TRYING TO GET TOO MUCH IN



Every now and then, you see something that is just ridiculously attractive: the sort of thing that people try to reconstruct in gardens as a "feature", but which seldom works because it's too clearly artificial. This isn't artificial. It's a corner of a genuine ruin on the outskirts of St. Jouin de Marnes, a couple of miles from where I live. I don't know how long it's been ruined, but it probably happened not too long after the start of the French Revolution in 1788-89. The Collegiate Church of St. Jouin adds still more to the scene, as does the (very) rustic fence. 

St Jouin is home to the finest bakery for miles around, and I cycle there at least a couple of times a week because I really need to take some exercise, and a round trip of a bit over 6 km is just about the ideal amount as far as I am concerned. Going any further takes too long; is more effort than I can summon at the moment; and doesn't have that brilliant bakery as a reward. But I don't normally carry a camera when I cycle over to buy the bread, so I had to go back.

As you can see, I made the classic mistake of trying to get too much in. The flowers and the wall, fair enough. The flowers and the wall and the church: well, yes. The flowers and the wall and the church and the fence; well, no, not really. It's OK. It's just not quite good enough.



The trouble was that cutting out the church detracted still further from the picture. Before, there was too much to look at. Now, there's too little. Neither the corner with the flowers nor the fence is sufficiently dominant. Each detracts from the other. And, to be brutal, there's too much nothing going on at the left of the picture: it's lop-sided.

All this, of course, was on top of the usual logistical problems. I'd gone back in the car, because St. Jouin is on the way to Thouars, and I had to go there for a couple of errands: to confirm a hospital appointment, to look for a new dishwasher, and to do some shopping. Parking was a bit interesting, but fortunately, in most villages in rural France, nobody minds very much if you park on the sidewalk. I use the American word because it isn't actually (to use the English word) a pavement, which was originally the paved bit at the side of a more-or-less surfaced road. Here, the road is beautifully surfaced, but the sidewalk is a mixture of grass and gravel.

The weather wasn't quite as good as when I first saw the scene, and I had to wait for the sun. While I was waiting, I picked a small sprig of rosemary and took it to Frances in the car twenty paces away. It isn't lavender, even though it looks like it. Both are good culinary herbs: the classic advice, when you are cooking, is to use twice as much lavender as rosemary. As I knocked on the window to attract her attention, the sun came out. So: I had to run smartly back to the best place to take the picture. The result was the shot above.


 

Then I explored a bit more. If you look closely, the picture above is not actually from the same viewpoint as the other two. In fact, it's not even the same plant, and there's no rosemary. The ruins aren't quite as obvious as the wall-corner, but they frame the church better.

The lessons of the whole exercise, as far as I was concerned, were threefold. First, some things just don't work out. They can be good, or even very good, without really being good enough. If they aren't quite good enough, admit it to yourself. At the very least, you'll have learned what's first rate and what isn't. Second, the things that catch your eye are not always the easiest to photograph. This is partly because of the depth that stereo vision lends, and partly because the brain is far better than the camera at ignoring things that don't interest it, and at conflating the things that do. Third, it's often worth exploring around the things that do catch your eye. It's not so much that there may be other photogenic subjects around. It's more that your photographic "eye", or appreciation, can be switched on by noticing something. Once you've seen one thing worth photographing, there's a good chance you will see others. This is a particularly beautiful part of the world, but that's almost beside the point. Rusty motor cars; shadows; brutalist architecture: everything has its beauty, when your eye is alive to beauty. 

What is more, it is all recursive. The more you are alive to beauty, the more beauty you see, which makes you more alive to beauty. Which is as good a reason as any for being a photographer.


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016