Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!

 

 

Canon and the Helios 44-2 58mm

It was a Sunday after a night celebrating a friend’s birthday with a “couple” of drinks. Which meant I was a tad on the tired side. Not hungover of course. Let’s just say that I needed to move my booty and air my mind.

As those of you who know me might have guessed already that meant making sure I was fit to drive. I was fit to drive. Grabbed my Canon 6D Mark ii and stuck on the Helios 44-2 58 mm F 2,0 lens.

At 58 mm we are leaving the standard focal lengths and heading off into portrait lens territory. How bold of me! Especially as I would be using it on the streets of Nantes. It’s a M42 screw mount lens and therefore needs an adapter in order to work on my modern DSLR. Manual focussing and without focus peaking and with my bad eyes is not easy unless yon use the flippy outy screen and zoom in,which meant that even I could get some in-focus images.

The Helios is a Russian lens from the Soviet era and the build quality could be described as slightly solid. When I first bought it I had placed it on my dining room table. It fell off the table onto the tiled floor and damaged a tile… But you dear reader are sensible and don’t do that kind of sh*t so you’ll be fine.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the bokeh that this lens gives out. If you like creamy bokeh goodness with a bit of a swirl then you won’t be disappointed. Try and spot it as you look through the photos. The bokeh whores amongst you will not be left wanting.

La Rentrée – or Back to the Grindstone

Summer has officially come and gone, and I have finished my first week of work.  Is Summer just the month of August or does July count?  Whatever the case is it now time to look back and take stock? 

2020 has been a strange year, going for the understatement of the year…  At work instead of the usual four weeks off we were off for only three  weeks. We relaxed during the month of lockdown but I don’t think it could be described as holiday even though I was more than rested when I went back to work on the 22nd of April.

Fast forward to July.  In early February I had planned and booked a trip to my hometown of Hull for mid July as a kind of pre-vacation.  How very French of me! Well, that was the idea. Then Covid came and said maybe you might want to think again about that.  So I thought about it again and stayed in France.  I still went on leave, but stayed in France.

I went to Nantes and did some architecture photography, and Kate wanted to go to Paris, so we did.  Then it was off to Bretagne for the rest of the weekend. I got shouted at and escaped to do more photography, and offered a photoshoot to my sister in law and then my niece and daughter wanted to get in on the act.

Soooooooo….  my proper leave starts and my wife and daughter go off to see a friend and then on to see my mother in law. That Sunday I go off to do a photoshoot for a friend who wanted to record her pregnancy and share the sex of the baby.  It was great to see n old friend and share something so intimate with the couple.  They have asked asked me not to show the photos, but you can take it from me, parenthood suits both of them.

That night I was going to become a resident of Nantes. It was the first night of the holidays for a friend of mine from the pub. I knew that I was going to have a drink or two, so thought it wise to book a hotel room, as it would be less expensive and so much wiser than driving home under the influence….

The following Tuesday I had a photoshoot for a friend who does Yoga.  She wanted some photos outside so we went to the Chaussée des Moines just outside Nantes. 

The Thursday of that week saw me in Paris with the hero of the moment, Jean Guillaume! A great day out!  It was also the day that I required my now old camera.  The Olympus Pen EE S. 

I put a roll of film in it and took it out for a test drive.  What better place to do it than in the Voyage à Nantes. I have just finished scanning the negatives and might even get around to dedicating a whole article to it.  My daughter fell in love with it and has claimed it as her very own. I am presently in negotiations to reclaim it.

I finally gave into my daughter and she took the Olympus Pen, some colour negative film, and are had a father and daughter day in Nantes visiting the Voyage à Nantes again. She can be affair and a very fussy eater but hot that day.  Miracles can happen! That day I was test driving my new old Olympus Trip 35. My old one had decided that time was time, and it was time to retire. This new camera was made in May of 1971 so is older than me. I will scan those negatives today. Update: they are scanned and turned out the way I wanted so go me!

The last week of my hols arrived, and as the impetuous fool that I am, I had promised my daughter a last trip to Paris. That will teach me to make promises. Photos will follow. Honest!

I know this article as been a bit strange but it has allowed me to clarify things in that mess of a mind of mine so I suppose hasn’t been completely useless. At least you know what to expect in the coming articles.

