Last week was an emotional week for anyone who loves the cathedral of Notre Dame. The images of the fire were heart-wrenching and disturbing. It’s horrible to see something that’s lasted so many years just catch fire… and stay on fire for hours and hours. It’s a horrible tragedy. These are a few photos I took when visiting Paris in the Fall of 2017. I went digging through my photos in Lightroom last week because I wanted to remember the building, but more specifically, how I had connected with the building in a visual way.
Taking pictures on vacation is deeply meaningful to me for several reasons. The most direct benefit is that it helps me remember the places I’ve been. It’s a nice way of pacing a day and recording the chronology of events. It’s also an opportunity to create my own personalized souvenir, so to speak, that’s much more meaningful than schlocky mass-produced trinkets (although those are fun on occasion). But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to express myself creatively in new geographical places. I like thinking about the variety of ways a subject could appear as a static two-dimensional image, and then working towards that image through trial-and-error. It’s like a game of solitaire with a preset list of rules that only I’m aware of, and it’s entirely up to me to respect or contradict them. Finding room to compose unique imagery within those self-imposed constraints is an incredibly engaging exercise and even more of a thrill when I get to use such iconic subject matter like the cathedral of Notre Dame.
I posted most of these images on Instagram recently with some thoughts about the fire. Here is a copy/paste of one of the more substantial captions:
The news about restoration is somewhat promising. More objects recovered than originally thought including the brilliant rose windows (which apparently are not permanently erased like originally reported). NPR said over a billion euros have been secured which is bittersweet because it took partial destruction to remind people what a structure like this truly means
to France and world. Where were the owners of Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal during fundraising efforts to ensure the longevity of the building (e.g. fireproofing the medieval timber roof)? Places like this cathedral are world heritage sites and we can’t treat them as objects that belong to us in 2019. They belong to the past, present, and future. If we could send a message back in time to Notre Dame’s architects, engineers, and artisans telling
them their building has lasted 850 years, I imagine they’d laugh and say
“Of course! We built that structure to last much, much longer, and you in 2019 are merely catching a glimpse.”
Remember the days of film photography, when you’d get your prints back from the lab and the last image (or sometimes the first) would be hopelessly out of focus? There might be some bit of recognizable imagery with a smear of sprocket holes or part of the film itself laying across it. They had a lovely atmospheric quality that seemed to transcend the other snapshots they book-ended. The modern day equivalent might be those accidental shots when the focus goes awry or the shutter lags to the point where nothing recognizable manages to hit the sensor. Most people probably delete them immediately but
I process them with the rest and treasure them like I did in the film days.
I’m thankful for my friend and coworker, Aki. She sits across from me at work and we’re always chit-chatting about little things. We rarely get to collaborate on projects but tomorrow we’re photographing a work event and she’s kind of nervous about it. She decided to double-check her camera settings at the actual event location, and even though I use my camera daily and know it pretty well by now, she insisted I go with her and check my settings as well. I’d be nervous carrying around that giant flash, too. Canon’s approach to camera design has always seemed a little ham-fisted to me. I’ll stick with Fuji and fast primes.
A few weeks ago I joined eBay in order to list a couple cameras and a bunch of accessories. Within minutes one of my cameras sold to a buyer in France. I was excited but thought it was strange how quickly someone actually saw the posting and decided to click the "buy now" button. I accepted the sale and received notification that the funds were about to transfer into my PayPal account and that all I needed to do was ship the package.
I sent out the package to the address on the notification which was different than the location in France in listed on the buyer's profile. I didn't think much of it. I even rolled with the fact that the new shipment location was in Nigeria.
Once I dropped off the box at the post office I entered the tracking number into the transaction listing on my eBay dashboard. My email inbox was pinged with another notification, this time from PayPal saying funds would be sent once the package made it through several delivery checkpoints and that delayed payment was to be expected. I knew this was wrong. I checked that email on my phone but double-checked it on my Mac at home where I could see that it was so absolutely phony, so glaringly, so shamefully fake. I had caught this one but the previous emails made it straight through me.
I spent the rest of the evening and the next day trying to get the package back. Of course I sent the package express like the buyer asked me to do which made it nearly impossible to stop shipment. I watched the camera move from Ann Arbor to Detroit to Chicago and then... Dubai. None of my tactics, none of my countless phone calls to eBay, USPS, or airports prevented the package from leaving the United States.
The package quickly left Dubai and straight into Lagos State, Nigeria. It went out for local delivery in Agege, the destination city, but was returned to the local post office the same day. Missed delivery. There it sat, in that post office for days. A coworker from Cameroon helped me call the local post office but we never connected with anyone. I even emailed that post office but never heard anything back.
After multiple days of inactivity, the status of the shipment changed from "awaiting pickup at local post office" to "preparing for shipment." Within a day or two an email from a Yahoo address showed up with subject line "ITEM RETURNED TO SEND" and a message that read "The item has been stopped and return to sender."
Something had worked. Within a week, the package was back on my doorstep in Ypsilanti. The box was beat all to hell and covered in Nigerian postal tape and red marker saying "Stop Delivery." I'm not sure I'll ever know why it was returned, or rather, why it wasn't accepted, so nothing about this process is repeatable and I can't give any great advice on how to wiggle out of an eBay scam after you've fallen for it. Unsuccessful for the scammer, but somehow successful for me, other than burning $90 to expedite the damn thing to Nigeria.