NEW Food Photography Course with Olia Hercules 2017

 In June 2017, together with Olia Hercules, I will be running a food photography course at the Villa Le Mazeau in West France. This wonderful location. which is one of Big in France’s holiday homes, is set in the heart of the South Vendéen countryside which is a perfect spot in which to relax and enjoy good food and wine….and take photographs of them.

Spring dates 2o17 : 16, 17 and 18 June

The theme of this course is cooking over wood fires. We’ll be cooking in the summer kitchen at the luxurious Villa Le Mazeau, which has a wood fired pizza oven as well as a wood fired plancha and grill. I should emphasise that photography and cooking share the star billing on this course, so if you want to leave your camera in your bag and just watch and learn from Olia, that’s fine…. oh, and then enjoy eating the wonderful gear that’s she’s created…followed by a swim or a country walk.

I’ll be offering tuition in practical food photography in the mornings and, for those who are still interested, a couple of hours in the afternoons when I can review pictures you’ve shot, give advice on other areas of digital photography that interest you as well as answering questions on the mysteries of Photoshop .

For the full picture and booking details have a look at the Cookery and Photography courses on:

BiginFrance.com

Posted in 2016, BBQ, clay oven, Cookery School in France, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Olia Hercules, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Photoshop, pizza oven, summer, swimming pool, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A memory of Chez Allard

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Poilane, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris

 

Memory is a wonderful thing and I am of the opinion that it is something to be enjoyed while I still have it. On one of my recent constitutionals down that virtual lane the name of Chez Allard came to mind. This is a restaurant that I love, not because I frequent it, but because it stands for an ideal that pleases me: bistrot cooking. Over the years this restaurant has changed dramatically which has left me with the memories of what once was and has left Chez Allard with Ducasse and  his well heeled acolytes. Because of this passage of time I must revert to the past tense.

There were few drawbacks to Chez Allard save that of drawing back one’s chair from the small table as they were so tightly packed together making it no place for a weak bladder: unless one was on the menu. The walls and the ceiling had a golden brown patina that could only be achieved by demanding that the clients smoked cigarettes of the highest tar content, which they did without complaint or pause, giving lie to the belief that smoking impairs the palate as the food  which the smoked clientele demanded was of the highest quality. It specialised in classic bistrot dishes such as volaille de Bresse,  which entailed a whole roasted fowl from Bresse served with a mountain of girolles or ceps to be enjoyed by two people. The menu also boasted the roast duck with green olives,  big metal dishes of butter bleeding escargots, braised pigeon and peas, rabbit stew, salads of beets and mâche – gear of the finest quality and wines to match. The magic once again lay in the fact that perfectly prepared food was not a surprise: it was expected.

I have only eaten there twice, with a huge gap between the visits. The first time was in the late 60′s when the activists of OAS were blowing up cafes and making life a little too edgy for a for a peace loving smudger on an early visit to what was gay Paris before the dictionary was hijacked. I can’t remember what I ate, but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable as a long haired hippie surrounded by severe crop haired colonels from the Legion Etrangeère  entertaining male or female lovers, and in some cases both, and whose humourless faces suggested that this was but a tiresome interlude before setting off to assassinate de Gaulle. They didn’t look like the sort of people who would take kindly to people who disapproved of them or, in fact, take kindly to anyone for whom they didn’t already have a use. I ate quickly, fucked off quietly and came back 35 years later when not wanting to kill the president of the Republic was more acceptable. On this subsequent visit I had the most wonderful pigeon and peas, followed by cheese and something else that was delicious. I was with Jenny, my wife, and Andy Harris. The latter is a man who knows a great deal about food so what followed was even more unexpected. Jenny was already in hell. There were far too many unrecognisable organs on white plates oozing blood, and snails and generally things that she doesn’t believe people actually enjoy, but only eat to be cool or, as she says, to show off. Andy had his eyes on rognons de veau, a plural, and those eyes widened and nearly leaped from their sockets when not they, but “it”, arrived at the table. In my memory the kidney was the size of a baby’s head, dark brown and with the protruding ends of some tubes quiveringly visible: a more than daunting sight for someone who had clearly been expecting a small dish of delicately sautéed kidneys. With downcast eyes he set to work on the monumental organ and, before the first mouthful was raised to his lips, he whispered menacingly, “Don’t say a fucking word, Roger” and so the meal continued until the Big Kidney was no more. You win some, and the big kidney bore evidence that you do indeed lose some. I didn’t need to remind him of this, but I did.

