Preparing for our “Joy of Seeing” photography workshops in the Ariège, I spent a weekend in November 2014 making acquaintance with my hosts Giles and Louise Nevill at Manzac d’en Bas
An hour south from Toulouse Blagnac airport, Manzac d’en Bas is a tradition French rural farmhouse set in rolling pastoral countryside with extensive views to the distant Pyrenees. Giles and Louise moved here from the UK in 2004 and have renovated the stables and cowsheds into modern, comfortable and well-appointed gîtes. It is here, with Giles and Louise as our hosts, that we will be extending our “Joy of Seeing” photography workshops in May 2015.
I was struck first by the warmth of their welcome and the enthusiasm they have for the place and their business. And for a few minutes before dark I was able to appreciate the rustic charm of the house with its chateau lines and extensive grounds. It is a feature of our photography workshops that we find as much to do in and around our base as when we are exploring – that will certainly be easy to do at Manzac.
Overcast skies cast a grey light over the landscape on the drive to St. Girons market, our first recce of Saturday morning. Towns give such a variety of subject matter for photographers to step out of their normal routines: people, textures, lines and colour.
Then we moved on to les Granges de Cominac, a scattered community of Ariège-style barns with stepped gables. Sunlight broke through the cloud but views of the mountains eluded us for the time being.
We took lunch in the village of Seix, where I remembered to order an entrecôte bien cuit to ensure that it was presented medium rare. Still a surprise to me that a great steak can be included on a €15 menu du jour. But since when has eating out in France not been a delight …
Across the Col de la Core, Giles and I moved on to Lac de Bethmale, its blue-aqua waters set amid golden deciduous woods that seemed to glow out of the shadowed mountainsides.
There is no such thing as bad light, only the wrong choice of subject.
Photographers write and say much about the light. Often it is to judge it, to complain resignedly that it is not as good as it could be. But all that does is to let expectation and wish get in the way of the present moment.
There is no doubt that light can present its technical challenges, but a simple solution is to become attuned to those subjects that are best revealed by the prevailing conditions – there is no such thing as bad light, only the wrong choice of subject. I made an image, softening it slightly by breathing on the filter – the best technique for soft-focus ever invented.
A brief stop at the cathedral of St. Lizier brought a first day’s exploration to a close.
Sunday began with the Cathar castle at Roquefixade, a place where it would be easy to allow one view to dominate the attention. Equally, preconceived ideas could easily take over at the Pont du Diable, which sits high above the Ariège river near Foix. Perhaps in these ‘iconic’ places we should guide our photographers to make the most unusual or unexpected photograph. Perhaps we should ban obvious ideas like ‘milky water’ or ‘the view of the bridge’.
We talked much about photography workshops being typically on the go from dawn to dusk. There are clearly so many places to see. But to rush around them all would deny us the opportunity to be still and to find quiet. It is in those times that photographers can let themselves see beyond the obvious. Our workshop approach is to immerse ourselves wherever we find ourselves, to photograph freely and spontaneously, experiencing the moment as fully as possible. On both days Giles and I had explored extensively, taking time, not hurrying.
My weekend came to a close making brief encounters with nearby towns of Mas d’azil, Montesquieu and Rieux; not with churches and streets but with eroded briques roses toulousaines, stone textures, coloured shutters and gargoyles. I cannot thank Giles and Louise enough for their generous hospitality and for hosting our photographic workshops at Manzac d’en Bas in 2015. I am really looking forward to a long association with them and with the glorious Ariège.