When visiting the famous Versailles on our trip to France a year ago, I was faced with a contradiction I have rarely met in my short photography life : as beautiful and rich in details and history as the place was, I found it almost impossible to photograph.
Not because of the crowd – which was, let’s say it, an attraction in itself. You could hardly take a picture without having another tourist standing in the way. If photographs really do capture your soul, certainly no one left Versailles with theirs still intact.
Not because the place lacks in the aesthetics department, either : the place is, indeed, beautiful, and was in the process of being restored to its former glory when we visited.
No, the Château de Versailles is, indeed, a stunning place, where it seems you could take a picture every second from morning to night and still not have photographed it all. From its imposing exterior to its dazzling gardens, the place is filled with “oohs” and “aahs” moments waiting to happen.
But you see, the thing is, Versailles has been photographed so many times before, I felt like I already kind of knew the place. On magazines, in books, in movies, Versailles is an illustrious piece or architecture and history that is impossible to ignore.
As a result, I was left wondering : how could I photograph it in a new, different way? How could I make sure that the pictures I took would bring back my memories of this beautiful sunny day, without looking like pale imitations of all the similar ones before? How could I make these souvenirs as personal as the experience was?
Because our memories are unique, most of us want our pictures to reflect that. We don’t want to look through our albums, solid or virtual, and feel it’s the same as our next door neighbor’s, who went there with his wife 15 years ago.
One of my photography teachers used to say : “If you take 1000 photographers, and place them all on the same spot in the same conditions, and ask them all to take a picture of the same thing, you’ll still end up with a thousand of different pictures, even if your eye can’t always perceive the difference.” I get what he meant; but it’s still a challenge, when I point my lenses at things, to make sure that at least I, can see the difference when going through my pictures.
In the end though, I had to step back and simply “enjoy the ride”, as they say. Sure, tons of my pictures (if not all) would look similar to all the other ones out there. But I didn’t want to live my experience solely through the lens, either. To use another commonplace, I had to “live in the moment”, and worry about the rest later.
It’s surprisingly hard to do when you’ve spend so much time photographing everything. You look at stunning architecture and think “That would make such a great picture!” But I don’t regret it for one second : I still managed to take an amazing amount of pictures, and they are filled with memories I couldn’t have otherwise. 🙂
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