The basis of this piece originally appeared in “Simply Fed”.

Posted in 2016, Andy Harris, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, food, Food photographer, France, Memory, Paris, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

reflecting on a Sunday lunch in La Rochelle…..

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The skies are blue with soft white clouds and the sun is shining. It’s business as usual in La Rochelle. Ancient stone walls reflect the warm sun into the darkest corners of the streets. Pavements are cluttered with the tables and chairs of the busy cafes. Sunglasses and cigarettes. The witching hour of midday has passed unnoticed which is unusual as, on any other day of the week, this peace would be shattered as the office sluice gates open releasing a rushing stream of hungry, thirsty workers into the bars and restaurants around the central covered market. Today is Sunday and the waters are calm.Whatever is happening is happening in a very relaxed way. Car drivers are being civil to pedestrians…even to each other…. which is a rare and wonderful coincidence as our faithful, but superannuated, GPS directs us unerringly into cul-de-sacs and up one-way streets against the downward flow. In spite of its help we find “La Marie Galante”, our lunchtime rendezvous.

La Rochelle is about boats. There are so many sleek, floating tax evasions and unsecured loans in the marina that it’s hard to requite the national cries of universal poverty with this halyard clacking armada. The “Marie Galante” is one of the genre of restaurants that I have grown to love since our arrival in France some 15 years ago. No interior designer has been involved in the appearance of this restaurant which is as good as Michelin star in my book. It is white with some blue, like La Rochelle. The napery is paper and the glasses are glass and they sparkle. No padded menu, just small blackboards announcing today’s menu. Sunlight pours in through the huge windows that give onto the marina. Beyond the marina is the Atlantic and America. Mother and daughter run the front of house. Everything happens kindly. There is a proper kitchen producing this food. Not a spectacular kitchen but one that provides well made dishes from fresh produce on white china which is free from the signature of a paprika sprinkling, parsley scattering sous chef which, when present, is as clear a promise of bad news as is a fresh tiger’s turd to a tracker . The fish, coquillages and crustaceans come direct from the fishing port 5kms away. No central market, just direct from the boat owners. We have oysters and a feuilleté de fruits de mer to start, followed by chunks of fresh, flaky morue in a jus de viande. Nothing clever, just correct. The crème brûlée is as good as I have ever tasted and if it wasn’t I would still be in the mood to feel that it was. The restaurant is pleasantly full of people and the buzz of their conversation. There is no “oohing” as dishes arrive. They are as expected. No one is here to worship, to be seen or to impress. They are here to be with family and friends and to eat the good food to which they are accustomed.

An excerpt from my book “Simply Fed”.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Bistro, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, lifestyle, Photography, Photography holiday, seafood, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Gigolo d’Agneau…..

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The two sheep that live in the field outside our kitchen door have taken on the role of Big Issue sellers in my psyche. I feel guilty if I pass by without giving them something, and enjoy a glow of self-satisfaction as they gratefully accept the stale slices of bread that I magnanimously offer to them in a vain attempt to appease their reproachful stare. Aside from the fact that brioche is their favourite, and that the look in their eyes leaves me in no doubt that they are aware that they are only receiving unwanted scraps, I still get to feel that I have performed my charitable act for the day, although this morning’s conditions gave me an immediate insight into the possible origin of the phrase “as cold as charity”. One would imagine that sheep would prefer something green, but this pair are big on carbs. One of them is a ewe, lone survivor of the savage cull that followed the demise of the flock’s aged guardian, and the other is a lamb, issue of a passing relationship with a gigolo ram. “Gigolo d’Agneau” or more accurately “Agneau du Gigolo” has a certain ring to it; neither engagement nor wedding, but nevertheless a ring. It was easy, at first, to distinguish the “baa” of the sheep from the bleating of the lamb. Stéphane Reynaud suggests that a Gallic sheep would be more likely to “bêêh” rather than to “baa”.  The “baa” or “bêêh” of the ewe has remained constant but the lamb’s voice has changed considerably, moving from bleat to “blêêh”. It makes me realise how inattentive I was to our childrens’ vocal development as they moved from crying, to speaking, to raging. It has been suggested by my wife that it was not so much my inattentiveness that prevented me from noticing these subtle changes, more my absence from the house during their waking hours.

