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Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards the airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I knew that doing a painting of Notre Dame de Paris is well beyond my current skill level with watercolors, but I decided this evening that I had to give it a try before I leave this beautiful city tomorrow. I just got done with my little painting using DaVinci watercolors on Fabriano Artistico paper and it is 5×7 inches in size (13×18 cm).

I won’t bore you will all of the reasons why this is a tough subject, but I chose the front view, which made things a little easier and I ended up simplifying a lot of details. The paper is not really flat at the moment, which means the photo I took looks a little warped, but I think you can see well enough what I accomplished.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. I may give it another go from home, but it is recognizable, I think as Notre Dame—I especially thrilled that I completed this while I was still in Paris.

In case you are curious, I based it roughly on a photo that I took today that is included after the painting.

 

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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People do some crazy things when they travel to ensure good luck. Art in a museum is untouchable and there are guards and surveillance systems to make sure that you do not get too close to it. When art, particularly statues, is in a public place, however, people choose to rub various parts of the artwork, which is particularly noticeable with bronze statues.

Last week I came across two examples of this “touchable” art while wandering the back streets of Montmartre. The first one is a tribute to the work of French author Marcel Aymé, a short story called Le Passe-Muraille (The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls). I read a synopsis of the short story and essentially a man gained the ability to pass through wall, but eventually this ability began to fade and he got stuck forever in the wall. The statue is pretty high up from the ground, so it appears that people have chosen to rub his now shiny left hand.

The second piece of “touchable” art is a bust dedicated to French music icon Dalida. Dalida, whose real name was Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, was a French singer and actress, born in Egypt to Italian parents, according to Wikipedia. She won the Miss Egypt beauty contest in 1954 and began a 31-year singing career in 1956, selling 170 million albums and singles worldwide, and died by suicide in 1987.

It is obvious from the shiny areas of the Dalida statue which parts of her anatomy people choose to touch.

touchable art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This simple image of a curvy road in Montmartre captures well my experiences during this extended stay in Paris. I’ve spent endless hours walking the narrow cobblestone streets, marveling at the architecture, and paying attentions to shapes and colors. I’ve played tourist from time, but the famous landmarks have been of almost secondary significance to me, like the Sacre Coeur Basilica that is tucked away in one corner of this shot.

Sacre Coeur is there, I am aware of it, but I would rather spend my time wandering around the surrounding area than merely taking a shot of it and then moving on to the next destination on a checklist list. Who needs a list?

Road in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Any wild animals in Paris? While wandering through the gardens at the Rodin Museum on Friday, I came across this adorable rabbit sunning itself in a semi-shaded open area. I watched it for a while until some noisy visitors scared it away.

I knew there had to be some wildlife in Paris other than the two-legged partygoers that were awfully loud late into the night yesterday in the streets outside of my apartment.

Rabbit in Rodin garden

Rabbit in Rodin garden

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is finally beginning to hit me that my stay here in Paris will soon be coming to a close. Will this shot from yesterday evening be my final image of Notre Dame de Paris in the fading light of the day? Perhaps I will have a chance again tomorrow.

We’ll always have Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is Saturday night in the Paris, the City of Light. I took this photo a short while ago as I was crossing one of the many bridges over the Seine River.

I hope that your Saturday night is as colorful and filled with light.

city of light

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Before this trip, most readers could identity my “style” of photography. It is not that all my images looked the same, but many of them contained the same or similar subjects and were photographed in similar ways with the same gear. My photography here in Paris may have confused some people, because I have photographed lots of different things. There have been buildings and people, close-ups and extreme wide angle shots, and touristy and artsy images.

Today I would like to confuse things a little more with an abstract architectural shot that I took earlier this week. The image is a shot of a ramp that is part of the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor, a footbridge over the Seine River that I photographed from close to the ground looking upwards using a mini tripod. If I were to ask you what the French word for “bridge” is, many of you could correctly answer “pont.” Maybe you grew up singing “Sur le pont d’Avignon” or know the word from some incidental contact with France.  So what exactly is a “passerelle?” It is the word that the French use for a footbridge, a gangplank, or a catwalk.

This bridge is pretty cool for several reasons. It crosses the Seine in a single span with no piers in the middle. Its deck is made of ipe, a kind of exotic wood from Brazil. Finally, this bridge is really new, especially by Parisian standards—it was built between 1997 and 1999.

So what is my style? “Eclectic” might be the right word now.

Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you are staying in the center of Paris and walking almost everywhere, you don’t really need to plan to see cool things—they surround you all of the time. Late yesterday afternoon, as the sun was getting low on the horizon, I had to cross the Place de la Concorde to head towards home and captured this shot of the Luxor Obelisk in the center of the square.

As I was doing a little research on the obelisk, mostly relying on Wikipedia, I learned that it is a granite column, 75 feet (23 meters) high, including the base, and weighs over 276 tons (250 metric tons). Even today, transporting and erecting something this big would be an engineering challenge. Imagine what it was like trying to do so in 1833.

For some reason I thought the obelisk had been stolen, but the Archaeology Travel website provides the following details of the transaction.

“Initially both the obelisks from the Luxor Temple were promised to England. Following diplomatic negotiations they were both gifted to France by Pasha Muhammed Ali. In return,  King Louis Philippe gave the Pasha a large clock. The clock is still in place in the clock tower of the mosque at the summit of the Citadel of Cairo.”

The Wikipedia article referenced above wryly notes that after the obelisk had left Egypt, the large mechanical clock provided in exchange turned out to be faulty, probably because of damage during transport.  “The worthless clock still exists to this day in a clocktower in Egypt, and is still not working.”

Place de la Concorde

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Those of you who know me well are probably surprised that I have not yet posted an insect photo from Paris. I have chased after a few hornets and flies, but came up pretty much empty-handed. Yesterday, however, I came upon this cool little ladybug on top of a pole blocking off a pedestrian zone and finally captured an urban insect photo worth posting.

All things considered, the ladybug was quite cooperative. She—the ladybug might be a male, but the name causes me to assume it is a female—crawled around the spherical surface on the top of the pole, giving me a number of different views. I do not have a true macro lens with me, but I do have a 24mm lens that is sharp and lets me get pretty close.

I initially tried shooting downward at the ladybug, but the results were not very exciting. When I bent down so I was at eye-level or maybe slightly lower, I got a cool, out of focus street background that I really like.

I do not know enough about ladybugs in France to know if this is a domestic one or is a foreign visitor—there are certainly plenty of those in Paris, present company included.

 

ladybug in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There were dogs everywhere yesterday at the Bois de Boulogne, most of them off leash, exploring all parts of the extensive wooded area on the outskirts of Paris. This seems to be a favorite dog walking spot for Parisians and maybe for doggie daycare/training, because, as you can see in the final photo, there were some big groups of dogs.

Most of the dogs and the people ignored me, though a pair of Chihuahuas with matching bright red sweaters barked ferociously as I passed. My path crossed with one large dog and I was struck by its gentle eyes and friendly disposition. I got down to eye level with the dog and petted him a bit, with the owner’s permission. He seemed so sweet.

After engaging with the owner and dog for a few short minutes, I watched them walk away. Only then did I realize that the dog was missing one of its front legs.

Dog in Bois de Boulogne

Dog at Bois de Boulogne

Dogs at the Bois de Boulogne

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of you know that I struggle to find ways to use the camera on my new iPhone 11. Yesterday when I was visiting the large greenhouse complex at Le Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil in Paris, however, I captured these shots with that camera. (FYI, “serre” is the French word for a greenhouse.) I think the issue is that I am used to shooting mostly dynamic moving subjects and I don’t find myself able to track action the way that I would like with a camera phone or make quick adjustment to my settings on the fly. The greenhouse complex was not going anywhere, so it was easy to remember I could use my phone.

The wide angle capabilities of the iPhone, bordering on fisheye, allowed me to take some cool shots as I wandered through multiple greenhouses. The tropical greenhouse, though, fogged the lens on my DSLR because of the extreme warmth and humidity, so I didn’t even bother to try with my iPhone.

The garden is located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the city’s 16th arrondissement, in the extreme southwest corner. It is in an interesting area, because while I was wandering about I walked past Roland Garros Stadium, where the French Open tennis championships are held and Longchamp Racecourse, where a series of well-known horse races are run.

I could not help but smile at all of the signs that I passed for the horse track, because the French word of it is “hippodrome.” Now I realize that this French word is based on some perfectly good ancient Greek words, but I can’t help but imagine a group of racing hippopotamuses, or should I say “hippopotami” if I want to be classical. After all, maybe “river horses” like to compete against each other too.

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Entrance gate to Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What does it mean to be rare? It seems to me that rarity, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder and is often hard to quantify objectively. When I went for a walk yesterday in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, I was hoping that I might see some birds. I already did a posting on a European Robin, arguably the most beautiful bird that I spotted during the day.

Did I see any rare birds? All of the birds that I saw were undoubtedly “common” for the locals, but they seemed rare and exotic to me, because they were new to my experience. One of the joys of traveling is having the chance to see new creatures that may share a common heritage with more familiar ones or may be totally different. For me, it is simpler to treat them all as special rather than focusing exclusively on the uncommon ones. I attempt to highlight the beauty and behavior of them all no matter how many times I may have seen them previously. Unlike some birders I know, I do not have a life list that says that I should move on to new species once I have seen a particular one—each new encounter is unique.

So what did I see? I think that I have correctly identified these species, but would welcome corrections if I am wrong. The first one was the hardest for me to identify and I learned that it is a Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)—I love the combination of colors on its body.

The second one, a Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) seemed somewhat familiar because, even though we do not have magpies where I live, I had spotted a similar-looking American Magpie (Pica hudsonia) during a trip to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. In this encounter, I was thrilled that I was able to capture some of the iridescent shine and color on the tail feathers.

The final photo shows an energetic little Great Tit (Parus major) pecking away in all of the crevices of a tree, seeking whatever tiny morsels of food that it can find.

I will probably return to more urban subjects after a day of respite in the woods of Paris. My feet definitely enjoyed the break from the cobblestone streets and I feel refreshed from my return to nature.

 

Eurasian Jay

Eurasian Magpie

Great Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Age is a relative thing. I chuckled a little yesterday when I read a sign next to this spectacular Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) that characterized it as a “young man,” despite the fact that it was planted in 1895. Putting aside the fact that there are male gingko trees and female gingko trees, a concept that blows my mind, gingko trees, which originated in China, can live to be 1200 years old and are “potentially immortal.”

I spotted this tree while visiting the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil. This botanical garden, located near the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of Paris, dates back to 1761 and has an immense complex of different greenhouses, some with groupings based on botanical species and some geographically based. I was particularly struck by the ones ones focused on the Sahara desert and one focused on tropical South America. In the latter case, I had to keep wiping off the lens of my camera, because it was fogging up in the steaming heat of the greenhouse. Unfortunately, some of the greenhouses with the most spectacular plants were only open when gardeners were physically present, so I was not able, for example, to see their collection of orchids.

The leaves of the gingko tree were mostly faded and fallen this late in the year, but I still  marveled at the size of the tree and the golden carpet that surrounded it. A sign noted that in 2011 this tree was 82 feet (25 meters) in height and its trunk had a circumference of 13 feet (395 cm).

I think that this gingko tree was the only one of its species at the garden. Somehow I felt like a personal ad, “Young male gingko tree in Paris seeks companion.” I wonder if there is a special category for its type on dating apps.Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Today at one minute after midnight was the official release of the 2019 Beaujolais Nouveau wine. It is a made up holiday to push sales of this wine, but I like it because it is almost like the wine was designed to offend wine snobs. Beaujolais Nouvea is freshly pressed, it is cheap, and has a relatively uncomplicated fruity taste.

Here is the bottle that I purchased and I am accompanying it with some raw milk goat cheese and a whole grain baguette. The white of the plate threw my exposure out of whack, so when I made adjustments, the baguette looks like it was overcooked. Let me reassure you that it was wonderful.

Life is good.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you see when you look out your window? As I sit in front of the laptop and glance slightly to the left, I have a wonderful view through the full-length balcony door of the rooftop of the buildings on a side street perpendicular to the one on which I am living. I love being on the top floor and I spend countless hours gazing out the window, marveling at the architectural details, daydreaming from time to time—Paris has that effect on me.

I am particularly intrigued by all of the little reddish pipes of various heights sticking out of the larger chimneys. Are they vent pipes or are they chimneys too? Why do a small number of them have little metallic chapeaux?

