Letters d’amour de Paris

Photography by Ira Gardner

“I am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can’t help reliving such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experienced. I am going to dream about you the whole night, the whole week, the whole year.” ~ Dostoyevsky

Reaching for the brass ring

There are few moments in one’s life where you take an opportunity to reach for something that is just beyond your grasp, like reaching for the brass ring on a carousel ride. In that moment of stretching out towards the ring there is a brief feeling of doubt and an imbalance and you are aware of the ever present rotation of the world and the constant struggle against its gravity.   In my life I have missed the brass ring many times or it has been a brightly colored cheap piece of plastic that I throw away towards an image of a clown’s mouth. Rarely have I gotten the one ring that promises another ride but I still enjoy the memory of trying.

There is a child’s joy in simply riding the horse as it goes up and down, but even more excitement in reaching out for a ring. Most often there is no free ride awarded, but there is gladness of heart for having gotten on and making the effort.

As a photographer I collect images like a child who holds onto the rings from the carousel instead of throwing them back.  Each photograph is a memory of a special moment in time where I felt exhilaration and a heightened sense of awareness of my own life and my effort to reach beyond myself to make a connection.  I think the most life affirming moments are like this.  When I try to define what a life affirming moment is, I think it is those moments that you approached with an element of uncertainty that leaves you knowing that something has changed within you or left an indelible mark on your heart.

Photo of a father carrying his son outside of Notre Dame Cathedral
Photography by Ira Gardner

There is always a slight loss of equilibrium as we venture towards a dream.  I know I have felt this way in all of the most significant moments in my life like my first mountain climb, first  job, the birth of my son, etc.  Perhaps the most powerful life affirming moment is that of the first kiss with a lover.

It is in a passionate sweet embrace that we realize the gravity of our own mortality, our isolated existence within the confines of our own mind and body that we are attempting to transcend through the physical and emotional connection with another.  A kiss is the apex of simultaneously experiencing a sense of union and isolation and an awareness of time and its unrelenting press forward that is constantly creating beginnings and endings and new beginnings again.

A kiss never lasts forever.  Eventually there is the need for breath and in a moment of self preservation we break the connection to inhale deeply.

Photography for me is like a kiss.

It is a moment of union with the universe as I gaze upon the beauty of an instance.  I hold that moment for as long as I can and push the shutter just as that connection is about to be lost in the universe’s own need for breath.  The moments recorded in my photographs are often over within a blink of an eye.

To make a photograph for me is an effort to transcend mortality in a fraction of a second and is an affirmation that I am connected to everything around me.

If you sit still long enough you will become aware of how light is always changing and clouds are always moving and you are in constant motion even when you are stationary.  You will look upon the faces of people whose gaze and beauty penetrates your heart and if you linger there you will be alone again as they depart.  The sweetness of life is born from the knowledge that what is cherished will soon pass no matter how long we wish to hold onto it.   Even a lifetime together seems too short when there is a death of a loved one.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.”  I feel blessed to have made so many photographs that have recorded the moments that have pierced the membrane of my exterior being and entered into my heart.  Photography is an intimate act.  It is my journal and it is a means of expressing my gratitude at being alive.  Without a camera we attempt to hold on to time in our memories.  Whether the memories are sad or joyful, they are an affirmation and celebration of life and an acceptance that we cannot stay here forever.

There is an inevitable sadness that comes with trying to hold on to a moment too tightly.  Even waking up from a passionate dream can bring about melancholy if I try to remember the details too accurately instead of just savoring the beauty of the emotional experience.

Heading to Paris

In February I had an opportunity to reach out across the Atlantic ocean and to make a closely held dream come true for myself.  I had an invitation to go to Paris and meet up with a wonderful woman I had only recently come to know, but who had already touched my heart deeply with her smile.  I had dreamed of going to Paris for several years. As a photographer, I have viewed Paris as the origin of humanist photography through my studies of Atget and Cartier-Bresson.  Their work has taught me to see the world with empathy, compassion, and love.

To commit to going on this trip was like reaching for the carousel ring.  It was a stretch financially, professionally and emotionally as I thought about whether or not it was too early in the relationship.

To think about sharing a trip to Paris was to think about the possibility of love and the possibility of rejection.  Paris represents a romantic ideal that one never really knows whether or not they or their relationship can live up to.  When you aspire for romance it can often be like reaching for the carousel brass ring and missing.  But life wouldn’t be worth living without the motivation of hope and desire to inspire the effort it takes to achieve our dreams.

When I think back upon it now, I think that is what Paris is supposed to be like when you go for the first time.  It is a city of love and uncertainty, a city of angels and demonic gargoyles, and a city that is at once old and thrillingly new.

I can’t imagine going to Paris for the first time with someone I was already too familiar with.  To appreciate Paris is to experience it like a first nervous kiss that grows into a fiery passion.  It is a city that I will return to again and again and the memories will linger like the scent of perfume on a love letter.

A good friend of mine gave me sage advice as I was leaving when he said, “let go of any expectations before you go.”

I think he was right.  I don’t think this trip would have been successful if either of us had tried to force a particular meaning on to it.  Meaning only comes after experience.  Relationships cannot be defined by mathematical calculation and an intent to achieve a finite result.  It is in the space between certainty and uncertainty that allows love to blossom.

It is only after we return that we can understand what has transpired.  Meaning is what our memories provide for us, they are the way we reflect and define our life and shape the way we move forward into our future.  I believe that the feeling of falling in love happens when there is newness and an undefined optimism and hope for limitless possibilities.

I believe even long term relationships go through periods of intermittent falling in love stages as we grow and change over time and there is an appreciation for the familiar being remade into the new as we break away from the union of a kiss to breath and feed our individual spirits.

I think that if I had held tight expectations as to what this trip was supposed to mean for us I would have been disappointed just as I have been disappointed in my photography whenever I attempt to make a great image based upon some preconception of what it is suppose to look like.

Love letters to myself

As I look back at these photographs I am filled with the joy of knowing that no matter what happens in the future, there will always be happiness tied to the memory of time spent together appreciating the beauty that is in the art and culture of Paris and the inspiration I found within the sparkle and radiance of a shared gaze.

My photographs from Paris are like love letters I have written to myself and to my beloved.  It is like when you send yourself a post card while on vacation so that you may have a tangible little piece of that special place after you have departed and returned home.  I feel so blessed to have such wonderful memories from Paris.  To describe the trip in detail would be to spoil it.  A private whisper is far more special than a loud public broadcast and so I shall limit the details of what I share to only that which is revealed in the acuity of these photographs.  Let it suffice to say that these photographs were “Fait avec amour”

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