“Say Cheese!”… or Actually, Don’t

Hy Khong
October 14, 2014

I’ve never been a fan of taking posed photos. It’s all very formulaic: stand with your back straight, shoulders back, turn to your “good skinny-arm side,” big smile, but not too big. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard.

We’ve all seen these – they dominate our Facebook newsfeed. Posed in front of a fountain or a cathedral. Posed with a Starbucks, posed with tongue out and a “very Pinterest-worthy” lunch.

My problem with this kind of documentation is that it lacks candid charm – unadulterated laughter, furrowing of the eyebrows when lost in thought, cigarette smoke twisting and unfurling in the wind. Quiet and small or tremendous and grand, moments like these are how our daily lives are composed. This is how we experience the world around us, little things that excite and awaken our senses.

I just finished my second week of classes and life has taken to the rhythm of student schedules. Going about the ordinary processes of the day – drinking my morning espresso, riding the tram – has turned out to be what I cherish the most. There’s regularity in the quotidian grind, but I feel anchored and connected to this city through it; I don’t feel like I’m just visiting, I feel immersed in the daily ebb and flow of Nantais life.

And it’s incredibly enchanting. I sip my coffee as the rouge gorge pecks at breadcrumbs on patio table every morning; wind gently rustles the marigolds on the windowsills outside the IES Abroad Center’s library; the streetlights reflect and shimmer brightly through the ripples of l’Erdre at night as I, a bit lost, navigate my way home.

Sure, these are ordinary sights, but for a fleeting moment they catch our eye – they’re the little things that, when photographed, will depict exactly what life was like here. I’m not a tourist, I’m not just searching for postcard-material landmarks; I’m searching for ways my city and I connect more intimately: how the mugs at my favorite café fit my hands perfectly, how the sunlight cuts through the thick fog in the early mornings, casting a golden glow on the ivy-covered walls and emanating a sense of promise for the day, which I happily soak up.

Maybe I’m overly sentimental, or perhaps too critical. But after the month I’ve been living here, I believe, more firmly now than ever, that you can’t rigidly plan out your day, nor your photos. My most pleasant experiences have come unexpectedly, and this is how I’ve come to love Nantes, at moments when I’m off my guard. I want my experience to be unfiltered and liberating, so my photos should be too – I can’t fit the magnitude of life into carefully arranged and pre-meditated Instagram frames. 

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Hy Khong

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I&#39;m a third-year student at Bowdoin College studying Visual Arts and dabbling in anything else that seems interesting. Always carrying around a camera, I&#39;m one to believe that even the smallest moments are ones we should preserve. I&#39;ve been to France before, but I was unfortunately too naïve and young to appreciate it. I&#39;m hoping this time I&#39;ll be able to thoroughly experience the Nantais way of life, and have the musings and photos to share with you all along the way.</span></p>

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