Diary (archives) - Claude Lavoie Photo

Photographic chit-chat

Photographic chit-chat (image unavailable)

Saturday 2010-12-04 :

It is 4 p.m.; all the streetlights are on. In this time of year when even the light of midday remains pale, the whole world seems to coil upon itself and go to sleep, like a shivering sulky cat.

I carried a loaded camera all afternoon, in the vain hope of one or two good images. Nothing worthwhile to click at; only a few dark and hurried passers-by, their head sunk into the upturned collar of their coat, and naked trees shaken by the gusty wind.

It is freezing cold; I walked for hours, hands in the pockets, camera dangling freely at the end of the strap slung around my neck. Looking everywhere, I exerted myself, quickening the pace against the premonition that this day would be unsuccessful, against the feeling that I would have been better advised to stay home and spend this time in the darkroom, warming my heart at printing an image from a summer day.

Why did I get out today? The need to see other people, undoubtedly; the comfort, maybe, of not being alone, of partaking in mankind. And to be honest, the hope of the ever possible exceptional picture, the shot for which one will forever take pride in keeping up the faith, the trophy that redeems hours of fruitless wanderings. In photography as in fishing, one can never tell beforehand; one has to be where luck shows up.

I am a bit disappointed, but not in the least discouraged. I know that I will soon do it again, with the same enthusiasm that I had upon setting out this morning. Today, nothing; but next time, who knows . . .

Sunday 2010-11-07 :

It is a strange feeling to come back home, after travelling abroad for two months, and return to everyday life. A volley of contrasts that flies to the face, on a background of jet lag and lassitude.

First, the thermic shock : rainy weather, temperature fifteen degrees below that of the Italian Riviera where, only three days earlier, you still swam in the sea; then the foliage, left in the triumphant lushness of the culminating summer, now withered and vanquished by autumn; and the domestic chores, happily pushed at the back of the mind, now to be caught up with, and whose staggering mass causes the courage to falter.

And the routine of work (topped with the disappointing news that you did not qualify for a position you badly wanted), so heavy that you doubt ever being able to load it back onto your shoulders, which you know will, in a matter of days, deplete all the energy restored during the vacation.

Yet, on the way back, the familiar places that have pleasantly remained unchanged, only to be seen with a renewed interest; the neighbours repeating the same gestures, who surprisingly look a bit older when they come to greet you and enquire about the trip. And above all, the joy of reuniting with the ones dear to your heart, the friends whom separation made you grow fonder of; the gratitude towards fate for making our paths cross, as well as granting the privilege to travel, from time to time.

Overwhelming thoughts and emotions that you fear might cause the spirit and heart, suddenly too small to contain them all, to burst.

Saturday 2010-10-02 :

My forehead against the window, I am waiting for the 7:42 a.m. train to leave Lecce for Taranto.

A woman stands on the platform, keeping silent company to the man sitting in the seat ahead of mine. They look at each other through the glass, smiling at intervals or doing a discreet hand sign. Middle-aged, they are too old for expansive public emotion displays; yet they are obviously in love and sad to part.

As the train starts rolling, she remains motionless, a despondent smile on her face; she is soon out of sight. In my mind, her image is already fading; in the air, a whiff of sadness lingers on.

Saturday 2010-09-25 :

A day-trip between Otranto and Gallipoli, on Ferrovie del Sud Est : a short two-car diesel train, with manual gearbox and clutch, busily shuttling between the small towns of Puglia. Antiquated, but surprisingly punctual and efficient.

The network of old railway lines cuts through fields of olive trees. We enjoy everything of our stay in Puglia; but riding this little train feels like travelling in time. It sprinkles a bit of magic on our vacation in the region.

Friday 2010-09-17 :

In Dijon, arriving last into the compartment, in the night train between Paris and Rome, I get the bottom bunk. I pull the sheet out of its plastic envelope and spread it with its head to the window. I put my camera bag against the wall, intending to use it as a makeshift pillow, and realise that all the others have their head to the corridor. I suspect there is a reason to it; maybe a draft of air from the window? I shrug it off, telling myself I will find out soon enough.

I lay down and think of my last days in France :

A grateful farewell to ever beautiful France! I am on my way to Rome, where I will rejoin my beloved (today is her birthday). We will spend the next month together in Italy; it is the beginning of an other trip.

There is no air leaking from the window. I soon drift into sleep, to wake up only when the train pulls up in Roma Termini the following morning.

Sunday 2010-09-05 (encore) :

"Do you believe that love can last forever?", you asked. The question both surprised and pleased me.

Surprised at first by its suddenness, for it came unannounced after a few seconds of silence. Surprised also by its straightforwardness : everybody struggles with this question throughout their whole life, but seldom confides to someone else about it, perhaps for fear of revealing the helplessness it inflicts.

Surprised, but not the least offended. I admired your composure and the tone of your voice conveyed no shyness nor impudence. And to be honest, I was flattered that you asked me, as though you considered me knowledgeable in this field. Knowledge I do not possess of course, for I am also pondering this question.

