I’ve visited Notre Dame Cathedral three times. The first time I was about 15 years old, and living in a children’s home. We’d been taken on holiday as a group and spent a week in a children’s home in France, a few days at a campsite, and a few days skiing in Switzerland. I remember taking photos of Notre Dame at that time, but sadly I no longer have them.
Shots from my second visit to Notre Dame, the exterior:
My second time at Notre Dame was May 2017 on a trip to Paris with my partner, and the third time was October 2017 when we returned for a short trip with our teenage boys. We had decided there were places in Paris that were essential for them to see, and Notre Dame was one of them.
Shots from my second visit to Notre Dame, the interior;
On both of my recent visits, Notre Dame had a large queue outside which can be off-putting, but it moved quickly. It’s a place of worship; quietness was encouraged and I think the dark interior helped to enforce that at a subliminal level. The crowd moved anti-clockwise around the perimeter, and many people then paused to light candles or stopped at the end of their visit to pray. To create the sense of a place of worship while simultaneously allowing visitors of all faiths and none to enjoy the beauty of the interior was intelligently done. Next time I am in Paris I will certainly miss visiting it while the renovations are completed, but I look forward to seeing it rebuilt.
From my third visit to Notre Dame, the exterior;
I’m not religious, but I understand the significance Notre Dame has for the religious and non-religious in France. When I saw the news that Notre Dame was on fire my heart went out to the people of France. It is such a significant symbol, for a Londoner it would be like seeing Big Ben go up in flames. After the recent fire, I imagine it will be impossible to visit the cathedral for some time, but I would certainly recommend visiting the area and supporting the local cafes and shopkeepers; in my experience they were friendly and exceptionally patient with my very poor French.
From my third visit, the interior. I was sharing my camera with my children so some of these are taken on an iPhone SE;
Earlier this year I handmade a book of photographs, called ‘Languages of Light’. It’s an accordion book to allow the entire book to be folded out as a display. It is bound in orange-red book-cloth and held shut with a band made of three pieces of paper that represent the Christian trinity.
In Languages of Light I wanted to question and challenge the religious understanding about the role of women in Christianity. It contained scriptural text paired with photographs from Notre Dame, Salisbury Cathedral and from a local church – St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth. (Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, is buried there).
Now that Notre Dame has suffered such destruction, the book takes on a new significance for me, as do the photographs I had wanted to use but couldn’t in the original context; in total I have nearly 300 images to choose from. I think I might create a book of photographs from Notre Dame without text and cover it in a silk book-cloth. It takes some time for me to do this, but now it feels like capturing a part of history and so I feel it’s important to create a physical record that will last.
(Tech info in case you’re interested: these were shot on an Olympus EM10 II (I think, but my son is borrowing it at the moment so I can’t check) and an iPhone SE)