My friend Hervé

I was at Mass, in Nantes, on a Sunday evening, and being appropriately prayerful, knees bent praying to prepare my mind for the sacrifice of the mass wondering if I was going to be able to stand up again. Despite my gammy knee, it wasn’t a problem. Mass started, and they were off.  During the entrance hymn, my director of music at my Wind band, but most importantly, my friend, Hervé, accompanied by his wife, and daughter, walk in and sit just in front of me.  We gestured hello, but you don’t interrupt the Word of God, and we saved niceties for after Mass.

It was a genuine pleasure to see him there and not just because we share the same faith, but just nice to see a frightfully nice chap, but also an all-around good egg!  We exchanged conversation and I said how wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the pub for a pint.  They’d had a long day, but to his utter disbelief, Veronica, acquiesced and we were given her blessing.  I suggested they park in the same place as I usually did and that we meet up.  We both knew where the pub (John Mc Byrne) was and headed off to claim our reward for obvious good behaviour.

They were already at the pub by the time I parked and so I walked up to join them.  Strangely my nose just seems to lead the way!  I saw him standing outside waiting for me and I showed him the best seats in the house, or for me, nearly a home (it’s where I see my friends).  I introduced him to Simon who knows nearly everything about sport, whiskey, and good places to eat in the vicinity, the Rob, whose jokes are almost as cringe-worthy as my own, and lastly to Gavin who is half and half…  Half Scottish and half French.  His parents are obviously to blame.

We commented on how the establishment wasn’t a bar but was a proper pub, and how nice his pint of Irish IPA was.  I persuaded him to taste a pint of O Hara’s Nitro, which is the nearest thing that I found to Yorkshire bitter over here.  We both seem to have similar tastes in beer, which helps in a friendship.  It’s unbearable when one likes lager and the other friend, beer….  It tuned out that he had some homemade Bitter that he wanted my opinion on.  Ah well, there goes a perfect reason to meet up again!  Fortunately, I was going to be on holiday during that week, so we set the date and time said goodnight to each other and headed home.

I asked if I could bring along my portable photography studio to take his portrait and he very kindly agreed.  At the appointed time, on the appointed day, I turned up with my studio and dog.  Molly wasn’t very sure about hanging out with a big very friendly, almost too friendly for her, beautiful chocolate Labrador, who was coming out of puppyhood and entering doggyhood.

I said she could stay in the car and left the windows slightly open so she would be fine and said that I would come back and check on her now and again.  Smaug, the Labrador, was put on one side of the house, and Molly decided she could stay by my side and still be OK.  We tasted the beer and were unanimous in our praise of this wonderful concoction.  Then the photoshoot.  Hervé already knew that I dabble in photography, as do you Dear Reader, and was most impressed when I set up the studio.  I was quite impressed by it too because it was only that afternoon that I had back to revise how to operate my speedlights and trigger.  The first shots were more to break the ice, not just for Hervé but also for me, and already we were getting some good shots.  He played me a recording of a new project launched by the Brass Quintet with whom he plays and has my old horn teacher as the horn player.  It was amazing.  They were playing in church with a massive organ played by the organist from the Nantes Cathedral.  Wow, that is all…

We then go the instruments out.  First the E flat tuba.  I thought, let’s just break him in gently.  Then I went back out to the car to get my horn and make him look like a proper musician with the most beautiful instrument from the orchestra in his hands.  We would suggest to the horn teacher that Hervé had finally seen the light and wanted to convert.  Then we messed it up by getting out his conductor’s baton.  All in all, we were having a laugh, talking, just as friends will be want to do.

I ate with them and by the time I left that evening the two dogs had even sniffed each other and were even respecting their own private space.  That Smaug is one lovely dog and not at all dragonlike as his name suggests.  He’s a big softy.  A bit like myself Dear Reader…

How was your weekend?

Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment.  The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error!  Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war.  Let’s keep praying for them!  What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?

I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there.  You can hate me later.

On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening.  I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest.  During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens.  As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II.  The infamous 16-35mm.  If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup.  I love the distortion that this lens gives me.  It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them.  “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that! 

So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it!  I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change.  I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive. 

Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone.  I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it.  I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day.  I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that.  Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration.  You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…

There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time.  That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.

