La Générale

La Générale refers to a French dress rehearsal before a show or concert but with no senior military officer in sight.  But why am I talking about a rehearsal?  Well, as some of you Dear Readers might know that for my many sins, I am a horn player and musician.  Both can happen simultaneously, despite our reputation! From February 2009 until July 2022, I played the horn for the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet in France.  Some people had cottoned onto the fact that I dabble in this photography lark, and since they had just changed musical direction, they would like me to take some photos of the new director in front of the band.  I of course said yes, and following the lessons learnt during the American Concert, I was feeling quietly confident.

The musicians were asked to attend the Générale in concert dress, all looking very smart.  This would allow me to wander around the stage freely, not annoy the audience, and have complete freedom to try to take a couple of photos.  What a good idea!  It also meant that I had two hours to get the job done in a satisfactory manner.

I had the Canon 6D Mark II with the 85mm F1.8 Canon lens, and the trusty and also favourite, almost to the point of it being a fetish, Fuji Film X100F, with the telephoto adapter which transforms the lens into a 50mm F 2.0 lens.  I could take off that adapter and have 35mm equivalent lens.  To the uninitiated, you will think I have just spouted out a huge amount of gobbledy gook, but I it actually means something to me.  It was out of the question that I would miss 60 photos like last time.  A lesson most definitely learnt!

Sooooo…  I wandered around taking photos and trying to make sure I didn’t just photograph the horn section.  Nobody couldn’t accuse me of favouritism;  except that I had treated some images first for friends and had posted them on Facebook.  Two of those friends were, of course, in the Horn Section.  Ooooops a daisy.  Ah well.  I did, however, tell everyone that these were merely a foretaste of things to come, and I realised I had actually been quite democratic and represented most of the musicians.  Out of the 400 odd photos taken, 124 were presented to the musicians in a private Google Gallery.  Not bad for two hours of shooting.    You will see a small selection of those photos at the end of this article.

As a thank you, I was invited to the concert the next day.  After a Barber appointment to tame my overgrown beard and a visit to the pub just to say hello to the staff and friends, I headed off to Cholet for my Rendez Vous with music listening.  Keep music live etc!! 

Naturally, with the change of conductor, there will be a change of musical direction.  Each person had to get used to the novelty, and the new conductor has to make his mark on the orchestra, which is perfectly normal.  I had heard all kinds of things and wanted to make up my own mind.  The concert theme was “Heart of the Forest.”  I was determined to take it all in with no preconceived ideas.  Just enjoy the bloody music, you fool.  So I sat down and did just that.  The sound at the back of the auditorium differed completely from what I had heard the night before.  As a musician, we hear the concert from where we are on the stage.  The audience really hears that difference.  I was blown away and just sat there enjoying watching my friends create music.

With time, the orchestra and the new musical director will get to know each other, and I look forward to seeing their next concert and seeing the outcome of this new relationship in future concerts, and it goes without saying that I wish them the very best of success for the future! 

Now for the photos, and not just the horn section…

The American Concert

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”  I, like most people, used to think that this was pure Shakespeare.  Well, it is not; it is actually from the play “The Mourning Bride” by William Cosgrove, which was first performed in 1697.  No, I cannot be having you say that you learn nothing from this blog, right?

So you get a free fact of the day.  First, I don’t have breasts, but man boobs, and second, they’re not savage either!  Trust me! As suggested in the title, this article is about a concert, and surprisingly the music was American, hence the name of the American Concert.  Mind-blowing I know, right?

Now I can hear you saying this blog is about this man’s depression and photography, and possibly tea and cake.  Give me some time and I’ll get there.  My mental health is on the melancholic side due to rain, and teenagers at home, but it will get better. 

My friend Hervé, who has already starred twice on my blog, is part of a Brass Quintet called Arabesque who have only been mentioned once on my blog.  This lovely chap asked if I wanted to take some photos of their American Concert and I, of course, said yes, that would be great fun! They are revamping their website and wanted some photographs for it and after the success of the last shoot I did for them, they asked me to come back. 

This would be the first concert I would photograph with stage lights.  And when you photograph a concert, you have to get it right and not mess it up.  I, of course, messed quite a few photos up, but it’s all a learning process, isn’t it?  “They” said to use your fastest lenses, which is photographer lingo saying that you need the lens to have the widest opening possible to let in the most light and still have a relatively quick shutter speed.  “They” seem to give out some good advice so I took my very fastest lens, an f1.2 35mm lens for my XT2 and because it has focus peaking, you can’t go wrong.  That’s what “they” said.  I proved “them” wrong and wasted about 60 photos.  That’ll teach me to listen to “them!”  

Fortunately, I had my Plan B (Canon 6D MarkII) with me, which worked a treat.  What did I learn from this precarious situation?  First, I was the only one who knew that I had messed up.  Second, the importance of having a Plan B.  Thirdly, using both cameras and thus still getting the shot, and fourthly that using a manual lens usually provides no worries during the day, but autofocus can be quite a good friend, especially for a concert.  No need to be a purist.  You can save that for later.  What you need is to get the job done.  So leave your pride at home and get some decent photos. 

The entire show was splendid, and the music was first class too!  If you have time to see Arabesque in concert you’ll definitely enjoy yourself, and you’ll be supporting live music and a great bunch of guys too!  I would also like to thank them for the restaurant meal after the concert.  What a delightful way to spend an evening!

Dear Reader

Françaises, Français, Belges, Belges, Mon président, Mon chien, Monsieur l’avocat le plus bas d’Inter, mesdames et messieurs les jurés, public chéri mon amour.  The manner in which that French genius Pierre Desproges greeted his audience in the infamous radio show Le Tribunal des Flagrants Délires.

It was something I heard repeated on Rire et Chansons when I used to listen to French Radio trying to learn how to become more French than the French in the vain idea that I had to learn all about French culture to be accepted by them.  Now I realise my erreur!  All I had to do to be like them was to talk French incorrectly, smoke, drink wine, feel as if I am the light of the world, and judge people.  A damning indictment possibly, but how true!

Am I here to slag off the French once again?  Not really, but it’s always something so satisfying…  They think they know everything, and yet…  But I’m just going to leave that there today and not develop, because it is not the done thing, however fun it might be!

The quote by Pierre Desproges is quite revealing in the way he addresses his public, chéri, mon amour.  Do I write for others uniquely, or is it part of my therapy and a means to expedite my inner daemons?  Do I write only to leave a trace on this world before I die?  Is this my legacy for my children?  As a writer, not that I class myself as a “writer” in the way a French intellectual might, I do write the articles on this blog, and I hope, in some small way, to either amuse you, to help you pass some time in public transport and depending on my subject of choice, help you realise that there might just be a different way of looking at the world.  Possibly. Who knows?  Who really cares?  You, Dear Reader I hope, in some small way.  Sharing is caring, after all.

According to the statistics that I get back since I started this weird and wonderful project, there have been 8 826 of you that have visited my site.  There have been 33 994 views of my pages.  The French have viewed my site 17 810 times, followed by the British with 5029, and our Colonials across the pond with 4157 views.  This amazes me firstly, because I write in English for the French apparently, and they seem to lap it up, and secondly by the views from my home country, the United Kingdom.  Thanks Mum and Dad!!  As I look over the history of IJM Photography, I would like to thank the guy in Ireland who often has a look in.  Buy that man a pint of Guinness!

Not a map of the British Empire despite the pink…

When I see all the countries in pink on this map, I keep telling myself that this is not the British empire but people from the countries who have taken a moment and have visited this blog.   I still find this amazing.  I’m just one person, among 7bn on this planet. It’s as if I have had over 8 thousand people visit my home and have a look inside my mind.

The most popular article was about the X100F camera that has a place in my heart and camera bag. 586 views that one!!  In 2019, it was an article about Humber Street with 169 views.  In 2020, Don’t Panic with 112 views. 2021 with the X100F article, and this year 2022, it was the Parisian Nights Part I. Please have a look through the archives and maybe discover things you never knew existed!

When I declared to my mother that I was going to start a website, she declared it would never last.  For once, you were wrong mother, and I apologise for this exception to the rule.  I tend to have no filter concerning what I write about and how I write it, which can lead to interesting insights into the functioning of my dysfunctional brain. I’ll let the head shrinkers have a field day with that one.  You get me, a rather large English-Irish gentleman, and my heart goes into each page and word that I write for myself and for you, Dear Reader.  Thank you for being part of this strange adventure.