(an excerpt from “Simply Fed”….available from Blurb)

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Digital photography, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Remembering Proust…..

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Remembering Proust……..

We group of nervously smiling children were made to stand in a row facing two or three older and less smiling children, but children just the same. Each of the unsmiling children held a crude home made bow in one hand and a pair of primitive arrows in the other. We, standing in a row, were asked by the other children whether we would prefer the nail or the used shot gun cartridge. This question referred to the different tips on the arrows. The used shot gun cartridge had a flat, brass plate on the end, which would hurt a bit, whilst the rusty nail had a point which would cause an injury. We all chose the cartridge every time. I don’t remember anyone choosing the nail. We were then told to turn around so that our backs faced the less smiling children, who called themselves Cobras, as in the snake. It was a summer’s day in the Worcestershire countryside and we were standing in a country lane, with steep banks rising up on each side; my memory has an image of a deep, steep sided lane whose banks were covered in vegetation interrupted by small serpentine paths leading up to the ridges. We weren’t smiling now. We were fidgeting. We didn’t look over our shoulders or at each other. If I had looked to my right I would have seen the large, rusty iron farm gate that led to fields where cattle grazed and where we would be taken on “walks” in the afternoons after classes. Looking to my left, if I had done so, would have given me a view of the copse at the far end of the cutting where we “hens” built our “dens” from old farm sacks and sheets of corrugated iron. We waited patiently to be shot but the bell rang and we all ran back to school. I don’t think we, or I, were ever shot but we waited quite often.

Proust was a Cobra, pronounced rather harshly as Prowst rather than Proost, and was the most threatening of that elite band of 11 year olds who made us 8 year old “hens” march as soldiers, in ordered groups, around idyllic country lanes so that we could be ambushed and lined up to be shot at their pleasure. There are apocryphal stirrings in the back of my mind that draw a picture of Proust with a raised hammer smashing the lid of my, or perhaps it was some other child’s, “tuck box” or maybe not a picture but a memory of hearing the story. It was only at the end of my final term at the school when I and my friends finally plucked up enough courage to enter the long deserted Cobras’ den. There was little to see save for a scattered array of rusty empty tins of Fussel’s Condensed Milk and faded sweet wrappers, evidence of the taxes that had been appropriated from us “hens”, together with the small cracked plastic body of a “Crystal” transistor radio which together were as clear a sign of their sway as would have been the bleached human bones in a cannibal’s cave. Proust, by then, had long gone on to matriculate as a bully at one of the great Catholic public schools. This was in 1952 and we children were still innocent and the irony passed us by.

Posted in 2016, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

A life in photography….

As a preamble, that I’ve been inspired, after seeing an article about Light, a brand new technology camera company, to write a piece about my career and how it evolved through traditional analogue cameras to current digital technology to which I am in thrall.

I don’t have many clear memories of the time before I was a photographer and there was a time in the middle of my career as a professional photographer of which I have no memory at all. That career began suddenly one day, in 1968, when the photographer whom I then assisted told me to stop assisting as I was of no assistance whatsoever. It would be true to say that I didn’t possess in any quantity the work ethic which is a prime requisite if one is to be gainfully employed by a third party which meant that I was, and henceforth would be, on my own. If you’re planning to start a career in photography do it in 1968. There was a lot of work about, everyone was not a photographer and, what’s more, it was fun….and there’s the difference.

