A minute with the Mayor.

Yesterday, I went to Castellet to visit with my new friend Marjolaine. She is a wealth of local knowledge and such a humorous person. Her English is amazing along with the other 3 or 4 languages she easily has at hand. As we walked around her village it was similar to taking a guided tour through French history… and the history of her village. She spoke about the Italian immigrants from a hundred years ago that now lend their names to many of the town’s people. She spoke of famous artists and writers who are buried nearby. Each turn of the steep stone narrow streets were underlined with stories. “Gene look at that staircase… Gene… why do you suppose it is wide at the bottom and very narrow at the top?” Before I could answer and get it wrong… she said it was for the sheep to be counted…. the shepherd would stand at the top and count his sheep as they passed… one by one. Clever. And then we came upon a fountain. Every village has at least one. This particular one was almost 250 years old. I said…”wow.” Marjolaine said… that was “young”. The streaming water emerged through the lips of two beautifully carved stone faces and spilled into the basin. “Our Mairie ┬ácarved the heads… do you want to meet him?” Duh… of course! The Mayor is a brilliant artist… a sculptor, painter and drawer. And so… I got one minute with the Mairie.
A treat. A great face. Thank you Marjolaine.

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It has been an unforgettable experience being in Provence for the winter. The kind and generous people. The beautiful landscapes. Their rural life. I am one lucky guy.
I do hope the posts have been helpful and inspiring enough to plan a trip to come here and photograph Provence.
It has the power and beauty to change your life.
Happy trails.

Giggles and grins in Provence.

I have mentioned before that sometimes you just have to shoot the under-belly of the beast… the odd-ball thing… the funny stuff… the hodge podge … you know the stuff you put into a folder called… miscellaneous. I said that for two important reasons. First and foremost… is because these “small shots” can add so much to a story. They are the color and the texture that can make a series of photos so very interesting. The second reason is that it is good practice. And as you know… practice makes perfect. Or darn close. If you use the same exact creativity to capture the “small stuff”… ie composition… simplicity and perspective…. when the “shot of a lifetime” is looking you in the face… you will be ready! And people will say….”Did you shoot that?”… and you will humbly reply… “Yes, I shot that!”. Below are a few of those small shots I have shot over the last few days.

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Now… take a closer look at those shots. Long lens. Short lens. Low perspective. Overhead. High shutter speed to freeze a sheep. Shallow depth-of -field to capture a strawberry in the snow. Simple compositions. Humorous. Contrast of content to add a little drama to the scene. All the things I have talked about are represented here. I won’t pretend they are award-winning… because … well… they aren’t. Nor were they captured with that in mind. On their own they are just little shots… but in the right grouping they would add color and texture to the story. And maybe a few giggles and grins.
So… don’t shy away from the small stuff. Just practice what I preach. Happy trails.

Patina. Showing one’s age is a beautiful thing.

I love old stuff. Old cars that have spent too many days in Chicago. Old brass bird cages. Copper gutters on a Frank Lloyd Wright residence. Stone discolored by water seepage. Paint gone south. The passing years have a positive look on most things. Especially if it is in Provence and painting that old wall is a non non. Why paint it… it is fine! Year after year many things change in this world… but usually not here. It is an inherit respect for age. Whether it be a grandmother or a 2000 year old bridge. Things don’t automatically go into the dust bin just because it wasn’t new yesterday. Maybe that is a major reason why I love Provence. Respect for what was done a hundred years before. So what if it is discolored by rain and sun and snow?
If it works… why knock it down? So what if it isn’t this year’s coolest shade of mauve? I love old stuff. Cool old stuff. And here… it is everywhere.
I took a walk the other day looking for textures… patterns and things that were showing their age beautifully. Yep… I was on a search for patina. Here are a few things I found and photographed. Enjoy.



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And just like so many things I photograph… I look and compose shapes and colors… not the objects themselves. Granted… it is more difficult to create a dramatic composition when all you have to work with is a discolored wall of a thousand year old church. But heh… that is where the challenge is! Look around as you walk. Add patina to your ever-growing list of interesting things to shoot. And pray that when you get that old… you will look so good that people will stop and take your photograph. Happy trails!

Goult. Two genuine reasons to book your flight now.

Goult is…. I know I sound like a broken record… or a skipping CD… absolutely beautiful. It is perched high on a hill. The chateau is outstanding. The views are a wowzer. The windmill on top is quaint and lovely. The streets are narrow and paved with cobblestones. It has a huge area for boules… under lights no less…. these guys are serious. Above all… Goult is loved by its residents. You can see it everywhere you look. First… take a stroll into the cemetery. That is right… the cemetery. It takes about thirty minutes to gather in all the past history of its previous residents. But what you will be staring at most of the time are the trees. Think topiary…. but on a huge geometric scale. Decades ago… someone who wanted to bring art into the cemetery… got out their clippers and started to shape the evergreens. Meticulously. It is amazing. Take a peek at the shot below.


