Chocolate shop, Poitiers, France [Alamy image ref. B5A2Y6]

In high summer, and in good weather, the Claude Lafond Chocolatier establishment in the rue Lazare Carnot, Poitiers, will be fronted by crowded tables and chairs bordered with troughs of Geraniums to separate those taking tea and cakes or coffee from shoppers and sightseers in the traffic-free “zone piétonne” old quarter of the city. Those people who have come from near and afar will expect to choose from many delicacies prepared every day to amuse and satisfy every palette.

Established since 1957 in the historical centre of Poitiers, the family-run establishment perpetuates the tradition of beautiful selections of desserts, small cakes and chocolates. Together with a staff of more than 50 in other premises around the town, the organisation serves around 1,000 receptions and seminars a year catering for more than 150,000 people.

The shop and café must be well-know further afield too because this image was licensed by a Japanese TV company for use for one year on a programme. The is also much else to see and photograph in Poitiers… but because of my personal situation I have only been able to make two trips there despite that city being only an hour’s drive away. But there and back with a couple of hours shooting amounts to half a day away from my paralyzed wife whom I – being her sole carer for a couple of decades – normally have to return to after a couple of hours away. However, from those two trips I selected 84 images for Alamy… from the 1,456 images with the “Poitiers” tag currently with that agency.

One day I would like to get to “Futuroscope” for some extra stock coverage because there are only 129 images on Alamy with “Futuroscope, Poitiers” as the subject including 5 “RF” of which four have people in them (spot check necessary Alamy… Futuroscope is private property and also recognizable faces of strangers cannot be RF)! The big problem I have with a designated location to visit though is not usually one of time, but one of distractions! On my first visit to Poitiers I must have stopped half a dozen times to photograph churches, bridges, market squares and random signs… all of which doubled the 1-hour journey time there. On my second trip I stayed more focused on the road ahead… but it was difficult not to stop on many occasions.

This shot – which I waited for specifically so as to not include people – was taken at the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor zoom… the exotic optics holding contrast well despite the various rays of sunlight bouncing around the scene from random windows.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for unlimited transmissions in an editorial programme (not for advertising) for 1-year by a Japanese TV company under my “a la France” pseudonym.

La Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50DGA]

La Tour Carrée (the Square Tower) or Donjon, is emblematic of Loudun, in the Vienne département of France. It is the tower of an ancient château constructed by Foulques Nerra, the Count of Anjou (also known as “The Black Falcon”) in 1040. It is a good example of military architecture of the period and has been classed as an historic monument since 1877.

The tower, or donjon, was used as observation post and is all that remains of a large fortress. The walls reach 31 meters (around 100 feet) in height and are more than 2 meters (6.5 feet) thick. From the top of the tower is a wonderful panorama of the surrounding area, and in good weather one can see the Tower of Moncontour 16 kms (10 miles) away. The defence system also included a circular keep which was part of a later fortress which was dismantled under Louis XIII at the request of Richelieu.

I first visited the donjon in 1980 and remember the “exposure” encountered when climbing the rickety staircase winding it’s way around the inner walls with the increasingly dramatic drop below drawing one’s stomach to one’s mouth! I think I closed my eyes for most of the ascent and only opened them on feeling the wind on my face 100 feet above the ground and realising that the view all around was there to see. My last visit was in 2008 when the exposure didn’t seem as extreme (maybe extra safety railings had been put in place)… although I have heard that the donjon is currently closed to visits, which can only be due to the state of the 100-year old wooden stairs rather than the near 1,000-year old stone walls. Although Loudun is slightly off the tourist trail – between the traditional châteaux belt of the Loire Valley to the north and Poitier’s Futuroscope to the south, the small historical town (pop. 7,500) is still worth a detour and visit… and the gardens at the foot are, as always, accessible to the public.

View from la Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50EPB]

The garden has a medieval theme… it is organised symbolically around twelve squares representing the Twelve Apostles, and in the center a Quince tree representing Christ. This tree is a symbol of love and of happiness – and it has even been said that the Apple offered to Aphrodite by Pâris was actually a Quince.

