Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

Cloé in front of my lens

It was last Friday, and we were only doing 36 hours this week at work, so I was free on Friday afternoon. I like to go and visit my son, and his girlfriend, as I know I’ll be allowed to have a nice cup of tea and be able to talk photography without being told how boring I am. My daughter-in-law asked if I would like to come round as she was doing a photoshoot with somebody from Instagram. There was a friend to do make up and hair, and we would take it in turns being made up and photographed. Sounds like a deal right?

I of course turned up to early as they were getting the other girl from Nantes. I was asked if I could get pizza and off I went to get pizza; It’s easier like that. I got back and everyone was there. Elise, my daughter-in-law, Maureen, to do the make up, and Cloé the girl from Instagram who was along for the ride. That morning I had piled up all my gear and put it in the boot ready for the off. I had a couple of lights and some modifiers for speedlights. It was going to be a good day. Tea, and pizza in the same phrase has to be a good omen.

Elise does a bit of YouTube and has a three light set up for her videos. Fine for video but not so good for photography. As you might have seen I have been exploring the use of artificial light in photography and seem to be on the, if not right path, then certainly a path that is taking me somewhere. So, I wasn’t a fan of these video lights and thereofre set up my own. A flash, that would flash into an umbrella and the light would come back through an translucent white diffuser giving off a nice soft light. Yes I’m a big softy! I had a new led light to act as a hairlight, and was able to turn the power down so it wasn’t too harsh.

Elise started off and it interests me immensely to see somebody else start working and see how they interact with the model. The model being Cloé already made up by Maureen. I would take the occasional “behind the scenes” for Elise. I wasn’t happy with the light, so when it was my turn I turned everything off and just allowed my lights to work their magic. i’m becoming a fan of this soft light and seem to have understood the basics of how it might work and what it might do for me.

Cloé wa already “warmed up” if you can say that, and we started talking about her complexes about the way she looks. I showed her the first photos that we were getting and she seemed happy with the way it was going. I shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It means that I can see my black and white image on the screen and it gives me an idea of what I will achieve later whilst editing. I will however only edit my RAW file, as each pixel contains so much more information than a JPEG file, and although less destrucive than back in the day, it is still a feature of JPEG files even though they have progressed immensely over the last 15 years.

We kept talking and caught her laughing at some of my Dad jokes that she hadn’t heard before. I would see a picture I like and then activate the shutter. The first few reminded me of Anne Frank, and what she might have looked like had she have survived the war. Now I’m feeling sad about all that suffering in the camps. What an utter waste of human life.

Anay, we kept going and the feeling of the photos changed and looked slightly more modern. It is 2021after all. I switched to the X100F which is usually for street photography but holds it’s own in a studio environment, and the 35mm equivalent lense was great for getting some full body shots. The fact that Cloé was sitting on the floor gave a very flattering angle and I think I might just have to do it more often.

Before showing you the photos I would like to say a huge thank you to the three girls forputting up with me and the very generous feed they gave me. It gives one such a boost, and at the moment it’s a wonderfull thing to have. Covid is getting right on my wick, and although I know that this situation is temporary, it feels slightly less temporary.

So the tools used for this shoot… Canon 6D Mark 2 with a 50mm F1.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100F with a converter so I could go from a 35mm equivalent to a 50mm equivalent. The fash was a GODOX TT600 speedlight with GODOX X1T triggers.

Jean Guillaume ce héro!

I am truly blessed. I have some very good friends that are wonderful people.  Jean Guillaume is one of those people.  He personifies kindness, gentleness and positivity, and an example for us all. No wonder he got to marry Stephanie who is just as wonderful!    You may remember in a previous article that I went to Paris with my daughter.   It was a great day out, but I of course had to put my daughter first.  So I did, but I did say that I would go back to do some photography on my own so I could concentrate on capturing images and not to have worry about somebody else. 

Now some of you may know that I frequent a certain establishment in Nantes and some of my friends seem to hang out there too.  Some are in front of the bar and others behind the it. I was sitting outside talking and Jean Guillaume comes along to meet up with his wife who is with us.  We’re all talking and I let loose that I’m going to Paris on such and such a day and he says he’ll be in Paris with his Mum and that we should hang out.   What a great idea. Sounds like a plan.  I needed to go to the barber’s and he should probably come along with me. We are men, but sometimes we need pampering too.

It’s decided we’ll go and get ourselves done at the barber’s. I look up various addresses online and get us booked in to Grizzly Barbers.  The name sounds fun and I get him the works. He deserves it. Self care is important and it’s good to be good to a friend when you can. 

My wife and daughter had gone off to see a friend north of the Loire and it was half way to her mother’s house so they went up there too. 

I was a “free man” but used this freedom to get myself sorted out.  So Thursday came around and I headed up to Nantes to get the train to Paris.  1st class was only 5€ more so decided to treat myself.  Slightly larger seats and a bit more leg room.  And you get to feel extravagant.

I was on time for the train except my electronic ticket didn’t want to work.  I tried pushing up the luminosity of my phone but to no avail.  The departure was getting closer and the guard called Rennes, who told him that my ticket was valid and I was allowed on the train accompanied by the guard.  The train journey itself was fairly uneventful which is a good thing and my friend asked which wagon I was in and that he would meet me off the train.  I arrived and headed towards the top of the platform, and after showing him a photo of exactly where I was he said turn round and  saw him!  My first stop would have to be Marks and Spencers to get a picnic lunch.  They have sandwiches which are like having a bite out of my childhood and spark so many memories.  He knew the area and we went off to eat in a park.  It was wonderful just chatting and sharing.

Sitting in the park chatting.

After we had eaten he showed me around the Montparnasse Quartier where he used to live and hang out. It was all very beautiful and very Parisian.  I explained that the only imperative that we had was to be at the barber’s for 1pm, and prepare ourselves to look great afterwards.   It felt good to back in Paris and it was great being there with a friend.  I knew a little of the area but was far from knowing it an intimately as Jean Guillaume.   There were some great photos to be had and he was so patient waiting for me each time and telling me that I was about to be run over etc. 

With time flying by we headed to the car and drove to the barber’s  and managed to find a space just outside.  I was amazed!  I would be scared poopless driving in Paris by my friend seemed to thrive on it.   Maybe the fact of it being August and really empty helped.  They had all gone on holiday!  A word of advice to anyone visiting the capital. Go in August, half  the people aren’t  there and the half that are still there seem to just want to chill!

and managed to find a space just outside…

When you enter Grizzly you can tell that it is a very high end and high quality barbershop and the service was excellent.  My barber and I talked about our mutual passion for photography as he shaved my head the old fashioned way, and then proceeded to do my beard.  I made sure my barbershop virgin friend got the whole whack.  Hair cut, beard cut, getting his nostrils waxed, and a neck massage to finish with.  He deserved it.  It’s important for guys to have a guy place for being pampered.  Even if you don’t go every week, it’s worth it maybe every three months.  It wasn’t cheap, but so worth it, and worth every cent!   I’m looking forward to going back.  Definitely an experience.  Jean Guillaume was certainly more than happy with the whole shebang and felt fabulous, and looked great!  What more could you ask for?

felt fabulous, and looked great!

I spotted a camera shop and we parked up and went in.  It was like a child entering a sweet shop with many things of great beauty.  I saw a 15mm lens for my Pentax ME Super, but at 1350€ I thought it might be difficult to justify spending as much.  And my wife would kill me!  I did however come away with a little Olympus Pen EE S half frame camera which is something I’ve been looking for for such a long time. An amazing find, and the day I go back to Grizzly, I may have to go back and visit that little shop.  It was turning out to be a great day. 

I was asked where I wanted to go, and I said the Marais, aiming to get to the rue des rosiers which was, and still is, the epicentre of the Jewish community in Paris.    It’s an amazing place and on Sundays it can get very busy.  I went into a Jewish bakery.  Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!  I was about to correct that.  We had been in book shops with art, we had sat in beautiful gardens eating chocolate covered raisins.  We even got as far as Beaubourg.  Time was still flying by, and we had to go and see a friend and give him his flat keys.  Another good deed for the day.

Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!

The last stop of this epic day was going to be WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli.  Bookshop, with such a great choice of books.  I ended up buying The English, by Jeremy Paxman, and a couple of books to give me some light reading about what it means to be English, and Irish.  They also have some food essentials for anglophiles like Yorkshire tea; I already had some but still came away with a few goodies for my wife and daughter.

