Category Archives: France

Blast from the Past: Sacré Coeur Passage

Originally published June 26, 2013:

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre sits high on a hill overlooking Paris. Controversial from long before the start of construction, the design of Sacré Coeur was a response to the supposed “moral decline” of France in the century following the French revolution, with the more proximate cause the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

If this defeat represented divine punishment, as asserted by Bishop Fournier, then Sacré Coeur was an iconic response by the hard right-wing allied with monarchists and the Catholic church to the democratic rabble of Paris and the commune. This was not the first, nor the last, time that the forces of repression and the church were on the same side against their common enemy, the people when empowered—but it still was a bitter pill for some to swallow standing tall above the city of light.

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Visited by millions of people a year, Sacré Coeur gets surprisingly little traffic up in the passage that circles the grand dome.  Perhaps the narrow and twisting stairs—all 280 of them—inhibit guests. The views are superb, as you can see in another image of mine from the dome that includes that other Parisian icon, the Eiffel tower.

Up in the passage around the dome of Sacré Coeur, the “rabble” has had its revenge. On the one hand, it is sad to see the elegant surfaces defaced by layer upon layer of graffiti and a general patina of neglect over time. On the other hand, this defilement—at least in part a deliberate statement—stands as mute testament to the true sentiments of many of those who visit: as much as a holy temple, Sacré Coeur is a political symbol created by those who would keep the people in their place.

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Exposure data, Sacré Coeur Passage: 22mm, eight exposures at shutter speeds between 1/20 of a second and 3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro; Patina of Time: 82mm, seven exposures at shutter speeds between 1/30 of a second and 1.3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro

Also posted in Monochrome, Paris, Photography

Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris

I am particularly fond of the patterns of buildings and rooftops you see in European towns and cities. Above, the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy, photographed this year (2015); below, the rooftops of Paris, France, photographed in 2013.

Manarola © Harold Davis

Manarola © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Also posted in Italy, Paris, Patterns

Lumiere Fillagree

Lumiere Fillagree © Harold Davis

Lumiere Fillagree © Harold Davis

This is a combination of two hand-held shots. The carousel in the foreground was photographed at 3 seconds and f/22 at ISO 64. The three second exposure produced the filigree effect. The Eiffel Tower in the background was shot at a relatively stable and sober 1/5 of a second and f/8 at ISO 200. The two exposures were combined in Photoshop.

By the way, I’ve been asked if I am in Paris because of the Paris photos that are appearing on my blog such as Beneath the Pont de la Concorde. No, I am home in California, and just working through and processing some images from the last few years. With the press of the things going on right now in my life, it does sometimes take me a while to get around to post-processing my work!

Also posted in Paris

Simulating a Calotype Glass Negative Print

Forest Reflection © Harold Davis

Forest Reflection © Harold Davis

The underlying photography in this image consists of two photographs of trees reflected in a puddle that I made in the Parc de Sceaux in suburban Paris, France with the camera on a tripod. One photo was made when the water was still, so the reflections of the trees were very clear. The other was made from the same position when it was windy, so that much of the image consisted of motion blur. Both were shot for as much depth-of-field as possible at f/22.

After combining the two photos in Photoshop using layers and masking, I applied the Calotype Glass Negative preset from Perfect Black and White’s 19th Century Processes preset to create the final appearance of my image. The Calotype preset digitally simulates an early photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot that exposes a silver iodide coated substrate to light. The simulation shown here would have been of a print made from a calotype glass negative, rather than the negative itself.

Keeping in mind that I am a digital artist using my photographs as my source material, I am working on printing this image, with a number of possible papers and presentations in mind,

Also posted in Photography

Pont Valentre

The ancient Pont Valentre crosses a loop in the Lot River at the city of Cahors in southwestern France. The tower in the middle of the river of this fortified and impregnable bridge was held even when the surrounding city was overrun. I recently converted the image to black and white (click here to see the color version and blog story) for a chapter on black and white workflow in a new book I have started to work on.

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Related stories: Valentre Bridge; Impregnable.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Pilgrimage to Rocamadour

High above a tributary of the Lot River in the Dordogne Department in southwestern France, Rocamadour has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The town sits below an ecclesiastical complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches. These days, there’s an elevator between the town level and the shrine level, but some pilgrims still complete their pilgrimages in the traditional way, by climbing on their knees up the Grand Escalier—Grand Stairway–shown in this image.