I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time.  If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it.  Sometimes it’s just not your day.  It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day.  Be stubborn.  Keep going.  Don’t give up.  Show the buggers what you can do!

Here are the photos.  Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think.  How should I change my approach for the next time?

February Continued…

In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it.  The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again!  I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time.  Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you.  When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed.    The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me.  A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.

I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside.  The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera.  How was I supposed to resist?  As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that!  I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots. 

Everyone says to shoot in RAW.  I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!”  Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling.  It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed.  The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do.  I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance. 

On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2.  Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter!  I’m talking photography!!

So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.  

P.S.  I think I found the banana….

The FED 5

Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me.  It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything.  It was my first camera.  I was heartbroken.  To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car.  Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss.  It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me.  My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.

It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital.  Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result?  At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing.  Like most of us I was looking for something authentic. 

I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life.  With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth.  My Praktica MTL3 was dead.  It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker.  It was a stiff.  Bereft of photographic life.  It was resting in peace.  It was pushing up daisies.  Its metabolic processes were now history.  It was off the twig.  It had kicked the bucket.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3!  Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence!  So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch.  Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras.  It was either that or becoming a lumberjack. 

Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200!  So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.

On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras.  There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life.  I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition.  And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost.  Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce.  It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us. 

Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German.  One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.

So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video  must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences.  I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page!  I can tell you’re impressed.

Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life.  But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things.  As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia.  Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar.  The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter.  The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me. 

I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia.  Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.  The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990.  It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography).  It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second.  What more could you ask for.  The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on.  Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…

To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera.  This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”.  One dial is for the speed of you your film.  Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc.  For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT.  It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure! 

As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter!  Don’t even bother trying.  I never have, and it still works today!

Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR.  As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully. 

Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway.  The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out.  Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me.  It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons.  Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own!  You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens.  There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait.  Shooting from the hip. 

I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information.  Really great, and almost useful.  But pray tell, is it any good?  What’s it like to shoot with?  Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? 

Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations.  Firstly is it any good?  It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on.  I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge!  What’s it like to shoot with?  Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat!  What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder.  You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was.  That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about.  It works mate, it works!  You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do.  Is it worth me looking into?  All depends on what you’re looking for.  If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on.  I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you!  Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?  Who am I to refuse such generosity?

The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée  in 2016 and feature my daughter.  The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes.  C41 for those in the know.  It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday.  It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression.  I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo.  We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…

Le Concert

As I said a couple of articles ago, for my many sins, I am a musician.  In 15 minutes I will be on stage playing in a concert.   It’s almost an other-worldly experience.  Random thoughts wondering through my mind.  I know I turned off the iron, because I did my ironing yesterday.  But on the 45 drive minute drive to the theatre I was just taking in the landscape and the colours of Autumn, telling myself that “that” would make a nice photo. Capturing the autmnal colours of the trees, seeing those that were in all their warm coloured glory.  Wondering if I should use a 50 or the 16-35mm zoom.  Well in that very instant the answer wasn’t a problem.  I was driving and not taking photos.  Michael Ball was on Radio 2 talking about Children in Need and giving praise to those fund raisers that keep the UK going.  I was there and yet so far away in my mind. 

I was sat down on stage at the correct time, secretly hating all those who were there before me making me seem late. 8 minutes to show time.  Thoughts in my mind telling not to screw up such amd such a passage.  And thinking that in Mars I start the concert with a bass horn solo.  So no pressure then.  Once it’s  over I’ll be in the action and not thinking anymore.  Looking forward to the horn section solo in Jupiter.  No need to play too loud, but on the contrary, just be present with a large sound and enjoy the shit out of it!

Time to go and I’ll  finish after the concert or maybe at half time.  I don’t  know yet…  You’ll just have to see.  It’ll be a surprise. 

Well that could have been worse.    I mean it wasn’t disastrous, but little details could have made it better.  Lack of concentration maybe.  It’s  a long hard slog after all. 

I’m not saying that I feel like death, but….  I tried to die quietly which is all anyone can ask of you.  The cold seems to have to descended onto my chest, so thankfully no sneezes but quite a few coughs.  Each one on a down beat of course…

Next up is the de Meij Symphony.  Let’s  hope we give proper tribute to the composer that introduced us to the inner workings of his composition.  After that home time, and if I have the energy I might develop some film.   I have a backlog of films to get through. Just arrived in the car and the choise seems to be pub, or home…. Decisions, decisions

It ended up being home. See you next time for an other enthralling episode…..

