I recently returned to Paris after a five year hiatus. One of my favorite walking cities, there were many places I wanted to revisit and re-photograph. There were also a few places that in all my previous Parisian travels I had never had a chance to see. Chartres, St. Denis, and La Défense all top that list. As well, there is Monet’s Gardens in the village of Giverny.
It has been a very wet spring in Paris and when we finally had a break from the cold and damp we caught the hour long train ride to Vernon. A couple of buses were lined up and after paying for the round-trip we board for the short, ~15 minute ride to Giverny. Even though it is far from high season, there is a long, slow moving line to get into the gardens. Finally in! The gardens are very colourful and we are clearly there at a good time to see blooming flowers in every shade and hue. The gardens are also not terribly large so occasionally people would bunch up in camera-wielding knots trying to capture for memories’ sake, the swaths of red, orange and purple, green, blue and violet. You can’t walk on the inner paths, which is nice for keeping lines-of-sight clear of people, but also makes the stroll seem even shorter than it should be. I can’t imagine what this place must like when overrun by the tour bus hoards in mid-summer.
I had no idea what I was going to do photographically and quickly realized that straight flower shots would be just that. Monet’s Gardens — cultivated as they were by the shining light of Impressionism — deserved more than just a bunch of flower photographs, or so I told myself. Thankful that I had the foresight to pack two neutral density filters for the trip — a 6 stop B+W and a 9-stop Hoya — I put those on my two new Pentax travel lenses, an 18-135mm and a 55-300mm. I had my tripod but the idea was not to capture razor sharp long exposures — the wind was blowing any way — but rather to hand hold long exposures and deliberately move the camera. Creating (hopefully) compelling and interesting blurred images that are much less about flowers and other recognizable objects and much more about colours and movement, streaks and patterns, that became my objective. I tried different exposures (up to 30 seconds), ISOs, and most interestingly and playfully, movements. I initially started with simply zooming in or out (or both) whilst exposing. Then I added an upper body swaying motion. I tried panning back and forth and up and down and sideways. I shot from a low squat looking up at the sky, or level with the subjects, or looking down on a small field of colour.
Once home I began processing: changing hues, adding saturation, softening, sharpening, blurring a bit more, perhaps. In the end, what you see in my Impressions at Monet’s Gardens collection is a fun experiment and something different for me, usually focused, as I am, on getting the sharpest of sharp images. Enjoy, with a glass of pastis or perhaps calvados.