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Some studio based shots from early days

Let me be clear, I have never had a hobby and never ever will I have one. Hobby is a word that I particularly dislike as it demeans the activity or pursuit to which it refers, unless it’s a horse, so it would be safe to say that photography and I were never in such a relationship. The mid 60’s found me at art school studying painting with two subsidiary subjects, print making and film making, and it was a combination of those two that led me to photography. Photo silk screen and photo lithography clearly demanded photographic images and it was not long before I tired of sourcing existing images and wanted to create those images for myself which meant that I found and bought a famously reliable and equally famously cheap Russian camera, a Zenit. At the same time, owing to a much lower enrolment in the film making course than had been expected, there was a surplus of equipment and materials which meant that I was able to make as many films as I wanted with what seemed to me to be an Aladdin’s cave of toys….Beaulieu 16mm cameras with Angenieux zoom lenses, Nagra recorders, flat bed editing suites, a seemingly endless supply of 16mm film and the rest…it was an epiphany. At the end of my second year, the year before I would have graduated, I was offered a job assisting a successful London photographer, through contacts that I had made in my late teens, who would later turn out to be the same man who was to fire me in 1968, thus launching me into my career in the same way as an unsatisfying half eaten sandwich is launched out of a moving train’s window. But before being deservedly thrown out of the window, as there’s no doubt that I was an unsatisfying sandwich, I learned so much…for which I am still hugely grateful. I was introduced to the magic of Hasselblad and Nikon and also to a marvelous Olympus Pen-F half frame camera, that was adapted to take a Carl Zeiss Jena 180mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens and which, when loaded with Kodachrome, was like a magic wand . The photographer was Clive Arrowsmith. From him I learned about light; the light of day (sublte differences in which I had never really noticed before) and the light of electronic flash. He was a master of both and some of it rubbed off on me. At the time when I first joined him there was no such thing as a Polaroid back to fit medium format cameras which meant that he taught me the importance and the skills of taking accurate light readings but most of all he instilled in me that the making of photographic images was as joyful as it was serious. Interestingly, in the whole time I was with him, some 18 months, I never once entered a darkroom, a habit that I religiously practiced throughout the rest of my career. I loathed the chemical atmosphere and the confinement, but most of all I couldn’t bear the thought of being locked away from the life that was going on all around me at that exciting time. Luckily there was a plethora of wonderful laboratories and excellent printers. There was also a handful of truly superb printers such as the great Robin Bell who. I’m happy to say, is still is plying his trade.

To recount the full story of my career would be lengthy, inducing sleep in some and rage in others, so I shall stick to the nuts and bolts, of which there are many, on the plate cameras with which I would become so well acquainted in the middle section of my photographic life. Having done my best to avoid the darkness and confinement of the darkroom it is ironic to realise that, as a studio photographer, it was to be the exact environment in which I was to spend many subsequent years. At one particular studio, which was in a basement in Covent Garden, there would be long periods in the winter months when, not only would I arrive and leave in the dark, but I might also spend most of that day in the dark doing multiple exposures: a mole like existence leavened with more than the occasional glass of wine which was quite acceptable at that time….or so I told myself. Sinar Norma cameras, both 10×8 and 5×4, were the picture making machines that I used for a great proportion of my work at this time. I had an unusual way of attaching the camera onto my Foba stand in that the panels hung downwards from the rail rather than upright in the time honoured fashion. I’m not sure how or why this came about but I always found it very comfortable and it reached a point where I would be surprised, thinking that upside down was the right way up, when I saw other photographers’ more traditionally mounted cameras in their own studios. I got immense pleasure from the slowness of the process when working with these cameras but my mind boggles when I think of the quantities of film and Polaroid we got through and the cost that it entailed for the client. So much of a photographer’s profit in that era lay in that magical section of an invoice, entitled “Film and Processing”: which brings me neatly to the digital age in which no such profit area exists.