The Contradictory Contradiction

I have a friend here who said that I am always contradicting myself and that it isn’t logical and how can I say two things at the same time, and I replied that the two things, although contradictory in appearance, are both as true.  That person is a production of French education with philosophy as the subject that all French teenagers go through to learn how to think the way the Education Nationale tells them to think, under the guise of learning all about freethinking and critical thinking.  I, however, am a lot less French despite what some people might like to think, and I will think any blooming way I desire, with or without contradictions.

I’m not talking about my mental state, for once, but photography.  I love both digital photography and analogic photography.  I am bewildered by modern technology and could be classed as a geek, and yet the experience of using old technology that is obsolete for some gets me all excited as a small child waiting for Father Christmas, but being told by their mother to go to bed, otherwise, he won’t come.  It didn’t stop me from waking up at the crack of dawn, and I think my parents might have regretted the decision to buy me a guitar for Christmas and hearing me playing at some ungodly hour of the morning.  As a 49, fat middle-aged gentleman, I can understand them, but my 6 or 7-year-old self didn’t and couldn’t imagine the disturbance that I had caused them.

Oh, how times change!  While I’m on the nostalgia train going to the “good” old days, I have vivid memories of a drawer at my grandparents’ house, where my mother was brought up, and in whose room I would be staying.  Inside this drawer, many “old” things just fascinated me.  It could be my grandfather’s old plumbing ruler or golf tees.  It could be anything but it was an entrance into another world for me.  My grandmother’s kitchen, because at that time, my Grandfather wouldn’t be in the kitchen, was a place where everything was from the 1930s and it all just fitted together.   There was the Anderson shelter, which had been turned into a proper pantry, was a relic from the Second World War where they would have sheltered from German bombs falling on the town and trying to stop my Great Uncle’s shipyards from operating correctly.  My Great Aunt would drive around in an ambulance taking care of casualties.  Amazing people from an amazing time. 

What does this have to do with photography?  Not a huge amount, but is that a problem?  Oh yes, it tells you about my fascination for the old and very new.  I have “a number” of cameras, the eldest being from the 1940s and the newest from 2021, with nearly every decade being represented in-between the two dates.

So I was going somewhere with all this.  Ah yes, lately I seem to be getting back into film again.  In the last but one article, you may have seen the photos from the Mamiya, which is a relatively modern camera being from the early ’80s.  Well, this time, I’m still using a camera from the 1980s, the Pentax ME Super.  For once, I wasn’t using Ilford HP5, which is my “go-to” film.  No, I decided to be different and get out of my comfort zone, and use a new film.  I say new film, I mean Rollei has been around for donkey’s years, but this was a “new to me” film.  May I introduce you to Rollei RPX 100.  I never use 100ASA film, but was turned by Fomapan 100, which you can see in the photos from the Hangar à Bananes.  A fine-grain film, especially when you compare it to the grain from HP even when shot at box speed, let alone 800ASA or even 1600ASA.

The film was developed in ILFOSIL 3, and I thought it was great.  I tried in town and country and was thrilled.  The thing that pleased me the most was that it kept flat, which means a lot to somebody who has ever tried to scan film. The last time I bought a film I played wild cards, and it was also a lot cheaper than HP5 which is a very convincing argument.  I still dream of Kodak Portra 160, but it is getting more and more scarce, and therefore more expensive.  A beginning of the month kind of film.  Oh look at that, my pay has just gone in…

So yesterday evening I was scanning a film my son had shot on a 1960s Kodak camera, and thinking about how he has changed since 2016 when I picked up my Fuji XT2, a slightly more modern mirrorless digital camera. I hadn’t used a modern camera in quite a while and it almost felt foreign to me, and yet familiar at the same time. My fingers seemed to find the controls without looking very far, and it felt very natural.  Maybe my love of digital and analogue isn’t that contradictory after all?

Now it’s time to show you the results of the Rollei RPX 100.  I liked it and am happy I bought more than one roll.  The camera, as I think I said earlier, was the Pentax ME Super.