When my eyes are pleased, my soul is happy: Shooting Caligraphy by the Sea

by Guest Contributor

posted Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 4:57 AM EDT


By IR reader René Theuillon

I love modern art!

I have written last March a short article describing some attempts at shooting in the way of Saul Leiter, and since that time, I have made a lot of extra pictures. But I am not very satisfied by the results! In his framings, Saul Leiter had the genius to select one center of interest, surrounded by his stunning rendering. It is not easy to shoot in public areas playing with reflections and looking at my pictures, I found that they contained too many things and were a little bit chaotic. So, by now, for my abstracts, I concentrate on choosing more simple compositions, looking for something almost minimalistic.

Sauntering on the piers of Brest harbor (Western France) by a late afternoon, I noticed in the water, the reflects of a symbol painted on the hull of a ship. This symbol having roughly the shape of a cross indicates the presence of a transversal bow propeller, below the floating line, warning sailors to be cautious in that area. The following picture, shot a day later in very difficult lighting conditions (too much direct sun), is just here to show you what I was actually shooting at.

Bow propeller symbol, painted on the hull of a ship
FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
    59.6mm   1/304s   f/5.6   ISO 800

Well, that late afternoon, the sun was very low on the horizon producing a very sweet light. The tide generated high waters making the ship to dominate the pier and there was absolutely no wind, which is rare over here. I underline the fact, that there was not any wind at all to disturb the surface of the sea which oscillated gently under the effect of the remaining small waves.

FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
95.4mm   1/12s   f/8   ISO 200

I pulled my old Fuji XE1 out of his bag and began to shoot at the reflections in the water. I neglected to check my settings, so I shot at low 200 ISO, which gave me very slow shutter speeds. I start operating in one shot mode, trying to capture an interesting composition, but the reflects were moving very quickly and the XE1 is not considered as a fast camera, so I switched in burst mode, proceeding by short sequences of one or two seconds when the graphism seemed to be appealing in the view finder.

FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
    95.4mm   1/30s   f/5.4    ISO 200

I was not optimistic concerning the results, but getting back home and after having processed the pictures, I found a treasure. The exposure was average, but after having darkened the images, the reflects appeared as gold on the dark green color of the water.

 FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
    95.4mm   1/30s   f/5.4    ISO 200

The shapes were heavily blurred, due to the fact that the speed was too slow for a handheld camera having to capture very fast subjects. But despite or because of this fact, I got very amazing compositions with sweet transitions between the highlights and the shadows. The XE1 is not a fast camera but its modelé is excellent, like film. (Fuji cameras just have a way about them.)

FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
    95.4mm   1/30s   f/5.4    ISO 200

Among the 43 images I made that day, I discarded only 3 of them. They are all different, each view is unique, it did not exist a fraction of second before and will have vanished a fraction of second later.

To illustrate this article, I chose 5 pictures presented in their original framing. You may see some white dots here and there, corresponding to some dirt in the water, but I did not remove them: there are also stars in the sky….

FUJI  XE1 + FUJINON 50 – 230mm  1 : 4.5 – 6.7 OIS
    95.4mm   1/38s   f/5.4    ISO 200

To conclude this article, after all these technical considerations, let’s speak of the esthetical point of view.

James Abbot McNeil Whistler, a US painter of the XIXth century, used to say: “What is there in the picture? It depends upon the one who see it." Nowadays it’s still pertinent, mostly concerning abstracts which can be viewed, appreciated or not, in an infinity of manners.
Is it valuable, that automatic creation where the author has only to release a shutter button, expecting for luck to have an appealing picture?
Is it art? I don’t know. My conception of modern art is very simple, too much simple may be:  when my eyes are pleased, my soul is happy.
My quest of minimalism has been fulfilled. The pictures are looking like some Far Eastern calligraphy and if those ideograms, shot at random, have no material or spiritual meaning, we could dream that they are messages coming from the sea, formulated according to a secret calligraphy, the calligraphy of the sea.

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Once again a special IR "Thanks!" to René for his unique and inspired vision of the world. Please keep them coming our way, René!

See more Reader Stories by René Theuillon

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Canon 7D with EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II
(25 seconds / f/2.8 / 16mm / ISO 250 / manual exposure)