THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Photography" Feed

Photo essays from the Cote d'Azur

Here is the video of the photo essays my classmates and I made at our Cote d'Azur workshop. At the end there are some bonus shots (a few of them mine). The bonus images were good, but didn't fit the stories we were trying to tell.

The title of my essay has gone slightly awry in the video. It was meant to be "Beaches, Boulevards & Bling: the style of the Cote d'Azur" – but I think you will get the idea.


Home again

There is little I like better than a well-maintained open road through pleasant countryside and a great car to drive on it. I had wisely decided not to venture out in search of food last night. I used "Uber Eats" to have a young Frenchman on a bicycle bring me soup and sashimi. Thus refreshed, I tried to relax by watching a movie but found myself so exhausted I couldn't stay awake. So I gave up and went early to bed. I woke very refreshed by a solid eleven hours of sleep. This may seem excessive, but the demands of my photo workshop led to my staying up several times to the early hours editing my shots. I had felt unsafely tired on yesterday's drive and it had taken many breaks and coffees to ensure my safe arrival in Dijon.

It's really not wise to drive a supercar in such a state. Or any car for that matter.

My sleep deficit eliminated, I sprang into enthusiastic action. As soon as I was showered and dressed, I loaded the car and returned to the hotel to grab a quick breakfast before hitting the autoroute. I use this modest hotel because it takes me only a couple of kilometres off the road. It's simple and clean and (when I am feeling more energetic) has a couple of modestly decent restaurants at hand. I've never uttered a word of English there because the lady d'un certain âge on reception really seems to appreciate a bit of effort to speak French – and speaks it herself so clearly and elegantly that it's not such a strain to cope with as it can be elsewhere. It's in a little development on the edge of town that no-one without business there has any reason to visit. The plentiful parking is therefore quite secure. I have never had a problem on this or my previous visits. Indeed I've never seen anyone but another hotel guest admiring Speranza – and she normally draws quite a crowd.

She has been thoroughly on song this trip. She handled delightfully as we headed north. I set off with her roof down but raised it on refuelling as it was quite cold for a while. The bright, clear conditions were perfect for driving though and it warmed up enough to lower it again for the final stretch. It took us four and a half hours to cover the 580 km to the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. Add to that one brief stop to refuel and a couple of short breaks to stretch my legs and answer calls of nature and I was parked up at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais by 2:00pm – a bit early for my 5.50 pm train!

IMG_2172
Speranza on the Flexiplus car park at Eurotunnel Calais

I had breezed through the well-automated check in. The UK border police had asked a couple of impertinent questions but hadn't delayed me unduly (as they never do in this direction though they always search the car on my outward journey for some reason). The advantage of the more expensive Flexiplus fare (apart from the rather nice lounges and "complimentary" food) is that you can travel on any Shuttle. So I gave myself a half-hour break to eat at the lounge (no food being permitted in Speranza's cockpit) before boarding the train scheduled to leave at three minutes to three. This got me back to Folkestone earlier than I left, thanks to the time difference. Soon I was refuelling on home soil before facing the nationally-degrading contrast between motoring in the North of France and South of England.

We used to console ourselves that our crappy infrastructure reflected the lower taxes in the U.K. Now that's no longer the case, it's clear our public servants are either less competent than French Énarques, or just less keen on doing honest work. Probably a bit of both. I suspect our politicians are also keener on creating non-jobs as "gender coordinators" or "diversity tsars" than hiring engineers. For the French, lip-service to such egregious nonsense is the very most that is required.

By 4.30 pm London time I was parked up at home and working out the logistics of my next trip – a more modest one than this 2,000 mile adventure. On Friday I am driving to North Wales to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. Mr Paine Senior came to fatherhood early, as witness the fact that I am 61 and often (to my irritation) mistaken for his younger brother!

