Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Tatyana on English is weird
Brian Micklethwait on New York construction cranes in action
Andrew Duffin on New York construction cranes in action
Friday Night SMoke on English is weird
Scott Morter on 55 Broadway
Ben on Incoming imagery from Antoine
Brian Micklethwait on Face recognition – face disguise – the age of pseudo-omniscience
Brian Micklethwait on The new US Embassy – from my roof
Brian Micklethwait on New Thin Things in New York (but not in Lower Manhattan)
Michael Jennings on The new US Embassy – from my roof
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Category archive: France
Well, not quite a decade. I’ve been photoing photoers since well before this, but the first of these particular snaps was taken in July 2007. They illustrate that I have been concerning myself with the photoing of photoers while contriving, in one way or another, not to photo their faces, for a long while now. When I started taking photos of photoers, face recognition was a mere idea, used by implausibly attractive detectives on the telly but not yet a real thing in the real world. Now, with the social media and ubiquitous digital photography, faces (not just big faces but faces in crowds) can be dated and placed and identified, of everyone, and very soon by everyone.
I just picked out a few photos that I like (although, it soon became a bit more than a few). I like them because the pose is fun (6.2, 6.4), or because they’re strongly back-lit (1.1, 3.4), or because the screen is so clearly visible (6.1), or because the faces of photoers are hidden by bubbles (7.3), or by a coat (7.1), or by an orange bag with the Eiffel Tower on it (that one is the one snap of these that was not taken in London (that’s Paris, Feb 2012)), or because they’re photoing through some bars (in this case at the top of the Monument (1.3)), or because they were just too far away (in one of the pods of The Wheel and on the other side of the river (5.3)), or because they are simply facing the other way or holding their cameras (or their arms or their hands holding their cameras (1,2, 1.4, 4.1, 4.3, 5.1, 6.4, 7.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4)) in front of their faces. My favourite face-blocking device here is the blue balloon (2.1) saying visit Mexico. The balloon goes very nicely with the Testicle (click and look on the blue square below if you are baffled). Happy times:
The most recent of these was taken when I was photoing that model of the City of London (8.4). Someone else was also.
After assembling these thirty two snaps, I did more browsing, and I soon realised that I could easily have found another thirty two more, and more, many more, of equal fun-ness.
Like with everything else, good photography comes from doing the same thing again and again.
I already showed you some Narbonne bridges, snapped during my France expedition. Here are more bridges.
Are these first lot of bridges really bridges, or are they just buildings with holes in the bottom of them to let people through? I reckon these make the cut, but once the buildings start really piling up on top of the holes …?:
I’m doing these bridge photos in sets of three, and next is a clutch of photos of a set of three bridges that connect the town of Ceret to the other side of the local river. Picasso spent time in Ceret, because of the light. (I also photoed Renault Picassos.)
The regular shot of these bridges is from below, as you can see if you click on the second of these photos. But I was with people who were in a hurry, so I only got to photo the bridges from the other bridges, or in one case, the shadow of a bridge, from the bridge. And oh look, photographers!:
In the first of these next three bridge photos, there are three more bridges, by my count. They’re in the seaside town of Collioure. The other two are in Perpignan, where, just like in Quimper (where I have also visited these same friends (G(od)D(aughter)2’s family) – they have houses all over the place), there is a river flowing through the middle of the town with multiple bridges over it.
Finally, here are some rather more modern bridges. First there is one of the main motorway from France to Spain, which carries a lot of lorries.
The motorways of Europe may, I surmise, be the place on earth where robot drivers have their first seriously big impact. Robot cars are too complicated, and to start with, what will be the point of them? But robot lorries will be able to travel a lot faster than regular lorries, for a lot longer than regular lorries, on roads that are the most controlled and predictable roads in existence. European motorways carry colossal amounts of freight, unlike in the USA, where a lot freight goes by train, Europe’s railways being full of passenger trains. And there’s nothing like a sight of this particular motorway, handily shown off by being placed on the side of a mountain in full view of the local and non-charged version of the same road, to see all this.
In the middle below is a hastily snapped shot from a bridge as we drove over it, over a newly constructed high speed passenger railway, again connecting France to Spain. Brand new railways lines have a certain pristine charm, I think, with the gravel under the tracks yet to be blackened by constant use.
Finally, we have what may well be my favourite South of France bridge photo of them all, on the right there. This is one of those unselfconsciously functional footbridges, which more and more abound in towns and cities (London has many such bridges), and which join work spaces off the ground to other work spaces off the ground. This particular footbridge is in Perpignan.
Quite why such bridges, which have long been around, are now proliferating is an interesting question. Maybe it is just that organisations are getting bigger, and demand bigger buildings, and connecting two buildings by a footbridge of this sort turns two buildings into one building, at any rate for certain purposes. If two bureaucracies that live across the road from each other merge, then a bridge joining the top floors together is the logical first managerial step. This allows the new bosses to commune with one another, without having to trundle up and down and across the road all day long, rubbing their shoulders with the unclean shoulders of their underlings. Lower footbridges bridges enable functional specialisation to proliferate among lesser personages.
But, what do I know? My point is, I like such footbridges. And whereas most of the other bridges in this posting are the sort that feature in lots of other people’s photos and in picture postcards, these Brand-X urban footbridges are only a Thing because I say they are. Which is a major purpose of truly good photography. Truly good photography doesn’t just celebrate the already much celebrated; truly good photography offers new objects of potential celebration.
So now I will celebrate this Perpignan footbridge some more:
I have already shown you some horizontalised signs that I snapped in France. Here is a selection of the more regularly shaped sorts of signs, in the order I snapped them:
I love the ambiguity of the very first (1.1) of them, with the French for bread being pain.
Whoever thought that theatre (1.3) could be so dangerous.
That T-shirt (2.2) is a reminder of how many Brits there are in these parts, and the “Tattoo and piercing” sign (3.4) of how French people think English is cool. The French go to England to work. The Anglos (apart from those going there to sing) go to France to unwind, as I was doing. I’m guessing that’s roughly how it is. France specialises in being nice. England specialises in being busy.
I like how the French for cul-de-sac, which you would expect to be “cul-de-sac”, is actually “impasse” (4.1), which in English means something rather different.
I like (4.2) how on building sites, everyone gets credit, like at the end of a movie.
And then there are all those street name signs, that double up as history lessons. 2.4 and 3.1 are too famous to need a date, but one (3.1) still needs a brief explanation. But I love how the guy who does need a date (3.2) would probably have been awarded dates no matter what, because look at those dates! I only just noticed this.
I like how the French for diversion is deviation (4.3).
That Crack sign (4.4) was actually not in France but in a big shopping centre in Spain.
2.1 is reminder that not all signs in France are as informative as most of them are.
For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify. For years, I could not do that. I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.
Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.
Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives. There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world. (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is. Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something. (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)
And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it. Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things. But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.
Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable. This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be. Occasional is bother. Always. Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.
Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly. This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be. If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance. Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it. This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us. Ants definitely.
The above explains why the division of labour was so epoch-making. When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting. The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.
So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos. Using PhotoCat for that one thing.
But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load. It got to 80%, and then stuck there. Who knows why? Was this PhotoCat’s fault? Was it something I was doing? Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point. It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.
And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time. Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action. It’s now all mine:
That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France. I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar. (Question. Does art lead life in computing? Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)
PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly. Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1 degree increments. If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact. But, PhotoPad does volunteer this. With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1 degree or 2 degrees (or 359 degrees), you can do 1.38 degrees or 1.77 degrees or 358.61 degrees. You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement. You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves. Terrific. Cool, even.
So. PhotoCat now offers me … nothing. So, … see above.
Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat. Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.
Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):
That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.
I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.
The email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”. When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).
Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat. See right.
Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane! So very tall, and so very thin. It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything. I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London. Not that Antoine’s crane is in London. It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.
I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes. When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.
It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.
As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below. Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.
There are four such bridges in the world.
And the pictures follow: Ponte Vecchio; Krämerbrücke, Erfurt; the Rialto in Venice; Pulteney Bridge in Bath. (The old London Bridge is, alas, no more.)
But then the bit about how there are four such bridges was crossed out, and this was added:
Update: Apparently, there are a few more. Pont des Marchands in Narbonne, France, is one example.
Narbonne? I was in Narbonne only days ago, hearing GodDaughter 2 and her pals sing the solo parts in the Mozart Requiem. Afterwards, we walked beside the river back to the car. Did I, I wonder, photo this Pont des Marchands? I do recall bridges, and I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t photoed them. Here are a couple of Narbonne bridges, that I photoed then:
So, did the Pont des Marchands figure in my bridge-snapping?
Image google image google.
The Pont des Marchands looks like this:
I had already copied those two bridge pictures above into my FranceMay2016/bridges subdirectory, but in that directory, there was no sign of anything with shops on top of it. However, another look through all the pictures I took in Narbonne that evening brought me to ... this:
The bridge in the front there is the one in the left of the two bridges above. Behind that little footbridge, could that be the Pont des Marchands, seen from the other side? Got to be. Those Ms certainly look encouraging. Short answer, after only a very little more image googling: yes.
There’s nothing quite like seeing something for yourself. And the next best thing is when you photo it without seeing it, and then see later that you did see it after all.
Friday is my day for creatures of all kinds. Cats, yes, but other creatures too.
Here is a dog picture I took in France that I rather like. Okay it’s a bit blurry, but the car was wizzing by, and I tracked it by swinging my camera round to follow it:
According to the reviews of it at Amazon, I might have got a much better picture had I been using one of these, which is the camera I now lust after.
