The photograph Afternoon was taken on a quintessential Parisian Sunday afternoon, where it is common to see people outdoors apparently ‘doing nothing’, though actually actively relaxing and socializing. On these typical afternoons, friends and family walk, read, and lounge around in picturesque public spaces. My friends and I were excited to engage in such an effortless activity by the Seine river; our whole study abroad experience was ahead of us. I of course had brought my camera, and the day was beautifully lit.
The group of people in the photograph struck me for multiple reasons, though when I took the picture these had not yet been resolved consciously. The first thing I registered was the visually compelling layout of objects (even their own figures), which they had curated most likely without much thought. What inspired me the most about the scene I stumbled upon was the strong barrier between them and me, on a cultural and circumstantial level; the products laid out before them were not yet familiar to me, and their gestures and concerns were foreign to me, not to mention who they even were! Recalling the moment, I did spend quite some time framing this photo, using a 35mm canon film camera, which shoots in color. As the seconds passed, I believe I became more excited and determined to materialize not just what I was witnessing with my eyes, but the entire moment, the ambiance, the concept of a Sunday afternoon in Paris. Taking this picture from a bird’s eye view allowed me to spend more time than usual figuring out the composition, as I was surely out of their view. Also related to the time factor is the fact that I was shooting in film, and would neither be able to check the shot after snapping it, nor be shooting a second picture of the same thing (this was a rule of mine I was pretty strict about back then). Once I got the film developed, I was astonished at the sharpness, the broad range of values, and the colors, these often split into light and dark by the intense afternoon sun. I had also flattened a scene which in reality was a moving scene with live figures.
Memories of time and place are vividly engrained in my mind, and seeing this picture from time to time, I recall not only aspects of that one day—the sun, the ice cream we all bought, the warm stone people sat on for hours—but of a more complete experience of France. This picture has, for me, two stories: there is the story of my life on that day, the events that lead to this moment where they caught my eye from my elevated position, and then there is their own story, which is fascinating in its unanswered questions. Who are they all, and why are they together? Why the seemingly large age differences? What brought them to the Seine today? What languages do they speak? For me, this photo evokes mystery, awe, and contemplation, as do most photographs of people.
Megan Carrera-Raleigh ’18 is a 22-year-old student at Smith College, a middle child, and a cat lover. She has studied French, Film, Art and Psychology while at Smith, and is prepared to pursue painting in the near future. She was born in Panama City, Panama, to parents from Panama and New Hampshire, USA. As a French speaker, she was invested in deepening her understanding of the language itself through experiences abroad, in France. Paris is where she took the photograph “Afternoon”.by