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Vive la France!

Jun 27

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts, Travels at 1:55pm

In France teaching for the National Geographic Expeditions Workshops.

Just came out of Boston, and a terrific week shooting on the streets of that Celtic crazed city. I truly felt for the production coordinators on this shoot. They had to constantly re-up the ante with the city, battling for photo permits until, finally, it came down to this; the last day of our shoot was in the city center, on Thursday, the day of the celebration parade. They offered to hold up the parade a day or so for us, you know, so we could get our work done, but we were gracious, and said no, no, it’s been 22 years, you guys go have fun:-)

During these negotiations we relied on Brad a great deal. It’s a little know fact that he is tight with Celtic coach Doc Rivers, staying in the background, advising him about off season moves, and always pushing to have KG attack the basket more, especially when the Lakers are in the penalty.

Folks in Boston were so happy we worked around their parade they let me spend some private time with the O’Brien Trophy.

The trip to France was tough, though. Flew outta Logan and had less than an hour to connect at Charles de Gaulle airport for my hop to Marseilles. Ran a road race through the massive CDG (my dad played in my head while I was running–from his military days, he used to say “over the wall with Charles de Gaulle” when facing difficult tasks.)

Got to my plane with minutes to spare, completely soaked in sweat. I mean, did you ever see the Albert Brooks anchor bit in Broadcast News? I was dripping. My condition stopped just shy of singing in the rain, but I was still massively embarrassed and tried to slink into my seat, unobserved, as best I could. Whew! Maybe out of sight, but surely not out of mind as people’s olfactory facilities were probably kicking in big time. I was a stinking mess.

But then I relaxed and remembered. This is Air France! I’m probably the best smelling person on the plane! Quelle joyeux!

I jest of course. The French get a bad rap. Google “Frenchman” and the first hit is: “Supercilious sumbitch who suffers the slings and arrows of all things un-Gallic with barely restrained contempt.” Mais, c’est ne pas vrai, mes amis! I have been treated graciously and warmly by my French hosts, colleagues, and have had routinely wonderful encounters here for many years.

I figure the French are a bit like New Yorkers in the image department. Folks from the Big Apple are often thought of as brusque, rude, and impatient, unfairly so. I’m sure you are familiar with the old NY joke/story of the out of towner, most likely from the Midwest, irretrievably lost in the asphalt jungle, knowing he has to ask directions, but terrified of doing same as he has heard about New Yorkers and their attitudes. He swallows hard, sucks it up and approaches someone who looks like the stereotypical denizen of da big city. (Sallow skin, sunken, darting eyes, hunched shoulders, racking cough, eyebrow twitch, and a pre-disposition to take anybody who interrupts them, slows their pace or generally just causes them aggravation and tear ’em a brand new, strategically located orifice). The visitor clears his throat tremulously and, sounding as deferential and pleasant as possible, asks, “Excuse me sir, could you please tell me how to get to the Empire State Building, or should I go fuck myself?”

Ahh, mais oui! We find ourselves in one of the truly blessed and non-stop pleasant places on earth, Arles, in the south of France. I am teaching with the unique and gifted Elizabeth Opalenik, and the Italian force of nature, Diana Grandi. Both are approachable, resourceful, talented, and fun to be with. Our class has been great, as usual a terrific mix of people, personalities and talents from all walks of life. We have been rolling through villages, olive fields and abbeys, photographing where the Romans built arches and Van Gogh walked and painted so memorably.

Arles is the home of the legendary Lucien Clergue, a definitive and vibrant photographer (and dear friend of Elizabeth’s) who intertwines his art and life in a truly blessed way. At his amazing home, in a class visit arranged by Elizabeth, I had the good fortune for him to stand (momentarily) for my camera. Didn’t get the pic I wanted, but did okay….

When I teach, I try to get even a single frame I like for myself during any given week. Sometimes it happens, many times no. Ze good frames, zee’ are so hard to come by, no? It is a bit easier for me to find a few pix with the Nat Geo classes than my lighting classes, as in these, we are not so driven by the application of artificial photons emanating from large pieces of picture making hardware. Here, we talk about everything from exposure to light, to holding cameras to light, to making folders on the desktop to light, to f-stops to light, to…..well, you get the idea. Then we go someplace spectacular and shoot some stuff. Ca c’est tres amusant, oui?

Came close to a good frame this week with a picture of the hands of a boules player in the park.

Glad I got this cause I frikkin’ stalked the guy. He had great character to his hands and an interesting way of hitching them together on his backside before his next toss, a repeated ritual roughly akin to, say, Derek Jeter re-wrapping his batting gloves every time he steps in. He had the added bonus of basically wearing black no seam paper, as opposed to something stylish and colorful, which the French have a penchant to do.

Also went not to a bull fight, but to a bull ring to watch this crazy competition as these guys try to pluck bits of string off the horns of a pissed off bull who is running them down like a freight train. If any of these bulls ever catch one of these dudes, he’s gonna lift more than some string off of ’em.

They keep getting in the ring to do it over again and again, which is not a reasonable course of action, if you want my opinion. Talk about thinking with your nuts. They even bring out fresh bulls, all the while these dudes are getting more and more tired. Plus they actively try to agitate and irritate the big fella, perhaps even farting in his general direction. “Ha, ha, come back here and I will taunt you a second time!”

Did okay pictorially, not great. But had nice light for sure. And managed to catch a couple of portraits, one showing the potential for damage. Also resurrected my old 180 f2.8. Not an internal focus lens, thus slow by today’s AF standards, but a great lens nonetheless. Small, light, fast and sharp. Pop it onto the D3 and it rocks.