Thank you Dear reader for bearing with me during this befuddle, and now you have an insight into how my brain works. I suppose I have to say it’s great to be back at work with structure, rather than the life a photographer for a short time. But I did enjoy the freedom to do what I love and keeps me going emotionally. I think back to when music was taking over my life and time away from work. Maybe photography is doing the same. I sincerely hope not. When I’m out taking photos, I don’t think. I do. It’s almost like a visual meditation. I feel free. I feel like I’m taking up a challenge to get the best images from what is around me. Sometimes that is the Eiffel Tower which is notoriously bad at playing hide and seek, or it can be the local duck pond, or of the vines. I really must start going to work earlier to catch the countryside that I drive through too. Lately on my drive to work, it’s at the exact time that the morning dew is evaporating and it gives a surreal look to the countryside. I reckon we’ll soon find out if I managed that.

Have a great week, sorry for not having written earlier but I needed to do my mental filing and sort out my memories of what Summer was all about. Whatever it was about, it wasn’t your usual Summer. But I’m not the only one that felt that. I, like a lot of you I think, crave a return to a relative normality where we can shake hands and hug our friends, where we don’t have to constantly worry if we have a mask or not, where we can connect again, and where we can become fully human again. And don’t mention Brexit!!

Les filles et un garçon

As I think I’ve already told you, I am in the middle of trying to learn about this portrait palaver! I had watched the videos, I had perused the books, I had bought the equipment, I just needed some willing victims. Erm, I mean models. I was going to see my perfectly dysfunctional family for the weekend in Brittany so I was going to have to charm them into sitting for me.

We were of course late and as usual it was my fault. Who else could possibly be to blame? Just remember that the previous day I had been in Paris with my 10 year old daughter. Now I’m not trying to invent excuses but I’m certainly claiming mitigating circumstances.

But it was still my fault. all my camera gear was downstairs and ready to be loaded into the car. My son was still with us and helped me. I had my backdrop, my flash, my camera, which is pretty important, my soft box, my trigger, and everything, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had forgotten the stand. I wasn’t going to go home to get it, otherwise I would never live it down and going 200km and back for a stand might seem a little unreasonable. I think reasonable is about 500 metres and I will still incur the wrath of my wife.

We made it in one piece and after a while I wasn’t being yelled at either. What I didn’t say was that I needed to fill the car with petrol and that was going to add on time. I also bought some water too. Hey, if you’re going to be late , then be late for a reason! The other reason was that there was loads of traffic on the roads too as it was the 14th July weekend. Our average speed for the 200km was 56km/h.

We settled in, and I unloaded my kit and started cursing myself for having forgotten that blasted stand, bordel de merde de mes couilles, but it’s a learning curve and I had just learnt to load everything myself so I’m sure of everything. Ah well, I was going to have to without the flash set-up and just use natural light.

The next morning my brother in law posed for me and gave me a chance to explain to everyone how the whole shebang worked. I also got a really good photo of him that won applause on his Facebook wall, which is praise indeed! We were going for the philosopher look….

my brother in law, Vincent.

Can you feel that 80mm F 1.8 bokeh creaminess? Just the right ammount to look like an understated sex symbol… Even I’m starting to get flustered!

The results had really given me a confidence boost and my sister in law was so impressed that she needed no coaxing to sit for me. It was going so well that my niece wanted in as well. My wife and daughter had obviously forgiven my short- comings and I ended up taking photos of all of them.

It was a fun moment and I think one that will be remembered for the right reasons. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

The Quiberon Peninsular

As any visit to my French family worth its salt, there is always drama. Drama and booze. This is why I refuse to drink whilst there. Usually everything is my fault. I am the immigrant after all! But this time it wasn’t me. I was in such shock that I had to go and lie down after lunch. I was respecting the ultimate French custom of the sieste. It was for digestion. And the fact that I was knackered always being alert for not saying the right thing and pissing everyone off.

So as I said, this time it wasn’t me, or my brother in law, who is the other family scapegoat. All of a sudden I heard world war three coming from downstairs. I thought it wise to stay in bed and pretend to sleep. One the fallout had fallen out, I risked going downstairs asking what the feck just happened and making sure everyone knew perfectly well that it wasn’t me this time as I wasn’t even there!!!

My brother in law doesn’t follow my zero booze rule, was just really mellow. A really nice bloke and we reflected laughing about our near 30 years of victim-hood. We are really in the Zeitgeist!

People had dropped off and disappeared to the beach before going to the restaurant that evening to allow my mother in law to just sit at table and be served. There is an important rule in her house that must be respected at all times. Anyone who has a penis is not allowed in her kitchen. I have a penis and therefore the kitchen is out of bounds. I daren’t even make myself a cup of tea, and don’t get me started about cake.