Yesterday I captured these images when the sunlight was shining from a particular angle and cast some beautiful shadows from one chimney onto another. As I worked on my photos, I thought I was most interested in a shot in which I was able to isolate the details of one of the larger chimneys, which is the second shot below. After deciding that I should provide a wider view to give context, I started working on another image and decided that I liked this view even more. What do you think?

My pace of life here in Paris is slow. I am not pressed by time constraints (other than my departure date) and I have few responsibilities. I am free to daydream, free to wander, free to contemplate, and free to ponder. Life is simple and life is good. Maybe I can apply some of this thinking to my daily life upon my return to Northern Virginia.

Paris chimneys

chimneys of Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Paris. Earlier this week I awoke to the sounds of a large truck with its engine running loudly right outside of my window. Trucks come through early in the morning to collect trash, but this was different, because it was mid-morning—playing with art had kept me up past 2:00 in the morning and I had allowed myself to sleep a bit later than usual.

What were they doing? “My” apartment is located on a mostly pedestrian street called Rue Montorgueil in the center of Paris. Our neighborhood, like several others that I seen this week, was putting up street decorations for the holidays and it was those efforts that had roused me from my sleep. The first photo shows my view of one of entrances to my neighborhood yesterday evening as I walked back from another meandering journey through Paris.

Earlier in the evening I finally investigated the large Ferris wheel that was installed in a corner of the Tuileries Garden shortly after my arrival. I had initially assumed that it was part of some kind of fair, but as I approached—and took the second photo below—I discovered that it is part of a large Christmas market. The market has a number of different rides, stands for a wide array of products, and an incredible selection of food and drinks. I was tempted by sausages, and then by raclette, and almost gave in to a hot mixture of potatoes, cheese, and bacon called Tartiflette.

In the end, I settled on one of my old favorites, a Croque Monsieur. Essentially this is a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but it is so much more than that. The heavy layer of cheese on top was simultaneously crunchy and gooey when it came out of the oven elevated this sandwich high above its American counterpart and that is saying a lot, considering now much I love grilled cheese sandwiches.

Paris looks pretty with the Christmas lights, but a part of me resents the change in the vibe of the city. The meandering cobblestoned streets that I find so charming seem slightly besmirched by a sense of commercialization that threatens to draw us away from the true meaning of the holiday.

 

Rue Montorgueil

ferris wheel in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How fast is a minute? As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went on a sketching tour in Montmartre yesterday and I thought we would be sketching static objects like buildings, which we did. Then we moved into figure sketching. Yikes. That seemed to move things to a whole new and unanticipated level. The instructor, Romain, gave us a quick lesson on human proportions and then he assumed several static poses. We had a minute to sketch each one, pausing momentarily in between poses for him to provide feedback on our work.

As a final exercise, Romain adopted five slowly moving poses and we had one minute to sketch him in pen from head to toe in some part of each motion. Wow! Without a pause he would move to another dynamic pose. Each of those minutes went by really quickly and I felt like I was out of breath after five minutes of constant focus.

We all had a little laugh when the most skilled of the three of us taking the class ran out of time with one of her figures, which consequently  had no head. It was a little ironic, because just minutes before we had seen a statue of Saint Denis holding his head in his hands. Saint Denis, a Bishop of Paris, was martyred for his faith in 250 AD by decapitation. A popular story claims that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance.

For fun, here are a couple of pages from that final sketching exercise. I can understand better now why artists need so much practice and training.

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I went on a three hour sketching tour, which turned out to be awesome once I got over some initial inhibitions over doing art in the public eye. Our instructor/guide, who is a young professor of art in the University of Paris, led us on a mini tour of Montmartre, sharing liberally fascinating tidbits of information on the history of this area of Paris and its role for the artistic movements in Paris. Along the way, he also shared his personal history as an artist and his own views on art.

Before we began, he issued us a collapsible stool, a sketchbook, and a little pouch of materials. At preselected points along the way, we stopped, opened the stools (sometimes literally in the middle of a sidewalk) and had a specific, timed assignment. There were only three of us in our little class, so we got plenty of attention as we sketched, though Romain’s comments were mostly in the nature of gentle questions.

Our first assignment began when we stopped in front of a beautiful pink house, known as La Maison Rose. This building, which was probably built in the 1850’s has a fascinating history and was immortalized by several painters. If you are interested in the history of the house, here is a link to a really engaging article on the blog at parisnicevacations.net that initially appeared in French in Montmartre-Addict. Of note, there is a very interesting connection with Picasso and one of his former models.

