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.”