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!                                          

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!

Off to see the King

At work lately we’ve been having four day weeks and it’s wonderful! There are slightly fewer orders coming in but that’s OK. There’s enough to keep everything rolling by. And who doesn’t love having a day off? Those who said not me, are either liars or simply mistaken.

So that Friday I decided that I wanted to stay away from the house and get my booty off somewhere to take photos. But where? While I was edging closer to be a full time professional musician I did a spot of teaching in a place called Vihiers. It’s miles away, but still a nice drive out. I stopped edging towards music, and photography has taken over. One of my pupils talked about the Abbaye de Fontevraud. I looked it up on the Internet and started learning about it.

I’m half English and part of that is being real with the French. They need this. During and before the Hundred Years War, this area of France was English, and our King was their King. Those of you who aren’t English might have heard of Robin Hood, who looked just like Kevin Kostner and had a mate who looked strangely like Morgan Freeman. There was the Evil Prince John who became King when Richard the Lionheart (who looked really badass and you could mistake him for Sean Connery) went off on a Crusade to show just how badass he really was. Their mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, her Husband Henry Plantagenet, their son Richard (the famous badass), and Isabelle d’Angouleme who was married to John. Her bad… We all make mistakes.

So this is kind of crazy for me who enjoys history and discovers more of the Anjou region which is just down the road from the Vendée. On the way I recognised a place where I used to buy foie gras when we first moved here. I called in on the off chance of being able to make a purchase and take something good home for my family. It’s changed a bit since 15 years ago, and offers different products. I left some money there and felt happy about buying something directly from the producer that was made on site etc. And it tasted really good too.

Sooooo… I turn up in the Village of Fontevraud l’Abbaye and I even managed to find the said Abbaye. 11€ for the entrance ticket, which seemed reasonable.

A bit of history here for those who can’t be bothered to click and have a read. Basically, the abbey was founded 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. It developed and flourished during the Plantagenet era, went downhill after the Plantagenets were no more, however by the Hundred Years War things were going downhill, and during an inspection in 1460, the abbey was found to be barely inhabited. Fast forward to 1457 reforms were introduced by the then abbesse Marie of Bretagne. Louis the XI gave the place his blessing and the place started to really try to get back on its feet again, but without a huge amount of success. In 1491 there came Renée who was from the French Royal family (the Bourbons, french royals and not the rather tasty biscuits or whiskey). I’m not going to translate the whole of the French wikipedia article but you get the gist right? Things got better, and by the time the French decided that Royalty wasn’t for them during the French Revolution, things were OK!

However as the revolutionaries weren’t into Royalty and because of the so called “Enlightenment” philosophies, they weren’t into religion in a big way either. That continues to this very day. I promise not to get political! They basically get rid of the nuns, and by 1804, Napolean, yes him again, decided to make the place a prison, and it remained so until 1963.

When I went there I wanted to feel the Royal side with Richard the Lionheart and feel the medieval legends in the walls. But I’ll risk being contraversial, and say that I felt more the “prison vibe” and it might be because of the less than sunny autumnal weather, but I could feel the buildings being a place of great suffering. Quite ominous in fact.

Since 1975 it was converted from a prison into a Cultural Centre for the Region. You can see a few “colour” photos of the latest art installation which was very impressive.

Would I go back? Possibly, but not in Autumn.

Back in Paris

I’m happy to tell you that I am feeling better than I was when I wrote my last article. Mentally I seem to be on waves and at least now I know things will get better. At the moment I seem to be OK. Right now we’ve got that said we can go on. In another article I had talked about photos that I had wanted to share with you all.

As you can read in previous articles, my first visit with Kate to Paris was based on where “she” wanted to go, and this visit was to be no different. Kate had decided on the Louvre and Eiffel Tower for our first visit. This time it was going to be Les Invalides and the Champs Elysées.

During this last visit to Paris I was with Kate and we started off checking out Les Invalides to make sure that Napoleon was still dead and wasn’t up to ruining Europe. He is still dead, but maybe over compensating with his huge tomb. Maybe he was the Petit Caporal after all. Maybe…. Anyway, our modern day politicians are managing to mess everything perfectly well by themselves. Did you see how I got political and edgy without mentioning any names there? As I told my father the other day, it’s not a good day if you can’t make a dig at the French or make a small child cry.

So back to Paris, hoping to avoid the train adventure from the visit with Jean Guillaume. It was a lovely day and we were ready to have some serious fun. Foot wear and walking stick in hand, we were ready. We arrived and of course headed off to Marks and Spencers to get an early lunch. Oh shock and horror, they hadn’t been delivered with sandwiches. I was devastated. I wanted a bite of my childhood again. But it wasn’t to be. We got a couple of salads and some fruit and headed off to the little park where I had eaten with Jean Guillaume.

Then we had to revisit the Metro. I still love the metro for it’s different stations and all the tiling. It just has a little magic of its own. I know that with the crowds of Parisians, police, delinquents, junkies begging for money etc, we might have a tendency to forget it. I think as I am no longer a regular user that I am no longer blinded to all that. And don’t forget, it was still August where all the Parisians bugger off on holiday and leave their town to us tourists.

Anyway back to the visit. At Les Invalides we were greeted by the Gendarmerie Nationale who wanted to check our bags and make sure that weren’t going to do anything naughty. We were fine and headed off to buy our tickets. The first display showed horses with various bits of armour and mannequins showing how dashing French Cavalry Officers used to be. Luckily for the British, our Cavalry was better and we actually got quite good at thrashing Frenchie and giving him a damned good whooping…

We saw huge amounts of swords, and I still don’t know why we don’t pronounce the “W.” But it does explain why we nicked the idea of the Busby from the French for our Guards in the Household division. Those swords could do a lot of damage.

We worked our way around and looked at various weapons that the French had and imagining the damage they could inflict on somebody. We saw the works of Vauban and his genius in building defences. We saw exhibits from the First World War in which my grandfather fought, and exhibits from World War Two, that despite what they might like to believe wasn’t won by the French even though they might have come a close second if we’re being gracious with them. We got on to Indochine where the French started giving up their colonial possession’s, including North Africa, but we don’t talk about that, and then on to the Cold War. Which technically we won, but should have been much more gracious in victory and maybe we wouldn’t be having the problems we actually have in Russia today.

Anyway… We managaed to find the exit and after passing through the gift shop buying here a couple of BD’s in the series that she is reading, about French kids during the Occupation. It was time to check on Old Boney!

The building that houses him is beautiful. Very French. Stylish, and the tombs are amazing. Some dedicated to Generals who gave their names to so many streets in France. Foch, Vauban, Turenne, de Lattre de Tassigny, Philippe Leclerc de Hautlecocque. Even the Capitaine Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle who wrote the French National Anthem. Ok, so they’re not all bad however French they may be…

It really was very inspiring, and I almost feel guilty that the British beat the French at Waterloo. Almost…. It is true that we the Prussians with us, and that Napoleon’s artillery was rendered useless by the mud. OMG, I’m turning into one of them. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp Meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Back onto the metro and up to the Place de l’Etoile. Kate wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe that we usually see on TV when the Gilets Jaunes weren’t very happy with the little Manu, and the police wanted something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, it really is quite impressive. Kate wanted to visit the Champs Elysées, so visit it we would. I had decided to walk from one end to the other. It is supposed to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, and at Christmas time, when it is all lit up it really is very special. That day it was still pretty good though.

Kate was getting peckish and it was time for this photographer to have a coffee. The place we ended up was bright yellow and you might need some sunglasses if you go there. The Café Joyeux is an amazing place. Their staff are mentally handicaped, and managed by team leaders who guide them and help them have a meaningful job and career. The service was impeccable and everything felt so natural which is a fitting tribute to their professionalism. It really is a very “Joyeux” experience, and if you’re in Paris then please drop in and see them. Oh, and the coffee is amazing too. It’s a proper café and not just a social project. We have to power to change things.

We continued our trip down the Avenue and saw the original Guerlain Shop that was opened in 1914. Now the Parisians are just amazing at making things that are beautiful, and here it was particularly true, and everything smelt amazing.

For her upcoming birthday I had decided to buy my daughter some clothes on the Champs Elysées in H et M. Ok it’s not the most luxurious of brands but there was that little extra special feeling because of the location, and the trip was about Kate and not necessarily me. We came away with two dresses, some shoes, some hair stuff, and somewhat poorer, but it was her birthday after all…. And during a Daddy daughter day, stuff like that happens.

It was just lovely having time together and walking together. She was wearing Doc Martens boots with a bit of of a heel, but she managed to keep going. We would sit down and just breathe. I love that corner of Paris and always will do. We arrived at the Place de La Concord where the French decided to end the Royalty a little more brutally but guillotining them and it is amazing how beautiful a place it is now compared to the place of suffering and bloodshed all those many years ago.

We managed to get to WH Smiths before it shut to get a goodie bag with all kinds of sweets, pickle, and tea to take home. Kate fell asleep on the train home. Which isn’t surprising for a girl who had walked more than 22.000 paces in one day. Bless her cotton socks.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.

Pegasus Bridge

This is the first in a series of posts about Normandy, and now you know where I went on holiday this year! Having lived in France for so long Normandy conjures up images of apples, cider, Calva, and Normans amazed by the fact that you can actually eat apples and not just use them to make alcoholic drinks.

It conjures up images of rain for the French, and I jokingly remind them that the British go there for the “good weather!” It conjures up history by the bucket load, William the Bastard, who became William the Conqueror, and the Bayeux Tapestry which is 1000 year old propaganda, and sparked off a rivalry between the two countries, which lasted for centuries, and still does especially when we beat the French at rugby. It conjures up images of landings made by Allied troops on the 6th of June 1944, to free France and Europe from Nazi occupation and tyranny.

This article is about one of the places where one of those battles took place. Please take the time to click on the various links to Wikipedia to learn more about the operations and people involved. Thank you.

To some Pegasus Bridge might mean nothing but to others it means the end of Nazi occupation in Normandy, France. Madame Arlette Grondée is the same age as my mother and witnessed the Second World War first hand. On the night of the 5th of June, just before midnight, three gliders containing airborne troops landed just across the canal from where her parents ran a café. That café is still there and so is Madame Grondée. I know, because I asked her for a photo and she very kindly agreed. It’s not every day that one meets a legend, and part of history.

I visited this area as a boy and I lust have been the same age as my daughter is now when I was last there. But as an adult, the whole thing has an other dimension to it. The bust of Major Howard (Company Commander of “D” Company, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and part of the 6th Airborne Division) is on the exact site where the three gliders landed. It’s literally on top of the bridge!

Operation Deadstick was a success and a vital victory in the D-Day Operations. The dead were buried in the Parish Cemetery in Rainville, and amongst them is HD Brotheridge, the first British causality of the actions in Normandy. To the left of his grave is a plaque put up by the Grondée family in recognition of his sacrifice.

The tools of the trade that day were the Canon 6D Mark II, and the Canon 16-35mm lens.

Certain images from this gallery can be purchased for a limited time here