Caught off guard, I vaguely admitted my ignorance. Which was both true and incomplete; I should instead have answered that nobody knows with certainty whether love can last forever, but everyone wishes and believes so, at least to some extent. Else, how bear living?

We plunge head first into love with the silly hope that it will last, but without the faintest idea on how to bring it about, let alone where to start. Yet it cannot be otherwise.

Sunday 2010-09-05 :

I boarded the train for Nîmes in Toulouse. A short leap, barely more than an hour. Yet, this being a Sunday, I had reserved a seat by the window the day before. I congratulated myself for doing so; only a few seats were still available.

As usual, I was hoping that enjoyable company and conversation awaited me . . . and I apprehended that my seat might already be taken; by someone who, by virtue of a booking system malfunction, had been assigned the same, or by a lout who preferred mine to his, and refused to give it back.

A lady was at my place; I waved my ticket. She nodded, raised to her feet, stepped to her side and sat down along the aisle. Extending the arm, I dropped on the floor, at the foot of the vacated seat, the bag containing the three cameras and the notebook I always travel with, nearly stepped on her toes, clumsily put my backpack in the overhead compartment, and finally plumped into the window seat, next to hers.

During the second or two she stood up, I had noticed her pleasant figure, her sober yet elegant clothes, and the red lacquer on the nails of her fingers and toes; she had remained silent. Since, she kept her eyes closed and her head resting against the back of her seat. I dared not disturb her.

· · · · · · · · · · ·

Numerous noteworthy events and encounters happen, while travelling, and I am always behind in jotting them down on paper; many slip out of my mind and are forever lost. I reasoned that now might be a good time to catch up. I extracted from the bag at my feet this notebook and a pen, lowered the tablet raised upright against the back of the seat ahead, and started writing in English, so as to keep my scribblings safe from prying eyes. I soon was engrossed in my recollections.

"I never had before the chance to read a story just as it is being written before my very eyes", I heard her say. I had not noticed that she was now reading over my shoulder. Presuming that few French did read English, I had wrongly believed the secrecy of my words to be secured.

· · · · · · · · · · ·

The conversation rapidly moved from small talk to personal matters.

She was twenty-five, recently promoted to an important management position she did not fully master yet : she headed numerous employees, most with much more experience than her, some purposely setting traps for her to stumble into and discredit herself. She constantly felt like having to prove herself, while keeping the eyes up so as to foresee the incoming pitfalls. She was having a difficult time.

I was surprised to hear no enthusiasm nor lightness in the words of someone this young. I enquired about her personal interests; she replied that at a stage in life when they cannot be pursued, aspirations and dreams are better left unacknowledged.

Yet her soul was alive. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke of "Bridges of Madison County", one of her all-time favourite movies,for it illustrates so well how desirable yet difficult, and even often impossible, it is for the heart to prevail over reason. She told how she wanted to scream to the lovers to follow their heart, and how desperate she felt when they surrendered to reason and conventions. After a pause, she asked point blank : "Do you believe that love can last forever?" I suspected that she already knew about grief.

· · · · · · · · · · ·

We talked openly and without reserve. She was direct, her observations insightful and straight to the point. She noticed aspects I had been unaware of, but conspicuous for her : how my relentless fiddling with the cap of my pen was a sign of hyperactivity; how the publication of a diary on the Web was somewhat exhibitionistic; how the lines of symbols separating the entries of the notebook, similar to those representing a fence on a topographic map, meant that I fear what I might discover by aggregating my thoughts; how futile it was to number the pages of my notebooks, since I never tore nor took away a single one of them.

I was surprised by her clear-sightedness. She could recognise the obvious and express it in a straightforward manner, without unease. I wondered whether this ability could make life a little boring, in the long run, by stripping it of some of its mystery.

Our exchange raced, time flew by; Montpellier was announced. She gathered her things hastily and got ready to alight. I handed her a card on which the photograph of a sculpture representing three bare-chested women accompanies the address of this site, inviting her to visit it if she had the time and send comments by email if she felt inclined to. She looked at the card, commented : "One more man obsessed with women", and pocketed it. Before stepping out into the aisle, she bent towards me and said : "So that you may recognise me when I write, my name is Magalie". Then she was gone.

A brief but memorable conversation my thoughts often come back to; I keep mulling over what she said, still astounded by the acuteness of her perception.

I wish that fate had granted us more time to talk. There are still questions I would like to ask her; questions that did not spring to my mind when we were sitting side by side, about observations I would like to hear her expand on. Questions that will remain unanswered.

I wish also that her life has become sunnier since.

Saturday 2010-09-04 :

I sit alone in the dark, in the courtyard of the diocesan centre of Cahors, where I am about to spend my fourth night. All the pilgrims have gone to bed. They will set out early, tomorrow, so as to take advantage of the coolness that the morning inherits from the night.

Yesterday, I shared my room with two Swiss I could hardly communicate with, for they spoke neither French nor English. Pilgrims on their way to Santiago; two among the legions one meets all over the Midi-Pyrénées region : forever massaging their feet, getting agitated at the first light of dawn, packing up in a concert of zippers, leaving in a hurry, intent on getting as many kilometres as possible behind before the sun turns the cool morning into a hot day.