We sat outside the café where we had parked. Wine for one, and a pint of 1664 for the other of the two friends. They discussed everything and more. They were chilling as friends do and looking back over the day they had shared together with new and old experiences for both of them. It felt good to be alive.

They discussed everything and more.

The last stop was Gare de Montparnasse where the trip had begun. We headed off to Marks and Spencers to get our evening meal. I had selected a few sandwiches to eat on the train, and a few more goodies for home too. We headed up to the platform to where my train was to leave from. Little did I know then that I would not be getting on that train. Jean Guillaume waited with me for my train. There had been a blue Adidas bag that had been left on the train and over the loud speaker came the announcement that the person who had left said bag should come and get it and that the train was being delayed.

After a certain time, soldiers had got onto the train, more police had come along. Things weren’t looking good. Crunch time came when I got a text message from the company to say that the train had been cancelled. My friend was still with me and explained what they had just said over the tannoy. I had my bags with me and my walking stick over my arm. Apparently they were gong to try and sort out hotels for us and allow us to take the train the next morning.

Now whilst listening to this i turned around and hit somebody with my cane. Not hard, but enough to get “the look” so I very quickly apologised and with Jean Guillaume we diffused the situation. But we got talking to the lady I had just agressed with my cane. Then all of a sudden he said, “I can take you back!” My first reaction was to say no, but the idea worked it way very quickly into my head, and we would drop off our new friend Annie on the way back. I phoned Virginie to prepare a bed for our guest and I knew we had what we needed in our bag to make a wonderful breakfast.

The decision had been made. We would drop off Annie in Angers, and then head home to Nantes. We found a corner shop that sold us some water, and a couple of chocolate bars for Jean Guillaume for energy, and then a café that would sell us a coffee. Those little Parisian coffees that just wake you back up. We said that we would pay gas money and road tolls. It was out of the question to leave our friend out of pocket! I also said I would do some of the driving if needed to help out.

The trip back was quiet, at least for some of it as I had drifted off to the land of nod. I was woken up and asked to just chat to our heroic driver. It was a pleasure and we looked back at our day, and how wonderful he now looked, as well as plans for the future, and we put the world to right. I took over the driving, and when we needed more petrol we stopped off and I filled up the tank. We got to Nantes station a 3.30 am, and I found my car. The machine to pay for the ticket didn’t seem to want to work and neither did the interphone when we tried to talk to a technician. There was a homeless guy sleep with his girlfriend sheltering out of the rain who lifted up the barrier for me to get out of the car park, but I still paid at the exit and thanked him for his efforts.

I thanked Jean Guillaume, my hero, for getting me back to my car, and he went home to his hunny to surprise her, and I drove the last kilometres to get home to my wife and daughter. Heroism is when you go above and beyond the call of duty, and Jean Guillaume was a true friend and a true hero. So thanks once again, Jean Guillaume, ce héro!

Back in Nantes for some street photography

It’s always good to back into town. I took along my daughter, a fuji XT2 and a cheap Chinese lens that was dirt cheap. I mean dirtier than my work boots after a hot summer day. But like my dirty work boots, it got the job done. You will of course see the results at the end of this article.

The lens in question is the 7 artisans 55mm F1.4 (equivalent to a 80mm full frame lens). It’s basically a portrait lens, and it was strange using it for street photography, wow, I just broke a photographic rule. Aren’t I just the ittle Rebel! Traditionally one would use a 35mm or 50mm lens. People have criticsed this lens on youtube and the jist is to say that it’s soft in the corners, and if you look at 1:1 at pixel level it’s not as good as “normal lesnes” . However this is not what i’m about. I try and capture a moment in time whilst wondering around the city. When you look through these photos will you seriously be looking at each individual pixel? Some of my film cameras don’t have lenses that do that compared to my fancy Canon DSLR lenses.

You can see where I’m going with this I think. Yes it’s cheap, but it’s also a metal build, and feels great on my camera. It gets the job done. And even though my old teacher isn’t into the soft silky focus of the bokeh, that’s alright too!

Am I seeming slightly defensive here? Possibly. I have a habit of defending the weak when I can. This lens has been getting a hammering on YouTube and the Internet in general. But it’s OK. For the price you’re not getting the very latest in lens technology that will encourage you to take out a second mortgage on your house! This one only cost me 109€. And for that price it does the job, which is what I ask it to do!