I realise that my burblings about touring the Côte d'Azur in my beloved Ferrari are probably not helpful to the usual purposes of this blog. It must certainly irk those with any taint of identity politics and confirm the prejudices of any passing SJWs. In some ways it might be better to write about travel and politics on separate blogs, but since I think all opinions should be evaluated in the pure and indiscriminate fire of Reason, I am inclined not to worry. Those people who take the medieval approach – now fashionable again – of evaluating ideas according to the status of the person expounding them are already lost to Reason!

Normal political service will therefore resume as soon as I catch up with the news I have missed while artistically engaged. I understand President Trump, for example, has been busy trying to earn the Nobel Peace Prize that was handed to his predecessor gratis. Let me get back to you on that one!

In the meantime, if you care to read more about the workshop I attended, you can find my classmate Tammy's blog here. The completed record of my journey on Track my Tour is here.


Cutting the mustard

I set out apprehensively this morning to pick up Speranza from the parking garage where she has been stowed all week. Another British guest's Ferrari was broken into yesterday in the garage recommended by the hotel. I heard him on the telephone organising the replacement of his smashed window so that he could get underway to catch his Eurotunnel Shuttle home. I hope he made it. I needn't have worried however. She was in good shape. I had rejected the hotel's suggestion as to parking because, inspecting the garage on Google Maps, the entrance ramp looked too steep. I chose instead to park under the nearby Meridien Hotel in what was claimed to be the most secure parking in Nice.

I drove her back to the hotel and loaded up. With all my photographic and computer gear (for editing) I have a lot of stuff with me. I was on the road by 0930 and  – by studiously ignoring the satnav, which was unaware that the usual road to the autoroute is closed and using my own local knowledge based on my difficulties on arrival (and on visiting my friends in Mougins) – found my way West quite easily. It's an L-shaped journey home, following the A8 from Nice toward Marseilles and then joining the Autoroute du Soleil North towards Lyon.

The weather was perfect. Alternately sunny and overcast and with temperatures peaking at 35℃. I drove with the lid down until I stopped for lunch at 1230 and kept it up afterwards to avoid getting sunburned. By the time of my second refuelling stop of the day, it was mid afternoon and I was further North, so the roof came down again for my final run to Dijon, where I am staying overnight. I am a bit bushed to be honest. This week was great fun but hard work. I am not sure I can be bothered to go and and find food, but a couple of hours rest may change that.

Group_photo_web_R4A9297
Here is the class photo from this week's workshop, with the great man himself second from the right at the front, flanked by Liza Politi who, with her partner Ari Espay (not pictured because he's taking the shot) organises the event and his able young assistant Cali. Your humble blogger is at the back beneath his Panama hat. The organisers are waiting for faster internet than the hotel in Nice can offer to upload the video of our collective efforts, but I will post a link when it has been published.

As usual, my route can be followed here. My classmate Tammy's blog can be found here. With a bit of luck, this time tomorrow, Speranza and I will be on the Chunnel Shuttle home.


Turning in my assignment

I was downstairs at 0730 for breakfast this morning so as to be in the classroom with Joe to go through my photos at 0800. I gave him twenty-five shots to whittle down – in the role of photo-editor – to eight final "selects". It was an interesting exercise. Jay Maisel says that for photographers "editing is next to godliness" and Joe had told us yesterday that a good edit involves cutting good pictures. It was quite something to watch a master apply his approach to editing to my work.

I had no complaints. He ruthlessly cut my favourite shot because it was just not sharp enough to survive. He could see why I liked it and agreed it would have been a perfect part of my story, but it just didn't make the cut. It's not what a photo means to the photographer who was there when it was made, but what it says to a viewer who wasn't.

My classmates went through the same exercise between 0800 and 1000, when Joe replayed the edits on the big screen for all our benefits. We had seen most of the pictures before during the critiques in this week's classes but it was different to see them together as part of a photographer's chosen story. It was also fascinating to see what a place I love and know well means to my classmates.

We then headed off to lunch at a beach restaurant. That was "my" South of France; the one I have known for decades. Sitting there with great food and a breeze off the Mediterranean it felt very different from the place I have been slogging around on on a photographic mission for a week!

