Every Photo Tells a Story, But Some Photos Make Me Cry

Paging through a magazine about life in France, I was again struck by the way some photographs resonate with me.

They trigger something in my brain, some reflex that picks up the feel of the air and the quality of light and transports me somehow, if only for a quick second.

It must be some atavistic pull, because it only happens with photos taken in France. And it began happening long before I traveled there.

A somnolent village in the noonday sun, an early-morning street in Paris, twisted lanes in ancient cities, apple orchards in Normandy and the skyline of Old Menton: Each of these scenes and others pull me in and infuse with with something — what? — some sort of genetic memory, perhaps?

These short flashes of something are both welcome and bittersweet. Circumstances often force us to live our lives not quite as we would prefer to live them. We do our best, we try to make the right decisions. But often, we spend much of our time yearning for what might have been, had circumstances been different, had our wisdom not been such a hard-won victory.

The photo that touches me the most deeply has nothing whatsoever to do with sun-warmed red tiles or stormy skies over wheat fields painted by Monet.

It is this photo, the famous one of a man weeping as the Nazis marched into Paris in 1940. It is one that is used always when this heinous event is shown in documentaries.

This photo of this well-dressed man, perhaps a banker or civil servant, is the face of recognition, the realization of what the fall of France meant. There is more than grief on his face.

I struggle with photos of someone's agony. But this one tells a story, and one that people who are quick to criticise the France of 1940 ought to grasp. Too often they don't.

This gentleman knew what it meant and what it would mean to France and her dignity. He weeps for more than the thought of occupation, I suspect. He weeps, perhaps, for the world.

I tried to find out about him online, but was unsuccessful. Who was he? Did he survive the Occupation? Did he go on to live a peaceful life when the war ended?

I wonder. I hope for the best.

I know one thing, if I want to make myself cry I look at the photo. Perversely, sometimes I do just that: I never want to forget.

Two favorite fellow bloggers are heading to France this week, and I want to wish them bon voyage et bon chance.


Helene said…
Being so far away from my faily I can certainly relate. I am so grateful that my grandfather decided to write down his memoirs about WWII. He was taken prisonner, along with the rest of his military unit, put on a train direction Auswich and he managed to jump out, hid for 3 weeks before getting back to his camp and my grandma....the only help he received along the way was form fellow American soldiers. You can imagine why he cried of happiness when I told him I was marrying an American!
Images like these are so hard to read and make sense of because we have never been that close to war and death and it is hard to imagine.
These photos now serve a greater purpose: we will never forget and continue to pay homage.
A classic photo and an excellent personal interpretation. You can surprise me so often. Thanks once again Mimi.
Mimi said…
Helene, what a story! What a grandfather! We must preserve that bond between France and the U.S.

And we must never forget.

(Being a soldier in WWII France made a huge impact on my father. He was among the troops that freed one of the smaller camps, a subcamp of Dachtau.)

This is a fascinating photo, did you notice the woman to the left appears to be clapping but looks worried and tentative? All the people in the photo show different emotions. I suppose we do not completely understand. But I think we can imagine.

I do think I know that man, Tanna. I do think I know what he is thinking and feeling.
Fiona said…
That's a very interesting photo.
These historical images can awaken long buried memories for us, both genetically and spiritually. Flashes from the past... other lifetimes.
christine said…
Both your words and the photo (and both together) pulled at my heartstrings too. I feel the same way when I look my grandmothers photos, especially those taken aroudn the time when the Japanese invaded our shores and wreaked havoc and took lives - including that of my grandfather who they thought was American because of his color(he's Spanish). It was always heart wrenching to hear the stories and see the photos.
Mimi said…
It's an odd phenomenon and it cannot be summoned up. It does not happen with all photos, but with about 1/2 maybe.

I wonder if we will ever understand the potential of our minds...surely not in our lifetimes.

Thanks, Fi and Christine. I am sorry about your grandfather, Christine. How tragic.
Anonymous said…
What emotive stories these photos have conjured up Mimi. We have a lot to be thankful for don't we. We actually managed to visit the Maginot Line a year ago, we arrived the day after July 4th and there had been a tribute to the Americans and soldiers from other countries, so people don't forget.
Anonymous said…
Ps previous post was from me Mimi.
Mimi said…
I agree, Anne. I would like to visit the Maginot Line some day.

It all ties in with man's inhumanity to man, doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
I have seen the photo somewhere recently, would it have been in France magazine? I have been looking through mine as I think that is where I saw it.
Mimi said…
Might have been, Anne — all I know is that it touches me deeply.

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