The Internet has become a place of polarisation,and people spout such codswallop about anything and everything. Be that political, racial, sexual, and the list goes on. Yes People, I bought a cheap Chinese lens , and yes I enjoyed using it! Yes I even dared to share some of the results with you!

Photography has always been expensive and even now top end gear costs a fortune. If somebody has a cheaper option then why the hell not!

I bought it as a compliment to my Fuji XT2 which is also a compliment to my Fuji X100F, which is a lovely little camera and with my Mamiya C220 is my favourite camera for street photography.

I don’t know if the following photos are streetphotography or not, people have their own ideas, but they were certainly photos taken on the streets of Nantes. I’m not going to enter into a deabte about what is or is not street photogrpahy. I was certainly happy with them otherwise I wouldn’t dare sharing them with you!

Feel free to give me your feelings about the photos and any feedback is always welcome. You already have a link to the lens for a bit more info. The group in the photos is Polka & Co and the play French Jazz and I’ve heard them a few times playing in town! The restaurant Chez Maman is one on my favourites and also has the gift of just being opposite the John McByrne Irish pub, and just happens to be Daddy’s Happy Place…!

Sainte Anne, and the Grue

This weekend I haven’t taken any photos, but as they say so well in Blue Peter, here’s one I made earlier.  These photos are now two weeks old. They were taken from different sides of the Loire. The first were taken in the Hangar à Bananes on the Saturday when I was with my daughter, and the ones overlooking the Loire the day after when I went to see my pregnant friend, who, by the way, is no longer pregnant, and has a new baby at home. 

More important news for the family. My son has passed his driving test.  This is of course wonderful and we are very happy for him.  However it means that he has to have a car to drive and find work.  He had the choice between my “Dad” car, and his mother’s smaller car.  As he’s over 6 feet, he decided on my car. It also has cruise control, and a speed limiter, so there’s no excuse to get pulled over for driving too fast.  This is all well and good,but it means that I have to get a new car. Ah well. Somebody has to sacrifice himself, and so I sacrificed myself.  

Now with a new car, even a second-hand car, you have to get used to it and take posession of the space.  Now I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but I seem to spend quite a lot of time in my car. It’s like an extension of my home.  When you see people picking their noses in a traffic jam, it’s because they are, in their heads of course, still at home and behave as if they were.  I listen to music in it. I eat in it. I drink in it (water of course). And I use it to go to places to take photographs.  

So that Sunday, I thought, ok, I’ll go into town, and I took my camera along with me just in case…  Yeah well, I know “you” believe me.

Where am I going with this?  Yes, the photos from the North side of the Loire were taken on the Sunday when I saw my pregnant friend, at the Butte Sainte Anne, where I had been once before and messed up my film development. Right.  I’d taken the first photos from one side of the river, and the next day, I took photos on the other side of the river. That makes sense doesn’t it?  

The Jules Verne (a native of Nantes) Museum is at the top of the hill, and the statue of the boy is Jules as a boy.  The other statue is of Capitaine Némo with his sextant looking down the river towards the sea.

The Monday was the 11th of November, Armistice Day, and it’s a public holiday here in France. I thought it would be good to spend some quality time with my daughter.

She is my reluctant model, but will allow me to take a couple of shots of her.  Then she starts getting moody, and says, “aller Papa, on se dépêche làààààà!” So I make a noise and continue my way.  And then stop to take another photo. This of course is the last straw and I’m told how “j’en ai marre Papa. Aller!!!” So I move on.  We try and find the Altercafé only to find that it has changed owners and no longer exists. I see her dreams of Orangina and chocolate brownie go up in smoke.  As any father worth his salt, I make sure we find somewhere else. We ended up going to Evil M (or Mac Donalds for the uninitiated). It was during this outing that I took the photos of the huge crane.

I made it up to her this Saturday by going into town and having tea at Chop Chop.  She had a hot chocolate, and I had French Earl Grey tea. We also had a Brookie. It is a concoction which is a mixture of chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you put on weight by just looking at it. Bad, and yet so good at the same time.

Now this week I decided to go back to the cathedral for mass.  I was seeing a different friend this time, and we hadn’t seen each other for about a year for various reasons, but she got me when she said she’d baked a cake!  A rather nice one too. I said I would bring the tea. 

