C’est beau, une ville la nuit. The title of that 1989 Richard Bohringer book fits our experience of early morning Montmartre just as well as it’s self-inflicted description: “A ride, eye and the mind wide open to the spirit of the city and the right to life, a road of pain, joys and, eventually, hopes.”.
What a load of bollocks, right? But there were some of these elements in our final pre-dawn jaunt.
The pain of getting up, once more, after clocking as many hours of sleep in a week as most members of european parliament spend in Brussels (read: not a lot).
The pain of huffpuffing heavy bags and heavier arses (I blame my delicate palate and Steve’s insistence on feeding me sweets) up hundreds of steps just meters away from Parisians warm in their comfy beds.
The pain of witnessing drunks fight in front of the ode to elegance and spirituality that is the Sacré-Coeur (though it was mighty impressive to witness a bloke no higher than my shoulder punch a hole through a car windscreen, a feat I did not think humanly possible. When the ethanol evaporates from his brain, that guy’s going to wake up with a shitload of pain of his own, wrist-wise and otherwise-wise).
The pain, frankly, of knowing this is the last day of fun with total strangers who quickly became beloved companions.
The joy of chickening-out of buying a Leica Monochrom (oh, hell, not that again …) by following Paul’s suggestion to shoot RAW + monochrome jpeg. Results imposed to you throughout this page.
The joy of witnessing the lights turn off minutes after the temple-popping pulmonary aftermath of our stair-climbing antics. Panting our way up the same stony incline to be met only with dull light might have got our hackles up somewhat.
(yer should see this in colour but yer won’t, I promised)
The joy of witnessing young love and positivity in a romantic sunrise. Montmartre is one of those places where wonderful scenes come and go and just sitting around watching the morning unfold with the lives of so many different people and stories is really worth the hike.
You shall not pass!
The one that got through.
As on previous occasions, we split up to explore out own vision before regrouping around a huge breakfast (by this time, I no longer recognise myself in the mirror, with the extra puffy cheeks).
Philippe was enjoying bliss of his own with his new Sony GM 85/1.4. Having used it yesterday during our encounter with our model, I can’t say I had been impressed with the lens. The lazily hunting AF was more evocative of a horny manatee humping itself than a reliable photographic instrument, but Philippe’s results with the lens proved me wrong in spades.
Joakim searched interesting locations to set up his superb Arca L-plate and tripod to produce his usual masterpieces.
Ans Steve was … where was Steve ? Nowhere to be seen most of the time. Inspecting nooks and crannies and finding new creative ways to reinterpret this much traveled spot.
While the 3 other members of the team were still enjoying the last drops of Blanket Bay we enjoyed the last drops of soft light before retreating to a warm asylum of omelette, hot chocolate, orange juice and croissants.
After that moment of warmth and much-needed (??? 😉 ) calorie intake, we briefly continued our exploration of this out-of-time and out-of-codes part of town, before walking down to Cimetière de Montmartre along the lovely avenues that border the tourist hotspot.
We played a little training game that anyone can try, to develop vision and photographic intent: instead of taking our own photographs of whatever caught our fancy, we had to describe the result we wanted to achieve to a partner and get him to take the picture. This is my rendering of Steve’s vision of this rear end of a moped. Fun but really hard to do, so the exercise forces you to explicit your thoughts and better understand what you are reacting to in a scene and what you want the final result to look like.
Light was really harsh when we got to the cemetery, so it was important to compose for scenes based on contrast or find places or fragments in the shade to produce interesting results. Here are some of mine.
It was then back to the hotel for packing and check-out for some, while others met up with the group exploring Le Marais.
In more ways than one, the Marais is the exact opposite to Montmartre. Where Montmartre is at its most fascinating early in the morning, before being flooded by tourist buses, le Marais before sunrise is mainly empty streets and cleaning machines, but comes alive around 10 with mesmerizing shops, cafés and local life.
We were super lucky with the weather. Forecasts by our new 200.000.000€ supercomputer were beyond ghastly but we were mostly treated to great conditions and light.
Gear-wise, it seems the SLR boat has shipped. Not one was to be seen. Fuji, Leica and Sony in, Canikon out, or so it appears. Gather round people, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand for the times, they are changing.
Food, while chosen very carefully by two people who enjoy the best nature and human dedication can put in a plate, was really up to expectations.
We were flexible with the program and forfeited some of the formal training to allow for more time out in the great conditions we were served. So, this workshop was more of a Parisian photographic experience than a true workshop. But I still hope it was transformative and rich in rewards for all participants. My challenge for these 4 days was to break the mould and adopt a very different style while on the streets. Since my daughter refuses to admit that I took the photographs showed on these pages, it’s fair to say I succeeded. Does this imply a photographic palimpsest for me? No way! I’m still drawn to the same scenes. But I’m happy to bring a more human dimension to my photographs.
Before the workshop started, we asked each participant what his goals were. I hope these 4 days allowed progress towards respective creative Nirvanas by leaving the cocoon of the comfort zone and exploring new possibilities. One thing I’m confident of is that everyone’s style and personality was not forced to fit into a mould and Steve’s pics were clearly different from Joakim’s, Paul’s … That will always be the case with us.
It’s fair to say the group was really perfect, save for those who wanted to but couldn’t make it. See you next time, fellows! We all got along very well and had our dose of hilarious moments. We were lucky with the weather and with transport. Couldn’t be happier ! (thanks guys). Unsurprsingly -but very satisfyingly- there was talk that this had been to good not to repeat regularly. Note to self: better be ready to diet the rest of the year!
Why a model?
For most of us, portrait was neither something we had any experience in nor something we really wanted to try. So why hire a model in the first place? And why is it that so many of us really enjoyed the experience? Old farts falling in love with beauty and youth? I think not. We all had our reasons for not being into it and for finding such sudden interest in the topic, I guess.
For me, the answer is simple. This is what my usual photography looks like.
I enjoy making nice-looking visual objects from ordinary scenes. Balance, tone and composition are the keys. And this can produce very lovely images. But it is largely de-humanised. The fewer humans around me, the better.
So we hired a model to do exactly the opposite. To feel comfortable incorporating human elements into our photographs, we need to feel comfortable around human beings with cameras in our hands and to have practise in judging the distance, aperture, focal length & post-processing that work best. Here are a few PP experiments using yesterday’s photographs of our model.
This “theoretical work” mixed with my usual habits leads to this sort of street shot (although,to be honest, this one was made before the modeling session 😉 )
So, this is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.
Next workshops being investigated: Istanbul, Amsterdam, London, Paris (off the beaten path), Marseilles (there is no such thing as a beaten path there) Reykjavik & Tokyo. Tell us what you’d love most and we’ll make it happen!
Participant photos follow.
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