I went to Paris by myself for a few disparate reasons. Being alone in life, I wanted to see if I could endure/enjoy travelling alone. Most all the travelers I've talked to do not travel alone, and they speculate that they would not enjoy doing so. I also wanted to test my health. Was I too old and in poor enough health that I should expect to never be able to travel, especially alone. And most of all, I wanted to get new insights into photographic subjects. I didn't visit a single museum, French garden, or tourist site. Not being with a partner, I enjoyed the fact that I never looked in a shop window (except for some sculpture-art stores in Paris). I didn't go to have a good time, because I figured I wouldn't be able to achieve that, especially in an unfamiliar country where I didn't even speak the language. Finally, it was important that nothing was planned. I landed in Paris with 5-days of reservations in a sleazy hotel, and I would leave Charles De Gaulle Airport 4 weeks later. I was shlepping a lot of heavy camera gear.
So after 2 days of jet lag, by the 3rd day I noticed that I hadn't spotted anything photo-worthy, or that would be unique as well as photo-worthy. I was not chronicling my trip to show friends back home what I had done, and all the marvelous architectures have already been posted on post cards. So I asked myself, "What is unique here in Paris?" Then I realized that perhaps 80% of the Parisian women were beautiful. In Aptos the number is well below 1%. I spent a week in New York before Paris, and even there I'd guess the number to also be below 1%. It's just that in walking around New York you pass by so many more people than you do in Aptos, that you might see 2 or 3 beauties in a single day.
It was cold in Paris when I was there, so even those those slender Parisians probably had fantastic bodies, they were to encase in warmwear that that could not be the subject of my photography. But above those French-styled scarves perched the most beautiful of faces . . . and eyes.
So my procedure would begin with the simplest approach. I walked around with camera in hand (or around neck, at the early stage), and gently interrupted a lass as she was walking the other direction, and gesticulated something to the effect of "May I take your picture?" I got a lot of (not unfriendly) rejection, but I was prepared for that. I never got any of the top-tier beauties. But what bothered me was how few "OK's" I did get. I felt I was unable to communicate (which was true).
So I had a t-shirt printed in French made that said (English version for you):
Let's Show the World
Please look into this lens.
French version which was printed on my tee-shirt, front side, of course:
Montrons au Monde
s.v.p. Regardez dans cet objectif
The percentages went up, but not enough. I used Babelfish to craft a short sentence I could utter as an accompaniment. I wanted to explain that the reason I was wanting to photograph them was that they had beautiful eyes.
Vous avez de beau yieux.
That was not connecting, so I looked up the pronunciation. yieux is pronounced as if it started with a 'z'. Things got better, but not good enough.
I had an employee at the hotel photograph me wearing that t-shirt, for my own archival recall. When I looked at that picture, I saw a problem. It was cold in Paris, and I elected to advertise with a t-shirt rather than a sandwich board. So I wore 3 layers of warmer garbs under that t-shirt . . . and did I look unkempt. So I abandoned the t-shirt and elected to be more well-dressed . . . not so California. I had learned from some brief exchanges that some were concerned that their photo would appear in some local advertisement, and that that would embarrass them amongst their peers. So I cobbled a few words to alleviate that concern, simple phrases whose pronunciation was apparent (no Babelfish necessary)
"for un exhibition artiste en California." I was progressively getting more hits, just still not enough.
One day I walked by a large green park (one that I had meditated in by myself in the morning, and it was empty then). But after rush hour it was packed with people, all reclining like at a
sedar. I thought this was going to be like shooting goldfish in a barrel. It started well enough, but soon a Gendarme apprehended me and escorted me to a small police office at one end of the park. He gave me some bullshit about this not being a public park, which it clearly was, but that it was a park conjoined on one side with their Senate building, so picture were forbidden. Funny, most of these public attendees had their little cameras out & they were photographing each other. But I know to never challenger or render unhappy a policeman. I explained that I was not photographing people without their permission, but he lied to the other officers saying that he saw me taking pictures without the subjects' permission. He was writing me up for an hour, so I figured I might be about to be arrested. I wasn't afraid of being arrested, but I was worried that he would erase all of that day's photographs. Eventually he let me go, admonishing me to "get out." I was not to come back with or without a camera. This shook me up as that parke venue was so much more fertile than the marauding streets. But elected to view this as just another obstacle . . . like yet another bug in what seemed like elegant software code.
Finally, I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I noticed that my 63-year-old-man's eyebrows had grown so long I looked like a sheep dog. So I trimmed them, and once again the positive numbers went up. I definitely wasn't enjoying myself. The camera was so heavy. I was certainly quite lonely, but I suffered not, because I had a mission, and I saw every obstacle as inevitable props in the manifestation of any mission.
So I ended up with about 40 good-enough shots, with perhaps 3-4 sub-par ones peppered in. I felt I had accomplished 60% of what I had hoped to get. But there was an unintended gift in it all. I'm no longer afraid of pretty women or what I might say when Iencounter them. I only hope that after 4 weeks so far of isolating illnesses (diarrhea and avoiding sunlight with mucous streaming out of me like an AIDs victim during his final week) I still can muster that assuredness and calm confidence I learned through it all.
As a rule I disdain posed "look at the camera" shots. Somehow I liked these, and what I had to do to get them.