This new concrete floor at the end of the Rue de Paris does not absorb water. It makes for an eery but beautiful ambience. No cars, one pedestrian. It is a movie set for a science fiction movie… Or an old Alain Resnais French film of the 60’s. Meaning more than half a century ago… Timeless landscape ? This kind of vision is almost everywhere in le Havre, a strange city indeed.
Today I discover something new in le Havre. The Quai de Southampton is being renovated and a new coating has been applied on the ground, reflecting the water from last night’s rain. The city seems to floating, specially in this winter morning light where the sun is very low at ten in the morning. I don’t know if this effect was planned or if it is a kind of miracle. So far this new “promenade” has not been very much used by the public. If ever it were to freeze, people might be ice skating soon !
We could be in New York… but this is still le Havre, France. The touches of light reflecting on the brick wall are a bizarre reminder of the colored spots seen in Saint Joseph’s Church. Seing them while walking in the street, I had to stop and catch them because I still had in mind the multicolored light touches I had seen in the Perret church a few days before. But what they reminded me most were a street of New York. Walking around the huge American city, I have seen these reflections many times. Signs of clashing generations of architecture, the austere brick walls of industrial buildings on one side of the street, and the glass surfaces hit by a low sun from a modern apartment building. A bit like Hell’s Kitchen, when it was not totally rebuilt and still had remnants of a past industrial activity of the area. A symbol of “gentrification” happening in le Havre ?
What makes this church surprising is the touch of multicolored light projected through the concrete patterns covered with colored glass. Totally unexpected as a source of light compared to the usual stained glass, these geometric shapes produce an amazing lighting when the sun hits them. Along with the strong concrete pillars on which the tower seems to hold, the patterns of holes give the building its unexpected personality. Again I find them extremely difficult to photograph, since they are so fugitive, depending on the sun and the clouds. They can disappear totally and then suddenly illuminate the heart of the church in a kind of miraculous atmosphere. Mr Auguste Perret was very inspired when he designed this church.
This place is a nightmare for photographers. As soon as you walk in this unique church, you are stunned by the amazing architecture. Auguste Perret has mastered an incredible building, that looks from the outside like an industrial chimney. Inside is a completely different feeling. Although very big, it has a kind of intimate atmosphere. But it is extremely difficult to convey in a photograph. Whatever the angle, whatever the lens used, I have not been able to get one single satisfying image. I chose this one because it is confusing. But it does not convey the elaborate sturdiness of the concrete construction. If you look at the building carefully, you discover how Perret cleverly designed the church. In fact, it is quite simple, but still a daring structure.
Outside the wind is strong. The sea is rough and you are inside, taking advantage of the beautiful morning light with a breathtaking view on the harbor entrance. But this is the museum of art. It has a wonderful collection of impressionists and early 20th century painters, all set in a perfectly lit by daylight succession of galleries. Although I know these works by now, it is always a pleasure to go back and admire them in this quiet, well designed environment. The feeling of comfort and serenity helps to appreciate even more the paintings by Monet, Marquet, Derain, Valloton, Boudin and many other artists. I just love the place. The only difficulty is the moiré effect produced by the texture on the windows that interfere with the camera digital sensor. But it makes an inserting disturbance when you blow up the pictures.
One of those huge container ships arrives at night in le Havre. From the deck of the ferry to Portsmouth, it looks daunting. I would not mind crossing the Atlantic on board one of these giants. I know there are very few people on board. Everything is computerized and the more than 20 000 containers are duly registered in some weird data base. I am curious to know the variety of goods entering the country at the same time. And I would be even more interested to understand the dispatching of the merchandise. Standing on the ferry, watching this amazing thing just makes me feel tiny. Thinking that there are many of those ships arriving every week is mind boggling. What if suddenly all this world trade stopped for some undue reason ?
You cannot see the harbor from this angle unless you are on the deck of a ship. And as I already mentioned, the ferry to England is probably the easiest way to achieve that if you are not acquainted to officials in the harbor. That was the main reason to go to Portsmouth : Have a vision of le Havre from a departing ship. And as soon as you board the ferry, you are taken by the sailor's atmosphere. Even a simple trip to cross the Channel is exciting. And leaving le Havre, where I live, by sea was an experience I wanted to have. Of course, at this time of the day - we left at 10 pm in the summer, you don't have much time because the light is changing so fast that you better be ready with the right lens. This two chimneys from the power station are a kind of symbol, because that is probably what you can discern from the farthest once at sea. Next time I must take the ferry back, to see le Havre growing slowly from afar.
Ever since I saw the ferry to Portsmouth from the windows of my place, I have wanted to take it, just to have a view of the city "from outside". I have not been disappointed. It is worth going to England just to see le Havre from the deck of the ship ! And I have done it… I was lucky to have a beautiful evening. I feared it would be too late since the ferry was leaving at night, but it was just in time. My camera is not very sensitive to low light and I chose a lens with a large enough aperture to try to catch the last bits of light over the city's architecture. I now wonder how this striking vista looks under the rain. Must also be quite interesting.
I have become very familiar with this station, going to Paris very often. The Art Deco building was designed by Henri Pacon and inaugurated in 1932. It is always tempting to photograph a train station. But the activity is irregular. So at some point, the place is packed with busy crowd and it becomes difficult to get a general picture. You inevitably have somebody doing something so you have basically people pictures. But in between trains, the place can be rather empty, like it is in that shot. Then what matters is a balance of masses and colors that can become rather abstract.
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.