Grand Escalier,  Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Grand Escalier, Rocamadour © Harold Davis

In this photo you see a row of tourist restaurants to the right of the stairs. There are also hotels (I stayed at one, and it was very nice) and souvenir shops. This probably hasn’t changed much over time, when similar services were needed by the pilgrims who’ve flocked to Rocamadour since medieval times.

I’m struck by how similar the concept of ritual, religious tourism is centers in Japan such as Koya-san and Nachi-san. Although undoubtedly the stone-bound setting from medieval France is far more grim.

If you climb up the Grand Escalier—on your knees or otherwise—here’s the view you’ll see of the towering, militarized religious complex.

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Here are two iPhone images of the same location:

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden

On May Day, a national holiday in France, the fountains were going full force in the Parc de Sceaux. Of course, on a holiday weekend, the park was full of people, who showed up as “ghosts” in this bracketed exposure sequence, combined using HDR. I removed most of the ghosts in post-production, but if you look closely you’ll see I left a few ghosts to wander in this enchanted garden.

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden © Harold Davis

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden © Harold Davis

Another technical point: my usual recommendation is to bracket shutter speed by one EV increments, keeping the other settings in the exposure triangle constant. But in this case I essentially created two bracketed sequences at differing ISOs and apertures, one sequence intended to provide long exposures and a smooth effect on the water in the fountains, the other intended to capture the water as it sprayed crisply.

Both sequences were then combined into one image. I used a 70mm focal length on a tripod. The three fast-shutter-speed exposures were at ISO 320 and f/8, and ranged from 1/80 of a second to 1/500 of a second in duration. The four slow-shutter-speed exposures were at ISO 50 and F/32, and ranged from 1.3 seconds to 1/6 of a second.

The point of this process was to show both silky slow-motion water along with crisp spray from the fountains.

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Of course, there is something decidedly old-fashioned about this kind of view, almost like a digital version of Eugene Atget in his photography of parks and gardens such as those at Versailles. So I decided to make this appeal explicit in the monochromatic version shown here. You can still see the ghosts if you look closely, but they are wandering around in black and white.

Learn more about my techniques for monochrome in this webinar recording: Converting to Black & White with Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex and also please consider my Black & White Weekend Workshop in March, 2015.

 

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Stairway to Heaven

On a rainy spring day I was photographing under the bridges in Paris, trying to keep my camera dry. The bridge shown in this image is the Pont Solferino, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. My position is with the Tuilleries at my back, looking across the river at the Musee D’Orsay on the left.

Pont Solferino (Black & White)  © Harold Davis

Pont Solferino (Black & White) © Harold Davis

The image shown here in black and white (above) and color (below) is composed from a bracketed sequence of five shots at exposures from 6 seconds to 1/60 of a second. I used my 15mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens, with a little post-production work to correct the perspective distortion. The HDR blending caused the people climbing the stairs to “ghost”—an effect that adds to what one person viewing my images has called a “stairway to heaven.”

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Want to learn more about how I convert to black and white? The recording of my webinar Converting to Black & White with Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex is now available for unlimited access ($19.95).

Also posted in Paris, Photography

Cockeyed Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral is a World Heritage Site. Construction began around the year 1200, at about the same time as the cathedral at Chartres. It is unclear when (or if) construction was completed, but it took at least two centuries. What an immense undertaking! As you can see in the photo, portions of the interior need work to this day, and indeed a massive restoration project is underway.

Inside the Cathedral at Bourges © Harold Davis

Inside the Cathedral at Bourges © Harold Davis

It’s impossible to convey the immensity of this interior space. But I wanted to create an image that tried. So I got my tripod low to the ground, and used the inimitable Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 extreme wide-angle lens to give this cockeyed view of the soaring spaces of the interior of the Cathedral at Bourges. Related story: Window in Bourges.

Also posted in Monochrome

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is an ancient village perched high on the cliffs high above the Lot River about thirty miles from Cahors. In France, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful—if not the most beautiful—preserved medieval villages, partly due to its picturesque and highly defensible setting on top of a bunch of rocks overlooking the gorgeous Lot valley.

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie © Harold Davis

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie © Harold Davis

Of course, as one of the most beautiful preserved medieval villages Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is overrun with tourists. You can’t drive into the village, and must park in a nearby lot, and there are plenty of souvenir stands, and attractions like donkey rides for the kids. But its more the French analog to a scene like an American going to a state fair and getting a corn dog on a stick than it is to the parade of non-French speaking tourists you find in a place like the Left Bank of Paris.

