Les Rues de Paris | The Streets of Paris – Part One

I’ve been fortunate to photograph Paris on many different occasions, most recently this past July when I was there to teach a workshop.  Paris is a city full of iconic landmarks of course, like the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, but the truth is that I find the most joy when I am simply sitting by the river, when I am walking along the narrow cobblestone streets, and when I spend time chatting with people in little shops and cafés.  Every one of these simple activities has the potential for so many new experiences and new photographs.  I love that.

Most of the photos from my July trip have been sitting on my computer, unedited, for about six months now.  I’m not sure why I didn’t process them right away, maybe I just needed to let them sit for a bit.  Regardless of the reason, it has been a lot of fun to re-visit these images with fresh eyes.  They bring back memories of travel with family and friends, of working with wonderful students, and of a city that I will never tire of photographing.

This post is part one in a three part series that will feature new street work from La Ville Lumière, the City of Lights (all images captured with the Fujifilm X100F).  I will be back in Paris this June for another workshop, but until then I have these photos to work through.  I hope you like them!

Cheers,

Ian

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Two

Camera information:  Fujifilm X100F | f/7.1  | 1/550th | ISO 200

It was 2:30pm as we emerged from Vancouver International Airport into the warm summer sun, 15 hours after we had checked out of our hotel in Paris and started the long journey home.  Somewhere over the Atlantic my enthusiasm and love of travel faded, replaced by fatigue brought on by the long flight, the climate controlled cabin and, of course, the 9 hour time difference.

As we started walking to our car I saw this photo right away; the strong backlighting catching my eye as it created silhouettes of the people moving along the walkway.  The scene had everything I love in an image:  beautiful, high contrast light and strong lines (vertical, horizontal and diagonal).  Wonderful colours with interesting reflections.  It was all right there.

I saw it, but in my exhausted state I just kept walking.  

Thankfully, for reasons unexplained, my favourite Chuck Close quote popped into my head:

“Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work.  If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.  All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

I hate his misuse of the word amateur in this quote, but I love the sentiment.  Great photos come from the effort, they come from rolling up our sleeves and getting the work done.  There are days when photography feels effortless and we come home with a memory card full of pure awesome.  There are other days though, days like this one, where we just need to power through whatever we are feeling and get the job done.  Great photos deserve this.

So, I went back.

My camera was already in Aperture Priority Mode and Auto-ISO when I pulled it out of my bag, and a little negative Exposure Composition was all that was needed to place the exposure where I wanted it (with the highlights somewhat controlled and the dark shadows crushed a little bit further).  The composition itself came easily, with the tower in the top right balanced against the backlit walkway that starts in the lower left of the frame.  

I was happy with these static elements, and knew that the people walking through the strong backlight, captured as silhouettes, would provide the missing dynamic elements that were needed to complete the image.  The first few people I photographed were quite tall, their height causing them to blur into the darkness around them.  I prefer silhouettes of people to be clean and fully backlit, however, so I shot for a few more minutes until I had the photo seen above.  Once I was satisfied with the image I rejoined my oh-so-patient family and we continued our commute home.

The photo required very little work in post, just sharpening and a slight contrast boost. 

Craft and vision are essential parts of photography, but they are of little value without execution.  I am sure all of us, at one time or another, have walked past an image without shooting and then regretted it later.  I almost did that on this day, but I am glad I didn’t.  The next time you encounter a situation like this just make the image, push through your hesitation and take out your camera.  The reward is worth it!

I hope that you enjoyed this instalment of the Photographic Insights Series.  

Until next time,

Ian

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About this series:  

Ansel Adams once said:  

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

This statement is absolutely true.  To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.”  I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work.  Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.

When I look at another photographer’s image I am always interested in the photographer’s thought process:  What drew their eye in the first place?  What did they see in their mind?  What was their process for the creation of the image?  How did they go about achieving success?

With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them.  The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well.  My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me. 

Adversity & Acceptance

I’ve spoken often about my journey with PTSD and how it shaped me as an artist.  There are articles about it here on this site, posts about it on my Instagram, I deliver inspirational presentations about it when I am hired to teach and I am about to share what I learned from my journey in an upcoming book.  I have shared my story relentlessly, because I know it helps others who are facing their own challenges and because we are a community of artists who should always support each other.  

Today, however, I’d like to talk about my friend Clint and something that he wrote recently…

Clint and I have known each other for decades, going all the way back to high school.  We are casual friends by any definition:  we see each other occasionally, know some of the same people, enjoy some of the same activities, that kind of thing.  Music has always been our closest bond; we have never shared the stage together, but I have bought guitars from him, rehearsed in his studio, played many of the same venues he did, etc.  Clint is a mad creative talent, someone I respect far beyond the casualness of our friendship.

Simply put:  Clint inspires me, just as many of you do.

