This started out as simply an Instagram post… a bandwagon post inspired by all the other Notre Dame (de Paris, not “de South Bend”) posts I was seeing in the wake of the Great Fire of 2019. Everyone was posting their shots of the famed cathedral from various trips over the years and so I became curious about my own photos of the landmark. My rumination on these photos became more than just a simple “me too” caption though, so I decided to just turn them in to a blog post!
I’m currently packing to move, so this box of old photos had just resurfaced from the depths of a closet when the fire happened. The photos weren’t forgotten… just not visited in a while. But it is with thanks to the currently uncharacteristic hyper-organization of my younger self that I was able to instantly put my hands on these three photos — the only ones I took of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris when I was there as a wide-eyed 13-year-old with two years of middle school French under my belt.
I am immensely grateful to this day of the opportunity I had to go on that 2-week trip to England and France. I had this budding interest in architecture and a pre-teen fascination with European history and kings and queens and castles, so it was a dream come true to go. I remember quite a lot of the trip still, but oh how I wish I had more photos of it than I do to better jog those memories! I was not the photographer then that I am now — and it was a much different time technologically — so all I had was a simple 35mm film snapshot camera and a limited supply of cheap film. (Basically it was the same as those box film cameras you can get at the drugstore.) When I travel now, I take hundreds of photos a day just wanting to remember every little detail of the experience. But then… well, I had to shoot a lot more sparingly!
I wish I could say that trip immediately inspired me to become a photographer. Instead, it actually made me shy away from taking pictures at all because my photos were so bad! (Like shots of my own finger bad!) I was so disappointed when the prints came back to find that my photos of this amazing, seemingly once-in-a-lifetime trip didn’t do it justice. None really captured the experience or the things I saw fully or suitably. So I found myself just completely confounded by photography. I didn’t understand what I could have done differently to get better results, yet I still blamed myself instead of my rudimentary tools for the lackluster images. After all, my camera was pretty typical for the time, so it must be ME, right?
For years after that trip, photography was something I was leery of… something I left to someone else because I knew I couldn’t do it right. Little did I know that cheap, crappy film and a simple, plastic “push here, dummy” camera was never going to yield great results! True, I had no knowledge of what I was doing anyway… but my tools weren’t doing anything to help me either.
So no… that trip did not immediately awaken my inner photographer. But that “after” experience… that disappointment in my photos of the trip did come to mind later in life when I decided to take my first photography class in college. I specifically remember thinking that I wanted to demystify photography and learn how to take photos I was proud of and photos that did justice to my memories. Little did I know how much I would come to LOVE photography after that class.
I had been a fine art major for a couple years already when I was finally able to take a photo class. I’d been through drawing and printmaking and digital media (i.e. graphic arts… and my eventual concentration), but painting and sculpture I shied away from. Photography was the last of the media offered that I could try my hand at and, once I did, I felt like I had finally found my medium. Digital media was still my focus with a goal of becoming a graphic designer, but I began to incorporate my photography more and more into those digital media projects. Over the next year, I took several other photo classes to fill out my major and then, after I graduated from UVA, I ended up pursuing an intensive photography program at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. That summer program was probably the best summer of my life… and it certainly changed my life. I’ve been a committed photographer ever since.
I had no idea when I went to track down these three crummy photos from my youth that I would ultimately discover the larger role they played in the course of my life. That disappointment I felt over my mediocre trip snapshots later influencing a decision I made to take a class that would then set me on a path to being the photographer I am today. Every time I pick up a camera now, my goal is to take photos that preserve the full experience of a momentous occasion — whether that occasion is my own or someone else’s. I actually feel a small sense of relief every time I press the shutter… a feeling of security that that moment, that intersection of time and space, that experience was saved to share with someone else or to relive again at a later day. I don’t want just three photos that prove I was once somewhere, some place. I want photos that represent the broader experience.
Last summer, I returned to Europe for the first time since that trip at 13. I went to Italy — twice actually! It’s a place I have wanted to visit since I started college and began studying architecture and art. I’ve been meaning to blog about those trips, but I have yet to actually get through all of the 3,000 images I have! Let’s just say… I think I fully captured my experience this time! Here is a smattering…