Saturday, September 20, 2008

Perpignan, part two

Walking to the Campo Santo on Tuesday night to check out the projection I felt a little better due to the fact that I wasn't carrying my heavy portfolio around like I had been all day. I still needed my map, as I was headed to a part of the city where I hadn't yet ventured. The Campo Santo is a 14th Century cloistered cemetery, apparently one of the oldest in France. For the purposes of Visa, it's basically set up like an amphitheater with stadium-like seating and a gigantic projection screen. Getting into the Campo Santo is kind of an ordeal. There's a massive bottlenecking of the crowd through a kind of winding alley, with only 50 or so people allowed in at a time, every few minutes, I guess to avoid a big crush on the inside. I got in line and slowly crept my way forward with everybody else. Looking around I was trying to find familiar faces but I didn't recognize a soul. Everyone around me was speaking French, and most of the people appeared to be just regular townsfolk (Visa attendees were easily noticeable by the red wristbands). After 15 or so minutes and only 30 feet from where I had started, I overheard a man and a woman behind me who were speaking what was very clearly American English. I wasn't listening to their conversation or anything, I was just sort of bored and getting a little impatient with the slow movement. When I took out my cellphone camera to take a "Hail Mary" picture of all the people in line behind me, I caught a glimpse of the couple. It was Eugene Richards and Janine Altongy. Knowing that they had been right behind me the whole time without me knowing it caused me to be somewhat flummoxed when I went to say hello. We chatted briefly, I told them I was just stopping through Perpignan for a couple days on my way to Warsaw and they said they had just flown through Warsaw. Richards said it was his first time coming to Visa in about fifteen years. I gave him one of my little promotional booklets and the three of us walked into the Campo Santo together.

Right away, my first impression of seeing the inside of the Campto Santo was one of amazement. It was much, much larger than I had envisioned. It's said to accommodate 4,000 people. That's a pretty big audience for a photography slide show. A few minutes after I found a seat up near the top, Visa director Jean-Francois Leroy came onto the stage and addressed the crowd. After that, two professional-looking emcees came onto the stage to introduce the first piece. Then the lights were turned off and the projection began. And I have to say the entire hour that followed was utterly astonishing. It was all in French and I was unaware at that point that I could have gotten a translation headset, but it didn't matter. Just the medieval setting, the stars in the sky, the absolutely perfect weather, the sharpness of the images on the screen, the sophistication of the sequencing, the very effective choices of music, all the French being spoken. Hell, even how everybody around me was smoking cigarettes–I just sort of bathed in it and let the experience wash over my senses. At some point I just felt a sense of "Okay, this festival is worthwhile." I was no longer annoyed by the portfolio review earlier that day, I was just stoked to finally be on the same level with 4,000 other people. It didn't bother me that I basically didn't know a soul, and of course I was still pretty jazzed about running into Richards on the way in. During the slide show I thought to myself "Finally, you've arrived in Perpignan."

After the projection was over with it was time to check out the famed "Café De La Poste." I just sort of followed the crowd and found it fairly easily. That's where I finally started to recognize some faces. Unfortunately, nobody that I knew personally but that was alright. Any time I saw a person with writing or an eye-catching logo on their shirt I would strike up a conversation. I saw a man with a Brooklyn Industries shirt and we chatted about New York. Then I struck up a conversation with a woman with a Timbuk2 bag like mine. Then I saw somebody walking toward me with the "Triumph" logo on his shirt. I said to him "So you're a Triumph man are you?" To which he replied, "Absolutely." Stupidly guessing/assuming that Triumph motorcycles are made in America, I said "Are you American then?" He looked at me kind of funny, said something about Harley Davidson and by then I could easily hear his British accent. Turning the subject to photography I asked him "So if your Triumph was a camera, what kind of camera would it be?" He thought about it and offered that it would probably be an EOS 1D Mark III. I said "So, what, do work for Canon or something?" and he said "I might." And then I said "Well that's gotta be one heck of a motorcycle you ride." To which he said "So where are we going with this, photography or motorcycles?" All kidding aside, I told him I had seen the Canon Ambassadors exhibition and that I really liked it. I told him I was more or less a lifelong Canon shooter, that my workhorse lens, a 28mm f/2.8, was a lens I bought my junior year of high school in 1991. I told him how it was my first Perpignan, and that it hadn't gone too well during the day. I said, "But after tonight and all that amazing work I just saw..." nodding in the direction of the Campo Santo. Then he more or less finished my sentence, "Now you'll be coming back every year right?" That was about it for the conversation. We shook hands, he told me his name was Lance, and I gave him one of my booklets. I walked back to my hotel pretty satisfied with how the evening had gone, and with a much better outlook for the remainder of the festival.


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