We returned to class to view the video Ari Espay, one of our faculty, had made of our work. He stitched together all our "photo-essays" and threw in a "grab bag" of good photos that didn't serve our stories. When I receive my copy I will host it here and post a link.

We went on from there to a "farewell dinner" at a local restaurant. Most of us are heading out tomorrow bright and early so this really was goodbye to a group of people made friends by a fascinating shared experience.


Cannes and a deadline

After our class this morning, we set off to Cannes. This little French town is a second home to me. For decades, I attended the MIPIM real estate fair at the Palais des Festivals every year. Even since I retired from practising law, I have usually visited to stay in touch with my friends in the business. It seemed strange today to be there without them. Usually, when I walk along the famous Croisette, I bump into several chums. Today, the only people I could recognise were my fellow-photographers.

The pressure was on. This was the last opportunity to generate new images for our "photo-essays". I finalised the title of mine as Beaches, Boulevards & Bling: the style of the Cote dʼAzur so have given up on my original satirical intent. I wish I'd done so from the beginning. I could perhaps have approached subjects and won their cooperation if I'd been able to tell them it was their style that caught my eye!

Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_18 Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_15 Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_05
As it is, almost all of my shots are candid. If I have any gift as a photographer it is for directing models. This approach has denied me the use of that. And my size (I am 6' 7" tall) makes it hard to be an inconspicuous presence on the street. My candid subjects often wear nervous expressions that belie the relaxed atmosphere of this playground for the wealthy.

Having clarified my intent, I found today's shoot easier. I knew what I was looking for and, in Cannes where I feel very much at home, I knew precisely where to look. I strolled a lot along the Rue d'Antibes (Cannes' Bond Street or 5th Avenue) and the Croisette (Cannes' beach promenade). It was a shame that, as it was Sunday, most shops were closed but I still found stylish and well-accessorised people out and about. I found a couple of hunting hides where I could sit and wait for prey. I even found time to have a non-alcoholic cocktail or two at my favourite terrace bar, which brought back happy memories of time spent there with friends and family since I first visited in 1991.

I skipped breakfast today, had a hearty (but healthy) lunch and have dispensed with dinner. I needed the time to go through 600 photos (I took many more this week, but have culled them ruthlessly each day) in order to find 25 "selects" for the faculty to cull. We have been simulating the job of a photo-journalist on assignment in the good old days of Time/Life magazines. They will simulate the photo-editors of those days with each of us, one by one. They will then present both our selects and their final choices to the whole group; explaining why they chose as they did. Tomorrow morning should be interesting.


Friday and Saturday in Eze, Monte Carlo, Mougins and Tourrettes-sur-Loup

My best prospect for finding subjects for my photo essay project was Monte Carlo. Flâneurs congregate around the casino there like wildebeest at a water hole. I hoped hunting would be good. First though, our group met at 0730 for a pre-departure portrait shoot in Nice. The local photographer assisting our teachers, Manu, had agreed to pose for portraits in a café near our Nice hotel. Our lead instructor Joe McNally had scouted the location and cleared our shoot with the owners. A fellow-student had also recruited a personable young musician, Coco, whom she had seen perform the night before, to model for us.

Coco and Manu portraits_01

Joe is particularly known for his mastery of flash. On previous workshops I learned a lot from him and I now prefer to light my portraits. This workshop is about creating picture essays like those of the long-gone glory days of Life and Time magazines, however, so we were tasked to shoot with natural light. I had the most fun so far working with our two models and more of my final selects can be found here for Coco and here for Manu.

Coco and Manu portraits_02

On the way to Monaco, we visited the little medieval hill town of Eze. It was raining steadily and the steep pavements were slippery but the buildings are picturesque and one of them housed a shop where I was able to relieve my sodden misery (not having brought a coat) with the purchase of an umbrella. 

The weather cleared in Monte Carlo and we worked the scene thoroughly in our different ways. I came to the realisation that my original project was too nasty for me to pursue with any conviction. I am no fashion critic and as I searched for examples of OTT glamour, I decided to just look for "bling" instead. There's plenty of it to be seen in this part of the world and the people who wear it are not ashamed of it. With this in mind I shot over 500 images.

