Exploring the Passages of Paris…
L’exposition est Ouverte!
All over in a whirl….
After all the preparation… the packing… the toolkit…. the spare hanging bits and pieces … and about four hours of the Private View… the pressure is over – RELIEF!
I’ve had fantastic feedback from many different quarters, and the icing on the cake was selling a print (Child and Terrier) to a young couple who live in Paris. So even when the exhibition at Le Petit Choiseul ends on the 28th, there will be a corner of France where Under Glass continues to be shown!
London, Paris, New York…
Only 10 days to go before Under Glass opens at Le Petit Choiseul, and every picture is framed and ready to go. But my journey to France will be a somewhat circuitous one – I’ve taken some of my best images in New York over the years, so I’m really looking forward to spending seven days there… en route to Paris!
I have a wish-list of locations to visit photographically, and top of that list are several places where the New York Subway runs on an elevated section above ground – remember that scene from The French Connection with Gene Hackman driving “underneath” the train? A good one seems to be in Manhattan on the Q line, near Canal Street; another out in Brooklyn, where Line 3 runs on Livonia Avenue. We’ll see!
Before I go to New York, I’m giving a talk to Pinner Camera Club on my previous project, City Shapes, photographed in London. I’ve enjoyed re-visiting all my prints in readiness.
So here, in my opinion, is the best of New York and City Shapes…
Defense de Fumer!
As a street photographer taking candid pictures, I’ve been well aware of the French privacy laws during my visits to Paris for my Under Glass project.
In brief, the law states that if a person is the “principal feature” in a photograph, then permission must be sought from that person before taking it. For me, this makes candid photography almost impossible.
I have one excellent image, taken in August, of a young woman enjoying a cigarette break that I’ve been pondering upon regarding the privacy laws. I’ve now decided that I simply can’t afford to risk hanging it in my exhibition.
So here I am – one picture short of an exhibition. And here it is – suitably stubbed out!
Has the Roll of Film Ended…?*
It certainly has if you use Fuji Neopan 1600 ASA!
If you shoot on film, you buy it in bulk and store it in the freezer.
On my Paris trips to the Passages, I take two Nikon FEs: one loaded with 400 ASA for the “normal” lighting shots, and one loaded with Fuji Neopan 1600 ASA (a faster film) for those dark corners.
Just before my trip to Paris last Thursday, I took out a roll of Neopan from the fridge, then went to the freezer to replenish the fridge. Just two rolls left in the freezer, so I had better order some more…. Shock Horror. None to be found anywhere on the internet – it’s been discontinued!
It is probably three years since I bought 20 or so rolls of Neopan 1600, and somewhere down the line I’ve missed the announcement of its demise.
And worst still. There is not another 1600 ASA film now in production. Either 400 ASA or jump all the way to Ilford Delta 3200 ASA. In future I’m going to have to shoot on 3200, stop down a couple of stops on my camera, then compensate for this when the film is developed. I foresee a few trial rolls being shot and developed until the right result is achieved!
*See my blog, July 06 for comparison…
The Dark Arts…
Just finished a darkroom session printing up just three images from one roll of film (36 exposures) from my last trip to Paris. You might think that three is not very many from 36, but ask the digital photographers out there and… that’s not a bad hit-rate!
One of the images, a long shot down Passage du Grand-Cerf with a girl, sitting and having a cigarette outside her place of work, posed a familiar problem I’ve had during this project. Namely, balancing skin tones with the bright, sunlit, tiled floor of the Passage, and the glass ceiling.
In the darkroom I might make 9 or 10 test strips until I achieve the right balance – not just the length of the exposure, but also the grading (the contrast levels of the photographic print). The test strips were on different areas of this image. On the girl’s skin tones, the tiled floor in the foreground, and lastly on the glass ceiling in the upper background. As I have three different exposure times for this one print, I use the “Dark Arts” of Dodging (lightening areas) and Burning (darkening areas) under the enlarger light to produce the desired photograph.