He went wider

Dear Reader, you know how in the past I have talked about how some of us love the big massive telephoto lenses?  And how others like to go wider?  And how we start of with the “nifty fifty” F1.8 and learn on that?  That was in the days before digital photography and a world where zoom lenses came to the fore.  We had them before in the days of film photography, but my memories are of using these prime lenses, and zooms seemed to be looked down on.  I wanted to go wider.

I remember my first proper photography course where I learnt the basics of film photography, going from taking the photo, developing the film, and getting a print as an end result.  I remember seeing a photo of a horse taken with a massive head taken with a wide-angled lens and finding it fascinating!  When I said the head was massive, the lens deformed our view of this majestic beast and its body seemed smaller than its head, which is something indeed.  It was then that I learnt a photograph doesn’t have to represent a visual that is faithful to the subject.  We can mess around with reality and show the world completely differently.

So, as I said, I learnt photography with a 50mm lens.  These 50mm seem to be closest to how the human eye sees the world.  It represents reality.  In 2018 I acquired the Fujifilm X100F which has a lens equivalent to a 35mm lens.  Slightly wider, but still represents the reality of this world, and is considered “the” street photography lens par excellence.  It has a larger angle of view and allows me to get a little more in the frame and I felt the difference with the 50mm straight away.  It was still a great lens and very versatile until I tried taking a close-up portrait.  All of a sudden, I discovered some distortion in my model.  I’m not saying that my model is deformed, well, no more deformed than any of us. 

Suddenly watching YouTube, as many of us do apparently, I discovered the 16-35mm F4 lens from Canon for my Canon 6D Mark II.  It was a little more than I had ever paid for a lens, but worth every centime of euro and so satisfying.  If you care to have a look in the archives of this blog on my Instagram feed, you will discover many photos taken with this lens.  My desire to go wider was now a reality.  Distortion of reality was now in my hands.  I could create interesting images.  I discovered the way a very wide-angled lens can transform the world around us.  Leading lines exist all over the place, and the wide-angled lens exaggerates each line, leading or not!

But, and this is a big but.  You fellas can’t deny… It is possible to go wider.  I know.  Exciting isn’t it!  My mind is now blown!  There is a lens, a very special lens, called a fish-eye lens.  This type of lens can offer you even more distortion and make the world seem even weirder than it already is!  Canon does one.  It’s a 15-8mm zoom lens.  There are two types of fish-eye lenses.  One will give a rectangular view, however distorted, and one will give a round image with a black frame.  It’s a wonderful piece of engineering and for over €1000 it can be yours.  But for €1000 it can’t be mine simply because I can’t justify spending that much money on camera kit and might even be cause for divorce.  Since it is cheaper to keep her, I would have to look elsewhere instead of buying a super duper automatic lens from Canon.  So like any self-respecting poor photographer I went onto Amazon and found a manual lens for my Fujifilm XT2 (like the famous X100F except I can change lenses) for 169€ which is slightly cheaper and a slightly more reasonable purchase, and my dear wife didn’t bat an eyelid!  Not batting and eyelid is a very desirable reaction!!!

I will go out this afternoon to test this new toy and get back to you with some pictures!                                          

Sea Mist

Right, I’m going to be completely honest with you Dear Reader, and tell you that the next few articles will be about my Summer (sorry 12 days in Summer) whilst in the UK. No novels, just photos. I might tell you a little about the context of the photos, how they happened, and under which circumstances they happened. So basically it’s my holiday snaps and not creative writing. Just thought it fair to warn you in case. You never know.

I mean, I say holiday snaps, but I have tried to keep a certain standard and make the photos look good! I wouldn’t dare do otherwise!

So, let’s get some context. The last time I was in Alnmouth I didn’t have my Canon 6D Mark II with me and I didn’t have my 16-35mm lens. As you might know by now, this is my other favourite set-up and rivals the Fujifilm X100F. Yes, I like to go a little wider when I can!

Now the following conditions were something that I had never seen before here but really knocked me for six. It was suddenly that the beach disappeared. This fog just came from the sea and ate up the entire village, like me, with a piece of cake. Gobbled it up as if it were the last cake on the plate. The whole place became quite eerie and when on the beach, I couldn’t even see the sea. I could only just make out some people sitting on the beach being very English and bloody-minded. Well, we got here. It’s foggy, but we’re still going to have a good time on the beach. It was almost French… Almost…

It was my first morning in the village and I had slipped out saying that I was off to take some photos. I was, of course, but said nothing about going to Scott’s of Alnmouth, which is a rather gorgeous deli, and coffee shop. It used to be the village Grocers, and I love what they’ve done to the place. It looks magnificent, and I also follow the owner on Instagram and was so happy to get there after so much time. I was welcomed as an old friend which always makes me feel special. The coffee was the best coffee that I had ever had in the UK, which is saying something. British people are good at tea. The French are excellent at coffee. The French have traumatised me with what they think of as a cup of tea. Warm tepid water with not enough tea, no milk, and a crappy little biscuit to say sorry. British coffee inspires the same disgust in me. Killian and I, famously, once tried Costa coffee, and said never again! And when I say never, I really mean never. However Scotts of Alnmouth destroyed the myth that the Brits know nothing about coffee, and I was very agreeably surprised. The generous slice of Tiffin that I had with it had nothing to do with my state of happiness. Well, it did, of course, but the coffee was superb!

Parisian Nights.  Part II.  Montparnasse et Montmartre.

First of all, well done for not missing part two of this incredible recitation of fifty-something outings in a lovely part of the world, except where my wife is concerned.  She didn’t come because of her great wariness of Paris and all things Parisian.  I did want to come, which is how I can write this second instalment.  Her loss.  She just missed out on all the fun, fun, fun!

So, where was I?  Definitely in a great mood, probably not in the fittest states if I were driving, and heading gently back to my hotel after having said goodnight to friends!  I had missed out on pudding after my evening meal and knew that I had the Cyrille Lignac raspberry tart to look forward to.  I found my room and actually get into it without having to call for help.  It was a warm evening after a warm day, but the coolness of the evening was starting to arrive.  O happiness, I could get my window open and still reserve my modesty with the blinds.  I hit the deck.  Well, I didn’t hit.  It was like sliding into bed in a happy, sugary, raspberry mood and I drifted off to sleep.  Hotel pillows seem to have this magical way of sending you off to dreamland….

I had set an alarm, just in case, but woke up at 6am.  Far too silly, but it allowed me to emerge at a leisurely pace, which seems to be my general speed at the moment.  Mass was at 11 am, so I had loads of time.  Breakfast was between 8am and 10am.  So definitely had loads of time.  Now came the epic battle with the shower.  Trying to work out how to operate it and not getting shot with cold water.  Yay, it was possible and turned out to be a lot less challenging than I thought to begin with.  I even got the rainfall showerhead to work.  It was lovely just being able to chill, listen to Radio 2, and take my time without guilt.  I floated down to breakfast, in an incredible mood.

Hotel breakfasts are something I quite enjoy.  Self-service, and a chance for me to pretend to be healthy, with yoghurt, fruits, cheese, ham, pain au chocolat, cornflakes and, most importantly, a nice cup of tea.  Once you figure out the various dispensing machines for the hot drinks, you’re fine. I finished before 10am to respect the fast before Holy Communion, and floated back up to the room and looked after my skincare and beard care routine.  I may be a fat git, but I like to be a well-groomed fat git.  Bag packed, and ready to check out knowing I could leave my bag at the hotel until my train, a very useful service. 

The Church was on the Boulevard Montparnasse, just beyond the cinemas and cafés.   It was a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady, and the frescos high up on the walls were perfect for visualising the episodes of the Rosary.  An old lady came up to me and gave me a hymn sheet and the Parish bulletin.  She was one of those sweet old ladies that you can’t just say no to.  I saw others that tried but saw how futile it was.  Obviously an old girl on a mission.  Three priests as well.  Music that brought a tear to my eye.  It was lovely.  After mass, I said my Rosary and headed off into town.

We had arranged to meet up at the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre which has one of those Art déco metro entrances that you see in all the photographs.  I got the typical shot and regretted not having stayed around to get more detailed shots.  Maybe next time.  Because, as Arnie said, “I’ll be back!”  We met up at the appointed time and meandered through the streets to the Funicular.  I would not walk up those steps.  Let me bring you back to the leisurely pace concept mentioned earlier.  As we were going up, I showed them where I would probably have had a heart attack if I were taking the steps…  We got to the top and spied an Irish pub.  Well, it would be rude not to.  We ordered a couple of pints from the typical Parisian waiter.  The man was running around like a madman.  We knew straight away that he wasn’t having a good day, showed appropriate empathy, and won him over.  There was the pub itself, a speaker blaring out rock music, and the guy was covering three terraces. Another girl looked after serving the food.  We waited, waited, and waited some more.  We gave the order to the waiter, whose back was obviously giving him gip, and jokingly said he should try some cocaine for the pain.  He jokingly replied that he was already on cocaine, and I think having seen him zooming all over the place, I believed him.  It was just poor management, and a lack of staff, and they were doing what they could.  Anyway, we were about to leave and the food came.  Not the right order, but the right order was there fairly soon afterwards.  We were debating if we shouldn’t just cut our losses and leave and just pay for the drinks.  Anyway, we saw people coming up the stairs that we had given up on.  Some were actually running up “and down” and “back up again” obviously being far too sporty for a Sunday Lunchtime.  We saw a “pétasse Instagram” posing and being photographed by her mother.  Obviously getting the Paris trip shot for her feed.  Something I would never do…  Maybe I should?  Big dude being a “pétasse” and posing like a pretty, young, twenty-something.  It could be style and a sociological view of beauty standards on the Internet.  Or it could be bloody awful.  Maybe not then.

We looked over the panorama of Paris, trying to identify the buildings we could see.  I even saw a tower in Romainville near where I used to live when my wife and I lived in Paris, or rather just outside Paris, in those close suburbs you see on the news, but not for the good reasons.  I do love living in the country.  Sacré Coeur is an amazing church and crowns Montmartre like Our Lady, keeping an eye over Paris and the Parisians, making sure they do nothing too stupid.    We wound our way through the narrow streets towards Place de Tertre, which had been overtaken by restaurant seating pushing the artists to the edges of the square.  I kept my eye on Dom who was keeping his eye on Vanessa.  It was mid-afternoon and after nearly 30K paces in the weekend; I was knackered, and those taxis were looking very appealing.  We walked down to the bottom of the hill and saw a poor tourist being ripped off by the game of the three cards and you have to follow the Queen, etc.  A good old-fashioned tourist scam.  It was simple spotting each member of the team, and I felt sorry for the poor guy. 

We arrived on the boulevard, but the heat, fatigue, and knee had got the better of me.  I’m not good at goodbyes. In fact, I would even say that I hate them.  We hugged goodbye, and I descended into the abyss of the Paris metro, arriving parched at the hotel to fetch my bag.  I must have looked awful as the guy went and got me some water.  Maybe looking like a fat old guy has certain advantages to it?  I took my bag and crossed the road to the Montparnasse train station.  I could buy some food and water.  Knowing exactly where I would go to eat and drink, English voices that reminded me of young English public school boys filtered through.  It’s always strange hearing your own language in a foreign country, even though you might expect it in Paris.

I was headed to the platform when my train came up on the boards.  My electronic ticket worked and allowed me through the gates.  I boarded the train and sat at a table for four.  The other seats were taken, but being in first class, people attempted to be quiet.  The lady opposite me offered to take my bag for me and put it in the rack at the end of the carriage.  I felt guilty because it was heavy, but she was very gracious about it.  My headphones and tablet gave me that sense of privacy and I watched YouTube on the way home.  In the group chat, I informed everyone that my train was on time and I wished them a pleasant trip home.  Normally it was planned that my son was going to pick me up at the station in Nantes, but Virginie told me to get a ticket from Nantes to Montaigu, which I did at Montparnasse and told me she would pick me up at the station in Montaigu.

Once home, I just got naked and went to bed, in a very non-sexy way.  I just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible.  Work would start at 5am the next morning.  Not the easiest of things.  It was a wonderful weekend, and I was so happy to have met up with friends from home and Sergio from Nantes.  It was like having a bit of home coming to see me and was just what the doctor had ordered. With all the various Facebook posts and reels, and I suppose this article, we have dragged that weekend out to nearly three weeks. So Happy Birthday Vanessa.  Welcome to the 50-year-old club.  It would appear that it happens to the very best of us.