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A gallery of some of my recent digital photographs shot with a Nikon D800

Affordable and efficient digital photography arrived at an opportune time for me. My wife and I had moved from London to live in the French countryside which had long been my dream. Annoyingly, my dream had not made it clear that the nearest E6 laboratory was to be around 100 miles from our house. Rather than move nearer to the laboratory, I moved to digital. Having studiously avoided the darkroom in my previous life, I now spend as much time as possible each day in that virtual darkroom known as Photoshop. The fact that many of the icons represent the very actions that a printer would perform beneath the lens of the enlarger make it even more realistic….and I’m working in the warm, soft light of the French sun coming through my lightroom window.There is no question that digital has drastically changed not only the way that I work but also the look and subject matter of the images that I now produce. It is also true to say that, no longer having clients to satisfy, has allowed me to adopt a more relaxed style of picture making which includes my phone which forever surprises me with its quality. What is more, I take pictures each and every day in surroundings that never cease to fill me with wonder and happiness: and that is the photographic present in which I live, a present that teeters on the brink of change each day. The digital world develops at an amazing speed and I have been blown away by the innovations that appear each and every day – and there is no doubt that there’s so much more to come.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Digital photography, Dreams, fashion, Film, Food photographer, France, Memory, Photography, Photoshop, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Hidden treasure….

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I am still hanging on to the memory of summer’s final glance over her shoulder as she heartlessly moves on to another lover which sad moment leaves me free to start writing again. Mindful of too many summers seasoned with damp disappointment, the traditional  Englishman’s inheritance, means that I am hopelessly vulnerable to the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck through my office window and that, on feeling this sensation, I am drawn from my chair to the garden, to the fields, to wherever I can be in summer…..without having to travel….I want summer on my doorstep. Cooking, reading, swimming, sleeping, drinking, eating, talking, taking pictures ….but not writing. And so, with summer’s passing I have set my virtual feather duster to sweeping the cobwebs from my cerebral keyboard, which may take some time, as the true culprit for my silence has not been summer but my own delicious seasonal laziness from which morass I am loathe to extricate myself. ..

Posted in 2016, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Season’s change….

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hanging on……

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Soaking up the beauty around me on this warm early morning in late, late August has me desperately trying to suppress the emotions of clinging on, of eking out the pleasure, of denying the ineluctability of time ; childhood’s last strawberry on the plate, adolescence’s tearful refusal to admit it’s over, old age’s tottering optimism. Blinkered, content in our chosen place, I am enjoying the coda of a wonderful summer. Photography is my memory and, as I have tended only to take pictures of things and events that have made me happy, my memories are good. Over the years I have lost, through carelessness and foolishness, the majority of the body of work that I produced as a professional photographer….which is why the pictures that remain are full of joy and devoid of any purpose other than to give me, and those who share them with me, pleasure.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Digital photography, Emotion, France, French countryside, harmony, Memory, Photography, summer, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

a fear of stuffed tomatoes…

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A box of misshapen ripeness such as this is irresistible to me, particularly towards the end of summer when they sell for but a few Euros and,  beguiled by their allure, I buy not one box but several. That’s a lot of beguiling ripeness with which to contend. Conjured images of bubbling saucepans and rows of squeakily sparkling glass jars fade and transmogrify into a labour intensive nightmare as the gap between fantasy and home narrows with each turn of the car’s wheels. I dream of preserving tomatoes and I assiduously preserve those dreams but not the tomatoes. Last year’s olive preserving hopefully will serve as a lesson to me…..I preserved our olives as part of a film and not part of our diet which was a mistake. There now exists, in the dark recesses of our larder, a glass wall of preserved olives. There is not enough time or Martinis for me to do justice to such a horde and I shall not make the same mistake again …. neither with olives nor tomatoes. And there I shall leave it. There are as many paeans to tomatoes as there are olives in my cupboard but notwithstanding I shall offer but one more. This is more a paean of praise to Rachel Roddy, a food writer who I’ve recently discovered and whose writing I greatly admire and whose recipe in the Guardian for Baked Stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes changed forever my view that a stuffed tomato was a wasted tomato. Read her words and take heed of all of the tiny details for therein lies the magic of this dish…

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Posted in 2016, Baked Stuffed Tomatoes and Potatoes, Baking, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Mediterranean food, Parmesan, Photography, photography course, potatoes, Rachel Roddy, Recipes, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments