Comfort zone

I've been battling anxiety for two years now (well, many years actually, but the last two have been tough). A few months ago, after a period of unbearable distress, I was about to do a 'bad thing' when I said to myself: "OK, life sucks, but what about this? Or you quit now, or you try to do something you always wanted to do but never did. There will always be time later to make a radical decision."

I arbitrarily chose a project: to become bilingual in English, and to go to Ireland (both ideas were compatible and had been in my mind for so many years). A few weeks later the project evolved into travelling the British Isles by train and boat for 3 months. For many reasons (including time to spare enough money), I scheluded the trip for 2024.

Then something started to change in my daily life. This project somehow carried me along. I decided to open an account on a social media to practice my English before travelling. It turned out that I also started sharing my pictures and old texts that I had translated into English. In a few days, I had followers, nice exchanges and, quite unexpectedly, dozens of shares and likes. I felt grateful to have rediscovered my love of photography and writing. Playing with English words had awakened a childlike joy tinged with a thirst for discovery.

One person in particular supported me and gave me precious guidance on how to improve my photos. And advised me to keep "stepping out of my comfort zone". I mean, since the 2020 lockdown, I hardly ever leave my house. I have even got into the habit of having my groceries delivered. And the vicious circle began: I became almost socially phobic.

So two days ago I set myself a first challenge: to go to an abandoned building that I had wanted to photograph ever since I moved to the city, without ever having done so. The low light was perfect, I entered the building carefully, and I took a few pictures while jumping every now and then at strange noises. It's true that I'm anxious, but I have to admit that it's not the kind of place where it's advisable to go alone if you're a woman. Anyway, I went home with a big serene smile on my face. I don't think these pictures are memorable, but I don't care. They mean something to me.

Today, even when I was tired, encouraged by my best friend on the phone who was about to go out for a walk, I thought "Move! It will do you good to get out again!". So I decided to go to a former cemetery of a psychiatric asylum I know. The kind of place where you know you are going to get strange beautiful images. No sooner had I set foot on the pavement than a huge gust of cold wind chilled my bones. I immediately changed my mind! The cemetery was not a brilliant idea indeed. I walked slowly through the streets without really knowing where to go, and finally entered a bar I know with an idea...

This is a very cosy place, tastefully decorated, and often filled with customers sitting in velvet armchairs. Dominique owns this bar. He opened it about a week before the first lockdown. He miraculously managed to stay afloat and reopened as soon as it was safe to do so.

I have known him for a few years. He's not really a friend. Just the sort of person you know and chat to from time to time. I went there two weeks ago and I had felt a very strong desire to take a picture of him. I find him very photogenic with his beard, rings and tattoos. But I didn't dare to ask him. I just stole a small photo.

So this time, encouraged by the inner voice of the muse who told me to "get out of my comfort zone", I walked into the bar and ask him directly if he would mind if I took pictures of him. He seemed to be pleased, hesitated a little bit, and said: "OK but take them while I'm working. I have a crowd. And try to make me forget you". I ordered a black tea and sat at the back of the room, waiting for the right moment.

I took a lot of pictures, because I felt I had to succeed and give him good shots.

And of course, I couldn't help myself from taking pictures of some other people, including Dominique's son.

Two people came and sat down right next to me. So I could hear them talking in English. You can imagine how that caught my attention. I looked at them, and the man immediately spoke to me. He introduced them: she was an American woman trying to practice her French, and he was a French English teacher. I explained her my project, we laughed, and I left them to talk while I went back to take photos.

After a while, I saw three people sitting at the next table. Dominique seemed to know them very well, so I asked him: "Could you ask them if they would agree to be photographed?". To my surprise, they accepted immediately with big smiles. I thought they were so beautiful... I photographed them and thanked them very much.

I know my Lumix is not good in low light, but these portraits are my first 'consenting strangers' without the help of a press card, so they are precious to me.

I had spent almost two hours there, and taken about 150 photos, but I wanted more. I asked Dominique to sit down and pick up a guitar. I had this composition in my mind from the beginning, because of the first photo I had stolen before. He agreed and started to play while I took my last photos of him.

I was about to leave when the American lady gave me a sign. She said: "You seem to have a good spirit. Here's my card. I would like to spend some time with you to practice my French and help you to practice your English".

There are days like that when we tell to ourselves that we did well to force ourselves a little...

Wherever you are, thank you my muse