Sometimes all the photo taking that is going on really irritates me. It seems that we are all so intent on recording we were physically somewhere (especially when it is somewhere other than home) that we risk not actually being fully present at the time. That the photo evidence that we were happy or having fun or having an experience substitutes reality. That till the picture is posted the experience is not completed.
Yet despite this deep genuine ongoing ambivalence I have flung myself headlong into an intoxicating love affaire with photography and my camera. Le affaire actually started with reading about photography. I fell in love with an idea. It was of what a photograph might be. Could be. With the eloquent musings of Susan Sontag and John Berger and Roland Barthes informing my thoughts. All this long before I seriously looked at any of the Master photographers and their work. Nor though the viewfinder of a camera and learned the thrill of that sound. Of the shutter closing off.
Now I’m deeply in. All the more so now that I’ve realised there is this thing that photography and ‘The Masters’ and Paris have going on. Have done so for a while. So despite my frustrations with the craft (or is it an art?) I can’t turn away. Despite my misgivings and relative inexperience I’m intent on somehow becoming a more serious photographer. And I have Paris in my frame.I see it as another way of telling my story. John Berger has argued for and seduced me with the idea that it is a worthy way of telling. Which is why I found myself recently climbing the stairwell of a somewhat famous photographer with several other enthusiasts of photography to attend a weeklong workshop in that city. We all had our various motivations for sure but shared a common enthusiasm to capture the beauty and life of the Paris street.Personally I secretly hoped it would be an opportunity to get beyond the cliché. You know that one of Paris albeit a beautiful cliche. Well I fancied that I could try. Which turned out to be hard. Really hard. Actually impossible in a week. For me anyhow. With my limited skills perhaps. Even in this city I already knew so well and loved. For me it went on to be a week of unending frustration. At times almost desperation. Of realising I wouldn’t achieve my goal. Not even close. I took photos. Lots actually. Used the new wide angled lens and shutter priority as instructed. Some I even liked. Quite a lot. But most are still so…well..sort of cliche.Problem is of course much of Paris especially in the spring sunshine moments after electing a new young president is decidedly gorgeous. Like the cliche. Hell in that long evening light its goddamn breathtakingly beautiful. And desperately romantic. One wants to join in all the kissing and handholding. And the street dancing.
Despite the rubbish, the bad coffee and the often encountered dog shit you get a little heady. Start photographing couples and cafe life and street musicians and people framed against famous monuments. And on the bridges. You can’t seem to help yourself. And oh yes the flowers. There are always flowers. Truth is j’adore those Parisians carrying their flowers and baguettes home.
l do partly blame all those photos that have already been taken of Paris. All the great photographers who got lucky enough to be born there and went on to make perfect pictures of every rue and cafe. So with all this knocking around in my visual cortex it seemed impossible to even imagine what Paris beyond the cliché might look like. What my personal Paris story looks like when told in a photograph. Truth is I found it totally depressing that I couldn’t find time to explore this and do the workshop as well.
Yet beyond the smooching couples and the Seine, gorgeous women in the cafes, the white aproned waiters and the ever present street musicians lies another Paris. I’m sure of this. I’ve felt it. “J’ai sent la ville”. Like Sontag said she did. Especially walking the back of the hill in Montmartre where I like to stay. Its darker and grittier and not as glamorous. I just didn’t get to make those pictures this time.
What I found out is that this Paris and its inhabitants are not necessarily accessed by attending such workshops and staying in pretty places. Well not for me. Other stuff happens. Like you meet a bunch of really nice people. You see some of their work. Learn a skill or two. You might have an interesting conversation. Make a new friend. Hopefully you make a few good photos. All of which is great. But in the end ‘making’ is an individual and for me quite lonely endeavour. The big benefit of the workshop was connecting briefly with others with similar interests. But you still need to pursue your own vision. Do your own work. Walking Paris alone as I have spent hours doing is the beginning. Continuing to hone my skills is a given. Following my instinct and style no matter what others say or advise is now priority.
So sorry my dear husband but I will need to go back. I haven’t made my photos yet. Not the ones of my imaginings. Not the ones that Sontag and Berger made me know were possible. I think I may have to be there for a while. It’s a part of my Paris story. It’s demanding to be told. To be completed. Something tells me not to rest till it’s done. Till I’ve done with the telling.