Look closely

by Steve Brock on September 4, 2013

If I’m talking to people about contracts, legal fine print or instructions for using their new smart phone, the phrase I hear is this: “The devil is in the details.” If, on the other hand, the subject is more pleasant like unpacking the meaning of a great movie or the secret ingredient of a recipe, I’ll hear this: “God is in the details.”

Which is it?

I’ll let you decide based on the circumstance. However, when it comes to finding new ways to perceive the familiar, I’ll land squarely in the God camp. Often the best way to see something with fresh eyes is to look at the details. That’s where you often find the hidden wonder.

I’ll stick with the Arc de Triomphe for one more example. Most people look at the Arc and what do they see? A large triumphant, Roman-like victory arch. The monument itself.

La Marseillaise-overviewBut look more closely.

The Arc’s facade is covered with six sculpted reliefs. In addition, there are four main sculptures around the Arc, each monumental in size as the image above shows. This particular one, The Departure of the Volunteers by Francois Rude is more commonly known as La Marseillaise. It’s an impressive piece of work showing an allegorical representation of France as she leads her people.

Just taking time to pay attention to the sculptures themselves is one thing, but the wonder comes when you go even closer. Check out this shot of the face of the lead figure:

La Marseillaise-detail

Not a face you see every day. I might have missed this altogether and gone my way content with the views from the top of the Arc. Thankfully, in the small museum near the top they have placed this version of La Marseillaise which made me curious to see the bigger sculpture outside:

La Marseillaise-interior

It’s easy to walk right past sculptures and public art. But on this day, I was given the reminder to look closer. Pay attention. Notice the details.

I reluctantly visited the Arc de Triomphe just so my family could take a quick look. But by looking more closely at the details and later, at home, reading up on the history and background of it, I have a whole new sense of appreciation.

It’s still a big, brazen monument smack dab in the middle of Paris. But now I realize it is also something much more.

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Turn around

by Steve Brock on August 28, 2013

Want to see the familiar in a new way? Turn around.

“What?” you ask, “how can I see something if I’m looking the other way?”

You can’t.

And that’s the whole point.

View from the Arc de TriompheI’m sticking with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France for this example as well. When you climb to the top of the Arc via that wonderful spiral staircase, you get a 360 degree view of Paris.

You could see any part of Paris you wanted. But where do most people look or take pictures? One of two places.

Either they try to get a shot with the Eiffel Tower in it or, even more popular, they try to get a shot of the Avenue des Champs Elysees. The above photo is a panorama that captures both with the famous street right smack dab in the middle. To view the details of that image, click on the photo above and then again on the smaller photo that will appear.

But why look where everyone else looks? Turn around. And when you do, you might see something you didn’t expect. In my case, turning around meant going to the other side of the Arc from the Champs Elysees. And this is what I saw:

Avenue de la Grande Armee from the Arc de TriompheThe street, the Avenue de la Grande Armee, leads toward the Place de la Porte Maillot, sort of the downtown business center of the city where you see all those buildings. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen, or at least paid attention to them before. But I think they are more interesting than the Champ Elysees, at least photographically. Granted, adding the texture to the photo as I did also helps enhance this image. But I still find the subject as or more visually rewarding than the more traditional look down the Champs Elysees.

I remember once in central Taiwan ascending a famous mountain in the dark of pre-dawn morning so that I and several hundred other visitors could witness the sun rise over the clouds beneath the summit. I don’t have the photo handy (it was taken on slide film and is buried somewhere in a file), but while several hundred people gawked at the sun and took photos of its rise over the horizon, I turned the other way. I ended up with a great shot of myriad sunglass-clad faces all mesmerized and focused on the same thing. It was a much better image than the sunrise.

Sometimes what you seek isn’t in front of you but behind you in a place you’ll never find unless you do one simple thing.

Turn around.

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Looking on the inside

by Steve Brock on August 20, 2013

Arc de Triomph Panorama“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

I thought I’d throw that verse in (completely out of context, of course) just to add some biblical weight to today’s entry on seeing the old or familiar in a new way.

When we look at a familiar building or scene, we tend to do what the verse above suggests: we look at the outward appearance. But if you want to see it in a fresh manner, look beyond that.  Look inside.

That’s rather obvious with some place like, say, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. After all, most people go there as much or more for the inside than the outside.

But take someplace like the Arc de Triomphe a few miles away from Notre Dame. If it were up to me on this recent trip to France, I wouldn’t have bothered to do anything other than to drive around it. But my family wanted to see Napoleon’s famous monument and so we went.

Why didn’t I care to see it? Because I’ve already seen it – or thought I had – too many times in photos and posters, movies and magazines, even on previous trips. But in each of these instances, I saw the outside. In fact, I don’t think I even knew there was an inside until this trip. Once there this time, however, my focus shifted and in many ways, the inside became more interesting than the outside simply because I didn’t know it existed.

I started with the inside of the outside as you can see above or here:

Arc de Triomph

And of course, I had to have at least one external shot just like everyone else to provide context (and a sense of the crowds):

Arc de Triomph crowds

Not bad, but as with my original shots of the Eiffel Tower, all overly familiar.

But then I stepped inside.

First, you have to walk through a tunnel that goes under the crazy traffic overhead.

Arc de Triomph tunnel

Then you get to ascend a metal spiral staircase. You might just ignore it on your way to the top. But pausing long enough to appreciate it made all the difference:

Arc de Triomph staircase

If you click on the image a few times you can see the enlarged version and you’ll see more clearly the hands holding onto the railing in the center of the photo. I have some other inside shots I’ll share in another entry, but this one for me is memorable because it shows a very different perspective on the Arc de Triomphe.

Would you know this was taken at the Arc? You likely wouldn’t without captions. But I know and my family knows and since discovery is personal, in many ways that is all that matters. It’s our little less obvious view of a very obvious icon of Paris.

Next time you’re confronted with a place you’ve seen too many times, go deeper. Look beyond the obvious and the external. Literally and figuratively look at the heart of the place and you may be surprised at what you see.

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Looking beyond what you see

by Steve Brock August 14, 2013

As I discovered photographing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, sometimes the best way to see something is to look beyond (or in front of) what you actually see.

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Driving in Paris

by Steve Brock July 30, 2013

Driving in Paris is a lot like life. There are challenges and rewards. You don’t always end up where you planned. Most of all, it’s much better when you don’t try it alone.

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The hunger for a quest

by Steve Brock May 8, 2013

An article in the paper about the best baguette in Paris sparks the idea for a quest to find the baker for the sheer joy of having a quest.

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