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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

The Story Behind the Stories, (Part Two)

I was nearly winded escaping from my new fiancée and her parents in the train station outside of Paris. I managed to find the first subway platform and darted down the stairs, undetected by my prospective in-laws. (Details of that adventure here:

It seems as if I spent that entire semester abroad being chased by people: two burly security guards at a secretive French government train depot I entered illegally, a caretaker at the Pére Lachaise Cemetery outside of Paris, a husband and wife running a small curios stand at the Porte de Clignancourt open market, a classmate of mine who made the trip up from Switzerland trying to woo me. I probably don’t need to continue. I coulda given OJ Simpson a run for his money during those Hertz commercials he filmed around the same time…

So I’m dragging my knapsack, camera bag, and totally exhausted body onto the first open subway car heading to downtown Paris. It’s been 20 hours since I’ve had anything to eat or drink. I desperately needed a shower and a bed. Oh shit, that reminded me of the 40ish something woman dressed all in black with bright red lipstick who chased me into the men’s shower room at the train station in Venice on my way down to Florence. She was scary – I wasn’t one to run from a good time in those days, but she had that black widow air to her, and I trusted my instincts this time.

I hopped off at the Champs Élysées station and walked up the stairs. I looked to my right and I spy a movie theater featuring “Woodstock”. I had the opportunity to attend the event in upstate New York but passed at the last minute for exceedingly dumb reasons. After checking my watch and seeing I had a good half hour before the feature began I looked to my left and saw the bench with the man and woman diametrically opposed. As nonchalantly as I could I snuck over to the bench and sat down. Both were in their own separate worlds at that instant – and I desperately wanted that moment on film. Like a soldier probing the ground in front of him for booby traps or land mines, I reached inside my camera bag and gingerly removed my Nikon.

At Syracuse University I had pioneered several photo techniques, not the least of which was using an extreme wide-angle lens as a ‘normal’ lens. A 50mm lens is considered normal for a 35mm camera, but I found little use for one. It has about a 40 degree field of coverage, while the 20mm spans 84 degrees. Care must be taken to keep the camera perpendicular to the subject – not pointing it up or down which would distort the verticals in the image and render the photo useless as far as I was concerned. We also had to take great care not to get too close to the subject matter. This would misrepresent the subject / background relationship tremendously. However, when used with care, it added a dynamic to the picture unattainable in any other manner.

I was only four feet from the couple when I snapped the shutter in the haze of a lightly overcast sky. The top of the bench divides the image into two distinct worlds, ones that could never meet. I immediately knew I had something special, and it served as a vivid punctuation to commence my six weeks in Paris. Watching ‘Woodstock” after capturing this moment was such a trivial pursuit that the only thing that stuck with me was the drop-dead-gorgeous young lady selling popcorn to patrons at their seats. Unfortunately, she chose not to chase me, something I always regretted.

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