This scene stopped me in my tracks yesterday, as I walked past an anonymous apartment block in Paris’ 17th arrondissement. I smelled it before I saw it, as the pungent mix of burnt plastic, cloth, paper, wood and who-knows-what-else filled the air. I am not a reportage photographer and people rarely figure directly in my artistic work, but this powerful story of a family’s near tragedy cut to my heart.
The debris tells a frightening visual story of a family’s shock, fear, horror and survival. I say survival, because all my efforts to trace a report of a recent fire in that area failed, although there are numerous reports of other incidents, which gave rise to injuries and/or fatalities. So, in truth, perhaps the apartment was empty at the time of the incident. I truly hope so, even though the result is heartbreaking enough. France has just imposed a law obliging homeowners to install fire detector alarms, so I pray that this was so in this case and thank God that none were harmed.
I used to joke that cinema’s next development would be “Smellovision”, a horrific thought given the nature of many films, I would say. If you have a capacity to imagine smells, take a moment to view the different elements of the photograph and delve into your olfactory memory, although be warned, the stench of this debris was pungent.
You Are What You Own
Please excuse this pun on “you are what you eat”. Neither do I subscribe to it as a fundamental law of nature, more a potential character aberration arising from identifying oneself according to the degree of one’s possessions. That said, to see the contents of someone else’s home dumped unceremoniously into the street gives rise to feelings of unjustified voyeurism. This did not prevent my curiosity drawing me to view what the workers were dumping onto the pavement. There was a difficulty to identify some things immediately, given the jumble of sodden, burnt items, but it was sad to see the mix of general household contents, along with treasured items such as the green artist’s folders crushed under a machine. What rooted me to the spot however, were the rocking horse and the child’s fold-up stroller.
Oh The Children!
I truly had a heart-stopping moment when I saw the rocking chair and the stroller. I could not help projecting that the child’s room had not just been swamped in smoke but that the melted face of the rocking horse witnessed to the searing heat that had swept through. The fact that these were signs of a very young child, unable to protect itself in a crisis moved me to pray that nothing serious had occurred.
My search for information was therefore not just verification for a photographic blog, but a need to reassure myself that tragedy had been avoided. As is so often evident in disasters elsewhere, particularly in America, I must say, I deeply hope that this family came away from the event relieved at their survival, united in mutual support and determined to reconstruct their lives in a new beginning.
To conclude I give a sincere “shout out” to the excellent Paris Fire Department, the so-called “soldats du feu”, given that they are a unit of the Army, and to my colonel friend who is responsible for this sector.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 45 mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/180s
Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
I hope that this rather personal and non-beautiful blog does not soil your day, but rather points to the gift of life that is so easy to take for granted.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015