During COVID, getting out for long walks with a film camera in hand has been my way of refreshing my body and mind. Most times I walk the trails in our neighborhood. Sometimes I walk in the woods. Other times I walk in Minneapolis. And on the coldest of days, I walk the mall. Wherever I'm walking, I have my camera in hand. The images I make on my walks reflect a circumscribed life...the constrained lives we've all experienced during COVID.
Film photography is my photographic journal. As this body of work has grown and evolved, I get a sense that these are lonely images. There is only one person in all these photographs...a solitary photographer out walking. When I make a photograph, more than anything I'm hoping it evokes an emotion...any emotion. It's not that I'm seeking the emotion I was feeling at the time I made the photograph. Those are mine. I'm hoping they evoke an emotional response in the viewer.
I've told you what emotion I sense in these photographs. I'd love to read what emotions you sense when viewing these photographs in the comments below.
I've saved up a few experiences that on their own don't warrant an entire post, but strung together just might make a cohesive post. You will have to be the judge of that. First up is my visit to the Buttes Chaumont Park of a week ago.
Buttes Chaumont Park
Buttes Chaumont Park is located in the 19th arrondissement, which is north of us here in the 12th. Since Priscilla was helping Claudia out in her food stall, I decided to take the Metro up to Buttes Chaumont and get some hiking and photography in. Buttes Chaumont is an extremely hilly park, so I definitely got my stair steps in that day. My iPhone says I climbed 34 flights that day while walking nearly 7 miles. The vertical nature of this park yields some fascinating views to photograph. It was a cool, crisp fall day, so I had no trouble walking most of the trails in the park.
Afterward I came upon the neighborhood pétanque courts in full use. This is the French version of bocce ball. They take their pétanque seriously here. The woman shown pitching the ball in this photo had a unique pitching form, and based on the intensity of the conversations when judging whose ball was the closest, she plays for keeps.
The French love a good protest. Lately, a certain faction have been protesting the vaccine mandate. The way it works in France, you need a Pass Sanitaire to get into restaurants, theaters, museums, and public transport (although they rarely check at the train stations). To get a Pass Sanitaire you need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. You can get a temporary one if you present a negative COVID test, but that only lasts for three days. The good news is that France has a high vaccination percentage, with 68% fully vaccinated, and 76% having at least one dose. France also still has a mask mandate in place. It is quite rare to see someone unmasked in an indoor setting, unless they are eating or drinking. Consequently, the case count has come way down in France.
There are folks, though, who don't like the perceived loss of their liberty. Sound familiar? So they protest. Fortunately, the protests we have witnessed have been peaceful. On the day I made this photograph, I was going out for a late afternoon walk before dinner when I came across this protest. There was a significant police presence escorting the protesters, with lots of sirens blaring and chants coming from bullhorns. Soon the protest passed and I went on with my walk.
One of the things I've taken to doing on this trip is to make scouting runs to locations we might be interested in going to but aren't sure whether they warrant the effort. When we get back to Minnesota, Priscilla is due for knee replacement surgery, so we are trying to ensure that when we go out on expeditions, it's worth it. This past week I made two such runs, one to the Bercy neighborhood in Paris and the other to the village of Crécy la Chapelle, which is about 1-1/2 hours away from Paris by regional train.
Crécy La Chapelle is known to have a nice market that runs on Thursday and Sunday mornings. While it is a quaint and picturesque village, the sidewalks weren't terribly pedestrian friendly, so unless the market was a sure thing, I came away thinking we could pass this one by. We tried hard to locate information online about whether the market was currently operating. With COVID, many of the markets have cut back their hours. One website said the Crécy market was running, another said no, and the town's official website didn't have anything about the market, so we opted not to go.
The other scouting mission this past week was to the Bercy neighborhood, which isn't too far from us but isn't terribly easy to get to because of train lines. I read one blog that listed Bercy as one of the highlights worth seeing in the 12th. After making my scouting run there, I have to disagree. To me it was a big meh. Yes, there's an upscale shopping district, but that doesn't excite us. Paris has plenty of upscale shopping districts. So we are not going to make a return visit to Bercy.
I think one of the things that spoils us in Paris is just how many fascinating sights there are all around you. It seems that around every corner there's something of interest. The quaint alleyway in the photo on the left below is practically right next door to the Monoprix store in our neighborhood. The beautiful doorway in the middle photo is the home of local artisans who run some wonderful shops in Paris, called Petit Pan. As it turns out, I traipsed down this same alleyway in 2019 and made one of my favorite photos from that trip (far right below).
And then on my walks on the Coulée Verte, I might pop up or down one of the stairways to see what's street side in that neighborhood. The other day I came across this cool Bel-Air sign on one of those up periscope moments.
So for someone who proudly calls himself a walking fool, Paris is a fabulous city to call home for two months. Of course, I almost always have a camera in hand when I go on these walks. The funny thing is, I don't walk to photograph. If anything, the reverse is true, I photograph to walk. Walking is my favorite way to experience a city or an area. I just start walking.
We are less than two weeks from our departure, so that means we're in the list checking phase of travel. You can imagine that travel during COVID has led to the addition of many items on our to-do list. Each country has its own travel requirements, even within the EU. The requirements I will reference are only for France and are as of the date I am writing this.
The EU has implemented a digital COVID certificate. You need to show this certificate to get into most public places and to take public transportation. In France they call this the Pass Sanitaire. With a CDC vaccination card, plus a passport and confirmed return travel itinerary, you can apply online for the French version of the COVID certificate. Priscilla and I have both received our certificates. The process was easy and the turnaround quick. The COVID certificate comes in the form of a QR code that you can scan into a smartphone app that the French government has published entitled Tous Anti COVID. While we've heard that your CDC card will work to get you into most places, technically, it is not sufficient according to the French government guidelines. It costs nothing to get the certificate, so we went ahead and did it.
