There are as many approaches to photography as there are photographers. Some are top of the chain hunters with all the gear, going up mountains to get that special image. Some are machine gunners, shooting everything in sight, hoping to at least hit the target once. Some are scavengers, going out to know where people have already taken great shots, and just hope they can get something too. Others are fishermen.
And, of course, I identify as a fisherman. Now, in a time, long, long ago, before I tried to reboot a semblance of a musical career, I used to go fishing. I wasn’t a serious fisherman and didn’t have all the kit, but I had a couple of rods and knew what I could get put of them despite being a complete beginner. I wasn’t really bothered about getting a fish from the river, to out of the river, and onto a dinner plate. Even though it was an obvious bonus. It was about being outside. It was hearing the sound of the river as it was, about hearing the birdsong and about sharing something with my son. It was like a sort of mediation. You become so aware of every sensation, and it brought me so much peace.
I was far from being an expert, and getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a specofic spot just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t chuck in a grenade to get everything out of the river. Maybe I was a scavenger, without having the vain hope that they seem to have. I think it was my patience and gratitude for every fish that did it fr me. No instant gratification…
Could this apply to my photography? Possibly. Am I that hunter that will climb mountains to get that one shot? Well it has happened, but only because there was a funicular. Or because I was in Paris and knew that I was bound to get something on film. Or even in Nantes.
I have a certain amount of gear and a certain number of cameras. I know how each piece of kit works and what I can get out of them. But the most important thing is being out of the house. It’s about being to detatch oneself from the scene and becoming an observer who is conscious of what is going on around you. If you get that prize-winning photo, then great, and if you don’t, then great too. Just having a pit stop to have cake, and a nice cup of tea makes everything worthwhile.
When I used to suffer from anxiety, that fact of being able to detatch from a scene and become a mere observer did me the world of good. I was no longer in constant flight or fight mode. With my 40 years of this photo lark, I have managed to take one some of the basics and still manage to get a not too shabby hit rate. It’s about doing and not thinking. Yes, of course you think about your composition and your settings, but just taking everything in is far more important.
Some people have sport. Some have painting. Some have a multitude of creative pursuits that allow them to express themselves. It would appear that mine is exploring the world around me with a camera. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. The mere act of being out there exploring and letting the images present themselves to you can be enough.
Sometimes you have brunch and just feel that all is well with the world. Well, that Sunday, all was definitely well with the world, or at least, well with my world, which isn’t a bad way to be on a delightful sunny February afternoon. Out in town with my camera, well-fed, and just wandering around, seeing what would turn up in front of my camera.
If I were to be honest, I know that if I go to such-and-such an area, I will get such-and-such a kind of photo, so we can’t about wandering around aimlessly, but there was a sort of randomness… Sort of.
Get ready for some technical information, which will hopefully explain the style of photos that I am presenting to you today. When converting my images to black and white, I edited as if I had a red filter on my camera and as if I were using black and white film. When using this red filter, anything that is blue comes out in a darker tone. It’s going to be easier to use an image instead of a thousand words…
A lot of the photos that follow will exhibit this effect as if they were case book studies. You need the sky to be a certain way or it just won’t work, but when it does, you get the kind of image that jumps out at you. That and the 16-35mm lens, you can’t really go wrong. Mind you, after that delicious brunch, not a lot could go wrong…
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!
Sometimes you know that you’re going to get a reasonable couple of shots. The conditions just fall into place. Sometimes you have to break away from your Guinness and your parents hoping that they will understand.
We were out in the garden having a drink before eating that evening. It was a Sunday evening, and the day had been wonderful, and there was me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. It could! I had my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm lens which is a favourite of mine. The previous day’s sea mist had made a comeback. Now fog always makes for some very atmospherical photography as you can see here.
This view is what decided my parents to buy this house all those years ago when they first moved further north from Newcastle. With various winters and storms, some trees have had to come down, but that view through those trees just brings peace to any beholder.
As promised, I said I would share photos from my trip to Northumberland post by post. No novels, just photos…
I have got my need for colour out of my system. Maybe. Possibly. Well, never say never, and all that. I wanted to share some timeless black and white photography.
It was my first morning of photography where I sneaked a visit to Scott’s of Alnmouth for elevenses. There was the sea mist that you saw in my article Sea Mist. And when it cleared, it was an amazingly sunny day.
Not necessarily the best of conditions for photography, but as a photographer, I try to adapt to the day’s conditions. Lots of contrast etc. It also avoids getting up the crack of dawn. Thank you Dawn.
Does this mean that I am lazy? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not. When on holiday, I commence my day with a cup of tea (or maybe even more than one) and toast. It’s possibly time for a cup of tea right now. As I age graciously, I appreciate these simple pleasures of life. I also still have some Yorkshire tea! You’re jealous now, aren’t you!!
First of all, well done for not missing part two of this incredible recitation of fifty-something outings in a lovely part of the world, except where my wife is concerned. She didn’t come because of her great wariness of Paris and all things Parisian. I did want to come, which is how I can write this second instalment. Her loss. She just missed out on all the fun, fun, fun!
So, where was I? Definitely in a great mood, probably not in the fittest states if I were driving, and heading gently back to my hotel after having said goodnight to friends! I had missed out on pudding after my evening meal and knew that I had the Cyrille Lignac raspberry tart to look forward to. I found my room and actually get into it without having to call for help. It was a warm evening after a warm day, but the coolness of the evening was starting to arrive. O happiness, I could get my window open and still reserve my modesty with the blinds. I hit the deck. Well, I didn’t hit. It was like sliding into bed in a happy, sugary, raspberry mood and I drifted off to sleep. Hotel pillows seem to have this magical way of sending you off to dreamland….
I had set an alarm, just in case, but woke up at 6am. Far too silly, but it allowed me to emerge at a leisurely pace, which seems to be my general speed at the moment. Mass was at 11 am, so I had loads of time. Breakfast was between 8am and 10am. So definitely had loads of time. Now came the epic battle with the shower. Trying to work out how to operate it and not getting shot with cold water. Yay, it was possible and turned out to be a lot less challenging than I thought to begin with. I even got the rainfall showerhead to work. It was lovely just being able to chill, listen to Radio 2, and take my time without guilt. I floated down to breakfast, in an incredible mood.
Hotel breakfasts are something I quite enjoy. Self-service, and a chance for me to pretend to be healthy, with yoghurt, fruits, cheese, ham, pain au chocolat, cornflakes and, most importantly, a nice cup of tea. Once you figure out the various dispensing machines for the hot drinks, you’re fine. I finished before 10am to respect the fast before Holy Communion, and floated back up to the room and looked after my skincare and beard care routine. I may be a fat git, but I like to be a well-groomed fat git. Bag packed, and ready to check out knowing I could leave my bag at the hotel until my train, a very useful service.
The Church was on the Boulevard Montparnasse, just beyond the cinemas and cafés. It was a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady, and the frescos high up on the walls were perfect for visualising the episodes of the Rosary. An old lady came up to me and gave me a hymn sheet and the Parish bulletin. She was one of those sweet old ladies that you can’t just say no to. I saw others that tried but saw how futile it was. Obviously an old girl on a mission. Three priests as well. Music that brought a tear to my eye. It was lovely. After mass, I said my Rosary and headed off into town.
We had arranged to meet up at the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre which has one of those Art déco metro entrances that you see in all the photographs. I got the typical shot and regretted not having stayed around to get more detailed shots. Maybe next time. Because, as Arnie said, “I’ll be back!” We met up at the appointed time and meandered through the streets to the Funicular. I would not walk up those steps. Let me bring you back to the leisurely pace concept mentioned earlier. As we were going up, I showed them where I would probably have had a heart attack if I were taking the steps… We got to the top and spied an Irish pub. Well, it would be rude not to. We ordered a couple of pints from the typical Parisian waiter. The man was running around like a madman. We knew straight away that he wasn’t having a good day, showed appropriate empathy, and won him over. There was the pub itself, a speaker blaring out rock music, and the guy was covering three terraces. Another girl looked after serving the food. We waited, waited, and waited some more. We gave the order to the waiter, whose back was obviously giving him gip, and jokingly said he should try some cocaine for the pain. He jokingly replied that he was already on cocaine, and I think having seen him zooming all over the place, I believed him. It was just poor management, and a lack of staff, and they were doing what they could. Anyway, we were about to leave and the food came. Not the right order, but the right order was there fairly soon afterwards. We were debating if we shouldn’t just cut our losses and leave and just pay for the drinks. Anyway, we saw people coming up the stairs that we had given up on. Some were actually running up “and down” and “back up again” obviously being far too sporty for a Sunday Lunchtime. We saw a “pétasse Instagram” posing and being photographed by her mother. Obviously getting the Paris trip shot for her feed. Something I would never do… Maybe I should? Big dude being a “pétasse” and posing like a pretty, young, twenty-something. It could be style and a sociological view of beauty standards on the Internet. Or it could be bloody awful. Maybe not then.
We looked over the panorama of Paris, trying to identify the buildings we could see. I even saw a tower in Romainville near where I used to live when my wife and I lived in Paris, or rather just outside Paris, in those close suburbs you see on the news, but not for the good reasons. I do love living in the country. Sacré Coeur is an amazing church and crowns Montmartre like Our Lady, keeping an eye over Paris and the Parisians, making sure they do nothing too stupid. We wound our way through the narrow streets towards Place de Tertre, which had been overtaken by restaurant seating pushing the artists to the edges of the square. I kept my eye on Dom who was keeping his eye on Vanessa. It was mid-afternoon and after nearly 30K paces in the weekend; I was knackered, and those taxis were looking very appealing. We walked down to the bottom of the hill and saw a poor tourist being ripped off by the game of the three cards and you have to follow the Queen, etc. A good old-fashioned tourist scam. It was simple spotting each member of the team, and I felt sorry for the poor guy.
We arrived on the boulevard, but the heat, fatigue, and knee had got the better of me. I’m not good at goodbyes. In fact, I would even say that I hate them. We hugged goodbye, and I descended into the abyss of the Paris metro, arriving parched at the hotel to fetch my bag. I must have looked awful as the guy went and got me some water. Maybe looking like a fat old guy has certain advantages to it? I took my bag and crossed the road to the Montparnasse train station. I could buy some food and water. Knowing exactly where I would go to eat and drink, English voices that reminded me of young English public school boys filtered through. It’s always strange hearing your own language in a foreign country, even though you might expect it in Paris.
I was headed to the platform when my train came up on the boards. My electronic ticket worked and allowed me through the gates. I boarded the train and sat at a table for four. The other seats were taken, but being in first class, people attempted to be quiet. The lady opposite me offered to take my bag for me and put it in the rack at the end of the carriage. I felt guilty because it was heavy, but she was very gracious about it. My headphones and tablet gave me that sense of privacy and I watched YouTube on the way home. In the group chat, I informed everyone that my train was on time and I wished them a pleasant trip home. Normally it was planned that my son was going to pick me up at the station in Nantes, but Virginie told me to get a ticket from Nantes to Montaigu, which I did at Montparnasse and told me she would pick me up at the station in Montaigu.
Once home, I just got naked and went to bed, in a very non-sexy way. I just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible. Work would start at 5am the next morning. Not the easiest of things. It was a wonderful weekend, and I was so happy to have met up with friends from home and Sergio from Nantes. It was like having a bit of home coming to see me and was just what the doctor had ordered. With all the various Facebook posts and reels, and I suppose this article, we have dragged that weekend out to nearly three weeks. So Happy Birthday Vanessa. Welcome to the 50-year-old club. It would appear that it happens to the very best of us.
Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going? It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery. What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID. It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week. I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife. Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!
I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me. I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown. In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends. This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing. But the friendship from our childhood still held strong. I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen! I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.
So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun. Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris. The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside. She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country. It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam. She had become a human being. Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris. She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone. Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell.
So there you are. I would go on my own. I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either. It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.
I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels. I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris. In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going. I was in a great mood. It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend.
My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through. The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro. I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time. Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive. They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am. Then we played the game of finding the metro exit. With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready. Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel. I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her. Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron. Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?
We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by. So it would not be a dry weekend. Ah well! Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks. Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales. Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself. You’re only 50 once! We found the Grande Epicerie. Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either. It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic. They were both very impressed! Sounds good to me.
We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré. Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian. We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting.
Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic. We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew. We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street. Even Dom liked it. I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later. We ate, drank, and just talked the time away. Can’t think of a better way to spend time.
Well, actually I can. I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat. Not too far from the convent was a bakery. That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all. But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac. I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit. He knows of my weakness for cakes. The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class! They looked beautiful. I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me. I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.
We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me. The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.
Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter. I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner. However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks. You get a little something to nibble on too. We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us. The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse. We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”
Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans. The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly. Again, pure genius. By drink number three, Sergio arrived. Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.” Google it. The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well. Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine. Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language. It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am. Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl. Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette! We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!
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…
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?
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.
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…
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…..