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Monthly Spotlight

Spotlight on A View From The Top...

Mark Roden

A View From the Top, Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, #2.

  Paris.  From its iconic structures to the romanticism depicted and enhanced in countless novels, movies and photographs throughout time, it continues to lure us in with its magic.  This month's spotlight is on one photograph that I took during my first, rather brief, visit to the city.

  First, let me say that Paris was simply a layover between Aberdeen and Malaga, during which I was to spend approximately 40 minutes or so clambering off of one airplane and onto another.  Simple, yes?  Actually no, not so simple.  This post could be titled "How I ended up in Paris by accident".  You see, Thistle Airport is small, and considering the oil and gas industry which is very much alive and well in the city of Aberdeen, country of Scotland it always amazed me that the airport was not larger (It has since grown a bit).  At the time there were five gates, with what I counted at 6AM as about 20 or so total employees actively engaged in getting people to and fro.  My trip to Aberdeen had gone well, and I had decided to visit a friend and spend the weekend in Spain before I returned home.  The flight itself should have been unremarkable; should have been something to forget in thirty minutes.  Should have, but wasn't.

  About fifteen minutes after boarding, the usual noises, bumps, bangs, whistles, beeps and gongs were underway, signaling the impending departure of yet another gas-guzzling flight machine.  It all seemed so normal; I was busy with nothing, imagining the upcoming weekend, and all the photographs that I was soon to be taking along the southern coast of Spain.  Suddenly the captain's voice came across the intercom with the following message:  "This is the captain speaking...we are going to be delayed for a few minutes..."  The rest of the message I cannot remember word for word, but the gist of it was that the plane, this huge achievement of mankind enabling him to fly like an eagle, had been struck by one of the "motorized coat-racks" buzzing around the plane in order to get all of our bags into the underbelly.  This was not good.  To make an incredibly long story extremely short, another 45 minutes and another message about yet another delay.  Another hour, and a message that we would finally be departing the plane.  Another hour or so getting rerouted to another flight, boarding, taking off and finally in the air.  This put me on the ground in Paris at around 10:30AM local time, just about ten minutes AFTER my connection took off.  What to do?

  From here, a long wait only to find out that the next flight outbound for Malaga was at 830PM!  At first I was livid, how could Air France treat me this way?  Why was I forced to spend an entire day in Paris when all I wanted to do was get to Malaga?  Wait...an entire...day...in PARIS.  OK, no blood, no foul.  My next question..."where's the bus?"

 

  The next thing I know, I'm standing in front of l'Arc de Triomphe.  This, I can tell you, is not so bad.  The walk from the bus stop to the monument had taken a few minutes, and as I decompressed from the realities of flight delays I began to relish the fact that, at least for the next few hours, I was in Paris.  No agenda, no restrictions, just anything goes.  And so I headed for the Arc, knowing that I was going to find some nice photographic subjects around there.  When I arrived on the scene, the first thing that I noticed was that the Eiffel Tower was encased in water vapor.  I also noticed that the monument was sitting at the center of the worlds largest "roond-aboot" (don't forget, I'd been in Scotland for three weeks), and at first glance that it seemed inaccessible.  After a bit of exploration I finally discovered how to actually get to it, I mean, other than running across twelve lanes of incredibly random, chaotic and seemingly endless traffic!  One hundred and seventy eight steps later, I found myself at the top.  This is a view that you could never forget, even on a cloudy, overcast and fairly dreary day, it was magnificent.  I immediately began to survey the scene and tried to take it all in.  I stood in place for probably ten minutes before I started photographing.  I took a few shots here and there of details, and then decided that I wanted to do a panorama.  It was difficult to decide how to frame it, because there is just so much to look at.  Of course, the Eiffel Tower must be in there somewhere.  But to the left?  To the right?  Close up?  How wide should the angle be?  I decided that although the tower is the most iconic vision in the photo, the streets below would become the prominent features based on how much real estate they took up in the viewfinder.  So, in effect this made most of the framing issues for me much easier.  After deciding on how many streets should be included, I began shooting the individual frames (I believe there were eleven total) that made up the entire photograph.  Putting these together would come later; at that moment I was only concerned with getting the content onto my camera card with as much consistency and sharpness as possible.

 

  Weeks after the trip was done, and I was back home and comfortable in my tiny apartment, I began working on the images.  I found many surprises, as the time I spent there had been so brief that many of the shots I had totally forgotten about.  This was not one of them; this one was one of the first worked on as well as one of the most anticipated.  To me, it defined everything that Paris was about; it was brooding due to the weather.  The tower, although not prominent, was in the shot as a reminder that you are looking into Paris.  It contained the elements of architecture which can be seen in many of the closer buildings.  People can be seen walking alongside the morning traffic buzzing down the streets beside them.  The atmosphere of Paris in the morning is unmistakable, and this from several stories above street elevation!  One thing that you can't see is what it sounded like.  You could hear everything from up there; cars, buses, motorcycles, and people talking and walking around the top.  I have many shots from this trip of the Eiffel Tower, I think this goes without saying as it was my first trip there, but even after twenty trips I would still be shooting it.  This shot was a reward for taking the bus instead of lounging at the airport for eight hours (who does that anyway?)  It was a reward for having the presence of mind to be adaptable in the face of adversity.  It was a reward for those 178 steps to get to the top, rather than taking the elevator (which I found out about only after walking...) Would I still have done it the same way?  You bet! 

 

  And so, there you have it, the "Monthly" Spotlight for September.