If you arrive in le Havre from Paris by train on a rainy evening day, this is what you will see. Then you can take the tram to "la plage" - the beach. You will be there in about seven minutes. Opposite the station, you can see the Hotel Parisien. I don't know how old is this place, but it reminds me of my first stay in le Havre, in the late 1950s. I was a kid then. My parents had decided to show us the Pont de Tancarville that had just been built and then explore le Havre. They took a hotel right in this area, not far from the train station, although we had come by car. I don't know if at the time there was many hotels, but it was pretty desolate. The town had just been rebuilt and there was still not many trees, and it was very windy. But I keep good memories of this trip. It was one of the first car travels that we did.
In the evening, reflection in the water can become mesmerizing. But what attracted me most was the red canoe on the right. There is no particular reason, no symbolic signification for me. Just a red point on the side. Does it make an interesting picture ? I couldn't tell. And that may precisely be the whole point. For me, there is a sort of magic attraction that needs no explanation. It is more an unexpected optical effect than a perfect composition. Why did this plastic boat come out so much as to justify pressing the button ? It might just be the nature of that material that saturates the color at this precise moment of the day. The yellow lights of the building in this mainly blue environment probably have some correspondence with this red dot. Maybe one day I will find a justification for this picture…
The sea is hidden behind the cabins used by the people who like to spend their day in the sun. there are restaurants lined up and the picture is taken from there. It is a leisurely afternoon, and this sky, framed by the structure of the place, seems almost artificial. Like the giant backdrop of a movie scene, where only the front is shot in a studio. The characters would have been lit by projectors imitating the sun light. And even the people in the back might be CGI figures. But no, it is real. It was shot from a table where I was having a drink, like all the others. Keeping some coherence in an image divided in three parts was only possible because the ground is included in the frame, showing that it is one single moment.
When I was mentioning circular patterns in the former post, I was thinking of the Volcan, of course, and of the adjoining structure, the Médiathèque, which is situated underneath the theater. Niemeyer, the architect, used circular shapes for the whole structure, contrasting totally with the Perret rectangular style of architecture of most of the rebuilt city. The effect is spectacular, but there was some controversy. The 1980's addition to the new le Havre was criticized, as was the Perret plans in the late 1940's. It does however blend well and the curved parti-pris, as daring as it may have been, is now accepted and part of the city character. Moving around the Volcan is a pleasant experience because the proportions have remained human.
Is there a huge spider on the glass roof of the "Maison de l'Amateur" ? The oldest remaining building of the city, reminiscent of the ancient activities of the harbor has this strange "puits de lumière", a hole right in the middle of the building, that allows light to seep into the narrow rooms. There are also two different staircases in the house, one for the house gusts, one much tighter, for the servants. The place is difficult to photograph because the rooms are small, like they were in houses of the period. One reason for this is probably because they had to be heated in the winter. It gives a feeling of intimacy and comfort that characterizes this place. The circular pattern on this picture is strangely communicating with other typical places of le Havre.
The sun striking the cliffs seen from the "Bout du Monde". It could almost be the set of a science-fiction movie. Maybe even another planet. The metallic structure supporting aerials is intimidating. Yet it looks tiny compared to the cliff seen from the bottom. You don't see the sea, but you have an impression of distance and communication to far away civilizations. I do not know what these domes are for. Military ? Early warning ? But for what ? Satellite links, weather radars ? You imagine secret bases, strange flying vessels hidden within some caves in the cliffs. One little thing remains human : the top of the barrier poles above the right side of the cliff. At last something if not friendly, at least reminding a human presence, or protection from a human crowd.
Dusk light on the Malraux museum building. The huge sculpture by Henri-Georges Adam is dominating the front, facing the sea. The architecture of this place is very simple, but extremely functional. Everything is designed to give the le Havre light inside the exhibition halls. This clever use by the designer of the building of what is freely offered precisely on this location - light - bathes the art work inside in an always pleasant way. It is an achievement in a no-effect rectangular structure. Compared to more recent architectural statements that attracts your eye from the outside, this place is a demonstration of modesty. You want to get inside because it radiates some kind of mystery, being so simple outside. There must be a treasure inside !
