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.

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?

La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

Good morning Dear Reader…

I seem to have a thing for old fashioned, black and white, low key portraits and as I evolve as a photographer it seems to be my “new thing” to learn about. The person who says he knows everything and no longer needs to learn is wrong and probably has his head up Where the sun tends not to shine. The beginning of wisdom is to know that we know nothing and that realisation seems to come with age, not for everyone, but for me at least.

I wanted to discover this world which was foreign to me. Now I seem to have a knack of being able to take portraits of places and let the viewer have a feeling of having visited those places and sharing my vision of these places.

But can I really I hear you say, “Even the news and documentary photographers can change the meaning of a photo just using the angle used to record the shot.” But there is still emotion.

Don’t forget that photography really does allow you to see what I see looking through a viewdinder at a given time and place. It is the only art that allows that. Paintings you say in disgust! But I would reply no since due to the very nature of that medium we are already in an interpretation of what the painter saw. We could say the same if a writer, especially depending on the skill of that said writer. We have a portrait, and a representation, but only photography permits you to to physically see what my eyes saw.

The next part against this arguement is about what we do in a darkroom or on software on our computers, I can begin to interpret my scene and maybe show you how I might have felt. This is what I try to do with my art.

I do this through my quasi exclusive use of black and white photography, and in a portrait session I can use my lights to give different feels. I will of course give you examples in the traditional gallery at the end of the article. The sitter or victim depending on your sense of humour, remains true to his physical representation as I don’t transform the person as people do in advertising or in fashion. If you have a so called defect, you’re keeping it. I’m not going to change your shape, or make your skin a smooth as a baby’s bottom, that’s your affair and not mine, but with angles and lighting and asking you to pose in different ways, I can change how people might envisage you and hopefully catch your essence on film or on my screen.

There is forcibly a certain rapport that is built, however temporary, but it will be as real as I can make it to make my representation of you as real as possible. And that Dear Reader, is how I see my role when acting a portrait photographer. With friends, and family this rapport is easier to create as it already exists and i am working on my introvert side to try and work through my shyness whilst still using my ninja introvert skills to get am image that is pleasing to all parties. It has to be a win win situation for both of us, the sitter, and the photographer, which allows the third party, the viewer of the photograph to feel something.

Have I been spouting a whole load of bollocks as usual, or is some this nearing intelligent observations? Who knows? I sometimes have these thoughts in my mind and I should probably get them down on paper more often. You never know when something worth recording might pop out of my brain. Yes. I have just woken up and the memories of my photo shoot yesterday and the previous evening’s time spent making selfies (however artistic) to try out my new light set up and get to learn what I can get out of it are still fresh in my semi conscious mind.

My sitter in this series was Sergio Uribe, how is a very dear friend and one of those people that wonder into our lives for a reason. The session was about showing him my appreciation and thanking him for being my friend. Strangely i can hear the theme tune to Golden girls in my head. I obviously am need of a cup of tea and some toast. Thank you Dear Reader for continuing to read what I say, and help me get up and face my Sunday…

The Lockdown Diaries Part 2

If you’re still here then it means that you’re still alive and not dead from Covid 19, or the light beer virus for those in the know, which is a good thing after all. Soooo…

Lockdown is officially over but it doesn’t really feel like it. People are still covering their faces with masks, which would have been a motive to arrest people during the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations. Strange how things change so quickly.

I have a tendency towards social anxiety that can be treated with beer, but not the light variety. I tend to withdraw into my room and not come out. For the others it must be like living in a Victorian Mansion where you don’t go onto the East Wing despite the ominous noises that come out from there. Or me being a legend like the depressive yeti, where it was once seen near the fridge but then vanished. I think I mentioned that my son’s girlfriend was living with us during lockdown, and then one day there was a knock on my door, and she told me she was going home to her mother’s. That came a bit out of the blue, and I went into anxiety overdrive, like why is she leaving, what had my son done, what had any of us done, I’m sure I always flushed the toilet, didn’t I buy her her favourite jam for breakfast etc. Apparently it had been planned all along. She was just there for the duration…

It’s strange how you can get used to a situation and then all of a sudden everything changes and you don’t know what world you are living in anymore. It’s like entering the Twilight Zone, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah….

Things are open here like shops, Mac Donald’s, schools and the like, but it’s not the same. The omnipresent fear of the dreaded virus is strong. No touching people, no being close to people, changes at work…. I hate it. Sometimes I’d rather be dead. Human kindness seems to have packed up ship and buggered off. Human warmth doesn’t exist. There is just this fear. People being short tempered and distant, and complaining about everything. Not just suspicious minds, but suspicious everything. The authorities say one thing one day, and then it changes. When we need strong leadership we realise that they are as shit scared as the rest of us and don’t know much more than we do. And yet life goes on, but I hate this life.

So what can I do about it? Not a lot. When I get to work I have to go through a checkpoint managed by my workshop bosses. They take my temperature, and put a small amount of gel into my hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore and you just go to your work station. The coffee machine has been shut off, and I really feel isolated in my stores. People used to come in and have a chat, but that’s gone. And I’m the lucky one. I have Alexa with me who plays me BBC Radio 2. The presenters do a great job, and it makes me feel less alone, but it’s not the same.

I know I shouldn’t complain and just keep calm and carry on, take it on the chin, and stiff upper lip and all that, but this situation is without precedent in my lifetime, and is slowly wearing me down. Thank God I still have my photography. It really is my only therapy and gets me out of the house and doing something constructive.

Talking about photography, let’s please, move onto something les anxiety inducing. The following photos are of the pond and prairie that I talked about in my last article. There is a mixture of digital and film photos. I have been exploring the notion of pushing film. This not involve putting a film canister in the table and nudging it forward gently, but not exposing it at box speed.

Let me explain. I buy Ilford HP5 Plus black and white negative film. Normally it is to be exposed at 400 ASA. However, by under exposing and extending the developing time you can get a little more contrast on the negative. Other consequences are that with less light, I can still have smaller apertures and get more in focus. I will get more grain but that’s fine. It adds to the analogue photo I think. You’ll see what I mean when you see the photos. There will be three galleries, one showing digital images, one showing the images from the film exposed at 800 ASA, and the last gallery showing images exposed at 1600 ASA. How does that sound?

This first gallery was taken with the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35 mm F4 lens.

This second gallery was taken on the Pentax ME Super with a 50mm F1.7 lens with Ilford HP5 but pushed to 800 ASA

This last gallery was taken on the Canon AE1 Program with a 50mm F1.8 lens on Ilford HP5 but pushed to 1600 ASA