Posts Tagged ‘ photography ’

Toulouse: Rugby country

Next stop on my tour of France was Toulouse.  There were a few cities in the area that sounded interesting, but there was one thing that I wanted to do in Toulouse that made me come here rather than Montpellier or somewhere else.  At the moment I’m thinking that I should’ve stayed in Marseille though as it was the first rainy day of the holiday yesterday, thankfully today was reasonably sunny though.

I started off yesterday morning with a trip to Tourist Information and then a walk around town.  The first thing that hit me was that Spanish is definitely the second language here, everything’s in French and most things are written in Spanish, then if you’re lucky there’ll be an English translation, and it’s tough being German or Italian.  The tourist information signs around the city are all translated to Spanish, the street names are in Spanish and the station names are announced in Spanish on the métro too.  I found out later that the city was where Spanish revolutionaries escaped to when General Franco was in power, so the ties with the the country are still strong.

I made the now routine stop at one of the city’s Basilicas, Saint Sernin, which is very austere with the only thing brightening it up being a set of completely unintelligible modern art which depict scenes from Jesus’ life, allegedly.  When I left a small flea market was being set up outside, with a guy selling used bikes, another selling pots and pans, but what caught my eye in a pile of junk was a red heart shaped “Just Married” cushion, and it made me wonder who would buy someone a second hand Just Married cushion?  I didn’t hang around to find out.

The only other interesting thing that I saw before lunch was in the Notre Dame de la Daurade church which was on my wandering path.  There’s a wooden statue inside of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, but they’re black and no one’s sure why.

toulouse notre dame de la daurade

Black Virgin Mary

After lunch I saw that there were Oxfam charity collectors out on the street, and I managed to avoid one by blurting out “Je ne suis pas Français,” which worked.  Ten minutes later though another one came up to me and said something about my shoes which I didn’t understand.  I told her that I wasn’t French, but she said “Ah, but I speak English too!” Touche!  So we ended up having a chat in French about the weather, Scotland and the fact that Oxfam isn’t known in France but is in the UK.  Maybe I should’ve had a chat to the first woman too, as it was actually quite nice!

The only big thing that I did yesterday was to go and watch Stade Toulousain play rugby against Brive, which I’d bought a ticket for a couple of weeks ago.  Getting to the stadium was a bit of a trek, they have two stadiums and it was in the smaller one, not Stade Toulouse, which is further out of town.  First you take the métro out of the city, the a shuttle bus from the métro station, walk along a stony canal path then cross a pontoon bridge to make it to the stadium.

The game itself was very close, 9-12 at half time and Toulouse eventually won 23-22.  It was the first rugby game I’ve been to without anyone with me to explain what was happening, but I got on OK although there were a couple of decisions that I didn’t understand.  The atmosphere was pretty friendly between both sides too, at least until Brive scored the last points of the game through a controversial converted try near the end.

toulouse rugby

Toulouse in Black, but Brive were way stronger at the scrums

By the time I made it back to the centre of the city it was after 4 o’clock, so I went to explore the shops and squares in the centre.  The almost-pedestrianised zone at the heart of the city is actually really nice, and I was surprised that I saw the same number of small independent shops selling cool and interesting things in one day in Toulouse that I have in 7 months on Paris.  I think they’re just better hidden in Paris, but in Toulouse they’re more prominent alongside the bigger chains.

Today I had another art gallery day, starting in the morning at Les Abattoirs, which is a strange name for the modern art museum.  I suppose the original use of the buildings may have been an abattoir, but they could have named it something else.  I’ve decided to start playing a game of “guess what it is” whenever I see an untitled piece of modern art, as it should keep me amused for hours.  I need to work on my out-of-the-box thinking, but my favourite one is below.  Even titles of some pieces don’t help me at all in trying to decrypt the meaning behind them.

toulouse zombie dog

Untitled. Zombie dog?

