‘A Woman of Elegance’

A French photographer tells Brandon Hoops the story behind one of her favorite pictures from Paris.

By / April 2012

Instead of keeping company with laudatory tourists and noisy teenagers in the courtyard surrounding the Louvre Pyramid, I decide to go for a walk. I don’t have a map. Not a problem. I have my camera, and I let it be my guide to pass the 30 minutes waiting for my friend who is late for our lunch appointment.

It is hard to get frustrated when you’re postponed in Paris in the summer. The city still holds the fascination it did when I was 8 years old and my dad took me to the top of the Eiffel Tower for my birthday and then to Montmartre for an artist to draw my portrait.

I’m like a young lover. There is no such thing as too close or too much. Something new always seems to deepen my affection.

On this day, I see a small gallery choose to see what’s there. It’s an antonym to the place I had just left, no people and little clamor. I make a photo of high-heeled shoes resting on glass plates through the window of a fancy shoe shop.

Then I notice some pretty tiles, black and white like a life-sized checkerboard, and think it could make for an interesting perspective. I try one picture and am ready to move on when a lady starts walking towards me. So I kneel to the ground and frame another shot, this time with my camera pointing to the floor. I move quickly and discretely because I don’t want the woman to see me taking a picture of her shoes.

Agnes Samour takes pictures using film and vintage cameras, a preference handed down from her father.

In less than a minute she is gone. She is in a hurry. Maybe she is late. Maybe she has a short lunch break. I don’t know her story, but I think she represents France as well. She is a woman of elegance in a city known for its style and luxury.

I’m always thinking about making photos. I rarely leave without my camera. I don’t want to have a moment where I go, “Shit, that would have been a good photo,” because, as is often the case, the best photos are unexpected and unplanned.

Photography is still fairly new for me. I am still learning and evolving as a photographer, and I am nowhere near my musical experience. I could have been a pianist. I studied music for more than 15 years but felt carrying a camera around to travel the world would be easier than my piano. I miss music a lot. I think about the first time I was able to play a Chopin nocturne by heart — the emotions, the freedom, the release — I focused on the music and nothing else mattered.

That said, I think the piano and photography are similar in many ways, the most poignant connection being the chance to express myself and escape the “real world” by attempting to create something unique with my hands on the plastic shutter button rather than the ivory keys.

I try to be curious as much as I am creative. My interest in traveling also comes from my childhood, as I always wanted to be like Tintin in search of adventure.

Born in France, I flew away from my country a decade ago and have since lived in the West Indies, Ireland, and Australia. My years in Australia have been the best in my life so far. Sydney is a very easy place to live. The people are easy going and friendly. The weather is wonderful. I live close to the water, and, with so many nice beaches, it’s hard not to go every day.

I am often asked, where is home, and though I have been in Sydney on and off for quite some time, I am still not sure I can call it home. My yearly visits to France, and, in particular, Paris, have revealed a divide in my heart. I am torn between two countries and the distance has really become more and more challenging.

Wherever I end up, I am grateful to have my camera close by my side. All I have to do it pick it up to feel connected with my roots and become less homesick.

 

— as told to Brandon Hoops

 

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