On the weekend I visited in the late spring, the tourists were in fact all French, and I was the only foreigner staying in the Auberge du Sombral, where I had booked a room. This establishment is one of my favorite kinds of places to stay in France, essentially a restaurant with a few rooms attached, and I had a good meal and a thoroughly fun time.

It was great to be able to photograph in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie at night after the visitors had gone home. In the morning I explored more, and found this alley right behind the Auberge. Hard to say how old, but it has probably been like this for seven or eight hundred years without many changes.

Related Story: Chateau des Nazelles.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Window in Bourges

As I previously wrote in an iPhone storyThe old city of Bourges, France is known for its cathedral. This structure, a World Heritage Site, is probably the largest Gothic cathedral ever built. I think five Notre Dames would fit inside. The vast, soaring interior space is amazing, held in place by tiered flying buttresses—and built to emphasize the status of the church of Bourges as representative of the ancient kingdom of Aquitaine.

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Coming into Bourges on an overcast and wet afternoon it wasn’t easy finding my hotel. But once I got there the room and the view from the window was worth it. And in the early evening the skies cleared with beautiful golden-hour light so I was able to make this image. Printed large on Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl it looks great, like a crisp window framed within the window of the paper.

Related story: Room with a View.

Valentre Bridge

In an earlier story illustrated with iPhone captures, I wrote: The city of Cahors in the southwest of France is a slightly gritty provincial capital—but back in the middle ages it was fabulously wealthy. Protected on three sides by the river Lot, Cahors was nevertheless sacked, abandoned and rebuilt. But glory was never regained entirely (the Black Death didn’t help matters). You can see the remnants in the palaces and monuments of the old quarter, where today they have a wonderful fresh food market. I got my lunch today in this market. You really can’t beat a fresh loaf of bread, a tranche of locally made pate, strawberries and a tomato!

Valentre Bridge © Harold Davis

Valentre Bridge © Harold Davis

Cahors may have fallen to brute force and treachery during the hundred years war during the convoluted battles between French and English monarchs, but the Pont Valentre was rightly regarded as impregnable. Originally a fortress in the center of the river, it was expanded across to both banks with ample fortifications to make direct attack well nigh impossible.

I made this photo of the Pont Valentre from the banks of the Lot River with my camera on my tripod, and my hat held over the camera and lens to protect it from the spring rain.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

When two rivers woo

I’ve been playing with poetry, puns and stories in my mind about two rivers coming together, hence “when two rivers woo” and “a tale of two rivers,” and so on. Shown here: The Vezere River coming in from the left and the mighty Dordogne River from the right shot from the castle-turned-exhibition garden high above the town of Lemeuil in southwestern France.

Confluence of Two Rivers  © Harold Davis

Confluence of Two Rivers © Harold Davis

Rain was falling softly and the air was fragrant on the spring day this year that I shot the image, with my camera exposed I was mindful of the brooding clouds in the distance. If you look carefully, you can see the rain skittering across the wind-blown surface of the water at the confluence of the two rivers.

This is an HDR blend of nine exposures, each shot at a moderate wide-angle, ISO 100, and f/11. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/5 of a second to 1/320 of a second. I used a polarizing filter and a tripod.

Related images: Morning on the Lot River and Overlooking the Dordogne River.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Morning on the Lot River

Meandering by slow roads, I crossed and recrossed the Lot River in the southwest of France. Parking by the river, a trail led me back along cliffs for about a mile. There were ancient steps carved in the rock down to the water, and I descended. Pausing, I looked down in the almost still reflection of the river—losing myself in water that seemed directionless and mystical in the early morning light.

Morning on the Lot River © Harold Davis

Morning on the Lot River © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Riders on the Storm meets Christina’s World

In the surprising uplands of Dordogne and Lot in the southwest of France high alkaline plateaus are bisected by deep river valleys. You’ll find medieval towns and castles, with markers from the history of the bloody 100 years war. The Brits may not have conquered back then, but today they’ve taken over, with everything from modest vacation bungalows to gated chateaus and estates.

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Exploring the back country, in the smallest hamlets I could find, were also abandoned farms and ruined buildings. I paused in Saint-Romain, ahead of the storm, to photograph this farm house, intricate in its construction and picturesque in its decay. The wind whistled through the grass in the fields, with a sound as desolate as the abandoned buildings. The only thing missing was Christina, I thought, disassembling my camera and tripod and turning away as the first drops of rain began to fall.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography