E-Photo
Issue #220  12/7/2015
 
Paris: A Personal Experience

By Alex Novak

I have been thinking about how to write about the Paris experience—to give those of you who were not in Paris for Paris Photo an idea of how it affected those of us there. Our experiences were mostly just a form of discomfort and could hardly be compared to those who were killed or wounded during the attacks. But many of my friends there experienced close calls, and some even seemed to suffer a form of post-traumatic stress.

Standing in the blood of a shooting victim.  (Photo courtesy and copyright 2015 Steven Evans)
Standing in the blood of a shooting victim. (Photo courtesy and copyright 2015 Steven Evans)

Talking with photographer and friend Steven Evans even two weeks after the incidents, he still sounded in pain and almost broke down in tears when he described his experience. His hotel was just 3-1/2 blocks from the events. He planned to go to a restaurant in the neighborhood that turned out to be across the street from where some of the attacks took place, but luckily chose instead to go to another restaurant that was still only two blocks away from the site of the carnage.

His voice quivered when he told me how he went back to the scene the next day (his photos illustrate this article and the other article on Paris Photo here). As he was shooting photographs, he noticed chillingly that he was standing in someone's blood. It was at this point that he started to break down over the phone. Steve is not a photojournalist, but a very talented photographer, none-the-less, but he hasn't developed that journalist shell of indifference.

Others such as Stephen Kasher also had hotels up the street from the massacres. A handful of dealers went to the soccer game that was attacked, including Irish dealer James Kerr. Too many close calls.

So how to give you a picture of the fast-moving events and how they affected us there. I chose to capture my own stream of consciousness on Facebook at the time, which I copied over below. Yes, it's a bit repetitious and even occasionally contradictory and even outright wrong in terms of some of the events. But it is an accurate capture of the fleeting and powerful feelings and thoughts that I suspect more than a few, beside myself, experienced that night and in the days that followed.

FRIDAY NIGHT, NOVEMBER 13TH

A happier moment in the restaurant with friends on Friday night, Alessandro Botteri Balli and Ernestine Ruben. (Photo by Alex Novak)
A happier moment in the restaurant with friends on Friday night, Alessandro Botteri Balli and Ernestine Ruben. (Photo by Alex Novak)

The night started off joyously. My Swiss photo dealer friend, Alessandro Botteri Balli of ArteF Galerie had graciously invited me and my friend Cecile Tailbot to have dinner with him and his gallery partner and director, Mary Anne Sanske. They had also invited one of their artists, who turned out to be an old friend, photographer Ernestine Ruben. There was another group of photo friends next to our table, including collector Stephen Stein, his fiancee Avivah Litan and Sarah Morthland--among others.

We were still in a noted restaurant in Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement when I started to get notices from friends in the U.S., such as Len Walle, who were posting increasingly frantic texts with the attack details and the body counts going up exponentially. We could start to hear the sirens that would punctuate the city all the rest of the night.

After rejecting a Metro ride as probably neither safe or even workable, we took a bus, which really didn’t get us very far or even in the right direction. Frankly none of us were thinking too sensibly at the time. When we got off, we realized that we still needed some form of transportation to actually get home. It took us nearly an hour and half after we left the restaurant of tense waiting and watching (remember there were reports of drive-by shootings), but we finally waved down a taxi driver. The driver turned out to be an accommodating Arab man who allowed us to break Parisian law and jam the five of us in his cab.

He dropped three of us, myself, Cecile and 90-year-old Ernie at the Hotel DeVille. Cecile and I walked Ernie to her hotel, and I called and left messages for her husband in NYC because her own phone had broken. Then I walked Cecile home and continued on to my own apartment that I was renting.

Here's where I will let my postings to Facebook take over:

A sign on my way home on Friday night that I posted up to Facebook that seemed to summarize the day. (Photo by Alex Novak)
A sign on my way home on Friday night that I posted up to Facebook that seemed to summarize the day. (Photo by Alex Novak)

To all my friends: yes, my daughter and I are safe. I made it back home although it was very difficult since the police have blocked so much. They've reportedly blocked the metro and closed the borders. Lohana and most of my friends are safe, although Lohana has some friends hiding out in a restaurant nearby the shootings. The reports are crazy with hundreds dead or hostage. Isis is suspected. The nearest of the seven attacks is only five minutes walk away at Les Halles (This later proved to be a false report from CNN, one of many). Police and Ambulance sirens are heard constantly all over the city tonight. It is another sad day for this lovely city of lights. What kind of madness infects these cowards? I don't have an answer to any of this tonight, or rather this morning now. If you pray, then pray.

I saw this sign on the walk back to apartment and thought it appropriately ironic (I've also posted the sign on the I Photo Central website: it read "Crazy Week"). Just a little black humor to temper the pain of the events, which are just starting to sink in along with a need for sleep, which I finally will try to indulge despite the sirens continuing in the background.

Thousands here for Paris Photo and the auctions. I suspect most are safe. The attacks were made on young Parisians out for a Friday night of entertainment. Truly sad.

I have posted to this and even noted another friend Cecile Tailbot who is ok. I can add Barry and Gretchen Singer to the list of people safe. Also photographer Ernestine Ruben, whom we got back to her hotel safely. Such a sad ending to a lovely night and week. (We posted up a number of those safe to the Facebook page that was tracking this.)

The exhibitors are still waiting for news from Paris Photo but I doubt it will go on today at least. I will post on my page when I know more. I am in touch with committee members and exhibitors on this.

It's definitively not happening tomorrow.

SATURDAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 14TH

Cars and a few people back on the streets here in the Marais, as things come back a bit in this terrorized city. A little concerned about what I will do for food. Still haven't heard back on a few people, including my friend Pascale, whom I rent the apartment from.

Pascale is ok. She just texted me back. You are supposed to stay inside, so I doubt the auction and Paris Photo will go on--at least for today. I will post when I find out for sure.

Still awaiting word from Paris Photo and Christie's whether or not their events will go on today or even tomorrow. Will post when I find out. Small Sunday fair on 8 rue Valois has not been canceled yet, but that could change. I feel a bit isolated here by myself, but between texts, emails, Facebook and phone, I have been in touch with hundreds of people here. So far no friends reported hurt or injured.

All museums and other public buildings have been closed. So are the outdoor markets.

It is strange but not terrifying, more just concern about people. Some non-Facebook friends who are ok include Barry and Gretchen Singer and the James Hyman Gallery people. Still no word from Paris Photo people on the fair today. I think they may be as shell shocked today as the rest of us.

Some report that the fair is closed, but no official word yet from the fair management to exhibitors. Strange and a bit disturbing actually.

Mourning the victims at Le Carillon. (Photo courtesy and copyright 2015 Steven Evans)
Mourning the victims at Le Carillon. (Photo courtesy and copyright 2015 Steven Evans)

SATURDAY AFTERNOON, NOVEMBER 14TH

I am in a cafe in the Marais and young French people are laughing and seem to having a good time. They are so resilient! I do know that it hit my daughter hard since most weekends she would be at one of those venues where the shootings occurred. She is still worried about many of her friends.

Just got word that Christie's auction today has been cancelled. No word yet when it will rescheduled. No word about Paris Photo yet. The small fair has not been canceled yet. The Paviots have not yet heard from Paris Photo, but say stay home until we hear. I'm here at the apartment alone, but been in touch with hundreds of people.

Just left photographer Ernie Ruben in good hands for dinner. She has an upgraded seat because of all the cancellations. People are out and about and coping, but the stress levels are clearly there.

Paris Photo officially closed over Facebook. But no email notifications yet to dealers. As I mentioned earlier, Christie's auction today had been postponed indefinitely. Thomas Walther just called me from Switzerland where he is recovering nicely from pneumonia. Metro still apparently closed. Some restaurants open.

