Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!

 

 

Bourrée ou Macé?

To start with, I’d planned on going to one of the Loire Valley castles yesterday, but due to brain fog I thought it better to just go to bed. So I did. This morning there was no sign of fog, outside or in my brain.

I thought I would go to the Chateau de Plessis Bourée as I do like a drink, and bourée means drunk in French. I do have a family reputation as a drinker to keep up. So off I went. It’s a beautiful place and that day it was a very beautiful place, but also a very shut beautiful place. It seems the Plan B will have to do, which is the Chateau de Plessis Macé, which is slightly more sober. Boring…

I’m actually writing this in the car as I wanted to get that drinking joke out of my mind and onto paper, or screen…

All I have to do now is to drive 19km and I’ll be at party pooper castle! It had bloody well be open or I’ll be very upset and have to go straight to the pub. And with all these new restrictions means I have to get a couple in before chucking out time at 10pm. It sounds like English pubs on a Sunday when I was growing up.

Right off I go. Talk to you later Dear Reader.

I have arrived in one piece and I assume that the Plessis Bourée was nursing a hangover after a particularly good night earning its name once again. Macé looks slightly more open, or at worse, less shut. We shall see! The excitement is killing you isn’t it. Seated there on the edge of your seat wondering if I’ll be successful on this trip. It is with trepidation that I shall open the car door. Maybe more with the handle…. poor trepidation.

I decided against taking the guided tour. I did the “visite libre” and handed over my name, phone number etc. in case of Covid contact. Therefore, as the cheap skate that I am, I only visited the outsides. I still managed to get a couple of nice photos and was able to visit the Chapel.

I’ll put up the boring stuff like links etc., addresses, prices when I finish the article later on. For the moment, you’ll have to do with this!

Now for the boring stuff, or maybe even interesting stuff, depending on whether or not you enjoy history.  A Plessis is a fort built on a hill surrounded by bushes as a defence, and the word Macé comes the Latin word for Mathew, Mattheus. The original fort was built in the 11th century buy Raynaud the first and was a wooden tower, in the 12th century the wood was replaced by stone.  It always pays to invest in construction.  It defended Angers from the Dukes of Brittany.  We nicked it during the Hundred Year’s War, as it was pretty much abandoned.  It also allowed us a little pied-à-terre from which to nick local natural resources.  This is wine country and who doesn’t like a drink eh?  We were mercilessly pushed out of France, and the Plessis was taken over by Louis de Beaumont who built the castle that we see today.  1678, the Castle is bought by the Bautrau de Serrant family, and in 1749 by the Walsh family (which doesn’t sound very French to me, just saying).  In 1868 the Countess Sophie Walsh de Serrant (OK so maybe they were French after all), took up residence in the Castle and launched a huge construction project in the actual Logis.  1907, the Archives de France director, Charles Victor Langlois (Charles Victor the Englishman, Langlois is the medieval French for Englishman, oh the irony) acquired the Castle.  As in most of France during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Castle, as they did the rest of France.  Yes, there’s something Vichy about the French, as Noel Coward once said.  1967 Philippe Langlois-Berthelot gifted the Castle to the Maine et Loire Department, possibly to avoid paying taxes (again, nothing sure, but follow the money…). 1980 the “Commons” builing was renovated as function rooms.  You have to make money somehow, and who wouldn’t to have a reception in a beautiful castle?  1987, the artistic director of the Anjou Festival, Jean-Claude Brialy, a French and very butch luvvie, presented the infamous Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais.  Skip forward to 2020, the photographer Ian J Myers visited the Castle because the other one he wanted to visit was shut, and he was buggered if he was going to leave the area without taking a couple of photos for posterity and his blog!

You, Dear Reader are now up to date.  All that is left for me to do is to edit the photos and present them to you. I had originally planned to visit a few of the Loire Castles but then Lockdown happened, again! I’ll change plans and see what I come up with for future articles!

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.

Clisson in Black and White.

Clisson is one of those pittoresque little market towns that France is famous for, except for three days a year when Heavy Metal fans come for the Hellfest and celebrate the late demi-god Lemmie! When these photos were taken, it wasn’t one of those three days and you could “quietly” breath in the tranquility and history of the place.

On a Friday morning there is the weekly market that I love going to but haven’t been able to go for ages as I’m no longer doing shift work. I would wander along the food stalls and have a few favourite places to stop and be seperated from my money for some wonderful produce. I’m talking about the good stuff… The kind of stuff that makes a foodie drool with pleasure. The place not to go when you’re hungry… I’m so weak!

I spent about two hours in Clisson before going off to Nantes to meet other photographers for a “photowalk,” just to see what I could get and to try and see a familiar place in a new way. It ended up falling through but I met other friends for an impromtu picnic. I’d been wanting to see Clisson again and try out the X100F and the Canon 6D with the Helios 44-2.

This first series of photos were taken on the Fujifilm X100F, and the 35mm equivalent lens and I was after trying to get some wider shots so you can get a feel for the place.

The second series will be more about how I see the place, and more in my style. IE the place where I seem to be on my photographic journey at the moment. That doesn’t mean that these black and white shots aren’t me. They are. And the editing is a reflection of me too. But I do love getting closer. You’ll see when you read the next article!