Manu, our model and guide, led us out to dinner at a remarkable French take on a burger joint. This was a problem for me on my diet, but I handled that well enough by ordering a chicken burger and throwing away everything but the chicken. There was an option to have a salad instead of fries so that (and two and a half litres of water) completed my meal.

I then paid the price of my intensive shooting by staying up until the early hours editing my images to find seven to present for critique. After too few hours of sleep I rose for breakfast and joined my fellow-students at our class, which (with presentations and critiques) took until midday. 

We then set of for a splendid lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in the world; the Place de Mougins. This was my second visit on this trip to my favourite French village and the food did not disappoint. It was as refined as last night's dinner had been hearty. Having opted for the vegetarian version, I was able to eat everything except the dessert (a soufflé that my friends told me tasted as good as it looked) and the highly-decorative petit fours.

IMG_2131

I have visited Mougins many times in the thirty years or more I have been coming to the South of France, so I am mainly interested to see how my fellow-students saw it with their fresh eyes. They are an observant bunch and never fail to photograph things I miss. Tomorrow's critique session should be interesting for me.

Mougins etc_02

We returned to Nice via another medieval hill town - Tourrette-sur-Loup, which was picturesque with its steep, winding streets and oddly-shaped houses. It is almost entirely dependent on tourism, but was far less crowded than Eze or Mougins.

Tomorrow we are going to the town I know best in these parts, Cannes.

 


Wednesday and Thursday in Nice and Mougins

We had our first class on Wednesday morning. Each of us students contributed five or so photos, with no particular theme, to give the faculty an idea of what kind of photographers we are. If we had been on courses with Joe McNally and the team before (as most of us had) then they would also give them an idea of what progress we had made. Joe went through them in front of us all and offered each photographer some critique. Mine were mostly portraits and went down quite well. It was more interesting for me to see what my fellow-students had submitted. Their work was of a pretty high standard.

Our brief this week is to pick a theme and shoot a photo story around it. I rashly chose one that will be hard for me – because of psychological, rather than technical difficulties. Past courses have taught me that I find it hard to approach strangers to photograph them. Even in countries (unlike France) where photographers are legally entitled to shoot anything they can see from a public place (or a private place they have permission to be) potential subjects are often reluctant unless thoroughly flanneled. There is some pride in me that makes it hard to ask a stranger for a favour. There's also some English reticence about approaching a stranger at all!

Many potential subjects think they have a right to privacy on the street (a contradiction in terms, as they're in public, which is the literal opposite of private). In France, where the law on the subject is, let's be polite, illiberal they actually DO have a right! Working with friends, models or other volunteers, I actually enjoy the social aspect of portraiture; directing and playing with them to get the expressions and poses I want. However I certainly don't enjoy the mild aggression of "stealing" a candid shot, or the social embarrassment of chatting a stranger up to persuade him or her to pose. My final product from this workshop will therefore either be a flop, or I will have grown – and perhaps not just – as a photographer.

The idea is that it's time for this experienced body of students to move on from f-stops, photographic and lighting techniques and to get down to serious photographic work. On previous courses the faculty has produced a video at the end featuring our best work. I have usually hosted them at this site and published a link in my travelogue. This time they will produce one for each of us – effectively the final version of our photo essay.

Joe kicked off by showing us examples of great photographic features from the past, such as W. Eugene Smith's "Country Doctor" from Life Magazine in 1948 and John Loengard's "The Shakers". All his examples included an "opener" to draw the reader into the story, general shots to set the scene, detailed shots to drive the story on and a "closer" to end it. We are supposed to produce something along those lines this week, about a theme of our choosing. The only rule is that it has to be about Nice and the Cote d'Azur as that is where we are, in effect, "on assignment." This is quite daunting.

After class, we headed out on or own or in groups of friends to shoot on the Promenade des Anglais. The light was beautiful, as the skies were overcast, but, in the absence of the sun, there was not much doing on the beach. Council workers were setting up barriers and a finish line for some kind of running event (ironically called "No Finish Line") so the promenade itself was like a construction site. Amongst this mess, holiday-makers and locals were going about their business. 