More info just now. Show is only open to exhibitors. Paviots just texted me that they just got this news.

Really sad stuff. My daughter is afraid that some of her friends may be among those hurt. Some were hiding in restaurants nearby the carnage. Some she hasn't heard from yet.

Some exhibitors are in the Paris Photo show, but I believe it will not be open to the public today. Michael Smith and his wife Paula report that they are ok and that at least some part of the Metro is working.

Foto Fever opened apparently today but some question the legality.

As I posted above, Paris Photo has closed and will not reopen. Dealers are already packing up today and will be tomorrow.

I have heard that all cultural events will be cancelled until Thursday. Exhibitors at Paris Photo say they won't know until 4 pm if the show will reopen tomorrow or not, but I think not, given the new government pronouncement.

Several dealers have already packed up from Paris Photo according to my dealer sources. Still no confirmation officially but with other closings I am fairly sure that PP won't open tomorrow.

As I posted up on my page earlier above, Paris Photo will not reopen to the public again this year.

SATURDAY EVENING, NOVEMBER 14TH

I don't want people to panic but there are some important sources warning that more attacks may come tonight. Apparently the security forces knew about the possible attacks. They blocked at the Stadium, which could have been more disastrous than it was. Museums (now closed to at least Thursday) were under extra security this past week.

They were personal conversations with several top local politicians with a person who I have been talking with. Very credible sources, but I don't think naming them is fair. I am across from a Pompier (fire) station. One of their units just left here with flashing lights. One source was a top politician in the opposition and one was the mayor of one of Paris' arrondissements.

By the way, some accounts have been incorrect. I got one piece of info that there was an attack nearer me in Les Halles, which I got from CNN. That was incorrect. They may be the worst news organization in the business, perhaps worse than even Fox.

Neither Paris Photo nor the small vintage photo fair will be held tomorrow. All cancelled. Finally confirmed.

Except for idiot American Airlines, flights haven't been delayed. I go out on Air France Tuesday. My friend photographer Ernie Ruben goes out tomorrow morning. She even got an upgraded seat because of cancellations.

It is amazing how resilient the young French are. I just came back from one of my favorite cafes nearby. The French 20- and 30-somethings were laughing and enjoying themselves already. Europeans rarely seem to take themselves as seriously as Americans do. My daughter, however, is very worried about her friends. She and they usually went to these venues on the weekend where so much carnage took place. So it is a bit schizophrenic here. There is a tenseness to things like a veneer over this madness. All kinds of irony here, from the Arabic taxi driver who was very kind to pick us up that terrible night to only American Airlines cancelling flights. Wherever you are, give a hug to someone near. The world needs a lot more love and balance, and lot less hatred, bigotry and bravado.

(On Sunday I went to the only photo auction in Paris that weekend after seeing other dealer friends. Later had dinner with my daughter and her mother. Had coffee with my daughter the night before I left. It was good to see her and hug her once more.)

TUESDAY MORNING AND AFTERNOON, NOVEMBER 17TH

On my way home today, finally, leaving this wonderful city with a bitter sweetness. As fellow AIPAD dealer Lee Marks says, we all need to make an effort to come to this city to support it with more than flags on profile pages, or idiot calls to nuke Isis or send hundreds of thousands of troops like Bush did to Iraq, which actually created this mess. Yes, we need to be firm in the face of this threat but such extreme calls are bluster and will only exacerbate the problems. I am proud of a president who is strong but careful in his approach. Knee jerk responses are what these crazies want to convert over many more desperate and angry youth. We must reach them with a better message than ISIS. And, no, this is not a naive approach. In my opinion, it is the only one that will work in today's complex world.

At Paris CDR airport. Security checks fairly normal and lines even shorter that normal. Bumped into Larry and Lorraine Miller at check in. They are on the same flight to Newark.

Back from Paris. Car service driving me back to Chalfont now. Glad to be back.