It is surprising how often tall, imposing structures are difficult to photograph. This tower when seen from afar shows its height but doesn’t reveal its mass… whilst from close-up its mass is apparent but its height is not as impressive. Here I used a Nikon 14-24mm wide-angle zoom at the 14mm wide end from a very restricted but elevated position on a steep grassy bank between the garden and tower proper. The ideal view showing the tower’s west face (this is the south) was not very descriptive of the structure because it was draped with flapping banners from top to bottom and therefore unsuitable for long-term (i.e. representative) image stock. I did take many more shots of the other faces from far and near – as well as views in all directions from the narrow walkway at the top – but this was the view chosen for publication.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a textbook with a 1,000,000 print-run (school textbook probably) for distribution in France for 1-year under my “a la France” pseudonym.

Thermal Spa, La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. B31J11]

Following on from my last article “#43 Gateway to Success?” I’m remaining in the town of La Roche Posay to describe image sales illustrating what the town is really noted for… spa water. Although formally recognised in 1869 as the first spa in Europe exclusively dedicated to skin disorders, the dermatological tradition at La Roche Posay actually spans five centuries and is based on the locally Selenium-rich spring water. Since those early years a unique base of knowledge and experience on skin cure treatment has been recognized the world over. As I mentioned last week, even Napoleon, when as General Bonaparte on his return from Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, had a thermal-spa hospital built there to treat his soldiers’ skin diseases.

I took many images from different angles of his attractive spa building but the more interesting ones were of the public approach which included the steps as a “lead-in” to the establishment.

Thermal Spa, La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. B31J4J]

Both images of “Les Thermes du Connétable” were taken with a 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor zoom at the wide end which… became an effective 21mm on my D200’s cropped-format sensor. And because the building was above my eye-level on rising ground, I had to pull the corners out slightly to correct the converging verticals. Although I no longer have my old 28mm PC Nikkor, I’m not sure if it would have provided adequate coverage on my camera – with its x1.5 sensor the effective focal length would have been closer to the 35mm PC used on a full-frame camera – although it would have been from much lower down the slope at road level. I have seen on various websites about this thermal spa that their images of this building are very poor and cut-off… so other photographers had similar problems! However, the newer wide-angle version of Nikon’s PC lens, the 24mm, would provide wonderful perspective on a full-frame Nikon… and the Canon 17mm Tilt & Shift even more exaggerated and extreme.

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for reproduction in daily newspapers as well as monthly consumer magazines in France (as a 2-page spread for a very good fee), Russia and Poland under my “a la France” pseudonym.

La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. AHE43K]

On many occasions when I have been forced to wait for five minutes or more to progress through a break in the traffic at this narrow gateway in the nearby spa town of La Roche Posay in the Vienne I didn’t think to take a “topical” picture of what it is like to drive, live and shop on top of a “bottleneck”. When I decided to tackle such an angle to illustrate modern traffic conditions in a typical French town with narrow streets in it’s “old quarter” it was an exceptionally quiet day!

More than thirty years ago when I first visited La Roche Posay – I think it must have been before the by-pass had been constructed – I remember a string of large lorries pumping fumes from their exhausts as they waited and waited for a signal from a gendarme to progress with caution through the low, narrow arch of the ancient gateway… and then on to a safer passing and crossing point over the river Creuse a few hundred meters distant. Many towns like this were planned and evolved with defence in mind… horses and carts being the only form of transportation many centuries ago.

Formally recognized as being of public utility in 1869, La Roche Posay became the first spa in Europe exclusively dedicated to skin disorders. The dermatological tradition at La Roche Posay spans five centuries and is based upon Selenium-rich spring water plus a unique store of knowledge and experience recognized the world over. And Napoleon, then General Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, had a thermal hospital built there to treat his soldiers’ skin diseases. Perhaps he marched from the thermal spring to Paris through this arch with his troops… than would have made an impressive photograph… had the camera been invented then!

So a lot has happened here and generations have passed through the portals… but the most I had to show for it on this visit was a couple of cars and cyclists… not even the usual milling crowds window-shopping with others sitting at café tables watching the world go by. In what context this image was used I have no idea… others of mine showing the famous spa buildings have been used several times around the world (although mostly for Polish and Russian publications). Maybe it was used alongside a spa image from another photographer? However, it was my second sale through Alamy and actually came within a couple of days of after my very first sale there… so I regarded the image subject as a gateway to success!

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for reproduction in a weekly consumer magazine in the UK with a 500,000 print-run under my “a la France” pseudonym.

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