As the clocked ticked down inexorably, the blank page challenged me, defying me to create something with my hands, my mind, and my three graphite pencils of different hardnesses. Romain, our instructor, emphasize the importance of the first line, the line that would set the parameters for the entire sketch. I wish I could describe for you what was going on in my head as I worked on this first sketch, but it passed in a blur. I know that people passed and watched us, but I was so focused on my work that I paid them no attention.

We had 20 minutes for the sketch, if I recall correctly, which sounds like a lot of time, but it was so easy to get distracted in the details of the building. The second photo below shows the results of our initial sketches. Can you guess which one is mine?  While we were sketching La Maison Rose, Romain watched us and even did his own little sketch of us sketching. It’s not hard to pick me out in that sketch, shown in the third photo below, considering that I was the only guy in the group of budding artists.

We did some other exercises, including sketching in pen, and I might do another posting about that. I was pretty energized by the experience and as the evening wore down, decided to try a more deliberate sketch of La Maison Rose, using my photo as reference material, and the result is shown in the final photo. The lines are a little wonky and I didn’t really leave enough white space on the page for the building to breathe, but I like it a bit better than my initial sketch en plein ail, though I must confess that I spent more time on it, used an eraser more, and was a little tired when I completed it at 2:00 in the morning.

In case you wondered, my initial sketch was in the sketchbook on the left. My German colleague, whose sketch book was in the middle, seemed to be the most experienced of the three of us and has a somewhat more refined style. My Australian colleague, who was originally from South Africa, tended to sketch more lightly and delicately, and it’s a little hard to see her work in the photo. We really were not in competition, so it was easy to share our results with each other. What amazed me the most, perhaps, is that throughout the entire class, our basic “styles” and approaches did not change much.

My sketches tended to be darker, bolder, and a bit chunky than the others—I think I am ok with that, though I obviously do need to a lot of work on actual drawing techniques. I have signed up for a shorter sketching tour with Romain on this coming Sunday that begins outside of Notre Dame and I hope to get in a little practice before then.

La Maison Rose in Monmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This may sound a little crazy, but I sometimes forget that I can take photographs with my brand new iPhone 11. Let me explain. For most of my working years, I worked in buildings in which cellphones were not permitted, so I never got used to having one with me all of the time. I used (and use) a landline telephone as my primary means of communication, relying on an answering machine if I was not there.

Eventually I did get a cellphone, but it was a cheap Android phone and I used TracFone as my provider. It is a pay-as-you go system and I would buy minutes annually. Being somewhat frugal, I would turn on the phone when I wanted to use it and then turn it off. The phone was for my convenience. The only exceptions I made were when I was taking photos in really remote locations or when traveling in the USA.

Recently I decided to dive deeper into the Apple ecosystem (I am writing this on a MacBook Pro) and purchased my iPhone and a T-Mobile plan that gives me unlimited talk, text, and data. More importantly, it allows me to text and use data in many foreign countries without additional charges, which has proven to be quite handy here in Paris.

So why don’t I use it to take photos? Well, first of all, I have to remember to take it with me when I go out. Twice already this trip, I left the apartment without my phone and only realized it much later. Unlike many people, I felt absolutely no sense of panic when I realized that I was separated from my phone nor any obsessive compulsion to return to the apartment and reunite with my iPhone.

More importantly, I find the position for taking photos with a smart phone to be somewhat unnatural—there is something comfortable and secure about putting my eye to a viewfinder rather than holding my arms out in front of me. One of the consequences of my cataract surgery a few years ago is that I no longer need glasses most of the time. My distance vision is now 20/20. After a lifetime of being significantly near-sighted, I am now slightly far-sighted, and it just happens that the distance at which I hold my iPhone is one at which my vision is not quite sharp without reading glasses. (My DSLRs have diopter adjustments, which lets me see thought the viewfinder perfectly, although I sometimes have issues seeing sharp details on the LCD screen on the back of the camera.)

Here are a couple of shots that I took on Sunday with my iPhone. I took the first shot from the steps of Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and the second shot later in the evening from a bridge over the Seine River. I am impressed by the details, the color, and the quality of the images.

Change is hard, but maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

Paris panorama

Seine River at night

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How comfortable are you in doing something that you know you are not good at and then publicly showing the results? I have tried watercolors a few time and brought some watercolor stuff with me to Paris. My trip is over half over, so I decided last night to play a bit, using some of my recent photos for reference. I definitely need lots of practice, but it was incredibly enjoyable.

I think “primitive” would a positive spin on my watercolor “style”.  I’m finding water control and brush control to be my biggest challenges at the moment. Those two issues make it hard for me to put in details, because the lines expand really quickly if there is too much water. Of course, it helps to be able to draw, which I don’t do well, so proportions can quickly get skewed.

Here are a few geeky details for those of you who paint with watercolors. I used a twelve color DaVinci full pan watercolor set in a metal tin. DaVinci is a small company in California that makes its own paints and they are a higher quality than the student grade paints I have used before. For paper, I used several brands, but they are all 140 lbs (300 gsm) in weight and are cold press. The first painting was done on a 4×6 inch (10×15 cm) Fluid 100 block that is 100% cotton; the second one on a 5×7 inch (12×18 cm) Fabriano Artistico extra white block that is also 100% cotton; and the final one on a 4×6 inch (10×15 cm) Strathmore postcard that is made of wood pulp.

As I worked and played with the watercolors, I thought of a Sidney Sheldon quotation that I came across recently, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” There is something really special about the creative process, making something with your own hands.

Later today I am going on a three hour sketching tour in Montmartre, as long as the weather holds. That will be the real test for me, seeing how well I can overcome insecurities and fears while literally in public view.

Watercolor Painting in Paris

Watercolor Painting in Paris

Watercolor Painting in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I have posted a number of “artsy” shots recently, periodically I slip into the role of a tourist to capture images of well-know Parisian landmarks. Yesterday during a few brief moments of sunshine, I photographed Sacré Cœur Basilica at the top of the hill in Montmartre.

I have taken a lot of photos of Sacré Cœur during this trip, but they have all been gray and gloomy and so I have not posted them. One other thing I noticed was that the perspective was always somewhat skewed in earlier images, because I was forced to shoot so severely upwards. Yesterday I decided to walk down several levels and shoot from “ground level” rather than from one of the upper levels that provides such a nice panoramic view of the city.

During one of my visits to Sacré Cœur earlier this trip, I went inside the basilica and took a few interior shots. The first one here shows a painting just above the central altar area. The final shot shows one of the many stained glass panels that I saw. When I am inside a church, I tend to limit my movements and adopt a reverent attitude, so I generally don’t get a lot of interior shots.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur Paris

Sacre Coeur Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t know why, but last week during a day in which it rained continuously, I went snap happy photographing umbrellas. The umbrella images that I posted already were pretty straightforward depictions, albeit somewhat artistic. Here are a few images in which I loosed my creative impulses to capture something a little different.

The red umbrella in the first image really stands out, but there are a few other details that caught my eye. The normally transparent panels on the Pont des Arts have become a bit translucent because of the rain drops, adding a nice effect. You may also notice the cluster of locks on the lamppost.

The two last facts that I mentioned are related. Years ago someone came up with the way that lovers should get locks with their engraved names and affix them to a Parisian bridge as they declare their eternal love. This has turned into a huge problem—there are now locks everywhere in Paris—and there has been a partial collapse of a bridge caused by the additional weight of the locks. According to an article by the group No Love Locks, Parisian authorities decided in 2014 to replace the mesh grates on the Pont des Arts, covered with locks estimated to weigh 60 metric tonnes, with the transparent panels. Obviously that has not deterred people from finding new locations for the locks—the organization I mentioned has a slogan that grabbed my attention, “Free your love. Save our bridges.”

When I took the second photo, just as was the case with the first one, I was standing on one of the paths along the Seine River and shooting at an upward angle. We often use our umbrellas as protection, from the rain as well as from others, and this shot up under the umbrella has an unusual, almost intimate feel to it.

It is hard to explain why I like the final shot. Maybe it is because of the reflected lights on the wet pavement, or the fallen leaves, or the people walking, bounded on one side by the row of trees and on the other by the covered green stalls of the bouquinists (booksellers). It is the kind of image that I could imagine turning into a painting.

So there you have it, a curious mix of images. Before I set out on this trip to Paris, I remember warning readers my postings would be atypical, and possibly a bit strange during my time here. I think this posting is the result of consciously trying to express myself “outside of the box” in a way that is fun and yet a little scary.

Red umbrella in Paris

Under the umbrella

Alongside the Seine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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When I traveled overseas for work, which I tended to do at least a few times a year, we generally stayed in U.S. chain hotels, most often run by Marriott. Those hotels are predictable and easily identifiable—from a distance you know immediately that they are hotels.

The dark green door in the center of this image is the entrance to the apartment where I am spending the three weeks that I am in Paris. The entrance is so nondescript that it doesn’t even have a street number indicated and you might think at first that it is associated with one of the adjacent stores.

For the last 25 years I have lived in a townhouse community in one of the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. and essentially nothing is in walkable distance. Here in Paris, once I descent the 96 stairs that I profiled earlier, I am in the midst of the action. Rue Montorgueil, the street on which the apartment is located, is a bustling pedestrian area in the center of the city with lots of shops, cafés, and restaurants. It can get a little noisy, but from the sixth floor, the sound levels are tolerable.

Who are my neighbors? On one side, there is a wine store called Le Repaire de Bacchus (The Den of Bacchus) and on the other side there is a gourmet tea store called Mariage Frères (Mariage Brothers). I was initially confused by the name, because the two words don’t seem to go together. Was the store founded to celebrate the individual nuptials of the brothers or were they married to each other? As it turns out, “Mariage” was the family name of the founders. According to Wikipedia, Mariage Frères Tea Company was founded on 1 June 1854 by brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage.

As for the photo, I am pleased with the way that I was able to capture the light and, in particular, the reflections on the wet pavement. The image has a part of the urban vibe that I have been enjoying so much here in Paris. It makes me wonder what it would be like to live in a place like Paris long-term.

 

Rue Montorgueil

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Montmartre is the small hill with the highest point in Paris where the stunningly white Sacré-Cœur basilica is located. Previously I have posted panoramic views of the city that I took from the stairs of Sacré-Cœur.

How do you get there? There is a little funicular train that will take you up the hill, but I have always elected to walk. Multiple sets of stairs approach the summit from different directions and I have climbed up a lot of different ones. Some of them are decorated with colorful patterns, but all are steep and long.

Montmartre has become one of my favorite locations to visit and I think I have walked there every other day on average. Here are images of a few of the sets of steps that I have successfully encounterd over that period of time.

stairs to Montmartre

Stairs to Montmartre

stairs to Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I decided to go for a late night stroll on Saturday and ended up at Place Saint-Michel in the student district not far from Notre Dame. Where else could I have been able to order a crêpe with Nutella and bananas after midnight? For the record, the crêpe was amazing.

Along the way I captured this image of the Pont Saint-Michel (Saint-Michel Bridge), one of 37 bridges over the Seine River in Paris. Those bridges come in all shapes in sizes, with several of them pedestrian only. This particular bridge links the left bank of the Seine with  Île de la Cité, one of only two remaining natural islands in Paris. The island, on which the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral is located, is historically viewed as the center of Paris.

The Pont Saint-Michel, which was built in 1857, is quite distinctive in appearance. If you look closely you will see two large N’s, each surrounded by a laurel wreath. These are symbols of Napoleon III’s Second Empire that lasted from 1852 to 1870. In the right hand side of the photo you can see the lights of the embankment on the Seine and above them the lights at street level.

 

Pont Saint-Michel
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the coolest thing about digital photography is the way that software allows you to change the look and feel of an image. This evening I played around with some different presets in Luminar 3 and got a look to one of my recent umbrella shots that I really like—almost like an antique photograph.

I tend to be somewhat of a minimalist when processing my wildlife photographs. I shoot in RAW, so I normally will tweak things like contrast, exposure, clarity, highlights and shadows, but except for cropping that is pretty much it. Shortly before leaving for this trip I downloaded Luminar 3 as part of a special deal in a pre-sale of Luminar 4.

I haven’t really used it much, but I decided to experiment with it during this trip. I tried some different looks with a recent photo that I really like. There are dozens and dozens of presets and all are adjustable, but none of the color ones satisfied me with the images.

I really like black and white and there are a whole range of options in the Tonality group of presets, including one that covers Toning. I liked the Sepia preset a lot, but settled on one called Gold and Selenium. After I made a few adjustments I got this look.