As usual,I had prepared the terrain. They know I don’t like going to sit on a beach. I don’t even go swimming. I’m so fat that there isn’t a swimming costume my size. Also those bastards from Greenpeace come along in their zodiacs and try and push me out to sea. The first time it happens, it’s all fun and games, but the second time I start to get slightly miffed! I therefore do not do beaches. What I do do is to take photographs. As I hadn’t partaken of the daemon drink I was able to drive, I could drive. I could escape. And escape I did. I actually thought about going to the pub in Nantes, but then I would really be up the creek without a paddle. It would almost be worth it, but I’m not a masochist!

I thought I would take my camera and go to Quiberon and go and see the Côte Sauvage, and a beach where I had already taken some nice photos with a film camera. Tell me if you want to see those film photographs then I might have to think about editing this post and add them later.

But here I was with my Fujifilm XT2 digital camera. I also wanted to use colour in these photos. I know…. Not black and white. What is happening to me? What has the world come to?

Sooooo, I was on the coast and in the zone. My mind was just doing instead of thinking. All reflective powers had been given up in order to concentrate of getting “the shot.” I like being like this. It is my coping mechanism. And you need this. Why is being with my mother in law like going camping? Because it’s so fecking intense!

I had done my first beach. I went to the first car park on the Côte Sauvage. I parked up and then started looking for shots. All of a sudden my phone goes off, and I have my wife yelling at me for being a fecking idiot and how in God’s name was I supposed to be at the restaurant on time. I learnt what a dick I was and how I never think of anybody else, and I’d bloody well be there at such and such a time.

I didn’t have the address and nobody had talked to me about time etc. But this of course was my fault. It’s a shame because you may have had more photos to look at. But I did what I could.

Let me assure you that I am still alive and despite being yelled at when I told them what time I would be there according to my GPS, I was still keeping it together man! I followed the exact route that the GPS sent me on, and I actually arrived at the same time as everyone else. I didn’t speed. I am not a sporty driver, I’m a middle aged fat guy who takes his time. O sweet irony. They couldn’t believe me. But the proof was there for all to see!

Let’s get back to the photos. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to leave any constructive criticism. PS I do actually like my wife’s family, and some of the members of said family are actually quite normal and decent people who are not psychotic or hysterical.

Saint Cado

Hi everyone. There’s going to be some of you who will be in shock at the end of this article. I’m presenting some colour photographs to you today!!! I know. You’re already scrolling down to check and see if it’s true, and yes it is. I have to keep all of you on your toes after all!

By rights, i should have been in Hull this weekend but because of Covid it just wasn’t going to be happening. I did however, go to Paris as you saw previously and spent some time in Nantes admiring modern architecture. On the Saturday I was being yelled at by my wife because if we were late leaving the house to see my mother in law it was of course my fault for not having been arsed to collect and prepare all my gear.

I had a few things planned you see. I wanted to use my in laws as willing victims for some portraiture so I needed my studio kit, and I wanted to walk along the beaches and coast so I wanted something light and wide that would allow me to do that too.

For the photos in this series I was using my Canon 6D Mark ii and the 16-35mm lens, which I think is my official favourite lens. I have a 24mm equivalent for my xt2, but it’s not the same. I also have a 77mm thread CPL filter (which I lost whilst shooting and now hate myself) and you’ll see why I wanted it with me.

It was 10h30 and I was to be back for lunch at 12h. That’s generally enough for a walk and to get a couple of shots.

I had decided to do all the Brittany Clichés that I could think of. Small boots, sea, and lobster pots. I’m on the coast, what else did you expect?

And this is why I wanted to use the CPL filter. Get the blues slightly richer, but most importantly to minimise the reflections on the sea so you too can see how clear the water was. And boy was it clear!

One of the first shots was of the trees and the light coming through and the great shadows. Probably a left over from my architecture photography a couple of days earlier. I also wanted the lens because it has image stabilisation, which I needed for inside the church as I couldn’t be bothered to hoy around my tripod.

I’m all for getting the right shot, but with a little effort as possible and taking advantage of what my gear will allow me to get away with.

So what do “they” say about wide angle photography? “They” say you have to have a foreground element that leads the eye to the background element. Because if you don’t it just looks boring. “They” say that you have to do this and do that…. I was just spending a bit of “me” time to get away from “them” so I did what the blooming heck “I” wanted to do.

I walked around the island of St Cado and saw how the view developed in front of me. I popped down to the reservoir where people would go to be blessed. I went into the chapel, and then back over to the mainland , to the car, and to lunch. I seem to have forgotten my phone in the car too. Oh deary dear. My bleeding heart. Best decision I made that day, I think. That and getting out to take some photographs.