Last year, Clint asked me to go for coffee.  While catching up, he had a lot of questions about my journey and how it had impacted my life as a creative.  I didn’t realize it at the time, and I certainly don’t hang out with Clint enough to know his tells, but I can see now that he was searching for something.

…we met again a few months later, where he told me that he had been diagnosed with MS.  

Over the last year I have watched Clint work his way through the reality of his new normal, and have seen him embrace life in a new and exciting way.  Last week Clint shared his story with everyone, and I, in turn, want to share it with you.  

Most of you know that I was a paramedic long before I was a full time photographer, a job that taught me that you can never predict what life is going to throw at you.  I also learned, however, that you usually have control over what you do with life’s challenges, how you respond to them, and how you let them shape you.  I have gone through this personally, come out the other side with a life that is absolutely amazing most days, and now I am watching as a friend goes through it too.  

And, one again, I am inspired.  

Here is the post that Clint put up on his site, I hope that it inspires you as it did me.  Next week, we will be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Cheers,

Ian

You never know where life is gonna take you…

Short version;

Professional guitar player. Diagnosed with MS. Found a camera.

Long version;

For 34 years I have played guitar.

I picked up the guitar at age 13.

I graduated high school and within two weeks I was “on the road”, in a beat to shit van, playing shitty bars, breathing in shitty cigarette smoke and playing shitty music.

I loved it.

Every minute. Every Note. Every chord. Every song.

I loved it.

Somewhere along the way my band got really good. We became the house band at the world famous Roxy night-club. We played corporate events. We were flown to shows. And we played venues and stages where I watched my heroes do the same before me.

And then others came calling.

I became the “official guitar player” for a Canadian Country singer who is probably the best singer I have ever heard. Like, ever.

I built a recording studio in my home.

I played festival stages.

I was nominated for a producer of the year award with a local music association.

I flew to Nashville once a year. I networked. I shook hands. I kissed babies.

And I wrote and recorded personal music on a project with one of my very best friends.

And all of this was happening while I maintained my day-job. A day-job which, to this day, I still love.

Life was good. Life was busy…like, uber busy…but, it was good. As a “semi-professional musician” I really couldn’t have asked for more.

One night in 2015 I came home from a show and I told Kelly I couldn’t feel my right leg. It felt like my leg had fallen asleep.

This carried on for two weeks.

I went to the doctor.

Over the course of 9 months I went to a Neurologist, MRI appointments and eye tests. During this 9 month period my vision became compromised and I also started to lose sensation in my right hand.

God bless the guys in my band. If they noticed any mistakes or differences in my performances, they sure didn’t say anything. But, I noticed. I noticed a decline in facility on my instrument.

I was worried.

And then…in February of 2016…I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). (Insert needle-scratching-on-a-record sound effect here).

Now, everyone deals with something like this in their own way. The details are not important but I can tell you I went through that whole Kubler Ross thing. You know, the five stages of something thing. I spent a lot of time in the “bargaining” stage. For a long time I referred to my diagnosis as “the alleged MS”.

But, after that, I got to acceptance. And I got there pretty quick. For reasons I’ll never know or be able to explain, I accepted it.

And I think that’s the whole point of this long, rambling post.

We all have adversity. We all have shit. Some, much more significant than an MS diagnosis. But, regardless of the event, regardless of the circumstances, it is my opinion, it is my experience that, the sooner we can get to ‘acceptance’, the sooner we can get to what it means for us and what comes next.

Kelly says, “We are always in choice.” You may not like the choices…but you are always in choice…and the choice is yours to make.

So, I slowed down.

I passed go, I collected my 200 dollars and….I slowed down.

I focused on health.

I took time.

I put down my guitar.

And then, the hardest decision of all, the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in all of this, reared it’s big fat, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking head.

I had to tell my band I couldn’t do it. I had to stop playing music.

My beloved brothers and sisters who I had shared a stage with for 23 years, my refuge of creativity and vulnerability….I had to say goodbye to.

Truth is, I was probably ready for a break. Anybody working a regular career while spending every weekend in a bar until 3am…is in need of a break.

And you know what? It’s ok.

After achieving a “new normal” I’ve been able to become very intentional with my decisions.

I’ve reevaluated.

I’ve “self actualized”, whatever that even means, but my counsellor uses the term and I thought it sounds smart.

I took up CrossFit.

I started running again.

I learned how to cook a really good cast-iron skillet steak.

I bought a Volkswagen Van.

And I got to spend weekends with Kelly.

And I got to watch Jacob from across the room….watch him make decisions and move towards the kind of person he will be. And it’s a good one.

And, because of some unbelievably serendipitous and supportive circumstance with my day career, I’ve picked up photography. As a “creative” I need to scratch that itch. And photography is now providing that for me.

I still play music. I just do it in a much more intentional and meaningful-to-me way. And the bonds with my band mates have become even stronger.

All this is to say, if you are going through something….anything…I encourage you to just slow down. Sit still for a while. Reevaluate and “self–actualize”.

You never know where life is gonna take you.

CVB