control over the outcome, then I’ll be in my studio where I can control everything. But isn’t leaving it to chance so much more exciting?

So does this still mean that I’m an amateur photographer? Can I still take photographs just for me? Yes, but I do like sharing them with you. But as I’m not selling my photography as a professional, I have this freedom to take photographs on my own terms. I can choose to go where I want to go. I can choose what is important to me especially when I’m out. This is what I did in that first outing of my holidays. Showing them here is like my Latrigue albums. Sure, I share the hell out my articles, but it’s not like putting everything on the gram, and I know well that not a tremendous amount of people will see them. Here people generally look just at the album at the end of each article. And you know what, that’s great!

Social Media will change, and so will Instagram. Some would say it has changed hugely from its inception. Facebook, has morphed into this enormous monster too. But they are only temporary. Art, if I can be as bold to call what I do, art, has been around for centuries. Photography is starting to get established after 150 years. People did it before Instagram, and will still do it when Instagram no longer exists. Will I still be doing it? Possibly. I have this need to create images. I have this desire to record the world around me. If people didn’t see them, would it stop me? Probably not. Is it part of leaving a legacy for my children’s children, sharing events and places from my relatively short time on God’s earth? Definitely. A picture can tell a thousand words. I can see one of my photos, and remember what was going through my wind when I took it. It brings me right back to that instant.

The question raised in this video for me was about the process of photography, and would I still do it if nobody was to see any pf my photographs? Yes I definitely would. This photography lark has provided me with a kind of therapy which allows me to stand back from the world and observe it. I am no longer an actor, but merely an observer and I can press record if I want to. It gets me out of the house and outside trying to find new places and visit old places too. It has given me an opportunity to learn new techniques and offer myself different options to allow my creativity to manifest itself. There is still something so magical about creating an image that excites, and enthrals me. Yes I will keep going.

Thank you for perusing moments that no longer exist. Just as an afterthought, I should probably tell you where these photos were taken. Trentemoult, just opposite Nantes, on the south bank of the Loire river. And taken on my Canon 6D Mark II, with the 16-35mm lens.

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…

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.