I've been coming to the South of France every year on business and pleasure for over three decades and had decided to focus on a particular kind of "character" that is often to be found here. The Cote d'Azur is a high rent sort of destination and visitors are often stylish and even glamorous. Among them however there are those who lay on the glamour too thickly. They have one or more too many pieces of jewellery. If they are men, their watches are out of scale with their wrists and their dress sense is not the most tasteful. All unaware of this they stroll about (or buzz about in their Lamborghinis) to amusing effect. The French have a word for strollers, loungers or loafers on city streets. It is flaneur. It means almost the same as boulevardier, but has a slight connotation of vaguely disreputable idleness. A boulevardier may or may not be louche, but a flaneur almost certainly is. I decided that my photo essay would be about the local flaneurs

I hadn't reckoned with the fact that the best strategy for getting subjects to cooperate – being honest about your artistic intentions – would not be available to me! I am aiming to do a photographic hit job on these, perhaps a little vain or vulgar, but essentially harmless types. I can hardly saunter up to someone and tell them I plan to hold them up to photographic ridicule! I did find a couple of shots that might fit the story. I have the rest of the week to find more. I took care to shoot in a way that my subjects can not be identified from the photos (although they would of course recognise themselves if they happened upon them).

On Wednesday evening I left early to drive to my favourite village in France, Mougins, to visit some old friends for dinner. There had been an accident on the autoroute and the usually agreeable drive wasn't. It was also  raining so the roof stayed firmly up. Nonetheless I had a splendid evening in their company – for the first time ever without any drink as I am off alcohol for the time being. They had invited some other friends, a retired English lawyer who had actually worked at one of the same firms as me (though our times there didn't overlap) and his delightful Iranian wife. I found my way back to my hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning and set about editing my pictures for tomorrow's critique. I finally got to bed at 03:15.

I bunked off the early morning photoshoot on Thursday in the nearby market to get an acceptable amount of sleep, joining the group for breakfast followed by our next class. After lunch we set out to shoot in the Old Town of Nice; a warren of narrow streets packed with tourists and the shops, cafes etc. that cater to them. I had no raincoat, never having needed one in this part of the world before. That was an error. Rather than shooting on the streets, I ended up sheltering first in a church and then a cafe. I kept my camera drier than myself and managed to get some shots, but I don't think any  serve my story, even tangentially.

Tomorrow we are off to the village of Eze and then to Monaco to shoot around the Casino at Monte Carlo. I think I can reasonably hope (weather permitting) for a good few specimens of the "type" I am hunting around there. The casino car park is usually full of their kind of vehicle!

We shall see.


Nice

I had another splendid day. I rose early and loaded the car before breakfasting and checking out. I was on the road by 0815. I fuelled and topped up washer fluid at the first petrol station on the autoroute and set about devouring miles. I encountered my first and only traffic jam on the approaches to Lyon. This may have been caused by the strike on French railways today, but it was nothing by London standards and I was soon heading South on the wonderfully named Autoroute du Soleil (Motorway of the Sun). I lunched modestly on a packaged salad and some mango at one of the aires and pressed on to my destination. The only excitement came when a sudden thunderstorm caught me out on the motorway with my roof down. At speed, the rain mostly passed me by and I only really got wet during the 14 seconds it takes Speranza to pull off her convertible to coupé trick during a quick pit stop in an aire. Half an hour later it was blazing sunshine again and 30ºC. So I boxed again to lower the roof and let the sun dry out the interior.

Having left the motorway and cruised slowly but uneventfully along the Promenade des Anglais, I left my bags with the hotel reception and headed off to my planned spot in a nearby underground car park. Road works in the centre made that more of an exercise than I would have liked but I was soon back at the hotel. In all the hassle I forget to note my stats for the day, but the journey was about 630 km and was achieved an hour more quickly than Google Maps had predicted this morning so can be accounted a success. I was flashed by a speed camera near Lyon. I hope it caught my smile, as the we don't have free movement of such tickets across European borders.

