For the last three decades I have been able to roam quite freely, changing cities, swapping landscapes, varying the backdrop to my life, my hopes and searches. And now I find myself returning to locations which somehow seem very familiar, just as they did quite a few years ago. But places frequently change more than I realize, just as my memory is more unreliable than than I sometimes like to think. In cities the old buildings alter imperceptibly, new ones rear up alongside, the shops change their names, the restaurants recast their images, new technology has intervened everywhere, young people wear very different clothes, the old people have died and been replaced with a new generation of elderly. And as a photographer, a flâneur, my point of view has changed, what interests me is no longer the same, just as how I use a camera is different.
“So what ?” was a comment by a photographer friend while I was holding forth on this subject and maybe all this states the obvious too compellingly, but I still feel myself wondering which of all the above has changed most. Here photography offers an insight as well as a unique tool to provide a relatively objective record of past experience and a way of juxtaposing earlier impressions of a place with more recent ones. Paris is a case in point as I have visited frequently since the late 1970s and photographed it in some detail in the early 80s, 90s as well as during more recent years and the pace of change seems relatively incremental compared to other great cities. The place still confers a great sense of warmth as well as a feeling of familiarity and in general it all seems to look very much as it did. And yet when I look at the photographs after more recent visits I am struck as much by the differences as the similarities and I am led to wonder whether the place has changed more than I realized, my previous recollections were more distorted or I am now seeing things more clearly. One thing is certain, my memory may have been sullied but the buildings have definitely been cleaned.