First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.
2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.
For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.
I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.
It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!
Sometimes you just want to spend time alone, not because you hate other people, even if I sometimes find it difficult to love my fellow man. People, or too many people, or people that are too intense just leave me shattered, and ready for an emotional breakdown. My mother in law is one of those people. She is the polar opposite of me. She loves people, loves the gossip, can’t stand her first husband or any other of her ex’s, and her opinions on everything are the exact opposite of mine. Could this be her calling in life? Is she there just to make me question my own beliefs and reinforce them, or is she just a pain in the arse? Possibly both…
Last weekend the idea was that we go up and see her. At first, it was going to be my wife and son, but not my daughter, and then it became my wife and I without the children. I must be a glutton for punishment. Killian had been using my car as an extension of his room to store his crap in since he left the girlfriend. I was getting sick of the whole thing and said if he didn’t get my car sorted then I wouldn’t be going either. The little bugger got all the stuff in my car out, and so I had no choice. Shit!
I have talked about the way I either need 10 pints worth of Heineken (other beers do exist) or Prozac to be able to deal with my mother-in-law. And how this technique has evolved into being stone, cold, sober. Not as fun but allows me to get in the car if things get too intense, escape, leave, and do some photography.
As it was Sunday, I went off to mass at the local Benedictine monastery. This is because I genuinely wanted to go to mass and fulfil my domincal obligations to keep the Sabbath holy. It was also my Dad’s birthday, so I would be able to call and sing him Happy Birthday.
No, I would not be back for lunch as I would be out doing some photography, and having some Ian time, to partake in my number one solitary pastime; photography of course, what else? But don’t worry about me for lunch, I will look after myself…. On the Quiberon peninsular, they have what they refer to as the Côte Sauvage, or the Wild Coast. Despite the high temperatures, we have to pinch ourselves to remind us that it actually autumn, and the end of October. However, on this Wild Coast you were left in no doubt which season we were in despite the warmth. Very slightly breezy, so I really did need my cane, and I found the white horses on the waves as they came crashing down on the shore against the rocks so beautiful. You can really feel the power of the ocean as those waves come in. It reminds you on how small you are, compared to God’s creation.
Despite the wildness of the coast, the ocean, and the waves, I managed to find my peace…
Dear Reader, some of you might know that I don’t live too far away from Nantes and that I can be found wandering the streets of Nantes with a camera, or sitting in the pub talking with friends. So, nothing new here then. You might not know that I sometimes publish said photos of Nantes, and even the pub, with friends of course, on Instagram. I also sometimes go out and participate with other photographers in what is usually a solitary pastime.
Nantes Grand Angle, a sort of collective of photographers from Nantes, often has events (with local partners) that want to get their event onto the local social networks and get some “viral” publicity. The game is you go to the event and then talk about it on your social accounts and people might be interested thinking well, he went to see this, why don’t I go along too. It’s the basics of social marketing.
Why do I usually see photography as a solitary pastime? Because I get a certain amount of social anxiety. For most extroverts, those pushy people that are in favour now, the word “mingle” gives them a buzz that they seem to thrive on. I, as an introvert, find the words “new people”, or even the idea of “meeting new people”, “social”, or “mingle” just fill me with dread. It’s akin to going on one of those terrifying rides at the fair. It’s scary, thankfully doesn’t last very long, leaves you feeling empty, very awkward, sheepish, and makes you want to run away as soon as possible. sonds like my sex life on a good day.
So against my better judgement, I confronted my fear, and went on an outing with Nantes Grand Angle. I could always just stay at the back and be subtle and try to fade into the background. It also meant that I would visit a new place, Le Lieu Unique, which as its name might suggest, is certainly unique! The Lieu Unique also contains the Tour Lu (sans T pour le jeu de mot de merde en français, et oui, je suis rendu à ce point là !) It originally house the LU biscuit factory (des petits beurres de LU, which is another pun for the Happy Birthday song). Dear Reader, I apologise for the years of therapy that you will need to get over that last paragraph. It’ll teach you to speak French!
Right, back on track. The Lieu Unique, which indeed is unique as the name suggests, houses not only an exhibition for introverts to take photos of for social marketing, but a bar, a reading room, a bookshop, and if I’m not mistaken, a hammam, as well as a whopping great tower. It is a hothouse of culture where you can get fed, drunk, steamed, and get some culture, leading to the acquisition of a little intelligence! Maybe, depending on the order you do each activity.
I was there with my fellow photographers, some of which were annoyingly extrovert, to live the experience of Art from Taiwan in the “Eye of the Cyclone.” The Lieu Unique boss, had, uniquely, gone to Taiwan in 2018, had been to an exhibition at The National Museum of Fine Arts of Taiwan, and had invited some of the artists to come to Nantes and show their work, purely an artistic venture. Since 2018, the world has changed not only through COVID, but also because China would like to get its hands on Taiwan for economic reasons and political ones. Taiwan came to the front in modern terms when the Kuomintang government who lost to Mao’s Communists, fled Mao and fled to the Island of Taiwan, setting up a new independent government, that China still hasn’t gotten over and is still very upset about.