If you are fully vaccinated, what you need to get into France besides your passport are the CDC card or the COVID certificate along with a sworn affidavit that basically states that you don't have COVID and haven't been around anyone who has it. At this time, if you are vaccinated, France is not requiring a negative COVID test.
The other thing we've learned is that masking requirements vary by airline. Our flight over to Paris is a Delta flight, in partnership with Air France. Air France has a requirement that masks be either the surgical variety or N95, not cloth. We have a good supply of the surgical masks, so we will bring those. Our cloth masks fit well, so I think we will start there and if they request it we will switch to the surgical masks.
The interesting thing is that the U.S. State Department has a travel warning out for France given the state of COVID there, but when you look at the worldwide COVID heat map published on the NY Times website, you see that the U.S. is much hotter than France. Overall, the rate of new infections in the U.S. on a per capita basis is running 3x that of France (45/100k vs. 16/100k). I've included a chart of new COVID cases for France below. The trend is definitely headed in the right direction.
One last thing we're doing, in a "belt and suspenders" approach, is that we will get a COVID test the Sunday before we leave. That way if a COVID test requirement gets added at the last minute we will be covered. Most of the COVID test requirements state that the test has to have been taken within the last 72 hours. We are using the State of Minnesota test center in Brooklyn Park, which costs nothing and in the past has given one-day turnaround. The test there is the saliva test which you self-administer. The results are delivered via email and also to a smartphone app.
As far as getting back into the U.S., right now the requirement is that you present a negative COVID test. These are available at all pharmacies in France, so I expect that's where we will take care of that. In future posts I don't plan on dwelling on COVID, but I thought some of you might be wondering what we are doing to be prepared for travel during COVID. My hope is that COVID fades into the background on this trip and we have a wonderful time in one of our favorite places in the world.
One of the activities that fills my time while we live under this "Stay at Home" order is developing film that I've shot on my walks around the neighborhood. I've been shooting black & white film, because I only have chemistry for that at present. I do have some color chemistry coming though, so I'm going to start shooting some color as well.
There is something satisfying about getting my process down for developing film. These days when so much seems out of our control, it's comforting to perform a process that I do have some control over. I've gotten to the point where I'm getting consistently good results. I've settled on one developer–Kodak HC-110. I love the tones and contrast I get with this developer. The other thing I appreciate about HC-110 is its long shelf life.
I'm using a hybrid analog/digital workflow, as are the vast majority of photographers shooting film these days. Up through developing the film, the process is analog. After that it becomes a digital process. I scan the negatives and import the scanned files into Lightroom for final image adjustments. I don't do a lot of editing in Lightroom, mainly tweaks to contrast and the tone curve. I also clean up the odd dust spot. I'd love to have a darkroom for printing, but that's something for another day.
Living under a stay at home order, my photography is limited to what I see on my nearly daily walks and what catches my eye around the house. I think this has been a good creative exercise...forcing me to find interesting images in the mundane. I guess when your world gets smaller, you notice more things in that world, such as an outlet box that looks like an electrical inspectors nightmare, or groceries delivered to the porch, or an arrangement in a planter, among other things.
Soon I'll write about another pursuit that's been filling my days, making sourdough bread. I need to make some good photos of that process and then I'll share them here.
In these days of social distancing and now a stay at home order in Minnesota, daily walks have been my little sanity pill. I'm thankful that the snow has melted now and the trails are free of ice. Priscilla and I have been getting out for a two-mile walk pretty much every day. I'm also taking longer walks on my own, with a camera in hand. When out on our walks we can't help but notice the sounds of the birds. We can hear them so much better now that the traffic noise is reduced. The woodpecker drumming in the neighborhood sounds like an entire percussion section.
I'm shooting black and white film to document our lives during this pandemic. I'd like to move to color film as things green up, but the color development chemistry is sold out everywhere I've looked. At least with black and white I can continue to develop at home. Somehow black and white seems to fit the times anyway. I've got enough black and white chemistry to last me several months, plus I just took delivery of ten rolls of black and white film. That ought to last me a while.
I'm finding this time of forced isolation is a good opportunity to check out the functioning of my camera gear. I have amassed a bit of a collection of film SLRs (12 at this counting). A few of them are in need of a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust). I just got my Olympus OM-2n back from a CLA. A few other cameras are in need as well, but that'll have to wait until after the dust settles on COVID-19.
One project I just finished up is a Blurb photo book of our Paris 2019 trip. I included favorite film photos from that trip. Looking at those photos brings back such wonderful memories of our time there. Priscilla and I have decided that we're going back to Paris in the spring of 2021.
In this frightening time of the global coronavirus pandemic, I find photography is a calm place for me to retreat to. I can still get out for walks and make photographs, and I can still develop and scan my film in our home. As our boundaries tighten in around us, photography is still something I can do. I won't be doing any street photography, but I can still photograph around our home and neighborhood.
Somehow, black and white photography seems appropriate for this time. I've been experimenting with different films. Most recently I've been shooting with Ilford FP4+. I'd never shot with this film before. It quickly made its way onto my favorites list. I also tried some Bergger Pancro 400. Contrary to the FP4+, the Bergger film did not impress me and will not be a film I return to again.
I have a feeling an awful lot of my photos in the coming weeks will show us hunkering down, trying to stay healthy and safe. When we're on the other side of this awful contagion I'll have to put together a portfolio of the photographs I made during this time. It'll be interesting to see how they hold up as a body of work.