Diary (archives) - Claude Lavoie Photo

Photographic chit-chat

Photographic chit-chat (image unavailable)

Sunday 2012-12-16 :

Less than two weeks before Christmas. The subdued light of the short days suffuses a pleasant languor to the half-dark afternoon.

I came into this coffeehouse with a specific purpose in mind; I chose this table, flooded by the cone of light falling from the bulb suspended above it.

For more than a month, I have been carrying everywhere with me the first issue of Città, a new magazine born just a few weeks ago. During all this time, I had to hold myself back from reading it from cover to cover, in a single voracious stretch; I only allowed myself a cursory glance at the pictures or the reading of the first paragraph of an article, saving the rest for later. This stern regime only made my appetite grow stronger.

But this is all coming to an end today. I have been reasonable enough . . . On the eve of this period of excess, I am about to treat myself. In fact it is already happening : my fingers, rummaging through the contents of my bag, have recognised the dog-eared corner of the yet unread document, seized it, then laid it on the tabletop. For some time still, I look at the cover; I know that once I turn it over, I will read everything, without skipping a single word, until the end of the last page. I lift it gently.

The second page is blank, but for two lines in bold type in its middle : "En art comme en amour, l'instinct suffit. - Anatole France" (In art as in love instinct suffices).

I am conquered.

Thursday 2012-11-15 :

If we really intended to make the air more breathable, we would go after the arms dealers, not the smokers.

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Although all photographs are revealed in developer, few of them are revelations.

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Everything is going to hell since we dismissed God.

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How patient Nature has been with us! How long still will it be?

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A clear but brief epiphany, as fleeting as a landscape glimpsed through the shutter of a camera : the peacefulness one is blessed with when one desires nothing.

Tuesday 2012-10-16 :

After she answered that yes, she liked photography, I rummaged through my pockets and handed her a card of this Web site, mentioning in passing that I am always looking for models. "I am not photogenic", she said. "Everybody thinks so . . . until they see the contact sheets", I replied.

She enquired about details : how a photo shoot typically proceeds, what the images are later used for, etc. She was curious; even interested, I could tell. I concluded : "Visit the site; the images it contains are representative of my work. If you like them, send me an email. I will be happy to answer any further question, or discuss the specifics of a photo shoot." She looked at the card for a few more seconds, holding it with both hands, then slipped it into her handbag.

I may never hear from her again; most people I ask to model do not follow up on the offer. But a few of them do, and she seemed to be genuinely interested . . . Who knows?

As I walked away, I remembered that she had mentioned being Moroccan. Had fate laid out for her a path that crossed an entire ocean and then passed just in front of my lens, where she would pause for a few images, before getting on with the course of her life?

Thursday 2012-09-13 :

Despite the return to school and the end of the tourist season, the beach remains a popular destination, and the traffic in its vicinity is dense. The strict parking regulations are enforced with severity and diligence, even in the fall.

Yet every day, a man in his early sixties parks his tiny car where the pavement touches the sand, in the no-stop zone, while the police officers complaisantly look elsewhere. He gets out and walks onto the sand, sticks an ombrellone into it, unfolds two chairs underneath, drops on each one a bath towel, then comes back to the car. Pulling her hand gently, he helps a very old lady raise from the passenger seat and, supporting her elbow, walks slowly besides her in the sand (she can barely lift her feet) to the chair where she sits down, smiling broadly.

Mother and son, undoubtedly. They spend the afternoon chattering, one's hand on the other's arm, treating themselves to an ice-cream cone or bobbing like a cork on the complicit wavelets, a few yards from the shore. When the sun dives towards the horizon, they retrace their steps to the car, which has remained unbothered by the carabinieri for the whole afternoon.

They are a soothing sight; as is also the eagerness of the nearby bathers who feign indifference, but leap forward to have the privilege of holding the lady's other arm for a few yards on her difficult journey, hoping that some of her bliss might be passed onto them.

They are the triumph of dignity.

Thursday 2012-09-06 :

For the third summer in a row, we spend in this Calabrian village our summer vacation. We discovered it by chance, two years ago, while searching for a place where to stop for a few days, the duration of a short space-time lapse (thank you Hubert Reeves) between two lodging reservations : the first one in Puglia, the second one in Rome. We liked the place; we came back last summer, and here we are again this year.

It is nothing more than the crossing of two country roads lined with sparse houses perched on a cliff, a hundred feet above the sea. We rent a tiny but comfortable furnished apartment from a foreign language teacher, happy at the opportunity to speak a little French.

The rhythm of our days is as predictible as the village's : we get up at nine, have a light breakfast at the apartment while reading on the wireless Web (technology and centuries-old stones get along remarkably well) news of home. Then we head out to the aforementioned crossing, with its four angles occupied by a caffé, a Norman (!) cathedral, an ice-cream parlour, and a fountain where the locals stop and lift their Calabrian forage cap to sprinkle cold water on their overheating head.

After two espressi on the caffé terrace, we walk back to the apartment and get ready to go to the beach : a few long breaths of air to inflate the garish fluo air mattress bought two years ago and left here between our stays; preparation of a light lunch of bread, olives, cheese and water; and the descent of 209 steps carved from the stone of the cliff, down to the narrow strip of sand that lies at its foot. We indulge in a few hours of lazy idleness, then climb back the stairs up to the caffé for a bicchiere di rosso. After, we buy some supplies at the tiny grocery store (less than two hundred square feet, but carrying all one can possibly need), return to the apartment and cook supper . . . Midnight already; time to go to bed, we need to rest in order to be fit enough for the same routine the following day.

The patron saint of the village, the dark-skinned Madonna of Romania, is celebrated on September 8. One week before this day, garlands of electric light bulbs are hung to illuminate the streets and places where special events take place after dark : concerts of the local philarmonic orchestra (featuring this year extracts from Tosca and Il barbiere di Seviglia), film projections, etc.

During the whole of the final day, children wearing giant puppet disguises walk the streets, gathering from passers-by money for charity. The week of celebration culminates in the afternoon with the procession of an icon of the Black Madonna and the Child, a fourteenth century painting set in a heavy silver frame that eight men lift on their shoulders with great pain and carry during hours through the streets and alleys, followed by a crowd of praying and chanting worshippers coming from all over the region. The exhausted bearers bring the icon back to the choir of the cathedral only after sunset.

As much as the austere beauty of the landscape and the purity of the sea, it is this moving demonstration of religious fervour that draws us here every summer.

Tuesday 2012-08-21 :

So as to be better able to marvel at it, I have put on the table before me a second-hand film camera I bought yesterday. German-made, mechanics and optics. Used but obviously not used much, for the leatherette covering the metal body is still matt around the knobs and buttons, where the rubbing of the fingertips soon polishes it.

For decades, I have been lusting for a camera just like this one. But I could not afford it, it was too pricey. I therefore made do with its clunky Japanese counterparts; decent, but of inferior quality and lesser renown.

But the ground has been shifting : since the advent of digital photography, film equipment is falling into disuse and oblivion. Everybody seems to have eyes and ears only for the latest item of electronic gadgetry, to be ditched as soon as it is outdone in novelty and performance. Photo enthusiasts fall prey to overconsumption : they buy a lot, yet practise little photography.

I gave digital photography a try, a few years back. I could not bring myself to like it and went back to film.

And I have become a regular of the classifieds and clearance sales : over time, I bought hundreds of rolls of expired but still perfectly good film, gallons and gallons of processing and printing chemicals, darkroom equipment I could not even dream of laying my hands upon twenty-five years ago and, just yesterday, this darling camera, a feat of mechanical and optical engineering. All of these for a song!

These supplies will last at least for twenty years to come. I can click my way ahead, confident and unbothered by the fuss and fads that accompany digital photography, rich of the vital ingredient without which no valuable photography, be it on film or digital, could ever exist : free time.

Monday 2012-07-16 :

The sound of the first drops, wafting in through the open window, woke me up. I had gone to bed worrying for all the creatures of nature that had had to put up with more than ten days of scorching heat without any rain; the lawns were yellow and withered, the ground as hard as rock under the heel.

As the water supply was running low, the city had imposed a ban on watering. However, I confess sneaking out, every night, with a gallon of water for my precious rose bushes (like all my neighbours, I suppose).

So I woke up with the first drops, wishing for the sprinkle to turn into a healthy summer downpour that would last for hours. And it just did, while I felt too excited to go back to sleep.

After a while, I got up and stood by the window. By then, the rain was falling heavily : the pavement was wet, rivulets were flowing along the sidewalks, and puddles had formed in the lower parts of the street.

I went back to bed; the sound of the rain pounding the ground was loud and filled me with joy. So I laid down for the two hours that the rain lasted, happy at the thought of all nature's creatures lapping up the life-sustaining liquid.

More rain would have been welcome. But this will suffice for the time being : plants and animals have been granted a few days respite from thirst. For the future, as has always been the case since the beginning of time, nature will provide. Now is a time for appeasement.

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