One of the greatest pleasures of life on the Riviera, is the rite of socializing outdoors. A cafe’ in open air is always a theatre filled with flow of most varied humanity. A famous Polish writer and playwright, Slawomir Mrozek, who spent the last years of his life in Nice, when asked about his favourite way of killing time, said: “I sit and watch”. His preferred spot for observing life was on the Promenade des Anglais, on one of the white benches, like the one from which I took this shot.
I rarely ask for permission when shooting people outdoors. In case of the first photo it was inevitable, as the man was facing the sea, and there was nothing that would distract him even for a moment. In the one above, I was rescued by the smartphone of this young gentleman, who did not omit to chimp even in presence of his (attractive) girlfriend.
The open bistro’s with some outside roofing have the advantage, that light inside can get interesting, and if you are lucky, and your subject is facing the outside, you get an almost perfect setting for a simple but reliable portrait illumination.
I’m thinking more frequently about getting deeper into portraiture, but for now, as the circumstances are not so favourable, I am rehearsing the equipment to make sure everything is ready. This was a test of sharpness/bokeh with the Pentax 67 and 165/2.8. I have to say the lens is sharp enough wide open, and the background blur is really mellow.
This has been a test shot for the 75/2.8 lens on Pentax 67. If you know this camera. you can probably imagine the scene. I was tucked away in a small niche in this underground passage leading to Port Hercule in Monaco, waiting for a subject to turn up, my camera planted on a solid monopod. When this pair of youngsters turned up, the girl noticed me, and quite lightheartedly offered a smile. The loud thunder-like thump of the Pentax probably has scared them somewhat, so I did not hang around, and went on my way quickly instead. Only while scanning the image, I noticed the writing on boy’s T shirt. Most likely they were two infatuated Polish students, who somehow managed to put together some money for a romantic trip. They remind me of this great jazz theme.
To change the topic somehow, I’d like to show this snap taken in spring in the Promenade de Paillon in Nice. I was listening the other day to my favourite jazz radio www.jazzradio.com, the Mellow Jazz channel. I almost remember all the repertoire of this stream by heart, but was somehow surprised to notice, that unexpectedly beautiful improvisations were to be found in this classic piece by Eddie Higgins Trio. This trio is famous for well groomed ballads from the great American songbooks, and is somehow closer to photographers’ hearts owing to their numerous album covers featuring famous shots by Jeanloup Sieff.
On one of my weekend strolls in Nice, I’ve run into this young man painting in the street.
He was, as you can see, well groomed and dressed, and had this youthful yet concentrated ado about himself and his job. It must be quite an experience, to jump into the shoes of numerous great painters, who found on the Riviera their creative heaven. One thing is certain: here it’s easy to paint “en plain air”, because it won’t rain on your canvas too often.
Although the painting in question was of abstract nature, and evidently had to serve as a showcase, the young man had some clear ideas in his head about what he wanted to paint next. In fact, he put a notice on a nearby wall: “Looking for models”.
This is almost precisely the view depicted by Renoir in the painting “Paysage des Collettes” and it still has enough power to attract passing by photographers…
Inside Renoir’s museum, you continue being charmed by the light and the views over the garden towards Chateau de Cagnes and the sea, available through most of the numerous oversized windows. The light rays penetrate the house from all angles, creating plays of patterns and reflections.
The interiors are scarcely furnished, and the paintings shown are frequently from Renoir’s entourage. There are only a few original works, mainly of small size. The reason is pretty obvious: with the prices his paintings are fetching today, it would have been virtually impossible to cover the walls even of this relatively unassuming house. When I was inside, I kept on thinking, how relatively little lavish was this residence, and wondered if Renoir did not make it any more grand because of the cost. He had to be rich by the time he bought the estate, but, how much did it take him to paint, to afford an estate like this?
I’ve found an answer in this short clip from the film on Modigliani, where Picasso takes Modi’ on a surprise trip to Les Colettes. It’s hard to know if what is shown was true, but it certainly is plausible.
The entrance of the estate houses a low modern building with the ticket counter and merchandising. It fits surprisingly well in the park. In front of it, I’ve found this young plane tree, groomed so that it should grow spreading the branches sideways to provide some shade for the tourists taking a coffee at the outside tables. The plane trees are very much a permanent part of the French landscape, both outside and inside the cities.
As I was heading back to the parking to return home, I couldn’t help noticing this familiar way of delimiting the path – plain stones bordering the gravel, so delicate and old fashioned, sign of a mind respectful of the spirit of tradition.
Pierre Auguste Renoir in later years of his life has developed rheumatoid arthritis. The doctors advised him to move from the Champagne region in the northern part of France, to the warmth of the south. In 1907, at the age of 66, he bought a small farm surrounded by a park filled with olive and citrus trees, called Les Colettes, on the hills right above Cagnes-sur-Mer, not far away from Nice.
During the next year he built next to the farm a proper house, where he was to spend the rest of his life, mostly confined to a wheelchair. This place today is hosting the Renoir Museum. I went there this spring, curious to see it after it was closed for more than a year for renovation.
What has immediately struck me, was the beauty of the place and park, and a total lack of architectonic user friendliness inside the house for someone who had to move around on a wheelchair. It is quite clear, that at the turn of the century, servants were making up for lack of elevators and modern bathroom solutions for people with displacement problems.
The light was just beautiful, tense and clear, but without the scorching power of heat typical of the summer. When I looked around it become completely obvious that you could instantly fall in love with this place, particularly if colours and light were the primary elements at the base of your art.
Here and there you could spot some exotic plant, and although it is not clear which of these were present there in Renoir’s times, the monumental appearance of these Yuccas has reminded me, that it was at Les Colettes that Renoir took up seriously sculpture. Well, he took it up in a way… because he could not use his hands any more, so he gave indications to his assistants. This is probably why his bronze sculptures have not reached prices anywhere near close to these of his “original” paintings.
Here and there in the garden, you can see reproductions of his landscape paintings placed roughly in the spot where he actually worked on them. The effect is truly stunning, as it shows you how he saw the world with his eyes. There is a very interesting film available, shown in the museum, where Renoir paints inside the house in his studio, his brushes clenched in his wrist.
Promenade des Anglais in Nice does not have a great luck with sculptures. This is one of them, and although I have no clue what it is supposed to rappresent, to me it brings association with Matisse’s eye. In fact, it is located only several meters away from a hotel room, where he used to stay during the first permanence in Nice. When he arrived there, it was winter, and it had rained for a few days in a row. Then, as Matisse was ready to throw in the towel and return to Paris, next morning the sun returned, and upon seeing the wonderful quality of light, he decided it was the right place for him to live and work.
I keep on seeing this gentleman in various places in Nice, where I habitually stop for a coffee or lunch. The last time I had a glimpse at his Ipad, he was studying statistics. Lifelong learning is a feature of our times, and BTW, it has never before been so easy to do it as now.
I’ve met this gentleman, as I was reloading my cameras in a back street of the Old Nice. He came out of some restaurant kitchen for a small cigarette break. He watched me set up the cameras, and did not object, when I asked for a permission to take his portrait. A hommage to August Sander,