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.
This shot will contradict what I just wrote about the harmonious Perret architecture. Here it is a mess. A mix of remaining old villas with post Perret buildings. It is the sea front of le Havre. But it has one quality that you don't find in other beach fronts. The constructions are far from the sea and they are not too high. But most of all, and this is what makes this place unique : the light is always interesting. At dusk, when the sun is already down, the buildings seem to glow in a particular way. The next question is to wonder why is the light so special here, since there are other sea fronts oriented in the same way. No wonder there were a lot of famous painters, Monet in particular, attracted by the light of le Havre.
One of the reason that made me come to live in this city is the Auguste Perret architecture. This talented architect was commissioned to completely redesign a field of ruins into a modern mid 20th century town. And I feel well here. There is no explanation for this feeling. It just seems to fit my eyes. The proportions of the whole urbanistic organisation and its orientation in the existing light is something that works or makes me feel uncomfortable. I used to live in the East of Paris in an area I never liked, because the buildings didn't have the height that pleased my eyes. The streets did not take the light in a way that soothed me. Here, in le Havre, Perret, the architect in chief of the reconstruction, after the town was wiped out by bombs, seems to have found the miracle formula. At least he knew how to harmonize the building proportions and the width of the streets with the geography of the site.
When I saw this, not far from where I live, I had the impression to be in Japan for a few seconds. It was so hazy that I rushed down with a camera thinking it was not going to last long. I was mistaken. It went on for the day. This is the kind of light you could not have in Paris, where I used to live. For once I used a small tele lens. Most of the time, I have a medium wide angle or even a 24 mm lens on my camera. I do not like long lenses. They are detaching me from a reality that is already difficult to grasp. But here, I was detached, floating I would say. And this is an impression I increasingly feel. Is it the location ? Or is it the privilege of age ? Le Havre seems to me in between ground and sky. Probably because of the constantly changing and amazing light. and maybe because as an old Parisian, I am still not used to this new environment.
This is what I would call a reverse photograph. It is taken from a wonderful place, the top floor of the oldest building in le Havre, the "Maison de l'Armateur". It is one of the very rare places that escaped the September 1944 bombing of le Havre by the British. So this image is twice reversed in a way. You don't see one of the nicest museum of the town since you are in it and the view is from the place. Instead you see the activity of the harbor that the British tried to wipe out. Instead of a reminder of the war, the quiet fleet of fishing boats seems a symbol of peace, and… you can see the back of the ferry that will take you to the British Islands once you have forgotten the bombs.
I was lucky. The rain was my friend that night. There were a lot of people on the jetty and it usually is rather empty and desolate. Everybody was waiting for one of those huge cruising ships to weigh anchor. The sky was very tempting for a photographer. There are so many sky photographs that even though it is beautiful, you hesitate to press the button because in the back of your mind you kind of know that it is going to be yet another sky picture. But the rain had left a large puddle of water and it did change the balance. I had two skies… and a red light, and even people wearing red clothes.
The museum in le Havre is "un havre de paix". I like to walk in this 1960s building that not only contains a wonderful collection of painting but that offers as well a breathtaking view on the harbor entrance. It gives an impression of floating in the past among those Boudin, Marquet, Valloton, Dufy and Monet paintings. But also floating in the space since the windows open on the way to the world. Sometimes, one of those huge container ships passes through to remind you that you are in a busy harbor, where things come from the rest of the planet.
Le Havre is where I live now. The beach is a huge pebble space where it is difficult to walk. But this was a special night. There were dozens of thousands of people in this usually rather empty place. The city had organized a gigantic installation of fires and the crowd was meandering in the middle of strange steel contraptions supporting bowls full of paraffin all burning at the same time. It changed the perspective of the space completely to the point of giving the impression of getting lost and not finding one's bearings anymore. A huge amount of people was happily getting immersed in this sea of lights. All this crowd was incredibly quiet. The cleverness of the design is that it was meant to be seen from the ground level. I thought that maybe a drone view would have been spectacular or better, but thinking about it, it would just have revealed the trick and all we would have seen would have been many lights from above. While from the ground, it was more like being in an illuminated forest of burning trees and it did look far more mysterious.
Probably very expensive, this house borders the Venice canals. This is a strange area where most of the houses seem bigger than the space they are built on. But you can still find small wooden cabins dating from the creation of this grid of canals. At the time it probably was not such a sign of wealth to live in these dwellings. Needless to say that they are disappearing fast, replaced by the kind of construction that you can see here. What I find most symbolic in this picture is probably the barbecue right in the middle. I cannot avoid thinking of the fire hazard such a device presents surrounded by a very dry assortment of plants. The porch of course is another classic. The architects here have to develop a lot of imagination to bloat the buildings according to the tastes of the people who are determined to live in this once "bohemian" area. Their choice… We will soon be moving to another part of the world.
In the previous entry I was mentioning the space in which people live in Southern California. Here is only a small view of the spread out town. This is why the Automotive Museum is such an obvious place, a necessity in Los Angeles. I've gone back to the Griffith Observatory at dusk to a welcome hike, since I have been sitting in a car most of the time to try to explore and understand the spirit of this gigantic urban assembly. From this sight, you can appreciate the distances and realize you cannot walk around like you do in most big cities of Europe. For miles, you will see rows of houses looking quite similar. It is of course inspiring from above, as shown here, but down in these avenues, it can be discouraging to start a walk. I don't think the mayor of the city could decide that cars are not welcome, as it has been the case in Paris. Here the rules are indeed very different from those in a very old town where winding streets are narrow and space precious.
Sometimes what you see is deceiving. This is an empty room of the Petersen Automotive Museum. I obviously missed some Italian Design hidden behind a greenish lit fence. This desolate part of an exhibition room had a mysterious appeal. At one point there was or there will be a lot of people here. The queuing ropes and their glistening metallic poles have probably witnessed a large amount of kids and their parents waiting in line to discover some weird car, some beautiful Italian work of art, or may be one of those amazing French Art Deco automobiles. I can see on the far left the silhouette of a Cisitalia, or is it a Ferrari, and even further back the blue lines of a 50's American convertible. This place is a must for car buffs and it does fit this city designed around automobile transportation. It could be the symbol of a certain way of life that is impossible to imagine in Europe. It reflects the immense space available in this part of the world.