Second stop was a museum dedicated to photography called the Château d’Eau, which is a pretty small looking place.  It used to be a water tower for the city from the year 1823, hence the name, but fell into disuse after some years.  1823 was the same year photography was developed, which is the link to why it’s now a photo gallery.  I didn’t know what their exhibition was before I got there but it turned out to be of a Lithuanian photographer that I’d never heard of, Antanas Sutkus, who took photos of life and people during Soviet times.  All of his photos were in black and white and didn’t really follow the rules of composition that I’ve been told, but I’ve also been told that the rules are meant to be broken.  Some interesting photos, some that were a bit mundane, but it was pretty good.

The city, like Lyon, was pretty quiet on Sunday.  There were people on the streets, and the bars and cafés were open as well as the museums, but as usual almost all the shops are closed with only some food shops opening.  I saw my first “statue guy” of the holiday today when I was walking around.  He wasn’t bad (well, he wasn’t moving much) but no one seemed very interested in him and walked straight past.  I felt a little sorry for him, but I did the same thing too.  He was standing on a quiet street though, and I think if he went and stood in the Place du Capitole, the main square in the city, that he might’ve found an audience.

Last thing to do before making it to the train station was to follow the Toulouse Resistance tour around the city, which points out locations in the city where resistance activity took place during World War 2.  It was good but standard stuff, like the resistance press and the organisation of the movement.  One of the differences in Toulouse was that because they’re close to the Spanish border, they helped people get into and out of France over the Pyrenees mountains which sounds like it would be a terrible journey, but better than not going.

And now I’m on the move again…



I spent the last weekend in 1925.

I was taking photos again at a game for my role playing friend.  The last (and first) game I was a photographer for was set in Casablanca during the time it was under Nazi control, and it was positively simple and straightforward compared to this weekend’s game.

The game was called Le Magot De Pépé which roughly translates to Pépé’s Treasure.  An old man called Pépé has died while in Switzerland, and his family and friends are gathered at his chateau waiting for his body to return and be buried in the family crypt.  He was the owner of a company which purified and sold bronze, and as well as the family who were present at the funeral there were lots of other interesting, and as we would later find out, mysterious mourners.

There were around 30 players for the game which was being played for the first time, as well as the two creators and organisers of the game and four other non-players like myself.  It’s a huge job to put it on and it wasn’t without a few hiccups and lots of late nights for the organisers.  In the end everyone received a character bio (some only 24 hours before the game started) and was well fed, and the story developed kinda smoothly through the day.

The game started at 9am with breakfast in character, after which I took portrait photos of the players for posterity.  After that I was free to walk around taking photos of anything that seemed important or interesting, and since I didn’t understand the story that was unraveling (I could understand conversations but I couldn’t put them together into anything cohesive), I just took photos of things that looked interesting.

After breakfast the body arrived and the funeral ceremony took place with all the mourners, then is laid to rest in the family crypt.  When the mourners entered the chateau after the funeral, 5 phantoms had appeared and started communicating with the living.

magotdepepe crypt

The Crypt

After this I kinda lost track of the story, and so did some of the players as far as I could tell as things kept getting weirder.  To cut a long story short, the game ended at 3:30am with lots of tired people including me.  Sore hands from carrying almost 2kg of camera all day and sore legs from being on my feet for more than 19 hours.

All of the non-players were run off their feet during the game, catching up on sleep and nutrition whenever they found a few spare minutes.  One of the guys was the chef, which by itself was a full time job, as well as creeping around scaring people between meals and setting up props all over the property.  Dinner eventually started around 11pm, which I think is the latest that I’ve ever had a main meal.

magotdepepe playing into the night

Playing late into the night

As far as the photos went I took a few good ones, and enough acceptable ones to make being there worth it.  The morning and afternoon were really frustrating though as my camera was in a mode that I didn’t understand (following it being repaired), where the flash would fire but it’d still take half a second to expose the photo.  This resulted in lots of blurry shots, and I didn’t understand why until half the game was over.  I guess if I was looking on the bright side I could at least say “at least I learned something new,” but that really doesn’t make me feel any better.

I took some really nice photos of the women who were playing.  They looked very glamourous wearing their 1920’s dresses and period hair, but the guys didn’t look very different to today.  The men generally wore hats, and the styles of shirts and suits were a little different but not hugely.