What do you think? Do you miss the bright colors of the umbrellas and the foliage in the altered version? Although I published the original shot recently, I decided to reprise it here for ease of comparison.

I like both versions a lot, though I must admit that the “feel” and “vibe” of the separate images are quite different.

Umbrellas in Paris

Umbrellas along the Seine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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With the recent onset of cold and rainy weather here in Paris, it is hard to remember that we had a bit of sunshine earlier in the week. As I was walking along the banks of the Seine River during one such sunny period, I grew entranced by the shadows that trees were casting onto the embankment walls. People passing by me must have wondered what I was photographing, given that I was facing a seemingly blank wall and had my back to the river.

The images show mostly skeletal tree forms, but some show evidence of hardy leaves persistently clinging to the branches, not yet ready to fall. If you examine the photos carefully, you can see some of the details and textures of the materials used to build these embankments. Just a few yards above, there is busy world, full of cars and people hurrying about, but here, life moves at a slower pace.

I love too seeing the giant iron rings intermittently embedded in the embankment walls.  These, I believe, are a legacy of past commerce along this river, places where barges would tie up, perhaps for safety or sleep, or simply to silently surveil the scenic surroundings. There are times in our lives when we could all use spots like that.

shadow tree

Shadow Trees on Seine River

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I spotted this bird as I was walking along the Seine River yesterday morning, I knew immediately that it was some kind of cormorant. Unlike most water birds that float on the surface of the water, cormorants sit really low in the water with their bodies barely visible. Their long necks always make me think of a periscope coming out of a semi-submerged submarine.

Although this bird looks a lot like the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) that I am used to seeing at home, I have determined that it is most likely a Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). This cormorant followed a familiar pattern of behavior—it would be swimming along when without warning it would dive deeply into the water and remain underwater for a long time. It was a fun challenge trying to figure out when and where the cormorant would reappear.

Most of the time the cormorant stayed far from the banks of the river, but on one occasion it popped up right in front of me and I was able to capture this image. It was nice to be able to capture some of the orange coloration around the cormorant’s mouth, but the real prize for me was getting a clear view of its spectacular blue eyes. It is definitely worthwhile to click on the image to get a closer look at that amazing shade of blue. If you look closely at the water, you will also notice some small concentric ripples created by the falling raindrops.

When I went walking in the rain yesterday, I knew there was a good chance that I would see ducks and gulls and maybe a swan or two. Who knew there were Great Cormorants on the Seine RIver? No matter where I am, I am always thrilled by the joy of the unexpected, by those little surprises that add so much texture to life. So I choose to live my life in hopeful expectation as I scan the world for marvelous subjects to photograph, confident that they will present themselves if I keep my eyes and my heart open,

Great Cormorant

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When it is pouring rain all day in Paris, what can you possibly photograph? Like wildflowers in the spring, colorful umbrellas have sprung up all over the city and they make cool subjects.

I captured the first little scene along the Seine River this morning. I envisioned the possibility of the photo and hung around the location as the group of three people approached. I took multiple photos as the moved toward and under the bridge. The biggest challenge I had was a distractingly bright orange bicycle parked in the middle of the pathway beyond the exit. Fortunately the green umbrella was large enough in this shot to hide the offending bicycle.

I semi-stalked the next group of three young ladies as they walked through the Tuileries Garden toward the pyramid entrance to the Louvre. It was a little frustration because they kept stopping for selfies, but I finally got a shot when they moved together for a moment. I love the way that the three subjects had complementary shades of umbrellas and stylishly distinctive backpacks.

The final photo highlights the umbrellas themselves and not the owners. Although it was still raining, the owners had carefully placed their umbrellas to the side so that they could take photos of themselves with the Louvre pyramid in the background. I like the angle at which the umbrellas are placed, which, along with their black color, emphasizes the form of the umbrellas. The shadows on the wet cobblestones add additional visual interest to the image.

It was cold throughout the day today, about 34 degrees right now (one degree C) and the possibility of snow is forecast for this evening. Yikes! Fortunately I have warm clothes with me and most importantly my camera bag has proven to be as waterproof as advertised. I don’t exclude the possibility of an after dark adventure a bit later.

Umbrellas along the Seine

Umbrellas in Paris

Umbrellas in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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