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!

 

 

The Fujifilm X100F

I use a Fuji X100F as my every day camera and love it for different reasons.  Firstly, this article is not a collaboration with Fuji or anyone else for that matter.  Will I fan boy on my Fuji camera?  Possibly.  Is that a problem for me?  Nope.  Is that a problem for you?  I haven’t a clue, but if it is you might want to wait for the next article…

Here is a link to the manufacturer’s site, which will give you all the techy stuff.  I don’t really care about that.  It’s part of the camera of course, but not just.  I’ll take you back to 2018 when I bought the camera.  I had a Sony bridge, which was fine, but left me wanting, like a French cup of tea, or an English so called baguette.  I mean they try hard, but it’s not just quite there.  The fact that I could only get jpegs and not raw files was bugging me like a small child who has more patience that I do.

I have never done a review article yet, and after this one and feedback, might not try again.  I’m counting on you Mummy to put me right!  I don’t even have a plan for what I’ll be writing so you might just be reading the edited version of this article which hasn’t even been written yet.

Anyway…  Back to the subject in hand.  I had done a large amount of film photography to get me over my photographic frustrations.  It was really doing it for me too, and I would get a huge amount of pleasure.  The negatives and scans were giving me some beautiful images, and my mother has a huge print of one those images on the wall in their house.  I might have overdone it again.  It’s massive on their wall and is definitely a “statement” piece.   And that statement was even though not my childhood home, it’s still a beautiful part of the world to be able to call home.

Why am I not talking about a Fuji camera yet?  Because I’m doing the groundwork and preparation for my story.  I want you there with me in that strange place called my brain.  So my photography was analogic, without too much logic, but that’s my problem.  I also got into my film funk which was cured thanks to lockdown.  If you’re really keen you can read about it here.

So, I was at the beginning of my film funk, and was wanting to replace film with a digital camera.  I had perused the internet and YouTube looking for reviews and articles and results of said cameras.  I had been into the shops and had looked at the cameras face to face, and was thinking very seriously about either a bridge, but a really nice Lumix one with a Leica lens, and whist in the shop I saw the X100F just sitting there in the display, and I could hear it talking to me, yes this crap does happen in my head, and it was saying, “buy me, you know you want to!”   I answered, “Oooooooh, you are one sexy camera, but just let me have a look at the rest, just in case.”  I mean the price tag alone was saying, “I think you might want to talk to your bank manager about this…”  And I was desperately trying to think how can I explain this to my wife, who was used to various film cameras turning up on our doorstep. 

Well, I had the yearly 13th month bonus.  Look it up of you don’t know about life in France.  And that was what tilted the scale in my favour.  I remember going to the shop with my wife, because this is serious business.  I purchased the camera, ordered the rather sexy leather strap and case on the internet, and took my new baby home. 

It was exactly the same size and weight as my Pentax ME Super, and had the same kind of feel.  When you look at it you can mistake it for a film camera, with the dials for exposure compensation, film speed, and shutter speed.  The aperture is on the lens just like the rest of my film cameras.  It feels just like a film camera in my hands, which, is a great plus.  It has a leaf shutter, so is silent, therefore discreet, and for street photography is perfect.  The lens is a 35mm equivalent F2.0 lens which is great for me and is built into the camera, so you can’t change it, but it simplifies everything, and for somebody used to 50mm F1.7 or f1.8 depending on the camera, the transition was easy.  Another thing that tilted the balance were the film simulations.  Classic Chrome is a wonderful thing and is my “go to” when shooting colour.  It gives a beautiful vintage tone, and even better when you over expose by one stop, but be careful not to blow out those highlights.  I was used to black and white photography and that had become etched in my brain thanks to Ilford and HP5+.  So when I discovered the Acros black and white film simulation with a red filter, I was home.  To be honest it’s what I use nearly all the time.  I still have my RAW files with all the information, but the JPEGS are just amazing, as you will see on my Instagram feed.

Some have called it the poor man’s Leica, but I refuse to put 10 grand into a camera, because my wife would make my life a living hell, and I wouldn’t be able to take it out in case somebody nicked it.  I like good gear, but I’m not paying silly money despite my desires to own one.  It’s not worth it to me.  But if anybody wants to give me one then I would of course accept with tremendous grace, but as if that’s going to happen!

So I have this beautiful object in my hands and want to get out there trying it out.  And boy did I try it out.    I remember talking about it in one of my first articles on this blog.  There was a whole gang of us that had decided to meet up and you smell the testosterone.  Each camera bigger and larger than the next one.  It was like a penis size contest and I turn up with my discreet X100F.  We went round Nantes taking pictures and you could feel a certain “size matters” feel to the whole thing.  That was until we started comparing pictures!  Yes it’s not huge but I know how to use it!  I definitely felt less intimidated at that moment.

“They” say it’s a street photographer’s camera.  “They” say that due to its small size, it’s a great travel camera.  “They” also tend to say that it is great for documentary photography.  Sometimes “they” are right, but not about everything.  It also works really well in the studio and the auto focus works like a doosey!  And when you show the client those colours, then they get over the discreetness of its size and realise that you don’t always need a massive DSLR to be a serious photographer.

I had also wanted to do some night time photography on the streets in Nantes, and because of it’s smaller size people don’t feel threatened by it.  It is silent, and, as I’ve said before and allows you to get up close. 

But why should you get a new camera?  If you have the money, then why not.  But that’s not the main reason.  I bought my X100 for more than just that.  I had “grown out” of my previous camera and could only see the limitations.  I wanted a camera that would help me develop as a photographer.  With the settings on automatic, and just using exposure compensation I have been able to concentrate on just getting the shot.  Seeing a shot in the street.  Composing.  Putting the camera to my eye, and taking the shot.  It really feels like my old film cameras except that with the EVF (electronic view finder) I know what I will be getting.  This has allowed me to get away from just settings, and concentrating more on my photography.  You soon get very used to seeing the world in 35mm, and it gives me more room to capture a scene than a 50mm.  So, for that reason alone, it is worth getting one.  Even a second hand one.  They’re coming down in price since the latest super duper model was released, the Fujifilm X 100 V.  Do I want one?  Honestly?  Yes , because who doesn’t like a new camera.  Will I get one?  No.  I don’t have the need for one.  My X100F is more than what I need. 

Do you have a camera that just takes you to your happy place when you go out shooting?  I do.  My Mamiya C220.  And when I want to go digital, I have my X100F.  I get happy, by just getting in the car and having it with me.  I know that I will have a good few hours taking photos.  Do I like my Canon DSLR?  Definitely especially with my 16-35mm lens, but it’s heavy, and makes you look like a proper photographer, but it’s like having a Citroen 2CV.  Is it the best car in the world?  Nope.  Is it the fastest car in the world?  Nope.  Does it just have style and makes you feel good?  Damn right people!

They say the proof is in the pudding.  As long as there is chocolate in that pudding then I’m good.  Take note of my love of tea, and cake!  At the top of each article, you can see the tags used.  If you click on the X100f tag, then you will see the photos, which speak louder than words.

Before I conclude this fan boy article I would just like to talk briefly about Fuji X Weekly!  If the X100F is a film shooters digital camera, then this web site will give you “recipes” that will emulate different film stocks, even like Kodachrome, that sadly died in 2009.  RIP Kodachrome.  The geeks will understand me.  So if you have a Fuji, then go and check it out!

So let’s see where we are.  Is the X100F a great camera?  Yes.  Does it look wonderful?  Yes.  Even last Saturday, I got complements about how beautiful my camera is!  Felt elated for ages.  Is it great for street photography?  Yes.  It’s small and not heavy, so having it around your neck all day is fine.  And it still gets the job done, which in the end, is what we’re all after.  Getting that image, without our camera or our own incompetence getting in the way.  Like Marie Kendo, does it inspire joy?  Yes, by the truckload.  And if a camera can inspire you get out and take photographs, then it’s a winner in my eyes.  Thank you Fuji for having created the X100 line of cameras, and thank you for the X100F!