In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle». In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ROC transitioned from a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy with a semi-presidential system. Taiwan’s export-oriented industrial economy is the 21st-largest in the world by nominal GDP and 19th-largest by PPP measures, focusing on steel, machinery, electronics and chemicals manufacturing. Taiwan is a developed country, ranking 20th in GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in terms of civil liberties, healthcare, and human development. Again, something that China isn’t overjoyed by. So as you can imagine, such an exhibition is as much political as artistic.
So now we have set the scene, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The expo itself. I admit not knowing a huge amount about Taiwan, however, since visiting the expo, I have read up to find out more about its history and culture. It’s Chinese but at the same time properly Taiwanese. I will include official links to the expo and the English documentation at the end of the article. But what I really wanted to do with this article was to talk about my experience of the exposition and the way the exhibits left their mark on me.
The first exhibit, Exhibit A, or Battle City – Scene, by Chang, Li-Ren, model, just blew me away with the complexity of the modelling and the realism recreated in model form. The artist came over for the oeuvre installation and I can imagine a rather rotund Asian chap on all fours adding details to his masterwork. Not based on reality, but the artist just wants to give an impression of what Taiwanese urbanism looks like. There are cars, housing, and motorbikes, but the whole place is devoid of people. It’s very eerie, yet totally fascinating and a photographer’s dream. The whole thing is massive (7600mm x 8100mm x 2600mm), and the attention to detail is fascinating.
Exhibit B, Future Shock, by SU Hui-Yu, video, talks about a dystopian future, unfortunately, a not-too-distant future according to the artist influenced heavily by the American author Alvin Toffler, where people are drowning in information, and unethical technologies. Maybe it’s happening already? Definitely though provoking and frightening in equal measure.
Exhibit C, Braindead travelogue, YUAN Goang-Ming. At first, you have the impression of traditional Chinese brush art, but with non-traditional means, like using markers, but also gold and jade. From the centre of the painting, shoot out 10 disks of images showing the artist marking his territory in the landscape.
Exhibit D? I’m going to keep the rest of the exhibition secret, because the idea is that you go and have a look yourselves, especially if you live in Nantes! Did you really think that I would or could reveal all? No! Leave them wanting more!!! Oh ok, you can have a few more pictures, but that’s your lot. Go down there and have a look. It’s free to visit; and you won’t be left unmoved… You really get a feel of what life is like in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”
I would like to thank Nantes Grande Angle and our guide, Tanguy, not only for his welcome to the uniquely Lieu Unique but also for his great expertise. The poor man even had a look at this blog to see where I would publish my write-up. Brave too, and probably already in therapy. I hope I have done him justice!
Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.
The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.
So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.
My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.
So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.
Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!
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!
Dear Reader, I may have mentioned before in previous articles that for my many sins, and to curb my pride, I am a musician, and some might even go further still, and remind me I am a horn player. As a musician, we can have a tendency to “do” concerts and play in them, rather than going along as a listener. I mean, of course, that we listen to our fellow musicians, especially when playing that music together. It is a team effort, after all. But not as a spectator.
Little did I know that when I went to taste some homemade beer at my friend Hervé’s house, he would invite me to take some photos of a concert he was playing in, on the 18th of June. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. An evening of taking photos and getting to listen to live music at the same time? What a way to spend the hottest day of the year so far!
We were rehearsing together the following Friday, and he said to be at his house at such-and-such a time, and that I should just park up in the driveway. There would also be my old and very much revered horn teacher, as in my previous horn teacher, and not my old new horn teacher, nor a teacher that is old despite his great wisdom. But that is a story for another day. Hervé was going to drive us to the concert. Jérôme, my very much revered horn teacher, plays in the same ensemble as Hervé. They are members of the Brass Quintet Arabesque, made up of instrument teachers from across my particular region of France.
So, I got into the car, turned on the ignition, saw the temperature, and promptly melted. 44°C! For those who only work in Fahrenheit, body temperature is 37°C, and 44°C is 111°F. My point exactly. By the time I reached Hervé’s house, it was a mere 40°C. A tad warm, even for me!
I drove up, parked, saw my horn teacher in very summery attire, but always with a hat, saunter up, and Smaug, the family Labrador, who you remember from my last article, who does not know what sauntering is about, just ran around the car three times and jumped up to say hello, being as friendly as ever. Bless him! We quickly went inside into the shade and cool. I do like a bit of cool from time to time.