Well… I said two reasons. Actually it is more like a dozen or so but… let’s go onto the second one for now.
When you are walking around town, you will begin to see sculptures made from wood and then lightly painted. Most are derived from a dead tree but not all. They are prevalent in Goult because the artist works in Goult. But… he is also represented in New York. The guy is a treasure. His name is Coucoune… and he learned his craft from his Grandfather… and still uses many of his tools. Since Coucoune is about 75… that would make the tools well over a hundred years old. And like a dutiful and admiring Grandson… he proudly displays the wooden shoes his Grandfather crafted for the local farmers at the turn of the century. Gulp.
The sculptures which are on display in his tiny showroom are intricate, imaginative and remind me of Michelangelo who pulled beauty from cold stone. Coucoune prefers dead wood. Another true Provencal artisan. Happy trails.

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Roussillon is definitely an 800 year old Hollywood set.

It has to be. Just look at it! It is perched on a hill of red and ochre “rock”. Picture perfect narrow lanes wind up and down and around just at the right place and angle to catch the light. A tiny town square that looks like it is about to stage an opera. Shutters painted blue, red, yellow, orange and green. Buildings of red, orange, yellow and ochre. It is amazing.
It is Roussillon. And in reality it gets its beautiful and romantic palette from the nearby rich deposits of ochre. Ochre was mined from the late 1700’s till about 1930 for textile use. But today the hills of gold and orange are protected but one can still take a hike on them… just be sure to wear clothes/shoes you care nothing about. I literally took fifty photos yesterday…
but here is a small sample.








In this one-of-a-kind place it is easy to make use of “leading lines”, flat graphic patterns, strong geometric shapes and interesting perspectives. And your settings? Get as much deep “depth of field” as possible… you don’t want to have anything soft… it is just too darn gorgeous. Happy trails… and remember… no white shorts.

Bonnieux… the fifth time around.

Bonnieux is one of the most beautiful perched villages in France. That is why I went there the first time. It was beautiful then… and it is beautiful now. And it hadn’t changed a bit during my several times to see it and to photograph it. Why would it? It is hundreds of years old…and parts of it are even older. Time seems to have no effect on it. I knew where the arches were. I knew where the Madonna “in a cage” is on the very top. I thought I knew it like the back of my hand. I thought I had discovered all of the great angles revealing its stunning architecture. I thought I knew all of its stone staircases. Well… yesterday I saw it again with new eyes. My son is here for a few all too short days with his wonderful and supportive wife. I say supportive because well… after “just a minute I think I see something”… for the 103rd time… one would think she would say…”Chris… put the camera away … I am chilly”…. nope. “Go for it, Chris”. My wife is exactly the same. “Go for it, Gene”.
When you are with someone who is looking at something remarkably beautiful and ancient… for the very first time… with all the excitement of Christmas morning with all of its new presents… one’s own views change. You begin to see everything differently. The “I’ve seen that”…. becomes “wow… look at that!”. And so it was with Bonnieux. I saw different angles. I saw different textures. I saw different contrasts. I saw it with new eyes. Here’s just a couple photos. More to come.

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So today’s “lesson” is not one of settings and getting up early to make sure your battery is charged. No. The lesson is… no matter if you have seen something before… there is nothing like seeing it again with new eyes. Thanks Chris.
Happy trails.

Composition… or as they say in French… composition.

Composition……”the plan, placement or arrangement of the elements of art in a work”. It is a simple thing… it is the placement of things in the work…ie… the photograph. Well… that is like saying “there are dinner jackets and then there are dinner jackets… this is the latter”…. to quote from one of the latest James Bond movies. In other words… there are great compositions and then the not so great. I am not a lover of rules… but as I have said a few posts ago… something should dominate the photograph. It should be the visual anchor… the thing the eyes goes to first and foremost.
And if you have helped the viewer’s eye a bit by “leading” them to your subject… then that is all the better!
The great master painters perfected it. And heh… if it was good for De Vinci… it ought to be good for Tony Balducci… a grade school chum. If you do present a bunch of things about the same visual size and impact… then get ready for people to ask… “What is it?”. And above all… if something in the photo doesn’t add to the photo… don’t put it in the photo. Crop it out… or don’t have it there in the first place!!!!
Here are a few shots that get to the meat of the matter.



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And another thing… the subject can dominate the composition by size… or position. Sometimes the eye will be drawn to a small piece of the shot… because of its color or its position… or the lack of “nothing around it”.
But never make your photo into a “Where’s Waldo contest for the eyes.” In French or English… that is a non non.
Happy trails.