Friday, Sept 12th
I hate to pack but love to travel. Was up all night preparing correspondence, images for press, contracts and meeting schedules. Am really looking forward to seeing my “French Family”. I’ve grown so close to my collaborators and their families that returning to France is like coming home.
On this trip, NDR television from Hamburg Germany, BBC One television and a television crew and print journalist will separately accompany me underground into The Hidden World of WWI. Each broadcast team has agreed to leave their cell phones and GPS devices at a secure location before we venture into each site and have signed confidentiality contracts which bind them to secrecy about the locations of these places. We are devoted to protecting these places from theft or vandalism.
The trip is also about new photographic opportunities coming soon. On Tuesday of next week, I’ll be visiting an underground city with and estimated 800 names, addresses and messages to the future left by Australian WWI soldiers. Other meetings have been arranged with local scholars who may work together with me on a photographic book of soldiers names and their individual stories.
But most importantly, I can’t wait to see my French friends again.
Saturday, Sept 13th
Just touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport. It feels so good to be in France again. It is a beautiful day. I have a very good feeling about this trip.
Picked up my rental car and headed straight to the town of Vic-sur-Aisne in the Picardy region of France to attend the opening day of an exhibition organized by my close friends and collaborators of the Association Soissonnais 14/18. For over twenty five years, the Association has worked very hard to protect the underground cultural treasures of WWI – what my friend, French Army General André Bach, calls France’s underground Sistine Chapel. I’m honored 15 of my large limited-edition prints of The Hidden World of WWI are in display in the exhibition. The Soissonnais Exhibition represents my first European exhibition. The exhibition is open each weekend through December 7th.
While at the exhibit, I did my first interview with a local journalist representing a weekly publication in the area of Laon and Soisson, France.
After the doors of the exhibition closed, my friends broke out a few bottles of champagne, bottled in honor of the Soissonnais 14/18 exhibition, and we all toasted the opening day of this wonderful exhibition. I am so proud to be associated with Association Soissonnais 14/18. They did an impressive job.
After the exhibit, I drove to Coucy le Chateau to stay at the B&B owned by my dear friends Richard and Fernanda Gamba.
I’ve rented a cottage that they own, just behind the B&B, for months at a time during the winters of 2012-2014 while working on this project. Coucy le Chateau is inside the castle walls of a massive 14th century hilltop fortress. To enter, one must drive through one of the narrow openings in the castle wall.
To be around Richey and Fer is to be in constant laughter. I remember days of coming to visit with them after a long day underground. Sometimes I would be so tired that we would laugh hours on end. They are very special to me.
We celebrated the joy of seeing each other again by going to dinner at a nearby hotel.
Sunday, Sept 14th
I slept like a rock for 10 hours but awoke feeling rested with no jet lag! What a beautiful day in Coucy this morning. There’s a bit of chill in the air, like an early fall day. Today, there’s a medieval festival in town…perfect for a place that still today is inside the castle walls of this legendary mountaintop fortress dating back to the 14th century.
I spent the late morning and afternoon preparing equipment for my first workday tomorrow. I’ll be taking a television crew from NDR TV, Hamburg, Germany into a German underground city, and I’m excited! We will first stop by the exhibit in Vic-sur-Aisne and then go to an amazing German Underground City that has never before been visited by media. The program will be broadcast throughout Germany on NDR TV, which produces one of Germany’s top two cultural programs. It will also be broadcast over the Arte network.
My very good friend and collaborator Franck Viltart stopped by briefly to drop off large bags and cased of camera gear that he kindly kept in storage for me.
Next, I met with a scholar who has done amazing academic work on The Hidden World of WWI in this region. I’m hoping that he, Franck and I can collaborate on a photography book of soldiers’ names and their stories.
This evening, I met with my very close friends, Gilles and Annick Chauwin and Patrick and Christine Vallisant. We had dinner at a local Chinese buffet in Laon. It was good but I ate way too much. 🙂
Gilles, Patrick and I call ourselves the “brothers of ’53.” We were all born in 1953. Gilles, Patrick and I have spent many, many, many hours underground photographing the Hidden World of WWI. They are very special to me and I treasure the times we’ve spent together. Gilles in particular has played a vital role in this project and has worked tirelessly and unselfishly to make it happen. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude!