L’œil du Cyclone

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.”

Links and all that:
Le Lieu Unique
Nantes Grande Angle
The documentation in English (pdf file 0,99Mo)

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!

He’s still wider…

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!

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!                                          

A View from the Garden

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.

Enjoy and find your peace…

Alnmouth First Day of Photography

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!!

Parisian Nights.  Part II.  Montparnasse et Montmartre.

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.