Here, on the other hand is a cat picture, of a cat clock, taken in Céret:
That is not a favourite picture. I show it merely because the lady at the centre of the next picture was taking a photo of this cat clock:
And that picture I do like, even though that’s me in the middle, reflected in the shop window.
I love pictures like this, where I stand in front of the window blocking the light onto the window, with the result that my reflection creates, as it were, a window through the window. Where my shadow calls, we see through the window. Where it doesn’t, what we see is what is reflected in the window.
Here is another cat, this time a real one, which we all saw just as we were getting into the car in Thuir to go to Narbonne, to sing in or to just be in the audience for Mozart’s Requiem. I do not often see a cat sleeping in a tree, but this one was:
Here is another creature picture, of those particular creatures called humans. The picture emphasises, I think you will agree, human biology:
And finally, back here in London, I photoed some pelicans in St James’s Park this afternoon, with a fountain going off behind them:
Note the baby pelican there. The eastern end of St James’s Park, where this snap was snapped, looking west towards Buckingham Palace, is one of my favourite places in London just now. One of many, admittedly, but definitely one.
I love signs. They communicate a lot, by their nature, but they are not considered Art, so they aren’t preserved. They come and go, and stuff that comes and goes is how a photographer who is only an okay photographer makes his photos count for something.
So, I gathered together all the sign photos I took, to do a big collection. But that was taking too long, so I picked out the long thin ones, and here are those ones, in chronological order. I really did take the first one first:
Click on each to get the bigger pictures.
No coincidence that two of them - arguably three of them - are in English. There’s quite a bit of English to be seen in French shops, just as there’s quite a bit of French in English shops.
Byrrh is the local drink of Thuir. It’s a lot like Port. I’d link to the website, but it makes noises that you have actively to silence. I hate that.
What “lefties” means, when on the front of a shop, I have absolutely no idea.
LATER: This was all done in great haste, and I neglected to mention that the “lefties” sign is actually in Spain, in a big shopping centre we visited (and got stuck in because of traffic jams all afternoon (don’t ask)). But, I still like the sign and am still baffled by it.
Another sign of advancing years, to add to all the other signs discussed here, is that if you go on holiday somewhere for X days, X further days is how long it will take you to recover. The longer you are away, the longer the recovery period. I went to France on May 3rd, returned on May 10th, which means that by about May 17th I will be approximately myself again. But throughout the time between now and the 17th, France will still be on my mind, and I consider myself entitled to post pictures I took in that country relentlessly until the 17th, and perhaps even beyond that date.
Here is a picture of a house that looks like a face:
Well, the picture of the house looks like a face if you crop it the way I did. Click to get the original picture, and it becomes a little harder to spot.
I don’t think that houses that look like faces is an entirely frivolous subject. After all, one of the most common complaints you hear about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”. To a certain extent, all trad-looking houses look like they’ve got faces. This house just takes that tendency a little further than most.
I am a very infrequent flyer, and the thrill of flying that I felt as a child has never really left me. As Louis CK has it, I’m in a chair in the sky, travelling at an unimaginable speed. And the magic of flight is, for me, even more magical if you can see out of the window, so I like to pay extra for a window seat, and ever since digital cameras, take digital photos. I’ll never forget photoing the mighty Millau Viaduct, back when I did that.
So, today, on the way back from Perpignan to Stansted, I took photos through the window. But the clouds today were very cloudy and the only photo I took today that I consider worth a second look was this one, not of what I saw through the window, but of the window itself:
Those little things that look at bit like flying birds or insects are actually cracks in (on?) the glass, right? So, how is that safe? How is that allowed? I did a bit of exhausted googling just now, and got nothing, but I did try. (Maybe there is an answer in this, but I couldn’t quickly find it.) I’m not saying it’s unsafe, and that it shouldn’t be allowed, because obviously it is allowed, and it’s obviously safe. Flying is safer than crossing a road, and if those cracks were going to split the airplane open, they’d not be allowed. But to me, that’s what’s interesting. These little cracks are obviously not going to get bigger, any time soon. Assuming cracks is what they are.
LATER: Thanks, as always, to Friday Night Smoke, for one of his always informative comments, on the above. He tells us that these are not cracks, but little bits of ice. Further inspection of my photo archive confirms this.
Obviously, being ice, these “cracks” are on the outside of the plane, on the outermost of the three layers of airplane window. Soon after the photo above was taken, the Ryanairplane descended into the clouds over Stansted Airport, at which point I took the photo below. At the time, what interested me was that the water was moving upwards across the window, on account of the airplane descending. But now what it proves is that those “cracks” have now melted:
I don’t know what that road is. Presumably something near Stansted Airport. Google maps google maps: M11.
