Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.
What can I say about the photograph above?
For whatever reason, as I came closer to determining which photograph to feature for this week of the TIAA challenge, I had resolved to share an image from France. Initially, I was going to share an image featuring the exterior gardens from my collection of photos of Versailles. There were too many visitors when I was there — perhaps in the hundreds or thousands. I never post-processed these images because I didn’t think I could use them. (11 years later and my perspective now sees some potential in a few). My knowledge of post-processing and editing was much more limited when I captured those photographs.
Later, I changed my mind to feature an image of a specific neighborhood of France’s capital that its inhabitants seem to express a considerable level of disdain whenever its name is mentioned (in my view). That would be the city’s ultra-modern central business district, locally known as La Défense. This is a part of the city that features a definitive skyline of numerous skyscrapers. My recollection is that many Parisians don’t care for the district’s modern, heavily urbanized appearance. Some opine that it looks “too American” and that the district is out of place with the rest of Paris, which might partially explain why this neighborhood’s location lies on the western outskirts of Paris city limits.
Fortunately, not all Parisians share this widespread contempt for La Défense.
Naturally, I am drawn to the area for precisely the reasons the locals dislike it. When I visited in June 2011, I arranged to meet with one of my photography contacts who knew La Défense very well and had an extended portfolio featuring the many glass and steel towers that dominated the district. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call my contact “Didier”.
Didier was a professional photographer who, like myself, also had a full-time day job. The most comical aspect of our transatlantic relationship was our communication. Didier was a French national who had an extremely abbreviated amount of faith in his skills when it came to speaking English. Likewise, even though I had studied French for a number of years, and had it as a minor alongside my major during my university years, I didn’t have that much confidence in speaking the language with actual francophones in France. Nevertheless, for the week that I spent in Paris, I had promised myself to only speak French until I had reached a dead-end in terms of communication. Interestingly, such a scenario never came to fruition. I was humbled by how responsive Parisians were when I initiated conversation in French. The positive feedback motivated me to continue to speak French regardless of how many mistakes I might make. The point was to try — to make the effort.
Incidentally, I attempted the same objective in Montréal several years earlier. Anytime I spoke French, however, the Montréalais would respond in English — and with annoyance! Alors, j’ai essayé.
When Didier and I met to start our mutual photo shoot of La Défense, we immediately admitted our deficiencies in communicating in the other’s native language. Under different circumstances, this could have been a major crux that could have potentially stymied any conversation between two individuals who had to collaborate. However, since we were going to spend several hours together, we knew we had to talk or communicate somehow.
We decided to conduct an impromptu experiment during our photo shoot that we believed would be mutually beneficial. Since my goal was to speak French throughout my trip, and Didier expressed that he needed more practice with speaking English, we decided that I would only speak French and Didier could only respond in English. This way, we both had no choice but to practice the language in which we wanted to improve our capabilities.
The experiment actually went fairly well, even though there were several humorous exchanges with the wrong vocabulary and incorrectly conjugated verbs for both of us. There were only a few times in which we hit a snag in trying to communicate. When this occurred, one would help the other to decipher and express in the corresponding language. Over the years, I will admit that I understand and commiserate with every human being whose first language isn’t English that, yes, English is indeed a very peculiar and difficult language to master.
As a result, our photo shoot turned out to be an educative evening of speaking and translating. Simultaneously, our common language of Photography was communicated fluently as Didier showed me around the seemingly most hated neighborhood of Paris.
35 articles down for the TIAA challenge. 17 remain!
This photo or the work to capture it inspired a great moment! Neat idea for you both to speak each other’s language in response to the other!