Valérie Jardin is a photographer I have followed on the internet for nearly four years and until recently we'd never met in person, although we had spoken twice on the phone. We share a passion for photography and I've found it fascinating and inspirational to follow the growth in her business. Originally a commercial photographer based in Minneapolis, Valérie focused professionally on food photography as well as residential and commercial interiors, and personally on street photography allowing her to tell wonderful stories - usually in black and white. In the past year, she has re-focused her considerable energies to include photography workshops in the U.S., Europe and even Australia, and Peter and I were fortunate enough to join her for one in her native-Normandy along with six other like-minded photographers.
Our Normandy group hailed from South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Virginia, South Carolina, New York, and Australia. We convened in Paris, boarded a large van and set off for Honfleur, the first stop in our week-long journey together. Valérie started the week off with an overview of how to think about composition and light with examples from her own portfolio which was really good food-for-thought, and we began the adventure early the following morning. Rain kept us on the move in Honfleur, hopping between churches and shops carrying the local specialty - Calvados. After lunch, we bid a fond adieu to Honfleur and set out for Bayeux via Deauville.
The boardwalk in Deauville was still drying from rain and the colorful umbrellas on the beach were all tied down so not to be caught by the wind. Despite that the colors of Deauville stood out starkly and beautifully against the gray Norman skies.
The Château de Bellefontaine would be our home in Bayeux for the next three nights and it couldn't have been a more perfect location. Set back from the road but not far from town, the 18th century Château is surrounded by a two hundred year old park with mature beautiful trees and a lake populated with a pair of swans and lots of very lively ducks.
Bayeux is the home to Notre Dame of Bayeux, a truly beautiful cathedral and the remarkable Bayeux Tapestry. The "tapestry" is 230 feet long and depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and culminates in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and it is truly remarkable. Bayeux is also a perfect base from which to see the D-Day beaches and memorials, and we did one day, starting at Arromanches, moving on to Gold and then Omaha beach, stopping at the American Cemetery at Colleville, and ending at Point du Hoc. This was a day that left us all quite breathless from the staggering evidence of what had happened here and the staggering beauty of this northern coastline of France.
On our last morning in Bayeux, we each got to sit with Valérie to review several of the images we'd taken so far and discuss one-on-one what we'd accomplished, and what and how we could improve. This "quality-time" to chat about our own work was appreciated by every enthusiastic photographer in the group, and then we packed an overnight case for our stay on Mont Saint Michel.
Mont Saint Michel is a rock upon which has been built an Abbey and around which has grown a small village, catering mostly to the three million tourists who come to see this incredible sight every year. We stayed at La Mère Poulard, an inn established on the island in 1888 near the "front gate" and one famous for it's incredibly light omelets. The four flights of stairs nearly did us in although, we learned, they were nothing compared to the stairs leading to the Abbey, ... but persevere we did and glad for it. The Abbey is peaceful and solid and made me believe almost anything could survive the test of time.
With Mont Saint Michel in our rear-view mirror, we set our sights on Caen, a city that was almost completely decimated during the war, except for the churches and part of the castle of William the Conqueror - you know, the one who conquered England in 1066 - oh, I mentioned that already didn't I. Walking the ramparts of the castle afforded us a beautiful view over the city, the one where we would end our journey together and this photographic adventure.
What did we learn, from Valérie and each other?
- How to compose an image using leading lines, patterns, dimension and scale, color, and ... of course, the light.
- How to photograph people on the street and food in natural daylight.
- How to share - our vision and enthusiasm, something Valérie taught by example and is never short on.
It was a wonderful week, one we'd recommend to anyone with an interest in photography and, of course, France, with a teacher who wants to share all she knows to help you love photography as much as she does.
Here's a slide show that really shows the week we all shared.
Photos and Slide Show © 2013 Claudia Ward
Music: George Valentin by Ludovic Bource from the soundtrack of "The Artist"