For this exercise I have chose a photograph from a trip in the Summer to visit friends in La Rochelle. It is one of a number of shots I got of the Cafe Parisien, some were better composed but this one has the most interesting characters staged in the most interesting manner.
The original image is top, and a crop below.
I’ve cropped in such a way as to keep the original ratio, at the expense of the interesting but slightly motion-blurred smoker on the left. I’m happy with losing the over-exposed and rather uninteresting area top left, and ambivalent about the cafe sign as some was obscured anyway. What this crop does achieve is to bring much more prominence to the bearded man in the orange t-shirt, a central player in this scene.
He is one of two men between whom my eye initially bounces back-and-forth. On the left is an older, bearded man in a leather waistcoat, bright t-shirt, a beanie and sunglasses perched on his head. There’s a very Gallic-looking cigarette and glass of wine. He’s not the dominant figure in terms of size or closeness in this image, but he has a presence that immediately draws the eye. I’ll call him Jacques.
Jacques appears to be looking directly at probably the most obvious person in the scene. He’s not anywhere near as flamboyant as Jacques – in fact a complete contrast – but there’s something about his stance that suggests he’s either being very careful with what he’s carrying or reading something that’s absorbing almost all his attention. Whatever it is, it’s slightly frustrating as we cannot see it!
This brings me to The Readers.
Having followed Jacques gaze I’m now on the right-hand side of the scene. On closer examination the man who Jacques is looking at – let’s call him Claude – looks more like he’s holding a newspaper than a tray of drinks. The angle of his arms suggests this and leads the eye to the group of women at the table who also all appear to be reading intently. In the other direction, along a diagonal back through Claude is yet another man studying a paper.
He brings me to the man in sunglasses on the far right. he’s not obviously looking at anything in particular, but following his gaze to the left picks up two more men, also in sunglasses/glasses, and staring intensely at something we cannot see. I can only assume they were engaged in the very best cafe past-time of all , which is people watching.
Having swept my gaze across the scene from right to left, then left to right I find myself glancing across all the small details at the back. The ‘PMU’ signs, what looks like some sort of fancy lottery terminal, maybe a green horse and a group of men apparently very happy with what they are seeing.
In fact, the PMU is the ‘Pari Mutuel Urbain’, the French government’s equivalent of the UK’s Tote betting company. Maybe were looking at the Winners, the Losers and the as-yet Undecided?