So, flying home. Air France to JFK. I’m in seat 17, just outta biz class. They have this drape between the two sections that’s kind of gauzy and see through, muting the light and giving those comfortable chairs up there even more romance and appeal. My imagination wanders as my eyes strain to see more clearly. I hear music and laughter. The popping of champagne! The clink of crystal! Shit, I think they got a belly dancer up there! Damn, where’s my ticket? Maybe they need a photographer!

None of that is going on of course. I’m really tired. This trip started on June 2nd, and I haven’t seen home since. Which is why the rate of blogging has been slow of late. Back to normal (what’s that?) next week. Got some things to share, and actually, a couple of major announcements.

Au revoir, France! And fond goodbyes to my class. We had great people I really enjoyed. One of them was Monica, who to me, was the walking definition of a dame. Great lady, of a certain age. Monica’s been there and done that, all with style and flair. She’s a pilot, and a traveler. She carries herself with a certitude and a formidable feminity (think Lauren Bacall), and she deals on her own terms. This is a woman for a confident man.

She turned to me at the end of the week, and arched her brows. “Very nice class, Joe. I really enjoyed it. You have a flair for the ludicrous, and I don’t hang around with anyone who doesn’t.”

How do you say, “more tk” in French?

Richard Cave says:

on June 27, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Welcome back Joe,

Time to kick back and relax methinks, Had a wonderful conversation with my boss about flying to Canada. Sir did you remember the excess luggage, what excess luggage, my pelicase weighs about 60lbs. He has come off the phone a couple of hundred quid lighter.

I like the photo of the petanque balls, seems to be atheme with you Joe. Though I shouldnt moan it was one of these detail shots that pulled me out of the Brown and stinky. I am glad I read your book. Also to warn you off there has been a hoo ha about your hot shoe diaries over here. Someone discovered it on Amazon.

Aurivoir Merci


Kyle Mahaney says:

on June 27, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I’ve been considering going on one of these NG trips, but they all say a DSLR is required. Even though I plan on purchasing one soon, I have a feeling that I’ll still prefer something like a F5 / N80 with slide film. Is a DSLR absolutely necessary?

Greg says:

on June 27, 2008 at 4:08 pm

so is it the said boston ‘KELL-TIX’ or boston ‘SELL-TIX’ I’m sure the box office really promotes the latter over the former. 😛

Richard Cave says:

on June 27, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Kyle, I hope Joe does not mind answering for him. the course time is short and the locations are often out of the way it would not be practical with the time to use wet film. Using digital, with the instructors feedback it would be instant and the learning curve would be less steep.

Wet film is awesome especially with the F5 itself a outstanding camera. Maybe if you did go on the course a company such as calumet could hire out a digital to you. The D2x is such a close cousin to the F5 you would feel comfortable with that.

Joe I apologise if I stepped on your size nines. I too am looking at going on one of these courses.



David Hobby says:

on June 27, 2008 at 5:28 pm

For a second there, I thought you were gonna trot out the old joke about the Tour de France officials finding two banned substances in Lance Armstrong’s hotel room — soap and deodorant…

Not that I can talk, either. I caught the Air Emirates flight last month at 2:00 am, having been shuffling around Dubai all day in the 100-degree weather.

Barak says:

on June 27, 2008 at 6:22 pm

What does “more tk” mean in English?

James M. says:

on June 27, 2008 at 6:55 pm

It’s journalist shorthand for ‘More to come…” Probably a holdover from Joe’s early work.

Ken says:

on June 27, 2008 at 9:02 pm


Great story and photos.

Kind regards
Ken from KY

Mark K_NJ says:

on June 27, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Ah, ok, you’re off the hook. We were just missing your blogging here in the great state of NJ. Glad you’re home, always nice to be on US soil come the 4th of July. Maybe the shore calls?

Great stuff, as usal. Love the B&W portrait, and yes, the hands one. Always special to you, I know.

Already looking forward to the next one…

Ally B. says:

on June 27, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Haha. Thanks James M. I didn’t know what it meant either. Those courses seem like a lot of fun. That gash in his head looks really painful..

JBelle says:

on June 28, 2008 at 2:19 am

I was an eyewitness to all of this and Joe was at his most ludicrous. ha. thanks again, Joe. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough.

Alexandre says:

on June 28, 2008 at 3:36 am

An idiomatic way to say it would probably be “la suite au prochain épisode” (literally “more in the next episod”). Or simply “À suivre…” (literally “to be continued”).

Glad you enjoyed France :-)

Ken Romero says:

on June 28, 2008 at 9:22 am

Thanks for the great images especially Lucien Clergue and the petanque balls.

I wonder which one was harder to stalk?

Michael S. says:

on June 28, 2008 at 7:20 pm

You are a great story teller and have a special gift my friend. Hope to catch one of your classes someday………Until then, I will enjoy your blog……. :)

Hoover says:

on June 29, 2008 at 12:20 pm

What, no shots of Monica….. !?


Paul Bousquet says:

on June 30, 2008 at 7:28 am

Hi Joe,

Rather ironic I am checking your blog for the first time. I just returned form a trip to Paris for a work conference (trains not photography) and picked up your book on my way to Logan on June 22. Love the book so far and glad to hear that I was not the only one feeling a little warm at CDG airport. I don’t think the French like air conditioning too much since most of the metro cars I was on were not equipped with AC either. Took many photos and hopefully have a few keepers, but one day hope to be able to take one of your classes or one of the NG Expedition Workshops.

Ed O'Mahony says:

on July 5, 2008 at 6:52 am

Hey Joe,
What’s with the “Strobist” hair cut !!!!
Arles what a city, once listened to the Buena Vista Social Club in the colosseum on stary stary night,never forget it.

Thanks for ever inspiring us all.


Scott Emmick says:

on July 13, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Hi Joe,

Is there a waiting list should any places come available for the Sante Fe Workshop? I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than @ the workshop.


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