The weather in Thuir and surrounding parts yesterday and today has been grim, in sharp contrast to the weather at the end of last week.
Here is that sharp (as in sharp and then not at all sharp) contrast:
On the left, the weather last week, as viewed from the top of the house I am staying in. On the right, the weather viewed from the same spot this afternoon. The weather on the left was the sort that decreased the apparent force of gravity. The weather now is the sort that you describe yourself as being under.
Note that it is not only the far away Pyrenees that have disappeared in the right hand picture. The further away bit of the much nearer, green bit of the landscape has also vanished under cloud.
These two pictures (click on either to get it bigger) both involved a lot of cropping, and fiddling about to get the cropping exactly (or approximately exactly) so. Without Photocat, I could never have done it.
I am looking forward to maybe (I promise nothing) doing similar before-and-after snaps involving recently constructed buildings in London.
The Mozart Requiem, or “Rec” (sp?) as performers apparently call it, was duly performed yesterday in the magnificent setting of Narbonne Cathedral, and was wonderful. G(od) D(aughter) 2 and her colleagues sang beautifully throughout.
However, because of an oddity of the Cathedral’s acoustics, men’s voices would often leap out in front of of the general wash of sound, like closely recorded concerto soloists. This happened when the chorus was singing, and it also happened when the lady soloists were singing in unison with the gentlemen soloists. When that was happening, the lady soloists, mezzo-soprano Alice Ruxandra Bell (GD2) and soprano Isabelle Atkinson were, at any rate as heard from where I was sitting, somewhat drowned out by the gents. The gents sang beautifully, but so did the ladies and you had to listen rather too carefully for my liking to realise this.
But towards the end came the Benedictus. In this, rather than the ladies and the gents all singing at once, there were precious moments when the ladies were duetting together, while the gents waited their turn to do likewise, the gents complementing the ladies rather than singing over them. Heaven. At which point you realised why, following an earlier performance of an identical programme in the town of Ceret last year, a repeat performance was requested for Narbonne, with identical forces.
The all-important chorus, despite my acoustic quibbles, sounded great, as did the orchestra.
My feeling at the end of the Requiem was: I wish I could hear that Benedictus again. Not right now, necessarily, but, you know, some time. Was anyone, I wondered, attempting a recording of this occasion? Following the enthusiastic ovation that greeted the performance, conductor François Ragot and his soloists returned to do an encore, and guess what. They did a repeat of the Benedictus. Heaven again.
Earlier, in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, Séverine Paris was the mellifluous and utterly assured soloist. The slow movement was, for me, especially eloquent.
Attendance at this event was free of charge, which perhaps was why the Cathedral was so packed. Afterwards, the soloists said what a joy it was to be performing for such a huge throng in such a wonderful building. Being just one of the throng was pretty marvellous too.
Today, I will be journeying from Thuir to Narbonne, to hear a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Narbonne Cathedral. I will share the car journey with G(od)D(aughter) 2’s parents, the soprano soloist, the mezzo-soprano soloist (GD2), and the baritone soloist (I wrote about his performance as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore in June of last year). I heard a tiny snatch of these three singers rehearsing this afternoon. Despite an unforgiving acoustic (quite unlike the cathedral), and the then very incomplete orchestra, it sounded to me like it will be excellent, particularly the three soloists I will be rooting for. I heard nothing of the chorus, but conductor François Ragot is much loved by all and I’m sure they’ll do well.
Later, I also got hear a distant snatch of the piece that will proceed the Requiem, Mozart’s similarly beloved Clarinet Concerto. That too sounded very promising.
I mention all this now (now being the very small hours of the night before) because today (i.e. tomorrow) looks like being a complicated day, and the option of not doing anything more here today (i.e. tomorrow) is one that it will be very convenient to have.
Postcards like this one, which I photoed this morning, in ... well, you can see where:
Why not just take my own photos?
Well, I do take my own photos, a ton of them, and many of them look extremely like the ones in this photo of a clutch of photos. But what I learn from these picture postcard pictures is what in, in this case, the small historic town of Castelnou is considered by all the others who visit Castelnou to be most worthy of photographic attention. I may agree. I may disagree. Either way, I consider this to be interesting information.
I went Ryanair to Perpignan to get here. I made a point of booking a window seat, but tragically, the wing was centre stage, thus:
I choose that photo to show you what sort of window my window seat was next to. There are nice, clean, easy-to-see-through windows, and there are Ryanairplane windows. So, I didn’t attempt many photos on my journey.
But as we approached Perpignan airport, from the sea, which involved the Ryanairplane obligingly taking a sharp right turn and lowering its wing out of the way, with the snowcapped Pyrenees way out in the distance, I had to at least try:
That being what I finally saw, after I managed to persuade the Thuirian computer that I am now laboriously using, to show it.