Adventure Time

Well, it’s about the end of the line, and this is where we all make sappy blog posts and say cute things that our parents will love to read. But I don’t think we do that because we’re supposed to; I think we do it because this really was one of the most unique and amazing experiences that any of us have ever had. And it’s really hard to sum up this past month into a couple paragraphs. Of course I’m looking forward to telling everyone who will listen about my trip, but I’ll never really be able to tell you about the way it felt. This has been the best time ever.

My grandma has been getting really sentimental and telling me that this will be the time of my life and that I’ll be making memories that I’ll look back fondly on. And I knew I’d have fun, but I didn’t really take that very seriously back in June. It’s incredible how much can change in a month. I can’t tell if it feels like the shortest or the longest month of my life. But Prague feels like forever ago, and everything has just gotten more and more exciting since then.

Now for me and a few other people, it’s time to head off to one more stop on our adventure, as we travel to Rome. It’s simultaneously exciting and sad, because leaving everyone else feels so unnatural at this point. All we’ve been able to talk about today is how there’s no way it can be our last day as a group. But things don’t really end, and the adventures will continue, and I know that my life is better because of the people on this trip and everything we’ve done together. There’s a lot more fun to be had. Cheers.

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Exploring Alone

Graffiti in Shoreditch.

Graffiti in Shoreditch.

It’s strange living a daily routine that involves spending most of your waking hours with 13 or more of the same people for over a month. Actually, at this point it’s kind of strange to think about it any other way. On this trip, we have become such a huge part of each other’s everyday life. But really, it’s abnormal to spend so much time with so many people on such a regular basis. It actually makes spending time alone a bit strange.

But that’s what I did for a good part of today; I spent time by myself. I slept in, then went to get food by myself. After class I grabbed my iPod and camera and took the tube to Shoreditch to take more photos. And it was really relaxing. There’s a great sensation when you feel that you can blend into a big, foreign city and just act like it’s your normal life. When we’re in a giant group, it’s obvious that we’re tourists or students on a trip. But by yourself, you can sort of just slip through and observe. It’s nice taking time to just do normal things like walk around and listen to music, instead of running across the city to pack in everything we can before we have to leave.

I’ve thought about how weird it will be when I go back home and I’m not living with 13 of my friends any more. Over here there’s always someone around to go out with, or grab lunch with, or just talk to. I can’t quite remember what it’s like not to have a dozen housemates.

And most of the time I want to spend my days seeking out adventures with my new group of friends. But some days, like today, I just want to get lost in the city.

Unexpected Adventures

Of course when you go to a big city, there are all the obvious sights and activities to check off your list. For Paris you have the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, eating baguettes, etc. But then there are the things that you may have never expected you would get to say you experienced, or ones that might not be as obvious. And I have to say that those usually end up being the ones you remember the most. So if you’ll allow me to look back just a bit into the past, this is my short list of adventures to have in Paris that might not be on everyone’s checklist:

1. Swim in the fountain in front of the Eiffel Tower
-While spending an amazing evening on the lawn near the Eiffel Tower one night, we noticed that on the hour, the large fountain we were sitting by shot off huge geysers of water. The water was timed with the lights of the tower so that the night sky was filled with twinkling lights and water vapor, creating a truly unique sight. I had seen a couple young kids playing in the fountain and thought it looked like fun, so without thinking, I just sort of ran down the hill and jumped in the fountain. Verdict: it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Fountain Swimming (Photo by Andrea Raby)

Fountain Swimming (Photo by Andrea Raby)

2. Play guitar with a street musician on the Seine.
-We hung out on the Seine river a lot; pretty much as often as we could manage. It was the perfect place to spend evenings looking at all the lights and people. One night, a street musician that had finished for the night came over and started talking to us, and we started exchanging stories and details about our lives. After it came up that I played some music back home, he immediately shoved his guitar into my hands and insisted that I play a song. Despite being a very mediocre musician, I managed to get one song out, while my friends sang along on the riverbank beside me. It felt entirely magical and just about perfect in every way. The moral is to talk to strangers I guess, because sometimes they’re cool guys who let you play their guitar.

3. Eat a pizza with egg on it.
-Not only does it look even cooler than a normal pizza, it tastes 10 times better as well. In Europe I’ve basically learned that everything is better when you throw an egg on it. Andrea and I had a sausage and egg pizza at a small café near the Moulin Rouge on one of our last nights in the city, and it was one of the best things I’ve eaten on the whole trip. My mom had warned me that sometimes restaurants will crack a raw egg on top of the cooked pizza, but thankfully this one came a bit more well done. I think America really needs to look into this one.

This is what heaven looks like.

This is what heaven looks like.

4. Investigate a Parisian art commune
-Within the first few hours that we were in the city, a couple of us discovered perhaps the strangest and most interesting building we visited in the week we stayed in Paris. I’m not sure if it had a name, but we found this art hub on the Rue de Rivoli thanks to the neon decorations covering the windows, and plaster hands hanging from the doorway. There were six floors to explore, filled with artists working in their studios and displaying their crafts. Each floor we wandered into was a new surprise. In one room, a painter gave me an out-of-tune ukulele to play and claimed that he knew Michigan because of John Wayne. Another room contained a wall of strange-looking, vintage, coin-operated machines that we had to walk through to get to the next artist area. When we left through the stairwell with a giant dragon mural and neon fetus sculptures glued to the walls, we concluded that Paris gets real weird real fast.

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Good Days, Always

I can’t say that I’ve really had one single bad day on the entire trip so far. I think that I would just feel guilty wasting even one second of this incredible experience by getting hung up on any negative thoughts. That being said, if there has been one day that may have tested my attempts at a perfect score for my travels, today might have been it. But overall, I still feel like I always end up on top. I’m in Paris after all.

We started off our day with a short walk to a classroom where we got to listen to Nigel Dickinson, a documentary photographer who has worked all around the globe. I specifically remembered his name because a student in one of my photojournalism classes at Michigan State did an artist presentation on him. It’s sort of amazing that on this trip we have had countless opportunities to talk one-on-one with famous and well-established photographers that, surprisingly, have found time to pass on some knowledge to us.

Nigel showed us a huge catalogue of his work that included photos of Roma Gypsy ceremonies, road protests in the U.K, disturbing photos of the animal and meat industry, and even commercial sculpture photos for one of the most famous architects in Mexico. In addition to sharing his incredible work with us, he also gave us all an open invitation to send our work to him for critique at any time. So now the 14 of us can have a Vogue-published photographer check out our work whenever we want. Not too bad.

After a lunch break, we all rode the metro to see an exhibit at the Jeu De Paume museum, but got caught in the worst weather we’ve seen so far. The group that I was with got stuck in the Tuileries gardens during a torrential downpour and thunderstorm. After huddling under a tree for a half hour, we eventually trekked across the newly flooded grounds to the metro stop while we waited for the rest of the group to gather. Upon entering the museum, I thought I had made it out mostly unscathed, but opening my backpack up to find my DSLR camera sitting in a pool of water was not a welcome sight. This also explains why I have no photos on the blog today. So if anyone has any, feel free to add some!

Everyone immediately helped me out with my soggy gear, and the camera and battery are currently sitting across from me in a bag of rice, desperately trying to have the moisture sucked out of them. The future of this particular camera is uncertain, but I’ve decided that no matter what happens, I’m going to continue to have a totally awesome time; because really, what other choice is there?

Bad news aside, the exhibit at the Jeu De Paume was fantastic. Lorna Simpson and Ahlam Shibli were the primary photographers at the show, both excellent and extremely different. Simpson works mostly with self-portraits and supplementary text to create narratives and critiques on identity and gender, while Shibli primarily works in black and white documentary style, exploring life in Palestine.

The rest of the day was mostly relaxing, despite being our last day to shoot, and pretty much made up for any previous water-related unpleasantness. We ate a lot of pastries, went down to the river, walked around the Latin Quarter, and enjoyed another night in the big city. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I just plan on having an amazing time while I can.

Interspace

Dylan Sowle

Vincent Fillon’s Interspace

At the Parc des Ateliers

Part of the exhibition’s Young Talent series, Vincent Fillon was invited to the festival this year as one of only four participants. This series is meant to encourage younger photographers and allow them access to the prestigious event. Although at 36 years old, the Parisian artist obviously has had time to practice his craft.

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Vincent Fillon’s photos displayed in a room with the other Young Talent artists.

The theme for the Young Talent series was ‘Photography and Manipulation’, and Fillon’s work explored that concept through the use of interior landscapes. The photos are confusing because you are simultaneously seeing the building from two different perspectives. By layering two photographs of the same space, but from two separate angles, an impossible new dimension is created. Walls and windows become partially transparent, and corners and walls no longer block the vision of the viewer.

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Manipulation and Photography was the theme for the Young Talent artists.

Fillon uses a very simple technique in each photo, by layering one over another; but the precise angles that he chooses are what causes the bizarre yet strangely natural viewpoints. I found the photos to be somewhat calming, because they allow us to see a space in a way that would never be possible. The limits of human eyes are broken down by these images and we can explore our world in an entirely new way.

Although there were only four photographs in the exhibit, my favorite image was one with yellow lines running straight through a wall, extending to the back of the frame. This photo definitely made me stop and think for the longest, trying to understand what I was looking at. If Fillon is considered a young artist, it’s exciting to think what he will be doing in the future.

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Vincent Fillon’s work.

Empreinte

Dylan Sowle

Antoine Gonin’s Empreinte

Atelier des Forges, Parc des Ateliers.

Walking into the room that contained Gonin’s Empreinte, I first questioned whether or not I was looking at photographs. Obviously, in a photographic exhibition I expected photography, but his prints looked more like ink or graphite drawings at first glance. Only after reading the captions and titles for each image did I understand what exactly I was looking at.

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Gonin has previously worked in landscape photography, and this series continues that theme but in a drastically different way. Instead of a traditional view of natural scenes, Gonin skews perspective and reality by framing his photos in a way that abstracts the natural and draws out repetition and contrast. His landscapes range from salt flats to mussel breeding areas, but each photo hardly resembles its original subject.

One theme that comes through in the work is the impact of human activity on a landscape. In many of the photos, the canvas would be blank apart from the equipment or effects of farming on the area. Human modification of the landscape is apparent in the photos, and his use of abstract framing further modifies the original image.

The image that stood out to me the most was the first one that I saw, of oyster farming baskets. This was one of the more abstract photos, and being the first thing I saw in the room, it became the most impressive. Mostly I was just amazed that a camera could produce something that essentially looked like white paper with black squares on it. This abstraction from reality is what stood out to me about the series as a whole. Landscapes that no longer look like landscapes.

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Oyster baskets

Album Beauty/24HRS of Photos by Erik Kessels

Dylan Sowle

Erik Kessels’ Album Beauty and 24HRS of Photos

At the Palais del’Archevêché.

When traveling between the many exhibitions of the Arles in Black festival, I wanted to write about exhibits that truly interested me, as opposed to just writing one off for an assignment. When I came to Erik Kessels’ exhibition, I was immediately taken by the presentation of his series. Giant displays that mimicked photo albums, oversized books placed in the middle of the floor, and cutouts of people from past eras greeted us as we walked in the room.

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Album Beauty is like literally stepping into a family photo album. And that seems to be Kessels’ intent, with the exhibit being called “an ode to the vanishing era of the photo album”. The exhibit is made entirely of collected photos by Kessels, many of them from garage sales or markets. By collecting photographs taken from numerous family albums around the world, he creates a sort of universal family photo collection.

Each photograph was able to catch my attention because every single one came from a unique and specific moment in the lives of a random family. It felt totally out of place to see these photographs on a gallery wall, yet there was an artistic quality to them that would never be appreciated if not for this exhibit. I even found my doppelganger amongst the bunch.

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Me and my lookalike

Kessels is considered a collector of “vernacular photography”, the photos of everyday life by amateur photographers that largely go unnoticed. But Kessels takes the personal and private world of family albums and snapshots, and thrusts it into the realm of art photography and galleries. In a time when social media and digital photography have replaced the physical album, Album Beauty gives it the recognition it deserves.

Paired with Album Beauty was another of Kessels’ projects, 24HRS of Photos. A room, literally covered in photographs that form a giant pile. The cascade of 35mm prints is representative of all the photos uploaded to social media sites in a 24-hour period. The effect is overwhelming and faces the viewer with the sheer amount of media content that is present in our everyday lives.

 

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24HRS of Photos

24HRS of Photos makes a perfect companion to Album Beauty because in many ways, they are opposites, comparing past to present. Advancing technology always presents an uncertain future for art forms, but Kessels’ exhibits take a look at the state of photography today, and honor the past at the same.