Paris has a famous cemetery, the Cimetiere Pere Lachaise, known primarily for its famous residents, such as Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

We went there on the recommendation of my friend Ben Poundstone, who visits France whenever he can get away. So we headed out to the cemetery, only to discover that it is one of the most fascinating places in Paris. At least for me. In fact, it was the one place that I found truly inspiring and interesting as an artist.

As we explored, I photographed, and am just now working with the images to realize the vision I had for them. The gravestones are little shrines, either for families or individuals, right out of a Tim Burton movie. Shannon and I were postulating that we could imagine the residents of this cemetery coming out of their fantastic little houses at night, after the gates are closed and locked, gathering together for potlucks, getting cranky with each other, returning home before daybreak.

As I’ve worked on the images the past couple days, meditating on them, there are other themes emerging about death and life, light and darkness, mortality and immortality, the temporary and the final.

A sample image from the set:

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  • April 25, 2008 - 11:19 am

    Anonymous - Nice picture! It’s “cimetiere,” by the way.

We just had a whirlwind tour of Britagne with family friends of Shannon’s, the Drouets. I took a lot of stock photography, and also some nice portraits of their daughter and grandchildren. Like England, the light has mostly been flat and gray and cloudy, but the last couple days the light was fantastic, especially in the evening. And it stays light here until 9:00pm, when we eat dinner. And yes, it’s a big, late meal, replete with wine, cheese, and dessert. Good times. We’re exhausted.
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The Vancouver, Washington newspaper The Columbian just published an article on the Trash the Dress phenomenon, and included an image and quotes from me. You can read the article online. It’s a lot of fun to photograph people doing something crazy with their wedding or prom dress (or any dress, for that matter), and also fun to be interviewed about the process by the local press.

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We’ve been in Paris for almost a week now, and are finally feeling acclimated to the place, culture, and language. The expense and exchange rate I’m still not accustomed to, but I’ll get over it. We’re in Paris, for heaven’s sake. The food is wonderful, and I’m enjoying that and the people we’ve met as much as I’m enjoying the sights. In fact, there’s so much to do here, that I have whittled down my expectations: see a few major sights, enjoy the street life, and leave the rest for next time. And that’s sufficient. With so many major museums and tourist attractions here, it can be overwhelming. I’m finding sufficient pleasure in walking the streets, watching the people, and sampling the goodies at the patisserie on every street.

The parks here are the other wonder we’ve enjoyed immensely. Tuileries, Luxembourg, Versailles. The enormity of Versailles is staggering, and we didn’t even go inside the buildings. We’ve read that King Louis XIV had Versailles built to showcase the splendor of the French kingdom. He moved his court from Paris to newly constructed Versailles, including his retinue of 6000 people. You can begin to see why the French Revolution occurred. Considering that none of these lavish parks were publicly accessible, I’d have been pissed if this is what my taxes were paying for, and I couldn’t even go see it.

Here are some things I have seen. I’ve been shooting stock images, and now and then something personally interesting comes along:

Not the most flattering image, but I like it.

In Versailles.

A couple images on the Metro.

This is the courtyard in which our little apartment is located.

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Look what I just woke up to! I don’t believe it. I’m supposed to be out in London taping the Olympic Torch Relay with a couple producers who just flew in from China. And we will be. In many many layers of clothing, hopping from tea shot to tea shop to keep warm. In case you can’t see it, that’s not only few inches of snow, but it’s coming down fast and heavy….
Evening Update:
You can read about today’s London Olympic Torch Relay chaos via many news links on Google. It’s a bit odd reading about it all, having just been in the middle of it all a couple hours ago. It really was an odd day: cold, wet, police everywhere, helicopters overhead, crowds packed together, the press (me included) enclosed in our media pens.
The relay was quite a mess, really, with Free Tibet protestors and not-the-finest-planning-by-the-city-and-PR-company making it a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair. Nobody official could ever really tell you what was going to happen until after it happened, because it all kept changing. Furthermore, all the Olympic Torch runners were absolutely surrounded by police in their yellow jackets, so you couldn’t see the runners or the torch. That kind of chaos is far from the Olympic ideal of freedom, beauty, grace, unity, and strength, making for a day that felt more like a paradox than a parade.
One of our big stops was supposed to be at St Paul’s Cathedral, where an Olympic medalist was supposed to run in, present the torch to the Lord Mayor of London, and hand it off to the next runner. Instead, the runner was tired of having people jump at him from the crowd, and refused to finish his run. He hopped on the bus, and drove off, with the hordes of police following like a swarm of bees. So the Lord Mayor, Royal Guard Band, the press, and a couple thousand onlookers were left with nothing to see or do on the Cathedral steps.
In the end, however, we did get some shots we needed, and we did get an interview with runner Danny Crates. And just as we packed up from that interview, the sky cleared, the sun came out, and it felt like an entirely different day. We came home feeling positive and satisfied, in spite of everything.
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This is London City Hall, with the Tower Bridge over the Thames in the background. I attended a press briefing at City Hall this morning, for the Olympic Torch Relay, which will happen this Sunday through 30 miles of London. I’ve been hired by a firm in HongKong to shoot video of the torch relay for a production they are creating on the life of Olympic champion Eric Liddel, of Chariots of Fire fame. Should be an exciting day of tromping around the city through the crowds, and getting some interesting images for their documentary. I’m excited. And I get an official press badge.

After the press briefing, I wandered over the Tower Bridge to the Tower of London. It’s the famous tower/castle/armory/palace/warehouse/torture chamber/menagerie of medieval London, begun in 1066 by William the Conqueror. Perhaps it is most famous for being the place where kings imprisoned and eventually executed such ‘traitors’ and enemies of the state as Ann Boleyn, Thomas More, Henry VI, Guy Fawkes, Lady Jane Gray, and child Princes Edward and Richard sons of Edward IV. It is the latter, the child princes, that I find most interesting at the moment. Especially because, outside the Tower, in what used to be the moat, there is now a colorful but entirely forlorn playground. I can’t help but look at it, and think of those two boys who were imprisoned and eventually murdered here, never to be seen again….

Speaking of children, London tourist attractions are filled with children, most from England and France. Sometimes, as I wander about reading signs, looking at the sights, and taking photographs, kids will tentatively yell out, “Hello!” And I say hello back. And then, if they are courageous, these French students will try a few English phrases on me, as these high schoolers did. We talked for a few sentences about where they were from, how long they are here, where I am from (“America! Oooh, a long way.”). I even got to practice some of my French on them, saying, “I do not speak French” quite fluently. We were all pleased.

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Good light has been in short supply while I’ve been in England. Most days the skies are a blank gray canvas covering the city. But. . .when the light is good, it’s very good.

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London’s Hyde Park reminds me of New York’s Central Park: large, central, well used by the community, lots of public events, room to stroll and to touch some grass. I wandered and photographed during a beautiful afternoon there, the first that was warm enough that I didn’t need a cap.

I’d spent a little time in Hyde Park last year (you can see some photos from a link here), with my traveling companion Jim Andrew. He took me to see Speaker’s Corner, where on Sunday afternoons anyone with a soapbox (or ladder) can come and say whatever he pleases. It’s crazy.

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All the major museums here in London are free to the public (except for special exhibitions, in particular wings, which cost). It’s marvelous to be able to wander in and out, and back in again, museum to museum. So far, my favorite has been the National Portrait Gallery. But we had a lot of fun in the Victoria and Albert Museum (the stained glass, up close, was marvelous; so were the miniature portraits), the Natural History Museum (who knew dinosaur bones could be so fascinating?), the Photographer’s Gallery, and the National Museum. And, as I’ve mentioned before, the people watching is about as good as the museum exhibits.

Here are a couple images here shot outside the front doors of the National Gallery.

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I received notice yesterday from PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass Competition that I was selected in their top 50 list. The news isn’t up on the PhotoLucida website yet, but one of the reviewers, Lisa Hunter–quite enthusiastically–posted the results on her blog. In time, PhotoLucida will put the work of the top 50 on their website for all to see.

Critical Mass is a competition entered by hundreds of photographers from all over the world. From those masses, 150 are selected to be shown to the reviewers (quite a long list of reviewers), who then vote and whittle down the list to the top 50, plus 3 winners of whose work they publish little books. So it’s an honor to be selected in the top 50, and I’m hopeful about what may come of it, as other photographers, collectors, curators, and publishers look at the finalists’ work.

For Critical Mass, I entered 10 selections from my documentary series on eating disorders, Skeleton in the Closet.

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  • March 31, 2008 - 8:18 pm

    Lisa Hunter - Congratulations. The Skeletons series is amazingly nuanced and moving.

More street shooting, from Trafalgar Square. (I think that any time you can include ‘Trafalgar Square’ in a sentence, the better off you will be in life. It’s so…classy.)
I’ve been making a lot of new friends this week while I work.

This is one of the more joyful photos I’ve taken.

This gentleman is from India (having immigrated 20 years ago), and we started talking. He has peanuts in his pocket, and while it’s not legal to feed the pigeons in the square any more, he does seem to enjoy helping other people feed them. But only one at a time, and only while they’re standing on your head. Sometimes more than one at a time.

He’d see someone trying to get a photo of the pigeons, or trying to commune with them, walk over, offer them a peanut, and show them how to hold it just so, between thumb and foreginger. Or, he’d take a peanut in his hand, attract a pigeon or two, and place them on people’s heads. “Have your camera ready!” he’s scold them, in his Indian accent.

We talked for some time, and at one point he asked me, “So, tell me, what is it that you eat, you Americans? There must be some mineral. What is it you eat that makes you think of creative things like jet planes, computers, the internet? What is it?”

I didn’t know what to tell him.

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Well, finally, I have something to show you.

Shannon and I went into the city on Monday, and I must say: the people watching in London is out of this world. Wow. I didn’t have my camera, and it was killing me. So today, on my own, I went in, visited the British Portrait Gallery, the Photographer’s Gallery (both excellent and inspiring), and the British National Gallery. And then I went shooting.

A personal favorite.

A self-portrait.

As Al Pacino said (in some movie whose name I can’t remember), in a Jersey accent, “Ahm jus gettin stahted!” This is only part of what I came up with today. Next post: The Birds.

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