My journey is of a different kind. I like to sit out, sometimes until late, sharing conversation and wine with whoever has a story to tell.

The pilgrims' schedule and mine are at odds; when they get up, I have only had a few hours of sleep. But they are considerate and quiet; I drift back to my dreams as soon as they leave and I have the whole room to myself.

Friday 2010-08-27 :

I walked a few miles on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela today : five up, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Orisson, then five back. I set out late in the morning, under a blazing sun. The climb was steep and the heat made it difficult. Then the sky clouded over and the temperature dropped a few degrees; returning was a breeze.

I met a Dutch lady. She passed me on the way up, while I was sitting in the shade, eating lunch. I caught up with her an hour later, as she stood at a crossroads, uncertain about which way to go.

We walked together, discussing how Western society did not always seem to change for the best : the ever-accelerating quest for productivity and profit, the crazy pace of work, the mounting discourtesy in everyday relations. At Orisson, we sat and talked for an extra hour before bidding farewell; she continued towards Spain while I returned to my strange and somewhat scary innkeeper, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

At home, I rarely take the time to converse like I did today. Do I have to venture this far from my routine, even travel to a faraway country, to enjoy the simple pleasure of a conversation with a stranger?

Monday 2010-08-23 :

The pines of the Landes. Similar to the ones Thérèse Desqueyroux turned her eyes to, without actually seeing them, her mind being too upset.

The ocean breeze blows so relentlessly that the trunks have grown up into the shape of a swollen sail, their concavity to the sea. But they held fast, digging their roots ever deeper into the loose sand, paradoxically keeping it in place by clinging to it.

The same species for miles, the trees sometimes planted haphazardly, sometimes evenly spaced and aligned. A dense forest of homogeneous patches where mature specimens are individually selected, felled, and placed in perfect piles, along the railway, pending transportation to the mill where they will be transformed into cellulose fiber or sawn into construction timber.

· · · · · · · · · · ·

I climbed into this overheated train at Bordeaux-Saint-Jean station, glad to leave behind the hostel I spent three nights at, and where I was getting too acquainted with the other guests. Bordeaux is a beautiful and bustling city, but after a while, all cities come to feel the same. I never spoke as much English, here in France, as during these three days. I long for silence and solitude.

The last days have been torrid, and the coolness of the mountains will do me much good. But before veering off towards the foothills of the Pyrénées, I am going to Biarritz.

Mythic Biarritz I know nothing of, except for the near century old photographs of Jacques-Henri Lartigue. I have no expectations, for I am not particularly fond of seaside resorts. But being so close, I might as well take a look; and see what happens . . .

Sunday 2010-08-22 :

We were the only passengers to alight at Saint-Émilion. I followed behind as she carried her bicycle down the steps.

As she put it on the platform, presuming that she was also a tourist, I remarked that renting a bicycle was a clever way to visit the region. It was her own, she said; she had brought it all the way from Bordeaux to ride from the station to the village, on her way to meet a prospective employer.

We had engaged in conversation before even walking out of the station. As we climbed up the road winding through the impeccably tended vineyards, we talked about the beauty of the region, the reputation of its wines, and how the gently undulating landscape had inspired generations of painters.

She pushed her bicycle all the way to the village, where we parted. I was so taken by our conversation that on my way back to the station, that very night, I would have difficulty retracing the route.

She was born in Savoie and has followed her lover to Bordeaux. Her name, uttered out loud, rings with musical consonances; when prefixed with the letter "M", it just starts to sing. She is called Élodine.

Wednesday 2010-07-28 :

The last moments in the darkroom. Just a few more things to put away.

I printed one single negative; the picture of an old couple, taken recently at a reunion held in their honour, to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Our neighbours of always. Undemonstrative, they never seemed particularly enamoured of one another; they spoke but little and smiled even less frequently.

Their children had organised the celebration. Since we grew up together, they invited me; I felt honoured and accepted with gratitude. The event took place in the family garden and lasted for the greater part of the day. In keeping with their usual demeanour, he spoke little, she made sure everyone tasted at least a few bites of everything.

During the afternoon, I was asked to take photos. I started with their grandchildren, then on to their children. Finally, I asked the parents to pose. Without haste, they headed towards the wooden bench at the back of the garden.

In order to give them time to settle in their role, I meticulously cleared the leaves and twigs that stood in the way, made a fuss over the unwanted folds of their clothes, and took several readings of the light. Then I took place behind the camera.

I took a few shots, suggesting after each variations of posture and facial expression. Without much success. They seemed tense; he serious and stiff, she cramped in a shawl she held about her shoulders.

I was about to call it quits when his hand moved to pick hers up below the shawl. Then he gently pulled it out towards him. Keeping their fingers intertwined, each rested their wrist on their lap. His face kept the same expression, her lips moved in a slight but unmistakable smile; they both relaxed a little. I pressed the shutter button one last time.

It is this image, of a modest but dignified elderly couple holding hands, that I printed several copies of today : one for each of their children, and an even larger one, that I just hung to dry, for themselves. I can foretaste the pleasure I will feel when I give it to them.

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