Inescapable green halo on the rue de Paris, this hotel building gives a weird harbor atmosphere. At least this the impression that I have. I imagine tired foreign sailors staying there for a couple of days, waiting for their container ship to be emptied. What do they do during this time ? After weeks with the constant noise of the ship engine, they have at last some silence. Because this part of the city is rather quiet at night. Maybe they feel disturbed by the absence of roaring and the stability of earth after the slight balancing movement of the ship. Are they talking to their far away family through the internet ? Do they play a game of cards with their ship companions ? Maybe they just watch television and fall asleep in front of the screen and wake up in the middle of night with one of those cheap series that are usually played late at night. What you don't see is groups of drunken sailors singing in the streets at midnight…
Among the many locks in the harbor of le Havre, this one opens on the Bassin de l'Eure, then the Canal of Tancarville, an essential waterway used by huge cargo boats coming to be unloaded. The dominating office on the left would be a dream place to an artist's workshop. But it probably sees more ships than any one can imagine, although it looks so quiet. And this a constant thing in the big harbor city. The pace is rather slow, hiding an enormous activity. The ships, given their size, cannot be fast and give the visual rhythm to the landscape. Far away in the sea, you can usually observe a large quantity of boats waiting their turn to enter the harbor. The other element of rhythm is of course the tide. So, even though everything seems smooth and quiet in le Havre, you have these gigantic container ships often carrying 17 000 containers on board slowly passing through and it is disturbing to imagine such turnover when you have this impression of lazy pace watching the boat traffic.
It might look empty, but it is just one moment. I waited at the appropriate hour to get a very quiet view because I like these winter trees and the big blue oil tanks on the other side of the harbor. It makes it different from most seaside cities in France. There is the feeling of industrial power tamed by the typical le Havre light and a graphic environment. The one car remaining in the parking lot seems like a sore point but it was still small enough not to disturb the perspective. walking around the town guarantees you will find this kind of quiet moment. The absolute contrary to "street photography". Even the white line of the street contributes to the feeling. It is like resting the eyes from city animation.
The beach front of le Havre is a busy spot on summer evenings. The restaurants are often packed and a mixed crowd of young people and families takes the last rays of the sun taking advantage of the breathtaking view. A wide angle lens accentuates the feeling of space already existing there and the late sun emphasizes the colors that are not in the shade. Le Havre has a particular sea front. It is huge and leaves a very large space to the stranding crowd. There are no walls of tall apartment buildings that you sometimes find in other places and this feeling of space is quietening even though it can be full of wandering kids. You are never oppressed by an agitated human activity. For the photographer, catching the light can be a problem, in the sense that it is always interesting ! You have to choose, and it is not so easy…
Far away, you can distinguish the sea. What I like here is that it does not look like a kind of summer resort with a beach, restaurants, cafés, and a holiday feeling. It seems more like a day to day life, an active city… with the sea as a bonus. This is a private alley, not a through passage, which makes it even more strange. But what did attract me here was the electric wires and the wooden pole. It reminds me of Japan. In fact this is not very common in France. Most of the time one doesn't notice these electrical lines. Here they seem to irradiate from the center. This very narrow place seems intimate with the little gardens in front of the houses.
Now a more optimistic view of our times. Le Havre has been transforming old obsolete locations into extremely advanced cultural places. This the Fort de Tourneville, an old military fort that has been muted into a place for the arts. the inside of the fort is a huge space that immediately instigate a positive feeling in you. How a severe construction, that used to locate a full regiment can become an interesting aggregate of workshops, theaters, cafés, and even a recording studio ? Here is a very clever application due to common efforts of the city council and some daring minds. The interesting thing is that this adaptation of a rough architecture has created welcoming volumes. The atmosphere makes you feel happy, which is amazing for a place that used to be designed for war.