The French are great with food, and cake, but tea is not their forte!  Every time I go back to the UK I always stock up Yorkshire tea, which is like drinking a cup of home each time I make a cuppa.  My friend is Algerian and appreciates tea about as much as I do. It’s always the small things you miss. It has been known for me to spend a lot of time and effort just to go and find that little something.  When we were on holiday in Honfleur this Summer, they had an English section in the local supermarket. Needless to say, the children and I bought a big bag full of stuff, and had to go back to get what my French wife had told us to get…  Oops.

Soooo…  We talked, drank tea, ate cake, talked again, drank more tea, and ate more cake.  I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon when the weather is so depressing outside.  However I didn’t make the same mistake as I did last time. Oh no. I had learnt my lesson. I peed before going off to mass.  I made sure I had enough time not to have to walk at a brisk pace and with purpose. The service was lovely and the music was amazing.  It adds so much to the mass, and the organist played at the end of mass while I said my rosary. I left the cathedral and headed off to get a burger.

In the street where the pub is, there’s a new place that sells vegan burgers, and it’s such a refreshing change, and the owner is a great guy.  And as I’m a well brought up gentleman I went to the pub to say hello to my friends working behind the bar. Again, that is the only excuse you’re going to get.

Nantes in Novembre

Halloween has come and gone and the countdown to Christmas has begun, but no trees until at the earliest the beginning of Advent or at the latest St Nicholas’ Day.

The weather is now officially miserable and rainy. And with the hour having gone back the nights seem to be staring earlier. The rain is not proper rain, but drizzle. It’s not cold yet but the humidity is making itself known. As I drive though the country I can see leaves changing colours, falling and turning into mush along the roads. I can see mushrooms sprouting out of nowhere and remember not to take them from fields that have had crops in them.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to dive in to a cafe, and have a nice cup of tea and piece of cake. The French are making great efforts at tea, and though not up to Yorkshire standards, it is becoming more and more drinkable. I have stocked up on Yorkshire Tea pre-Brexit, so should be good for a while. Thank heavens for extensions!!

For the photographers amongst us we are facing the other challenges that Autumn sends our way. Bad light, rain, and worrying about getting our gear wet. I still think it’s worth going out though. You might think that you need the sun, the good light, the warmth of Summer or Spring, but each season has it’s own particular beauty and deserves its place in our photographic collection. The soft light will lead to less contrasty images, and you will have to think more about the scene in front of you.

Photographs are like ideas. They are there waiting to be picked and put down on paper, or on screens, and shared. Are we really inventing and creating or are we merely recording what is there?

People have accused me of being and artist, and I have told them that I am nothing more than an observer and documentalist.

I have heard a definition of art saying that art is the transformation of matter by the artist into something new. Drawing is taking the graphite in the pencil and applying it to a page, painting is taking the pigments, putting them into a medium, be it oil, acrylic, or water, and applying them to another medium, be that paper, canvas, or anything else that will let the paint stick to it.

Now in photography one could argue that the matter is light, that we apply to a film in our carmera or our sensor… I see people creating things either in the darkroom or on the computer. Is it art? Possibly. But I feel that what I do isn’t. I do some minimal editing, the basics if you will, reframe and then publish. I might apply some of the basic rules of art to my photographs, but does that make me an artist? I don’t really think so.

When I was studying the horn, yes dear reader, for my sins I am a musician also, I was told that when you play your concerto in front of an audience, you are reciting the text on the page of music before you. The phrasing is given by the composer, as well as indications of nuance and dynamics. Alright, not before the classical period, but they followed conventions that were deem so self evident that there was no point in writing them down… so! I play my concerto. The audience may listen to it and maybe moved by the composer’s music, and when they clap at the end, or throw bottles of beer etc., is it due to the music, or just my playing of it? I won’t be as prideful to say it’s my playing. I am just reproducing what is on my page. The same things goes for photographs.

Once that concerto, or photo is out there, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the audience or you, the viewer. It might inspire an emotive response, but it is not me, it is your response to the stimulus before you. It might remind you of something. It might spark that souvenir from the past that I talked about in my last article. You might even interpret it in some way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The photos were taken on the x100f. I’m off to mass so I will love you and leave you. I hope you enjoy looking through these photographic offerings.