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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Bottoms in the "En Plein Air"

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JANUARY. 02, 2021


[150-365] 2nd. January 2021- Everything in this photo seems to be vertically stretched, from the yachts levitating their bottoms out of the water to the lines of masts reaching for the skies, to the houses that look like they are being pulled upwards out of shape like houses that would be lived in by Stretch Armstrong. I feel like I should edit it back down to a squarer more normal shape.

How's that? OK the yachts look a bit thin now, I think you would bang your heads getting in but the houses look a bit more relaxed. The cars look very sporty too, years of design training to achieve that sleek sportscar look and all they had to do was take their normal range and squash them down to size in Affinity.

This is Kingswear, the other side of the Dart from Dartmouth. It's where the Lower Ferry goes and the road up the hill leads to Brixham. It's also where the railway came to a full stop at that cream building on the right behind the boats. It is still a heritage steam railway although it's service was intermittent last year.


Two weeks before the March lockdown of 2020 I gifted a footplate ride on a steam run from Paignton to Kingswear to my other half as a birthday treat. Amongst many disappointments it never happened but being positive the ticket to ride is still valid so hopefully by the summer this will happen.


Sitting looking at this view, I had company standing looking at me or more accurately looking at my bacon baguette. Yes, I know another post featuring a bacon comestible. I am nothing if not predictable. But my great experience at consuming bacon comestibles "en plein air" means this chap had his work cut out if he was going to get a taster for himself.

You're now thinking "en plein air"? What is he going on about? Like the old joke, "Pretentious? Moi?". Well there is a connection between photography and the expression "en plein air".


Before photography became a thing, artists painted very literally what they knew was there. Go out, sketch a branch of a tree, do some serious detail on twigs and leaves, go back to the studio and paint a landscape with every little leaf all present and correct, referencing all your detailed sketches.


The only problem was that we don't see like that and it never really dawned on people how we actually see things until photographs came along. Early photography couldn't freeze movement in time so anything that moved like branches or leaves ended up blurred and this is when the realisation came to artists that the blurred trees in early photographs were actually more true to how we see a landscape than the paintings that had been made up until then.


This influenced the birth of Impressionism which led to artists moving outside to paint "en plein air" which if you are Monet is not pretentious, just the way you normally say outside, because it is French and he was French and that's the way those Impressionists spoke back then. The pretentious Impressionists would have said "I'm going to paint outside" in English and the other ones would have said "Oooooh hark at her, how pretentious" or in fact if we are keeping this theme going, more accurately "comme c'est prétentieux" because if they had said it in English that would have defeated the object. I'm in severe danger now of losing my audience.


So it was a huge change to the history of art, because now you didn't need to be able to paint at all, because everything was just blurred and anyone could do it. That's how we ended up with Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. The real brainwave though came one step further down the line when someone practising for hours how to get the blurred bits looking just right suddenly thought, hang on a minute, if we're not bothering getting the leaves right anymore why bother getting the blurry bits right, why use paint at all, why use a canvas, and she was standing by the bedroom window, hungover, and she looked back at the bombsite that was her unkempt bedroom and she thought, that's art, so they moved her mess into a beautifully painted white room and put a massive price tag on it and "Bob's your uncle" as the old saying goes, holiday home on the French Riviera, Private Jet, and the rest is Art History, confined to the trash bin forever. The Impressionists spent days out in the snow catching pleurisy and pneumonia perfecting their blurry bits by knocking off their seventy eighth Impression of Rouen Cathedral in a week and all they really needed to do was hang around for another few decades drinking Absinthe, smoking Gitanes, and perfecting not making their beds.


"Bob's your uncle" - is a phrase commonly used in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries that means "and there it is" or "and there you have it". Typically, someone says it to conclude a set of simple instructions or when a result is reached. The meaning is similar to that of the French expression "et voilà!" or the American "easy as pie" or "piece of cake"


I could have said "et voila!" but I didn't want to be accused of being pretentious. As a side note, "Bob's your Uncle" has the rejoinder "and Fanny's your Aunt" purely for comedic purposes.


And now his mate has showed up to do a pincer movement on me.

But I'm sorry guys, I've been here before and unlike you two I have a bigger brain with a capacity for memory, after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution lived out by my forebears who spent that time perfecting things like bacon and baguettes, not hanging around perfecting the skill of hanging around and waiting for someone to drop one, like your forebears, and I therefore remember the last time you tried this. While I was transfixed on the pincer movement wondering which one of you to watch, one of your other mates attacked from behind carrying out a triple action bluff, over the left shoulder, grab out of the hand manoeuvre. Luckily that failed, but like my cards, I also now keep my bacon baguette very close to my chest.



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