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Through November

“Out of Reach”

Photographs from Paris · Spring 2019

I.

There was a moment my first day in Paris this spring where I was stopped in my tracks by the surreality of the situation. Walking around the Batignolles area, I had turned a corner to find a petting zoo in the middle of a square. It was sizable, with multiple cows, sheep and chickens, spanning the public area in front of three restaurants full of people likely eating those three animals (or, perhaps deciding on a vegetarian option given the view).

I kept looking around for the television crew—thinking first it had to be some sort of set for a commercial—but all I found were families with smiling parents and squealing children. Even when I travel I rarely feel as foreign to a situation as I did this. There was a giant park three blocks away, what the hell were these animals doing here? This is Paris.

Of course, Paris is just a city and like all cities of international esteem, the reputation it upholds can often impress the emotions of experiencing its actuality. It's like how people are impressed they don't get robbed when visiting New York.

All this makes Paris both my favorite city, but also the saddest I've experienced. That lingering pretext—a city of love, art, beauty, history, and life—can only be depressing in reality. Unless you have all those things around, they seem even further away. Everything is a reminder of an ideal, and it's all right there in front of you, but still just out of reach.

This is a collection of photographs focusing on that feeling and how it affects the way I see people within the spaces and under the weight of the ideas Paris provides for.

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II.

It's impossible to be anywhere in the current moment without recognizing that everywhere is weighted by a certain sense of unease. It is no different here, with the gilets jaunes protests stirring and Brexit having the EU as a whole on edge. Still, it seems that times like these are exactly when to be in a city like this: there is a sense of pride to be found just about anywhere you look. Flowers on a windowsill, croissants on the table, buildings lining the street, trees in the park. There is a sense of deliberate humanism in all things here—an appreciation for the possibility within the act of living. This is particularly helpful during a time which feels otherwise so inhumane.

This does not excuse the overwrought bureaucratic machine of the French state or the houseless on the street, but there is at least visual evidence of a society, an idea, worth fighting for here. Look away from the despair lining the streets of America and you're met with the sight of billboards for Verizon and a Starbucks on every corner, franchise strip malls taking over suburban centers and no recognizable cultural contributions outside of the inebriated gaze of the advertising industry.

I walk from one side of the city to another, noticing how the light wraps around certain stretches of road, hugging the corners gently, knowing the buildings were built just for a moment like this.

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III.

I laughed and I took a sip of the wine, because what else was I going to do? How else could I have responded?

I'd been walking my favorite stretch of the Seine, from around the Louvre down to Notre Dame. It was the late afternoon and the clouds were meandering. I stopped twice to listen to mesmerizing street performers, and another to open the bottle of sauvignon blanc I had tucked away in my bag. I sat on a relatively open space of grass off the main walkway, with a few teenage girls talking to my left and a couple making out against the wall behind me and some weed smoke coming from behind the tree next to them. A man bicycled past and spooked a flock of pigeons that set off a domino of bird reactions.

I opened the bottle and poured myself a glass. Looking across the river, slight lines of visibility shift and sway with the people on sidewalks and in cars, but for the most part the scene is one of intense and timeless beauty. The sun breaks the clouds at just the right time and it takes me a minute to realize that I don't really know what I'm feeling. I take another account of my surroundings and smile and realize This must be joy.

Immediately the depressing realization that I am unfamiliar with joy to the point of non-recognition hits me, so I laughed and I took a sip of wine, because what else was I going to do? How else could I have responded? This is the type of situation that happens in Paris: it depresses the shit out of you by reminding you of what happiness is, that it's out there, all around you. Everywhere and nowhere all the same.

Just out of reach.

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