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Traveling Light
The Seattle Times
Traveling Light
Paris, France Provence, France Teotitlan del Valle, Mexico San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Paris, France

On a cool October afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, I shuffle through layers of ochre-colored fall leaves, admiring the empty green chairs positioned as if still engaged in the conversations of their occupants. A lovely photograph. I pull my tripod out of its zippered shoulder bag and begin to set up my pinhole camera.

I glance at the sky, which is a wintry pre-dusk gray, and estimate a 10-minute exposure. I insert a sheet of 4x5 Polaroid film into the back of the camera, set the timer on my watch and begin the wait.

As I stand there, people swaddled for a winter stroll glance at this odd-looking lensless box. Some step closer to ask what I am doing. I explain in my juvenile French about the pinhole camera and how it works. I show them a Polaroid. Tres bien!

Later, a uniformed gendarme steps up and talks to me. He gestures toward my tripod and indicates that it is time to go.

Oh yes, I say. I know the park closes in 30 minutes. I will leave by then.

No, he says. I need permission to use a tripod. But the office is closed and, sadly, I will be leaving Paris in the morning.

I glance longingly down the row of barren trees where I had just set up my camera, the light sifting delicately onto a pair of chairs.

Pinhole photography can be like a demanding child whose needs seem to come before anyone else's. After film is exposed and schlepped back to the hotel in water-filled plastic bags, I spend evenings on my knees in the bathroom. Here I carefully tend to the processing and cleaning of the big Polaroid negatives, trying to avoid the nicks and scratches that sometimes occur in spite of my best efforts. After the washing is done, I hang the negatives on a clothesline strung from shower to door. The negatives look like black-and-white laundry dripping water on the floor. My husband and I can finally go out to dinner.

Bien, I nod. But I know that even if I were to come back with a permission slip, it is never possible to find the same magic twice.

Slowly, very slowly, I pack my notes and my water-filled baggies of negatives from the day's photographs, hoping my pace will allow for the completion of the 12-minute exposure already under way. I can see out of the corner of my eye that the gendarme is watching.

Finally, I close the pinhole and pull out the Polaroid film, hoping the image will be okay. A minute later, I carefully slide the fragile negative into a plastic bag, sealing it tight. I smile at the gendarme and leave, just as the park closes for the night.

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All photos used in Traveling Light may not be used without
expressed written consent from Rosanne Olson

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