Operation Count Down

Besides the fact that our projects are due tomorrow, our time left in London is coming to an end. We all rushed about today doing various things as we try coming to terms with the fact that our trip is almost over. Today was a little different than other days that we have had here in London because we did not have class until 3:00 p.m. So, as one could imagine, we all had different things to do. For the most part the group went to work on their individual projects, meaning that we all split to go across London in different directions. Considering everyone did different things throughout the day, it is hard to say what each and every one of us did. The only two of the group that I know of that diverged from shooting for a project were Carra and myself. She went to a photo-shoot and I went to the Winston Churchill War Rooms Museum. Later, I met up with Sarah to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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A view of London from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At 3:00 p.m. we all gathered back at Regent’s University in the Cinema for a talk from Grace Robertson, an 83 year old woman that made her career as a photographer. As she stated, “photography is fascinating,” but perhaps the most fascinating thing about today was our speaker. She was lively with wonderful stories of her life and lessons for all of us, not only about photography, but about life too. Quite possibly her best piece of advice about photography can be applied to life as well, “always be curious and always be interested.” Her enthusiasm for her work was so refreshing even after all of her years in the field.

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Howard and Grace chatting after the lecture.

After class ended, most of us grabbed dinner at Regent’s University cafeteria in attempt to use the money they have given us. We then all, again, parted ways to do different things. Most of us went to go and photograph for our projects. I ventured to three bridges of London: The Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and Tower Bridge.

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A view from the Tower Bridge of the London Bridge.

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Cross it off…

Today was a travel day. I was planning on crossing London off of my “I never” list today since today was the day I would arrive in town, but after all of today’s events I am actually able to cross off three things:

  1. I have never had anxiety attack.
  2. I have never been to London.
  3. I have never had fish and chips.

Please allow me to explain how these three things came about during the day.

We took cabs to the Gare du Nord train station this morning to catch our train to London. I paid the cab driver and went to meet the few people from our group that arrived before me. As I joined them, I noticed yellow caution tape blocking the closest entrance to the station. I heard the sound of a whistle blow and I tensed. There was an explosion and I gaped at my classmates. All I could think was Again? Seriously this is happening again? I wanted to cry. I wanted to get back in the cab and just sit in our hostel. Paris was fine with me, I didn’t need to leave, not today, not at this train station.

But of course, we did need to leave, today, at this train station. So we walked into the train station as a group. All of my nerves were on end. We made our way towards a couple of elevators we thought we were going to take to customs on the second floor. We were redirected towards the giant crowd surrounding one escalator and one set of stairs. Every train before ours had been delayed and in order to combat the crowd, only passengers from one train at a time could go up to customs at a time. So we had to stand in the growing crowd and wait for our turn. We waited for maybe an hour at the most, but during this time, trains released steam and standard whistles blew for other train arrivals and departures. Every loud sound sent a ripple of fear through me. I stood with a wall to my left, a wall to my back, a table to my right, and luggage to my front. I fanned myself with my passport and ticket and did my best to take as many slow, deep breaths as I could. I didn’t need to freak out, I didn’t need to cry. Everything had been handled, and we wouldn’t be allowed in the building if it wasn’t safe. I knew this, but I couldn’t get my brain to turn itself off. It kept thinking of what could go wrong, and how there was no good escape routes if something did go wrong.

I felt better when we got on the escalator, but then we had to wait again in line for French customs and then British customs. I hated waiting and I hated the crowd around me. I don’t know where this anxiety came from, because I never used to have any problems with either of those two things. But there I stood, fanning myself, willing my brain to shut up for just a few minutes.

When it was finally my turn to go through French customs, I was relieved because I knew I was closer to getting away from the crowd behind me. The worker behind the glass said something to me in French, I’m not sure what. Then he asked in French if I spoke French. I said no. He said in English this time, “You have beautiful eyes.” I wasn’t expecting him to say that. Even though it was comforting, it made me feel like I was going to cry. I said thank you and he handed me my passport back and said bon jour. I really needed to get my emotions in check.

Thankfully on the train I calmed down. I wasn’t entirely at ease, honestly, I’m still not, but I’m much better than I was this morning. So we arrived in London and then took cabs to Regent’s University for our orientation. There are a lot of MSU study abroad’s staying at Regent’s right now, and I knew one of my friends was here too. I wasn’t expecting was to get out of our cab and see him within 20 seconds of arriving, but that’s what happened. I said hello and made quick plans to catch up with him later, and then we went to orientation.

After orientation we took a bus over to our apartments. A few of us went to the ATM and then started to do some laundry. We heard from some other MSU students that the dryers here aren’t the greatest so we all decided to let our clothes air dry. We had to get creative with the limited space we had, but one room managed to string up a makeshift clothesline. We went for dinner after everything was hung to dry. I figured since we are in London, and since everyone else was getting it, that I should get fish and chips as my first meal. I’ve never had fish and chips before. I’ve never had seafood really at all before, and I am the world’s least adventurous eater. It turns out, though, that fish and chips is pretty good.

So that was my day. It didn’t start out the greatest, but I’d say it ended pretty well, and most importantly we are all safe and sound here in London!

Because it’s London

Today marks the best day our our lives. Okay, so maybe I’m speaking more from my point of view, but nevertheless we are all in London. We woke up this morning in Paris and left with all our bags in tow to head for the train station to take the Eurostar. Upon our arrival we were exiting the taxi when we hear a sound all so familiar to us now: the sound of luggage being detonated. France apparently enjoys greeting us to every train station with a bang. We later saw when in line that there were some complications with an unknown package. We made it onto the Eurostar, and safely made it to London. (Side note: we need a fast train system in the United States of America)

We then were able to get to Regents University. It recently changed its name to Regents University, which is a really big deal because it is one of the few private universities to earn the title of “University” here. We had a wonderful orientation and received our cards that also has money on it for us to spend at Regents. After we ate and had a very informative orientation we were shown to our flats. These flats are absolutely amazing and lovely.

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Some of the interesting buildings a few of us enjoyed today.

We all began settling in and traveling and treading lightly in our surrounding neighborhood. The London locals are so friendly. First of all, today while adventuring we witnessed the cutest thing. A little girl was giving a homeless man a Coca-Cola and some chocolate. He thanked her and asked her name. “Lily,” she said. He replied, “Thank you Lily, I really appreciate this. My name is Toby.” She smiled and said hello and they wished each other to have a pleasant day.

If that wasn’t enough, there are so many less cigarette smokers here, which is marvelous. While the group was getting Fish and Chips, which were delicious, I was sitting on a bench outside of the establishment. Soon after a gentleman comes and sits next to me and begins to roll a cigarette, so I waited a bit to stand up to leave when he then says, “no, you don’t have to leave.” I reply with, “It’s okay, I’m going to stand with my friends,” to which he quickly responds, “I’m not going to smoke it while you are eating.” I hadn’t quite heard right and asked, “what?” He said, “I’m not going to smoke this while you are eating, that would be rude.” I was so taken aback and pleasantly responded with, “well thank you anyway but enjoy!” He smiled and said, “thanks! Enjoy your trip.” It was the most pleasant exchange I have had with anyone on this trip and so considerate.

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Food from the Fish and Chips restaurant we went to today.

Overall we are all pretty happy here. The weather was cool enough for pants, something that hasn’t happened yet on this trip, and we have air conditioning to boot. Here is to the most amazing last leg of the trip. Also, we are all literate again!

Saturday in Paris

This morning a few of us woke up early to get to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa before the crowd got insane. We ended up walking right past the room she was hanging in so we had to back track, but we saw her. In case anyone was wondering, if you’ve seen a print of the Mona Lisa, then you’ve seen it because it looked exactly the same. Anyway, I thought the floors in most of the museum were very slippery. I was having a hard time refraining from “skating” through the exhibits.

We learned last night on our river cruise that if you spent five seconds looking at each painting in the Louvre, you’d spend two full months there. Four of us only stayed for two hours, but Brittany stayed for the most of the day. Dylan, Andrea, Sarah and I went saw paintings, sculptures, tapestries, things we thought were the crown jewels, armor, Napoleon’s apartment, and the actual crown jewels. We were tired out after just those two hours, so I can only imagine how tired Brittany was when she arrived back at 6:00 for dinner.

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After the museum the four of us went for lunch. Dylan wanted to try a street vendor he saw a couple days ago, but Andrea, Sarah and I wanted to sit down. We found a café on a corner and had a seat. It turns out we sat in a “drinks only” section of the sidewalk and had to move in order to be able to get food. Andrea had a salad, Sarah had an omelet, and I had fries and then chocolate mousse for dessert. The mousse was delish!

After lunch we came back to the hostel and waited for the people cleaning it to finish. I took a nap because I was tired and I wasn’t feeling the greatest. A group tried rent bikes to go see the catacombs but their credit cards didn’t work so they went to see a Lichtenstein exhibit at the pomp a due museum. I’m not entirely sure what everyone else was up to today, but I think everyone enjoyed the day.

We had dinner and then a few of us went to the river and the nearby music festival to work on our projects. I need to talk to people for part of my project, and that is something I struggled with today. I get nervous talking to strangers, especially strangers that I feel like I’m interrupting and strangers that speak another language. I talked to a bartender about the music festival, which went well because I didn’t feel like I was interrupting him too much. He was also a good-looking guy, so that didn’t hurt either. There was also a guy who walked through one of my pictures, and then proceeded to pose in front of my camera, so I took his picture a few times. Then he asked for me to send them to him so I’ll have to do that later.

Those of us who were out working on our projects met back up with everyone at the hostel to go explore the Latin quarter. I had gone to the Latin quarter last night, and was desperately in need of a shower so I stayed back. I needed a night to unwind and just relax anyways because Paris feels pretty nonstop all the time! I started to read a book Kristen just finished about a girl traveling in Paris. It’s exciting because the author mentions places here that we’ve been to, and I can actually picture it or I can write down new places here that we haven’t been yet.
Tomorrow there’s a huge market that opens at 7:30 and the Tour de France is supposed to be coming through tomorrow too, so I’m sure some of us will be representing MSU at both events. Hope everything is going well at home. We miss all of you!

My wifi is not cooperating right now, so if I can, I’ll update this post with a few more pictures from the day a little later!

Am I really doing this?

The amount of times I’ve thought, Am I really doing this? in the past two weeks has been astronomical compared to the rest of my past 20 years. In particular, I’ve thought it twice in the last 24 hours.
Yesterday we went to Lomography, a film-camera store. I think I talked about it in a previous post on my personal blog. Yesterday, I was looking at a Diana camera. They had two models. One that shoots 120mm film that develops as square photos and one that shoot 35 mm film that develops as two inch by three inch photos. By design it’s a toy camera that gives photos a softer, more artsy effect. I think film would be fun to explore and Dylan said something about how excited he was to have his own print of a picture he took of the Eiffel Tower on his film camera the other. So naturally, that idea stuck with me and has been enticing me to want something similar.
Anyway, today I decided to go for it and I bought the Diana F+ Mr. Pink camera that shoots 120mm film. I’m going to be honest, I splurged, but I’m passionate about photography and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back here to take my own film photo of the Eiffel Tower. Plus, I know I’ll use the camera at home too.
Diana F+ Mr. Pink - picture from Lomography.com

Diana F+ Mr. Pink
– picture from Lomography.com

I bought a three pack of color film for the camera and am going to start setting it up after I’m done blogging. I’ve heard that your first roll of film is generally poor quality because you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing and you’re a little nervous, but hopefully that will add to the effect.
The second time I asked myself, “Am I really doing this?” was later tonight during a street performance. Andrea, Brittany and I were sitting by the river when a group of people wearing little clothes and lots of body paint set down speakers and started dancing. They were dancing awkwardly for about fifteen minutes, but they were having a good time and we were certainly enjoying it. After those fifteen minutes of dancing, the six performers started walking down an invisible catwalk and clapping. One of the performers turned to me and told me to start clapping, so I did. Then another performer came up to me and said, “Your turn.”
Am I really doing this? I really did walk the invisible runway in front of a crowd of people. I was fully clothed with no paint on my body, but the performers were excited about it anyway! They cheered when I blew them a kiss, and after I finished Andrea walked the catwalk too. The performer who got me to participate kissed my hand and thanked me. He told me and Andrea that the other five performers were all professional dancers (he was not, he was 50 he said), and they do this whenever they feel like it because they enjoy life and want to make people happy. Brittany videotaped the whole thing, and it was an amazing experience.

Fact: When in Paris, you shop and explore.

The morning started off like almost every other morning of our trip, with breakfast at our hostel. As we all scurried to be done with breakfast, we met to travel to our designated meeting place, under a statue down a few blocks from our hostel, to meet with our instructors and travel to the residence of Philippe Vermés. When arriving, we walked through a beautiful outdoor hallway that was lined with old bicycles, greens, and flowers. Shortly after our arrival, we were ushered into the home of Philippe and gathered in a circle of chairs and indulged ourselves with a sweet snack that was so graciously provided to us.

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A photo of the walkway of Philippe Vermés residence.

Philippe started off talking to us a little bit about himself and then dove right in to photographers that had inspired him. He started off as a painter and enjoyed making sculptures as well, that is until started working with photography, more specifically: portraits.  He then explained some other photographers that really inspired him, such as Nadar, Irving Penn, and Don McCullin. Not only was it clear that Philippe enjoyed these photographers, but he really admired them, something that was apparent from his stories and showing us their work.

 

Soon after telling us about other photographers, we were lucky enough to see Philippe’s work. This included many portraits he had done. We all were able to look at a book of his (Maison Européenne de la Photographie), along with two put-together, book proposals, and many other pieces he had printed. Along with seeing his work, he explained to us his thought process behind capturing a portrait and some of the decisions he makes while in the dark room developing his photos. Lastly, he showed us the older cameras he has used and how they worked, something that was really quite the sight to see. 

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Philippe Vermés shows the class how his older camera works.

Afterwards, we were able to see the studio that he does his work in, and see it being used by some other photographers. He also gathered us in his garden, so that he could take a photo of the group of us. 

Following this fascinating morning of class, the group of thirteen girls and one guy did what you might expect from a large group of younger people in a big city: shop. The group split up and was able to explore different parts of the town while shopping at many of the different interesting stores that Paris has to offer. 

Later, we all met back at the hostel for dinner. Following dinner, we split into groups again. Some of us went to the Eiffel Tower, while another group went to an outdoor concert, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company (a bookstore), ate gelato by the river, and then split again with some returning to the concert and some visiting the Latin Quarter. 

In the end, it was a busy day that was exciting for all of us. Each person was able to do different things throughout the day while exploring the city. 

“An American Story” by Gordon Parks

• Brittany Holmes
Exhibition: “An American Story” by Gordon Parks
Location: Atelier De Magasin Électrique
• What was the exhibition about? Discuss the central idea or ideas of this exhibition?
This exhibition was used to highlight and honor Gordon Parks, who had an led and incredible career and life in photography and film, as well as standing up against racism, “… a flamboyant personality, radically committed to the struggle against racism and discrimination, who used (as he himself said) his film and photography cameras as an arm against the prejudice and injustice that dishonoured and disfigured his country” (as found in the artist description of the Parks exhibit). Through Parks’ life, he was able to photograph some of the most important individuals in American history. However, Parks went beyond just photographing the famous people and made a huge part of his career when he joined Life magazine as a reporter. His photo essay, “The Cycle of Despair,” in the March 8, 1968 issue of Life, Parks states:

“What I want, what I am, what you force me to be is what you are. For I am you, staring back from a mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom. Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself. There is something about both of us that goes deeper than blood or black and white. It is our common search for a better life, a better world.
Look at me. Listen to me. Try to understand my struggle against your racism. There is yet a chance for us to live in peace beneath these restless skies.”

With his life work, he was able to take a political stand that would forever leave an impact on the country and the world. These photographs not only document a time period that was in need of being shared in order to achieve progress, but also as a reminder of how far we have come and far we still have to go.
• From this exhibit it is easy to see how one person can really impact the world. When entering the exhibit, Gordon Parks’ name sounded familiar, but I could not necessarily put my finger on his work. However, when I walked into the gallery, I was instantly aware of how I knew his name and the impact he has had on my understanding of history. His life exemplifies the meaning of a politically active photographer. Through his expansive amounts of photos he was able to raise social and ethical issues within America that others were not comfortable to talk about, or did not know how to bring the topic of racism to a discussion. Parks delivered the topic of discrimination and racism, quite literally, to America’s doorstep. It is inspiring to see how one man had such an impact on one country’s political discussion.
•To pick one image from Gordon Parks’ collection that is memorable is simply not a feasible task. Each of Parks’ collections are reminiscent of a time period or subject that holds great importance to America’s history and struggles. These images are those that have taught us, even as young children, who the great leaders were and are. It is these images that we learn of the injustices of the past, and relate injustices of the present to. I cannot pick but one image from Gordon Parks, because I feel as to pick one image means to pick one statement that should be focused on, something that goes against the concept of his life work as a whole.

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