I still quite like being a photographer at the games as it’s a little like being a ghost, which is fitting in this game.  I walk around and see and hear things that other people can’t, and even if I can’t piece the story together I still understand that I know something that the other players would love to find out.  They do a pretty good job of ignoring me too, even when I try to burn their retinas with my flash.

I can normally enter rooms which are otherwise closed too, except once when I walked past the bathroom and heard one male and one female voice having a conversation.  Slightly curious, I was polite enough to knock and say “photographe” before trying the door which was locked.  Cue giggles from inside.  I still don’t know who they were or what they were doing, but I guess they were having an in game relationship.

magotdepepe korrigan

An organiser at 1am

So now I have over 600 photos to sort through and process before next Friday.  Lots of night with little sleep ahead then.  I need to try and get them finished before then as I’m in Amsterdam this coming weekend and then heading off on holiday for 2 weeks the following Friday.  That’ll come on top of the past weekend’s sleep deprivation 😦

It’s all go at the moment.


Last weekend I hooked up with the photo group again.  Someone suggested that we go and see fire breathers on Saturday night and it sounded pretty cool.  It also made me think that there must be hundreds of interesting things going on all over the city that I have no idea about, and somehow I need to find out about them.

After we’d met up we headed to the place it was being held and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’d been raining though, so there were lots of nice reflections on the ground from the streetlights and we were hoping to get the same effect from the fire.

Paris fire reflection


When we arrived there were a few fire breathers and people swinging fire poi, and the first thing that we noticed (other than the abundance of fire) was the smell of petrol, which was really really strong.  It was pretty dark when we arrived too, and the fire was the only thing lighting parts of the big square that was around 30m long and wide so it looked impressive.

Paris fire fire poi

Fire poi

Paris fire floating


Apart from the people playing with fire there were reasonable sized crowds watching the action, and the people standing the closest were all photographers.  I’m not sure how it feels to have so many cameras trained on you, half way to celebrity maybe, but it was quite weird.  One guy turned up on 5m high stilts and spent the evening walking through the crowds.  I’m not really sure how he managed to balance on them all night, but it was certainly different.

Paris fire paparazzi


I spent 90 minutes walking around in total.  As well as fire poi, there were quite a few people who decided that it was safer not to play with fire and were swinging LED based poi which also looked pretty cool.  It was fun taking photos of orange fire all night, but also nice to find some blue, green or purple glow poi.

Paris fire glow poi

Glow Poi

It was actually the poi that impressed me the most as it seemed the only thing you had to be careful of when fire breathing was not to set yourself on fire, but the poi required concentration, coordination and skill as well as not setting yourself on fire.

Despite the fact that I was there to take photos all of my photos were pretty rubbish, but I’m going to blame my tools (aka my camera) which wasn’t really up to the job.  I’ve got lots of blurry noisy photos which is disappointing.  It’s probably partly my fault too, but I’m definitely going back when I’ve got my DSLR back from repair and I’ll take my tripod too!

I was explaining the evening to a colleague on Monday morning and I mentioned how the fire breathers didn’t seem to have any fear either of the fire nor of anything going wrong, and that I thought what they were doing was pretty dangerous.  When I explained this I realised that as I spectator I felt pretty safe, even though if something went wrong it could just as easily be me who was set on fire (luckily I wasn’t wearing any synthetic fibres)!  My colleague took my comment about it being dangerous in a different way, and commented on how much of the fuel they absorbed while it was in their mouths which is something that I hadn’t thought about.  Most of the people seemed young, in their 20s or early 30s, so I wonder what’ll happen to them in 10 or 20 years time…

Paris fire white hot

White hot (or overexposed)

La Defense

It’s been such a busy week two weeks that I’m only just getting round to writing about last weekend two weekends ago. I visited my first Xmas market of the winter at La Defense just outside of Paris, the first of many to come over the next month or so.

I went to La Defense with the photo group that I joined and I thought that we’d be going to take photos of the market, but we actually spent most of our time taking photos of the office blocks, statues, sculptures and other artwork that we came across. Not the most inspiring stuff, and I think the freezing temperatures didn’t help.