Here we are. A typical modern style photography. I have seen so many of them in galleries and museums that I have probably become sensitive to this kind of style. The interesting thing, here, is that I did take it by instinct, thinking right afterwards that I had seen such scenes many times before in prints or books. I have to admit that I have been influenced and I find it weird since I usually don't appreciate this style of photography. This kind of urban landscape is of course so common that it generated the reflexion of artists all over the world. But to me, it remains boring. The buildings are just the result of pure practical and cost thinking. They are therefore cheaply built, plain looking, and situated far away from the town center. They cumulate the worst of our modern society. As a photographic work, they are also the result of a twisted thinking : choose the most unfavorable time of the day, pick up the worst possible subject, make sure the composition is plain, and you translate the drab side of the life in our urban clusters. The conditions were there, and I added yet another pessimistic view of our planet.
Here is a food truck. Not the usual food truck you find along beaches. Yes this the beach front of le Havre, and yes this is a truck that carries some food. I don't know what it was doing there. Maybe the driver felt like a quick swim. What is interesting is that the machine is at least fifty years old. This is an old Citroën "Tube" camionnette. It seems to me that it was some sort of advertising gimmick, something to attract attention. But who's attention ? There was nobody there as you can see. The sky was spectacular and it could well be that for me, that was the reason to take the picture. Just to avoid saying I was taking yet another sky picture. In this area of Normandy, one of the constantly changing thing is the sky. Not like the South of France, where the light in the summer is always the same, sunny and bright. Here, in a couple of hours, the weather might have changed. I do not remember since it is so common.
The sailing boats departing for the "Transat Jacques Vabre" had just left the harbor. People had come to the beach to watch these magnificent boats. The winner actually crossed the Atlantic arriving in Brazil just seven days twenty two hours after this particular moment ! Photographing the sails was tempting but I did not have the proper equipment for it. These sport pictures are so spectacular that you need to be assigned and be on board a speed boat or a helicopter with a long lens to get something striking. That is why I kept the view to myself and got these people standing in the cold wind trying to catch an uninteresting photograph instead. Sometimes, you do what you can.
The building are catching the last energy of the photons. Two more minutes and it was pitch black with only the windows overexposed. You do not get such a light every day. It takes some luck and some patience. If you really want to have this sort of atmosphere, the best bet is to come there every evening just before sunset and wait. Photography is like going fishing. But for that you have the feeling of wasting a lot of time waiting. Some like it, some don't. I don't particularly enjoy lingering in one place for a time, coming back everyday in the hope of getting the right light. I am too impatient. And sometimes, you have to be impatient and restless to get what you want.
This is the center of the city. It is called "Le Volcan", but the people from le Havre call it the yogurt jar. It was designed in the 1980's by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer . It is the theater and extends to a library underground. It can be very windy over there in the winter. It is a challenge to photograph because it is big compared to the rest of the environment. If you decide to use a very wide angle, you are stuck with a perpective effect that I always try to avoid. The trick is to use wide angle lenses so that you don't immediately guess that it was shot with a wide angle. Taming the effect is actually a good exercice. For my own taste, photography should not be tagged by effects. The content only should matter. It is often too difficult and you end up not shooting the picture at all. In that case, I try to find something else.
It must have been the heart of the winter. I don't remember exactly, but it was freezing cold on a Sunday evening. I was driving around the harbor with my son and one of his friend. For once I had taken a tripod, so this night shot is sharp ! Needless to say all this machinery is huge. And it is operated 24/7. The problem here is that I did not have any authorization to get inside the installations. I was on the side of the road. Trucks were passing by in my back producing gusts of warm, dusty wind. I would love to spend more time in there, with full permits to approach the activity. But it is dangerous. You feel like a tiny insect among these gigantic cranes hauling containers that give the impression they could crush you if they fell on top of you.
I showed the beach at night full of people among blazing lights. But usually, the beach is more like this. The immense space covered with pebbles with a board walk, which is no board anymore but concrete. Far away, you can see this food shop glowing and I don't think I would want to buy anything there. It is almost like a Fellini movie, except we are not in Italy but on the northern coast of France. Depending of the mood you are in, it could be sad, or on the contrary rather jolly. Night pictures are treacherous. They give a false identity to what is really there. But maybe it is the same for daylight pictures. Do we really know where we are, where we stand ? Hidden behind the camera, you are in fact moving the time into the future. You think of what it will look like when you see the image sometimes later. It could be hours, but it could also be months or years. And over time, it will convey a different sensation. Sometimes, you don't want to see what happened years ago.