And then there is the “Dry down” factor. Dry down is the phenomenon responsible for many fibre prints being sent to the waste-bin. The wet print looks bright and glows, but the following morning the highlights in the dried print are dull and the print lacks the contrast and punch from the previous evening. My experience in using Ilford Multigrade IV Fiber Glossy Paper tells me to subtract about 8% of the enlarger exposure time – once I think that I’ve achieved the right result on the wet print.
I make notes, both on the back of the final print and in a notebook, of the exposure time, the enlarger aperture number, the contrast grade, the developing times (developer and fix), and the date. Also, in the notebook, I record the enlarger height and the temperature of the developer.
Fibre Paper will buckle unless dried correctly. After washing for 45 minutes, the wet print is dried in the darkroom, pegged from a Sheila Maid clothes airer until 95% dry – this takes about 90 minutes. Then it is flattened overnight between sheets of rigid blotting paper in my 20 x 16 inch Ademco dry-mounting press (switched off).
The next morning I open the press to examine my work. Will it be back to the darkroom?
Rites of Passage
Last Wednesday marked my penultimate photo-journee in the Passages. I expected Paris to be a bit quiet – everyone knows that Parisians take their holidays in August – but it seems that tourists do now, too! Many shops and cafés were closed. The vast majority of shops in the Passages are laissez-faire, sole-owner outfits, and the hand-written notices were everywhere: Fermé au 2 Septembre.
In some ways, the emptiness of the Passages was not all bad news. Of course, the sheer nature of my photography requires a human element: I need people in my shots. But they need to be the “right” people, and in just the “right” amounts – too many figures and the image can become over complicated. Hence the hanging around that is involved, waiting for just the right moment.
And then you need a bit of luck. As I approached the entrance to Galerie Vivienne, I noticed a taxi pulling up, and out stepped a newly married couple with a photographer – the bride complete with white dress and bouquet; the groom in a smart suit. These were to be the post-wedding photographs taken in a picturesque location. So I hot-footed after them, (hopefully) capturing the bizarre scene of the newly-weds posing among the few tourists, diners, and shoppers, as the tranquilty of the Passage was shattered by the whirring of the photographer’s motor-drive, hammering out its digital frames.
I hope I shot some good frames too, though obviously I don’t have the benefit of “chimping” the back of my camera to check, as he did! I await the development of my negatives in anticipation…
A Dynamic Duo
Next week I’m off to Paris again for the day, on what will be my penultimate trip before my exhibition. I know that, currently, I have over 30 prints (maybe 35) that I could hang, but I’m now at the point when I’m starting to think about what images I’ve got – and, more to the point, what I haven’t!
In my opinion, an exhibition needs pace or dynamics. By dynamics, I mean that the photographs on show will need to vary, and not just in content: vary in composition and in style; vary in depth of field, in shape and form, in light and shade… the list is a long one.
So the prime purpose of my next two trips is to try to complete the exhibition dynamic by filling the visual and/or photographic “gaps”. The trouble is, of course, I’m taking candid photographs with a human content. Despite my best intentions, and perseverance, nothing is guaranteed.
There is one shot that I know I want to try to capture, as it would complement a photo I’ve already taken: namely, Audrey Again, Passage Vendôme. The “Audrey” referred to is the well-known Audrey Hepburn canvas print, sold by IKEA.
A very similar “Audrey” print is on the wall in Little Séoul, a Korean café in Passage Choiseul – just a few shops along from where my exhibition will be. Will the café still be there…? Will it be open…? Will the print still be on the wall…? And even if those answers are in the affirmative, will the other required components of the shot be there?
Required components??? The truth is I simply won’t know until I get there and start waiting for everything and/or anything else to fall into place around the Audrey print, with me poised to click the shutter.
And that might be a very… long… wait…
In the Footsteps of Doisneau…
Spent some time reading my Robert Doisneau book about his experiences photographing the Passages from 1975–1980. He said:
“In this aquarium of light, all of these people were preserved as if under glass …” and “The magical side of things is invisible for people who are in a hurry, more interested in mechanical things.”
My aim is to capture the ‘magical side of things’ in the Passages, albeit in the 21st century. There is too much to look at for me to be in a hurry – using my 1979 camera!
To think that I bought my Nikon FE that I still use, when Doisneau was shooting his project.