La Defense Cinema

It wasn’t all boring office blocks as most of the buildings and public spaces there are quite modern, so it did make a nice change from grand old Paris, but it was really quiet even though there were apartment blocks nearby.  Not many people wandering around on Friday night.

La Defense Lights

La Defense Lights

There were a few interesting things to take photos of, but I learned an important lesson when shooting at night:

  • Always take a tripod no matter how inconvenient it might be

I didn’t take mine so ended up with blurry photos. I’m heading off to Germany in a few days time and I know that I should take my tripod, but the idea of lugging around an extra 2 kilos all day really puts me off.

La Defense Xmas Tree

At the end of the night we made it to the Xmas market, and we got there just as the stalls were closing down for the night. It was the weirdest market that I’ve been to as in addition to the normal stalls selling sweets, slippers and gluhwein, then was a wooden kebab hut and another one selling sushi. Definitely not traditional, and even though Paris isn’t really a Xmas market region, a bit disappointing.

Hopefully Cologne, Berlin and Strasbourg will be better.

Hopefully I’ll get back into the rhythm of posting things in a kinda timely fashion too.

La Defense Stripes

Photo group walkabout in the 16th

Thursday was a public holiday in France as it was Remembrance Day.  It’s interesting that is a public holiday here as it’s not in the UK, where it’s commemorated on the weekend following the 11th of November.  Having a day of remembrance where most people actually don’t work or go shopping, and have time to think about the past wars and the people who were involved in them seems like a much more meaningful and respectful way to do it.

So anyway, I had an extra day off and decided to do something with it.  Earlier this month I joined a photography group hoping to learn a little more about how to use the Nikon D5000 DSLR that I bought last year.  I went to a drinks night with them at the start of the month, but on Thursday they’d arranged a walk around Paris’ 16th arrondissement in the west of the city.

The 16th is a wealthy area, with many foreign residents and some embassies too, and as it’s a wealthy area well known architects have designed some of the buildings in the area.  One of the most famous architects is Hector Guimard who designed a number of Art Nouveau styled buildings including the Castel Béranger (as well as the famous green metal Métro entrances).

Castel Béranger
The entrance of the Castel Béranger

A lot of people pulled out at the last minute because it was raining all day on Thursday, so there were only 7 of us wandering the streets with cameras in hands.  The rain would normally be a problem, but the reflections and autumn leaves still gave chances to take some nice photos.

Motorbike reflections

Autumn leaves
Leaf collection

A couple of the photographers were using film cameras, which seemed a little odd at first, but after thinking about my first cameras I started feeling a little nostalgic for them.  Click-whirrrrrrrrrr!  After talking to them for a while I learned that they developed their own films too, and they could get effects that are pretty hard to achieve using digital cameras.  Part of me wants an old camera now, but I have no idea what I’d do with it or even if you can still get films developed.  I think I’ll file it in the “crazy ideas” folder and try to forget about it.

Undisturbed vélibs
Undisturbed vélibs

After 2 hours of following our guide and fellow photographer Olivier, we decided to get out of the rain and get some coffee.  Even the café we went to gave us some interesting subjects for photos, and I could have spent an hour there looking around and taking photos.

I think walking about with other people was really useful, and I definitely took some photos that I wouldn’t normally have noticed.  Still need to work to improve my eye for a good photo and composition, but it’s given me a bit of a kick to go out and take photos.  If they’re bad I can delete ’em, but maybe I’ll take some good ones too and learn something.

More photos are up on Flickr

Lights, taps and bottles
Lights, taps and bottles

Telephone booth
Telephone booth

Red stools
Red stools

Larry Clark retrospective

I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself today, so I had a look online to see the exhibitions and other events that were going on around Paris.

Eventually I saw that the Musée de l’Art Moderne had an exhibition on with photographs by Larry Clark called Kill The Past Hello and the name sounded familiar.  After reading the description I saw that he was the director of Kids and Bully, two films that I’d seen years ago, which were both about teenage guys and girls who were a little out of control.  I has no idea he was a photographer too, but that seems to be what he started out doing before becoming a film maker, and this was a retrospective of his work.

