Saint Malo is a port on the northern coast of Brittany. It is famous to the French (and thus infamous to the Brits) for having been a main port for “corsaire” ships. A “corsaire” was essentially a privateer, or pirate with a licence. He could capture, plunder, rape and kill for his own gain as long as (1) he shared with his king, and (2) he went only after enemies of his nation. Here are two pictures of such a ship, but it is modern, and you can actually sail on it. While the Brits honor the memory of corsaire extraordinary Sir Francis Drake, Saint Malo was home to his French opposite number, Surcouf. The port, being an important military place, has tremendous fortifications, both on-shore and off. They were very heavily damaged during WWII, but restored to their previous condition. Having some business in Saint Malo, I did my usual thing: bring my stealthy Billingham photography bag, with NEX 7, 3 primes and a Gitzo tripod, and got up early (usually out by 6 a.m.) to get both first light, and time that would not crimp my workday. Now one would think that a city with so much history to show would be a rich trove of easy pickings, and that you will be treated to this. But not so, and I will try to tell you why. From my 3 trips (usually 2 days), I have but a few pictures that are really “local”, meaning pictures showing Saint Malo that could have been taken nowhere else. This expected harvest proved much more difficult, and ultimately less successful than I would have expected. All the others are pictures that I shot there, but which might have been taken elsewhere, meaning that the photographer’s eye played a greater part that the lie of the land. Let me explain why. The first morning, I went out and was gratified to be ahead of sunrise, which is when one gets the very light, color-wise, if one is willing to accept low contrast. And my first observation was: this is a very well-lit city! It was so early that night lights were still on, and most streets, almost all sections of the ramparts, most beaches, well well lit by artificial lights. That made it “la photo impossible”! Then there is another minor matter one needs to keep in mind when shooting a seaport. It is called the tide. Depending on it, you might have a spectacular scene of a totally uninteresting one. The need to combine perfect light with perfect tide was beginning to make my just-bend-over-for-rich-pickings plan look like a joke at my expense. Now sometimes you can get lucky with the timing, as with this seawater swimming pool just emerging from the receding tide. Or when the low tide created opportunities with the beached boats. But, unfortunately, that was in harsh mid-day light. Or when a mid-size cruise ship sailed through a lock to dock on the inside of the harbour, and seemed to challenge a much more modest sailing boat. Fortunately, there are some possibilities even despite the mid-day glare. Like when a detail lends itself to a picture, flaunting the advantage of a fast lens wide open. Or when you can use the light to your advantage thanks to the reflection. Or when you ignore it outright, because you are into showing geometry. Ooops, as I ramble on, my usual total of around 12 pictures is coming up, and I sense Pascal getting ready to rap my knuckles. I’d rather he do it with his Olympus than his D800. Wouldn’t you? So, as a sop to him, here is a final abstract, because he is a sucker for abstracts, and maybe he’ll relent and give me a pass…. That said, Saint Malo is a wonderful place to visit, beautiful in itself, including natural surroundings. It is also the gateway to the world-famous Mont Saint-Michel, and easy to get to with Ryanair, landing at Dinard.
Gear was: Sony NEX 7, with Zeiss Touit 12mm f:2.8, Leica Elmar 24mm f:3.8, Leica Summilux 50mm f:1.4