We eventually got all the kit together in the car, thanks again Hervé for doing all the driving, and set off. The way to Guérande isn’t very complicated, and it’s pretty plain sailing. We talked about everything and nothing, about my presence at the Wind Band next year, and what alternatives I could think of, about the photoshoot from the previous week, about the various instruments and would we change instrument, how much it might cost to change, and what newer instruments could bring to the table, or should I say rehearsal room…
Parking in Guérande was a doddle, and we headed to the Collégiale, or church inside the medieval walls. We dropped everything off in the church, and things suddenly became very serious. Where would we eat? The first place we tried, a creperie, was no longer serving food, so we headed to Plan B. Plan B was fully booked, but was able to fit us in. Five brass musicians, one organist, and yours truly. Luckily I don’t seem to take up much space. Simon said he had to go and shave and came back with blood on his face. Michel, the organist that would be playing with the quintet, told us that the organ in that building needed a makeover and was basically shite. Out of tune, and half of it didn’t work. That’s something you don’t really want to hear when you don’t have a huge amount of time to have the pre-concert setup and run through. Another thing you don’t want to hear is that you’re all going to have to tune your instruments up to 444hz. This basically means you’re all fecked because your instruments have been in slightly warm cars. After all, it’s boiling outside and you’ll just never make it. The brass expands in the heat and therefore will sound flatter, and at 444hz you really need to be on the sharper side. It’s a bit like me trying to walk past a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea; it’s just not going to happen… Luckily the food arrived, as did the beers, and the puds. We were happy. I had all my camera gear, and most importantly plenty of batteries in case the batteries inside the cameras gave up the will to live. Some lovely shots were begging to be taken outside the church.
What I didn’t have, especially inside the church, was a whole lot of light. For photography, light is quite important. Understatement of the year contender again… This was going to be interesting. I had been fed by Arabesque, and now there was bugger all light inside, so photography was going to be a tad tricky.
Luckily, somebody turned on the lights and I was saved. Who said miracles never happen in the Catholic Church? They did this evening. The only photos I could take were before the concert actually began because afterwards the church would fall into darkness as there was going to be drone footage shown on a screen behind the Quintet as they played, showing the church in which they were playing. This was the main idea behind the concert. Through music and film, show people the church they were in from a slightly different viewpoint. It was great just to sit and take in the music. And take in the music I did. I was always told the importance of concert-going to musicians and how it helps us develop musically in so many ways. I only had to make an effort to sit there, make no noise, and just listen and be captivated. And captivated I was! I thought the tuning was fine and not at all the catastrophe announced by the organist. But I was just here to listen to some quality sounds and not to be a critic from the Times
The first half finished with the Toccata by Charles Marie Widor from his Organ symphony number 5. Any pedal notes that were missing from the organ were amply covered by the bass notes of the tuba that seem to just go right through you. It’s also a piece of music that has, amongst others, the ability to make my eye become all watery with emotion. I’ll leave it here for you to listen to.
The interval arrived. I say that but it didn’t really make an entrance. It just happened. The public was invited to walk around the church and rediscover images from the film in real life. They could also purchase CDs of the Quintet. 10€ each, or 20€ for three. They could also subscribe and have a CD of the programme, as well as make a contribution to the Association Résonnance, who gave their name to the entire project. It also meant that I could take more ambience photos and not be in anybody’s way.
Up until then, I had been using the Canon 6D Mark II which makes a tremendous noise when the mirror moves up to expose the sensor. I was worried that I would disturb everyone and switched to the comparatively silent Fuji XT2 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, which is a 24-70mm full-frame equivalent, so a good all-rounder for reportage. During the second half, I could be seen trying to move silently the way Corporal McCune taught me to so as not to disturb my fellow concertgoers.
The second half started with the horn and trombone playing a one thousand-year-old tune for the Easter celebration. Unfortunately, the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the second half had just started and some were still talking! As soon as the other musicians appear and Hervé started introducing the next piece, they seemed to get the message and promptly shut up! They lead us through time through the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic periods. They ended up with Aaron Copland, and music from Grover’s Corner, whoever Grover was. I suspect it wasn’t the same Grover that lives on Sesame Street…
After the concert, we did the official group photo, and eventually said good night and see back at Hervé’s house. It was midnight, much cooler, windy, and felt as if a storm was on the way. Jérôme fell asleep in the back, and Hervé and I just chilled, talking about this very blog and photography, especially the differences between being a good amateur photographer, and a professional photographer and how the two are completely different, in the same way, that I quickly realised when doing my music studies here in France. You have to produce consistently good results, and the pressure is on. They were already doing the concert debrief about everything that went wrong. I tried to reassure them that it wasn’t a competition and that as an audience member, I had a great time. Basically, the same things that I had been taught by Jérôme. If the audience is happy, then the audience is happy.
On the way home, we saw the sky fill up with lightning and thunder. It felt magical, and also the temperature had halved. It was a mere 22°C. It felt wonderful. We got home first and had a beer whilst waiting for the others to arrive. The others arrived and there was still some English beer for them, and some homemade beer too. It received the seal of approval from everyone present. We ended saying what went wrong with the concert and how it was a learning experience. I still thought it was brilliant. So there!!