If you’ve ever seen the film Kids you can imagine what the exhibition was like.  In the film he cast normal kids from the streets of New York to act the scripted parts in the film, and as I said before, the kids are living in the inner city and doing what teenagers do.  Rebelling.  They spent most of their time drinking, taking drugs, stealing and having sex.

The start of the exhibition was a little strange, as it had photos taken by Clark’s mother, which were of children and dogs transplanted into normal children’s situations like a school classroom.  So some nice uncontroversial photos to start with.

The earliest of Larry Clark’s photos were taken in 1963 and had similar themes to Kids.  Kids who weren’t well off and some who it could be seen were poor.  The were bored and just looking for some fun and excitement, and they got this through taking drugs, drinking and sex.  What I didn’t know at the time that I saw the photos was that the early ones (the Tulsa collection) were actually of Larry Clark and his friends.

Unlike the film where the main character was a guy but there were also important female parts, the main focus of the photo collection were young men.  The girls who were photographed were mostly only there because of what the guys were getting up to.  Also the film shows the family life of the kids that the story follows, but there’s no sign of parents in the photographs, only teenagers.

The photos had a sense of machoism running through them, with young guys being proud of who they were, their bodies, and what they were doing to them.  They’re very intimate (and explicit) photos too, the kind that you might look back on 10 or 20 years later and regret, but I guess I’ll never know if that’s actually the case.

They’re also difficult to look at, unrelentingly harsh and “real”, and you know that despite the confidence the guys have the way they were leading their lives might have lead them into trouble or death.  I guess that’s a wise(r) head talking, and maybe if we were in that position we would do the same thing that they did.

A Larry Clark website shows a few of the photos and a quick bio explaining how and why they came to be. He sounds like quite an interesting guy.

Here are some of the safer photos from the (first) Tulsa collection that I found online:

Larry Clark - Tulsa 1

Larry Clark - Tulsa 2

Larry Clark - Tulsa 3

And a couple from the second Teenage Lust collection:

Larry Clark - Teenage Lust 1

Larry Clark - Teenage Lust 2

My new job as a LARP photographer

I’m just back from Brussels where I was the photographer yesterday for a LARP game organised by one of my friends from Amsterdam.  It’s the first time that I’ve been asked to photograph something rather than just doing it for my own pleasure and it was pretty good fun, although I’m not sure if I was actually good at it.

The game was called “Meurtre à Casablanca” (Death in Casablanca) set in 1942 Casablanca at a bar called Au Vieux Paris where an interesting group of people have gathered for various reasons to find a religious artifact.  The game setting is a mix between Casablanca (obviously) and Indiana Jones, and had a number of twists and turns during the 4 hours it took to play.

We roadtripped up to Brussels in a Renault Scenic driven by one of the players, and packed with 4 people and loads of props and clothes required for the game.  This included 2 rugs, a pair of leather pilot’s trousers, and my suit which I was asked to wear.

As the photographer I had access to all the game areas, behind doors that were normally locked to the players, and I got to see the order that everything happened in even if it took place behind closed doors.  Once I learned to make use of my access-all-areas pass, and was able to track where people were, it became much easier to find people meeting in locked rooms and take interesting photos.  Being able to see what was happening was good, as I wasn’t able to understand much of what was going on as it was all in French.  I’ve never played LARP games, but I felt like the insider’s view that I had of what was going on was more interesting than actually playing.  Of course I didn’t have to play a role (apart from the role of a photographer), which is most of the fun in LARP, but I’m not sure if I would enjoy doing that anyway.

After the game things were a bit more difficult as almost all of the post-game conversation was in French too, and I couldn’t keep up at all, though a few of the players and organisers made an effort to explain to me what they were taking about and helping me understand what had happened in the game.  On the up side, we went out to a bar for Belgian beer after the game!

After the 14-odd people who played and organised woke up this morning we went out into Brussels and to the Puces, the flea market held in one of the city’s squares.  The players were all looking for old clothes and props to use in future games and they had some success, including hats and north African themed serving trays.

All in all I had fun, despite the language problems and I think I’d like to do it again if I had the chance.  It was something different, and  got to meet some new people.  Hopefully they enjoy the photos.