A Time-Travel Photo Project

A Time-Travel Photo Project

I’m really excited to share this personal blog post. So, there are 3 parts that make the story that I want to share.

My father was an Engineer and a Manager at Kirloskar Electric, joined that company probably 50+ years ago and was in that company till his last day. He used to travel to a lot of countries on work. He was obsessed with photographs, my mom thinks he was more obsessed with pictures than I am right now. Fortunately, because of this, we have photos from most of his trips. Paris was one of them. My sister and I have grown up looking at these photos and the stories he would tell us pertaining each photo. Luckily for some reason, I remember some of them.

The second part of the story is that, in 2011 I decided to visit Paris with my wife to celebrate 1 year of running this wedding photography business. At that point of time, I was so excited that I took a Canon 5D MKII camera + 24-105mm lens, lugging that heavy camera everywhere to get the best photos. We visited some typical “must-see” places and did some off-the-track visits too.

Recently, i.e. 2017 April, my family decided to take a trip to Switzerland and included Paris in the itinerary. While making the hotel bookings and fixing dates, I realized that I’d be in Paris on my dad’s 70th birthday. And that was that, I didn’t plan anything after that. Later, a month back, I was just going through the photographs from 2011 trip to Paris, and I suddenly noticed something. When I had scanned the photos of my dad’s Paris trip long ago, I had edited each and every photo in Photoshop, so I had a pretty thorough memory of some of the photos. I immediately found a similarity of a couple of photos of places/monuments that I’ve unintentionally clicked. I immediately compared them and it was unbelievably similar. The camera angle, the composition, etc. were so accurate. That really shocked me.

I was looking at my dad’s photos clicked in 1981-82 and 30 years later, I’d accidentally retraced his steps. The water fountain, is in front of Saint Sulpice, not a very popular tourist spot actually. That’s what surprised me.

I really was on top of the world. (Note: The photos I clicked on the right are cropped to match the photo on the left)


Here’s the third part of the story. This spontaneous trip to Paris, turned out to be a very very special trip for me for Three reasons. First, I wanted to really “recreate” some of the photos. Secondly, my dad in those photos is almost the same age as I am now, so that was a crazy coincidence. As if that wasn’t enough, I would be doing this photo project on his 70th Birthday – 04 Oct 2017. That’s way too many coincidences.

I made sure I had the same focal length so that the angle of view would be the same (50mm lens). So, I told myself, I will try to do this project, I’m not going to force it on my family to change their itinerary for my project and just went with the flow. Luckily, I managed to nail some of the photos, I think, almost.

We arrived at Trocadero, the best place to see the Eiffel Tower, from across the river. I thought, I should be able to get these shots easily. But I was wrong. Majorly wrong. If you actually look at the photo, you’ll see that the Statues are at a different level, and the tourists are sitting on a small platform that’s separated from the statues.

After analyzing the photo and walking around the place to try and compose the shot, I realized, the only way to get that shot was by climbing on to the platform where the statues are, stand there and shoot from eye level. (Imagined, that’s how my dad must’ve shot 35 years ago, since it was a film camera and the only way to compose is through the viewfinder). So, I knew that I had to do it quickly because it didn’t look like it was allowed. I was laughing to myself, thinking “Man, my dad has really broken some rules”. So I climb on the platform, tried very hard to compose it exactly the same way and tried my best. And immediately jumped off because I saw some Police running towards me in the distance. My heart was beating so hard, thought, I’m screwed. Luckily they ran across in front of me, chasing some street seller selling souvenirs. Phew. Huge sigh of relief, I had already planned an explanation to why I did it, but thankfully didn’t need to use it.

Now, after looking at the photos side-by-side, I realized that the lenses have gone through so many advancements, starting from correcting barrel distortion to chromatic abberations. Hence there was a little difference. If you notice the tower in the photo on the left, it appears to be a little skewed to the left, esp. after the second level.