I showered and met up with my group for the initial briefing. This was quite the reunion as most of us know each other from previous such events. The briefing became a bit of a joke. Though we are a mature bunch on average, the atmosphere was very much first day back at school. Joe was heckled, in-jokes were exchanged and a lot of fun was had. I watched the two "newbies" with some concern. All this must have meant nothing to them. I remembered feeling rather awkward at my first such introduction to the group, but they seemed relaxed enough about it. No doubt will bond as the week progresses.

Nice Monument_01
Dinner was at a neighbourhood bistro across from the hotel and presented a few problems for me. I skipped the bread, pasta starter and dessert. I also asked them to replace the risotto in my fish dish with a salad. I drank water and green tea instead of wine. I enjoyed it far more than I would have imagined if you had predicted it to me a year ago. I have become accustomed to dealing with such situations and, to be honest, my food tastes far better now than it used to. Hunger is the best sauce, they say. Certainly food that you need (rather than food you are just stuffing down from bad habit) tastes great! It is odd to be in the home of wine without partaking though.

Class begins tomorrow at 0900, followed by a shoot on the beachfront. I don't know if our all-American faculty knows about privacy laws in France. In the country where Henri Cartier-Bresson pretty much invented street photography, the publication of most of his images would be illegal now. Privacy trumps art and even the architects of buildings in the background have a veto right on publication. I guess the simple solution is not to publish anything, but I will be interested to hear what our teachers have to say on the subject tomorrow.


"London Nights" and "Another Kind of Life"

I took up photography seriously a few years ago. After a wordy life practising law, I thought it would make a change to focus on my visual sense in retirement.  To my surprise it has become important to me. So when I received an invitation to attend the press preview of a new photography exhibition at the Museum of London, I accepted with curiosity and a little dread. Why dread? Well photography was disdained as a merely mechanical process in its early days and pioneering art photographers, in their anxiety to be taken seriously, rather tended to overdo the worthiness of their subjects. They concentrated on the dark and dismal and sought out "social" meaning in every frame. Their successors have tended to follow suit. Too many photo exhibitions exist in what I call "Magnum World" – a parallel dimension named for the ineffably "worthy" Magnum Photo Agency – where dismal and depressed denizens raise their sickly children in squalor and without hope. Any happy, successful people appear there only to heighten the sense of injustice and despair.

If when I die, I go to hell, it will be Magnum World.

London Nights_02
London Nights_02
London Nights_02
London Nights_02
Fortunately though the night life of our capital involves, of course, a fair share of misery the curator – Anna Sparham – has taken a more nuanced approach. She has included images ranging from the dark to the celebratory. The subject of the exhibition – London at night  – is ambitiously broad. It could easily have resulted in a meaningless jumble of pictures that left no lasting impression. The exhibition features photographs by pioneers like Paul Martin and "greats" like Bill Brandt, but also by amateurs shooting for their camera clubs. It features early images from when long exposures could first be made by gaslight through to the modern era. Anna has arranged them into three broadly themed sections entitled "London Illuminated." "Dark Matters" and "Switch on, Switch off".  Taken together they create a very satisfying portrayal of a great city and its people at night.

The London Nights exhibition is running at the Museum of London from 11th May to 11th November and tickets can be bought here. The museum has other interesting collections (currently including one about the suffragettes) and is always worth a visit anyway.

Finding myself near my regular haunts at the Barbican, I also took the opportunity to visit the Another Kind of Life photo exhibition now running there (but soon to close). This features many works by famous photographers and so there is a lot of high quality imagery. Alas, almost all of it is not only from "Magnum World" but also shoe-horned into a politically-correct narrative.

I enjoyed some of the work from a technical point of view. I could not fail to appreciate the photographs by the late Mary Ellen Mark, for example. I even actually liked some photos by Igor Palmin of Russian hippies in Soviet times. These were rebels – unlike their narcissistic Western counterparts – with an actual cause. There's good photography here but I am glad I had another, better reason to travel to the City from West London!