Ever heard of Sainte-Agnès?
The first time I heard about Saint-Agnès is just 2-3 weeks ago at the coworking space in Cannes. At the end of June I decided to rent a spot in a coworking space to focus on my photography stuff and meet with entrepreneurs like me. I go there once a week and so far it's been very very positive. This is where I get things done, share with others and get creative from a business perspective. Highly recommended! I've been told the it's a beautiful little village high in the mountains and that you can find yourself above clouds on many occasions. That alone is for me a good reason to go there and try to capture some good light and great pictures. It was very easy to bring the idea to my peers and schedule a day shoot up there.
I did a quick research on the web and could find a bit of information here and there. At an altitude of more than 800 meters Saint-Agnès is the highest littoral village in Europe. It's also the end of the Maginot line and fortifications can be seen. There are also important ruins of a castle from the medieval period. All of this speaks to me as a photographer but also as a huge fan of history: What was there? What happen? When and why? It's awesome to learn and understand events. For that, France and Europe in general are such an inexhaustible source of learning due to their very long history. As a North American person I feel very fortunate to be here and have access to such a rich series of events.
So, before leaving home my idea of Saint-Agnès was this: a very small village which would certainly not keep me photographically busy for a whole day, some ruins at the top of the hill where I would probably spend the most time, and a small concrete bunker you can superficially look at from the outside. And to be honest, I thought we would only spend the morning there and head to another village for lunch and shoot in the afternoon. How wrong!
Not what I expected, In a good ay
Let me tell you a bit more about this lovely place and how my visit turned out to be so much more then what I had expected. In fact, I found there exactly the opposite of what I expected. Here we go:
The village is larger than I thought. While you can walk all the narrow streets in a relatively short time (a couple hours), you'd be better to take your time and look for things to see and photograph from a closer perspective. It's all about details here: paved street, doors, window shades, flowers & pots, and so much more. Everyone I crossed during my walk seemed very relax and easy going. Many of them know each other and just stand there chatting and laughing. Yep, I heard a lot of laughing. Interesting. Anyways, just to make sure I covered most of it, I walked almost every street twice, discovering something new everywhere. I'm pretty sure something different would come up if I did a third round! And it's peaceful at every round for sure.
The site holds much more than I thought. I was not especially impressed by the medieval garden, which seemed much larger on the web and less maintained. Maybe because it's the end of the season and there were almost no flowers anymore. The ruins on the other hand are very interesting and reading the panels tells you quite a lot about what the site used to be. But what is really amazing is the view from there. Breath taking! Your eyes can go from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to Ventimiglia in Italy. Needless to say the Mediterranean Sea is absolutely gorgeous from there with its turquoise waters and white boats crossing the area. Unless you go on a rainy day, the panorama up there is beautiful. I heard you can frequently find yourself above clouds in that area but I didn't have that yesterday. I will need to go back and try to experiment that. I have no doubt it would create fantastic photographs.
This was a big surprise and very welcome opportunity. The bunker isn't just a small concrete room by itself. It's a whole installation for more than 300 soldiers, fully equipped with electric train, kitchen, many stock rooms, control rooms, workshops, generators, water pipes, air docks, electrical equipment, etc.t. And IT CAN BE VISITED! That was a real bonus for me in Sainte-Agnès. I just love these things because I learn a lot through photography. Well, not all of it can be visited, but what is accessible is enough to give you a good idea of how life was in there for the troops. The "explorer" in me can't stop thinking about what is NOT accessible, I can't help it. But there is no doubt about it, I want more. I'm glad some organizations keep these infrastructures maintained. Comparatively, those on Col de la Bonette are left as-is and it's sad to see how fast they deteriorate. I've been in every corner and it's gloomy and frightening in there. Maybe I have been playing "DOOM" a bit too much in the past, but it reminds me of the gore setup and action. So it's good to see a well-maintained bunker like the one found in Sainte-Agnès. But it reminds me of "DOOM" anyways.. I never told you I'm a nerd at times? Oupsss! :-)
WHAT'S IN THE BAG
- Leica M (Typ 240) + spare batteries x 2
- Summicron-M 28mm, f2 ASPH
- Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH
- Summicron-M 75mm, f1.2 ASPH
- Olympus VF-2 Electronic View Finder
- Sony RX100 + spare batteries x2
- 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards x 3
- Lens cloth & brush
- Apple iPhone 5
WHAT IF I DO IT AGAIN
Above all, the piece of gear I missed terribly was not even photography related: the Fenix flashlight. In the bunker there were so many areas I would used the flashlight, long obscure tunnel I could have looked in from the distance (even those closed to the public), elevator going down in obscurity, rooms open to all but with no light installation, dark corners and behind tanks and/or massive equipment. The only thing I had was the built-in flashlight in my iPhone. No comparison with the amazing 860 lumens from the Fenix! It would have been even worst for me if I got trapped in the pitch dark obscurity of the bunker between 12pm & 3pm: I almost got stuck there when they haven't noticed my presence at the other end of the tunnel and started to turn off the lights and closing the area for 3 hours. I can only think of all I could have seen in 3 hours with a big flash light as opposed to holding my breath in the dark until they reopen.. :-)
The photo above was taken on the cliff in Saint-Agnès, about 100 meters down the path near the bunker. I picked this one because it shows exactly how vast and beautiful the view can be in the Village. Highly recommended is a lunch or dinner on the terrace at Righi’s restaurant. Not only will you eat well, but the view from there is probably one of the best in the village. Of course, walking to the ruins of the castle will get you the ultimate experience. Absolutely worth the time.. and efforts!
You can find the whole picture set on my website at www.normandprimeauphoto.com.
© Normand Primeau