Then, I decided to recreate another photo where my dad was standing in front of the tower. So, I counted the tiles, and found the spot. I stood there in the same way that my dad did and gave the instructions to my father-in-law to click the photograph. While I was standing there, suddenly a strong emotion rushed through me, I couldn’t believe that he was standing at the exact same spot 35 years ago. I know it sounds illogical, but I felt a very strong connection with my dad and missed him a lot.

That night, I kept looking at the photos and felt happy that I could pull it off. Next day we visited the Palace of Versailles.

The gardens at the Palace are known for one thing, its huge, spread across acres and acres. The first photo was easy, I spotted the statue and composed it to get the same angle. If you notice, there is a wire/rope around the statue signifying that you are not supposed to cross it. Again, my dad had broken some rules. :) Now, I know what my mom meant when she said that he was obsessed with photos.

The second photo above was almost not possible. I searched the entire garden for this location but didn’t find it, and just when we were walking to the exit of the garden, I saw one section which had some boards raised to show that that place was undergoing some renovation. I thought, let me give it a shot and Voila! I found the location in the picture. I was like, Yes!!!

Many things in the garden has obviously changed over the decades, the shape, the colour, etc. but the biggest change was that, the statue of King Louis XIV has been moved very very far from the palace itself. You can see it below.

One thing that I’ve been wondering about is, there is not one photo of this grand fountain in my dad’s collection. I don’t know if he had taken it and not printed it or we’ve lost it or he just didn’t have time to check it out. Because, it’s the most grandest thing in the garden and impossible to miss. Hmmm.

There are many other photos that my dad has taken, with equal amount of risk that I’ve already mentioned. Like for example, he’s tried to take a picture of Arc De Triomphe with on-coming traffic (headed right at him), I remember him telling that, he would cross the road (Champs de – Elysee) multiple times and aim the camera at the Arch and try to quickly get a shot. So, as you would expect, most of those shots are blurred. :)

This opportunity that just showed up in my face turned out to be a very memorable experience personally. Reconnecting a son with his father in a very profound way. Just shows how important documenting life and memories is for the future generations to better understand one’s real personality. I hope to do the same for my son as well. So far so good.

Hope you enjoyed this blog. Thank you for showing interest in it.


9 Responses to A Time-Travel Photo Project
  • Piya Mukherjee

    Phalgun, This is in my opinion is such an emotional post , both for the reader and surely for the author. I am so glad you retraced your dad’s memories. The similarity in the pictures is not sheer coincidence or just the technicalities behind the shot. You have grown up looking at these pictures and hearing stories about them. It is that inherited visual memory which reflects in all your pictures. The picture of your Dad and then you standing by the Eiffel Tower gave me goosebumps. This is in real sense what you call – AWESOME !

    • Phalgun

      Thanks Piya. I had to write a blog about my experience.

  • Jerry

    Oh my God! This isn’t a blog! It’s a magical time travel where two emotionally & spiritually connected minds met and hugged! I love your dad even more now

    • Phalgun

      Thanks Jerry. Means a lot coming from a frequent blogger of life.

  • Anil

    Awesome Project, Phalgun! Very nice that you retraced your dad’s steps in Paris. I am curious to know- why didn’t you recreate all your dad’s photos, either with him in the frame (exactly like how he posed) or with you in the frame replicating his pose (like you did with the Eiffel Tower picture)?

    • Phalgun

      Hey Anil. Thanks for the comment. Two reasons I couldn’t be in the pictures, because I’m the photographer and second I’m supremely camera shy. :)

  • Chandy nath

    Thank you for your beautiful blog, it made me feel very emotional and so proud of you. These things are more than a coincidence. The fact that in 2011 you took those shots in an almost identical way is very profound. And thinking of uncle doing all those crazy things to get a shot makes me smile.
    Channi akka xx

    • Phalgun

      Thanks akka! I’m glad you read it :)

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  • Retracing My Late Father's Footsteps After 35 Years | Rich Content

    […] About the author: Phalgun Polepalli is a wedding photographer based in Bangalore, India. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here. […]

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