In Paris photography opps are endless – our photographer and writer shares amazing moments she has captured on her trip.
What can you say about a destination so many have written about, photographed, and longed to visit for all of eternity? There’s a reason so many have poured their hearts into having just one moment in France — it’s magical. Paris is the pulse, of course, and Parisians would claim that they are different from the rest of the country, and they are right.
The fact is, I can’t quite put my finger on one reason or another why France is worth visiting, but I can say that for me — I was captivated. I was there for a photography workshop by the very famous, very French photographer, Sylvie Gil. I was greeted with sunny, 80 degree weather; and left in a rainy, windy 40 degrees. The suitcase was big.
Sylvie’s workshop is infamous amongst wedding photographers who travel from all over the world to learn from her techniques and stay in the super lux Chateau Varennes while they learn. This real French Castle in a tiny little village about three hours away from Paris is complete with ballrooms and libraries and servant quarters and a Michelin rated Chef along with beautifully modern rooms, WIFI, and a beautiful pool to lounge at — this Chateau is a destination in itself.
We spent four days learning the ins and outs of Sylvie’s skills along with her all star team from the wedding industry around the world, and ended the experience with a fireworks show on the lawn and a dance party under the stars. It truly felt like what it must’ve been like to live in a French Castle way back when.
The road to and from the Chateau held many adventures for me and my little rented Fiat, and was painted with endless fields of mustard, tiny beige towns and a day trip to Dijon to explore a little. While my travel brain started to take hold while the road sprawled out in front me I wondered: Why haven’t I taken more photo workshops or classes abroad in my travels before? What a great way to start or end a trip, meet fascinating people, and learn something new! I might be hooked on a new travel secret, stay tuned!
I’m lucky to have chosen family in Paris to bookend the workshop, and even luckier that they live on Ile de Saint Louie which is on an island in the middle of the Seine. My morning jog took me right passed Notre Dame, and their flat was just a few cobblestones from Berthillon, the best ice cream in the city. At first it felt a bit touristy there (because it is), but the centrality of its location made for easy jaunts in any direction and a pleasant greeting in the morning and welcome respite at the end of each day.
Disclaimer: I am not a “museum person” and the only trip I made to the Louvre was to pick up my rental car. While I love art more than anything, traditional European works don’t do it for me. I wanted to see real, experimental, trend setting Parisian art; even though I had no insight into what that might be. When I saw a link to L’Atelier des Lumieres, it was too interesting not to track down. And, after a full day of getting lost on the Metro in the pouring rain and freezing temperatures — I got into this “museum” that absolutely blew my mind, body and soul.
Something to keep in mind about Paris is its size. All these romantics fail to mention that 2.2 million people live there, and it’s teeny sidewalks and streets make it extremely dense in people everywhere you go. It can feel overwhelming at times, and this museum was no different. The amount of people cramming into this warehouse space felt like a rock ‘n roll concert circa 1975 before regulations were put in to keep people safe. In other words, I couldn’t move, breathe, much less wander and it should’ve felt claustrophobic; and yet, the second I entered there was an indescribable immersion into the experience that took over any other thought I could’ve had. I stayed for 2 hours in this one room, 2 story warehouse just… watching. This is definitely Paris at its finest.
Leaving that experience felt cathartic, and worth traveling across the world for. As if spending the last 5 days in a castle wasn’t enough. I met a new friend from the workshop that night for a late dinner on an outdoor covered patio while it poured down rain, and — I couldn’t make this up if I tried — a men’s choir was drinking and celebrating a few tables over and sang beautiful Swiss songs the whole night next to us. It was the most Parisian moment I didn’t know I could dream of.
But the reality of Europe right now isn’t all art and romance, there is political strife wherever you look and Paris is in the center. My friend’s apartment was right next to the May Day demonstrations and we went to support the workers of the city; many of whom are not happy with the current President, Emmanuel Macron.
My truest passion is in photojournalism and I will never resist an opportunity to embed myself in movements and capture such charged moments in time. And while May Day is considered to be a peaceful people’s movement for unions to come together and show solidarity with each other, it wasn’t more than an hour before the things turned violent and destructive. We were able to stay on the periphery as aggressors in all black with face masks and plastic bottles with cloudy liquid was concealed under their jackets started moving quickly through the crowds; and we watched from the sidelines as hundreds of people became trapped on a bridge above the Seine.
It turned out the cloudy liquid were smoke bombs, and the events made the news instantly. We went back to the apartment to take refuge for my dear friend who was newly pregnant at the time and watched the rest on TV. I waited a little longer then went back out on my own to see how things panned out. I roamed around for hours and saw destruction against city property, and even a large group stand-off with police about a half a mile from the bridge. As someone who has been to many protests here in the US, I couldn’t help but feel safe despite all the chaos knowing the likelihood of gun violence was slim to none.
I finished that day at the Eiffel Tower because I hadn’t seen it in 15 years, and it was my last night before heading back. I got there right at sunset, and it was every bit majestic as it was when I saw it as a backpacker in the summer of 2002. Back then we ended our month long trip around Europe there with a $2 bottle of wine and bag a chips before sleeping in the rat-infested train station to catch our flight out. We’d spent that whole trip talking about 9/11, George Bush, and the imminent promise of war; and as we learned from people whose perspectives were so different than ours, our worldviews shifted in real time, forever. This time, as a grown woman who’s seen the world a couple times over — I couldn’t help but pause and sit in the beauty of this landmark and what it must mean to so many in an infinite number of ways.
So you see, to try and put into words why a visit to France is magical is impossible. Eat the baguettes with ALL of the butter, sit on the edge of the Seine, see the art — but don’t also forget to take in the centrality of Paris’ position in the world today and yesterday. The magic of France is, for me, best described as this heavy feeling in my chest about the giant footprint it’s had all over the world; for better and worse. And while the problematic parts are impossible for me to ignore; there’s also this gratitude for the sensual, beautiful, experimental contributions of culture that are equally impossible to deny.
So, if you haven’t been yet, or haven’t been for 15 years like me — go see for yourself. Is it still worth all the hype? You already know my answer.
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