We met Jon Nicholls, photography teacher at Thomas Tallis School and colleague of Mr Francis, who was also accompanying us to Paris. We then had our first chance to explore - within the station, experimenting with street style documentary photography. I got busy photographing the impressive 19th century roof, experimenting with its fantastic vanishing point and symmetry. At 12:24pm we were on our way to France.
Arriving at Gare du Nord station was amazing; the smell of roasting chestnuts filled our noses as we walked through security.
Our hotel was lovely, large and full of curious features...
We caught the metro to the Montparnasse Tower, a 56-storey skyscraper located directly in line with the Eiffel Tower. After a 39 second elevator journey we were at the top. The view was spectacular!
We then headed to the 9th district of Paris and the famous Bouillon Chartier Restaurant. We queued for three quarters of an hour, but the striking interior was worth the wait. Our food came out quickly and it did not disappoint.
And then a fellow student, Harvey, received a notification that four people had been killed in an explosion in Paris. Within minutes multiple updates were feeding through my phone.
I headed to Mr Francis’ table where I first tried to deliver the news but he told me not to worry too much but to settle our bill. However, it wasn’t long before everyone was fully aware of the situation. It seemed that every five minutes a new location was being hit.
Time went by very slowly whilst we waited for the news of further attacks to settle. Eventually it was decided for us to leave and walk back to the hotel. And that is when my heart sunk, as I suspect, did everyone else’s. The walk was nerve wracking, the faint noise of police sirens no longer reassuring. The streets were mostly empty and silent. We eventually made it to the top of a hill with the hotel in sight. We walked through the doors and the relief was like nothing ever experienced. Sleep that night was difficult because of the constant messages and news feeds coming through.
In the morning Paris was still in lockdown and the borders had been tightened. Breakfast was a time where we all came together and discussed how (little) we’d slept. At 10:30am we headed to the rooftop terrace which had a 360 degree view of Paris, arguably better than that from the Montparnasse tower the night before. The streets were silent; Paris was in mourning.
I very much enjoyed these tasks. Although contained in our hotel, we discovered new corners, seeking out traces of stories within the building. Through photography we were able to explore simple, everyday objects in new ways, adding interest and creating intrigue.
Travelling to the Gare du Nord was another step closer to home. We were met by armed police, which was admittedly reassuring. It was odd that only two days prior we came through the terminal with excitement. I was now leaving in fear.
We slowly progressed through security and eventually boarded the train. Coming out of the euro tunnel was probably one of the happiest experiences I’d ever had. I’d never been so happy to see Dartford docks. It was the great feeling of being home.
At Waterloo I took the chance to photograph people running for their trains, zooming out with my lens with a slow shutter speed to blur the mackground yet keep the subject relatively sharp. I think I took more photographs in London then I did in Paris. When we eventually reached Bournemouth a welcome party was waiting for us. This was fantastic and we all felt so relieved to return.
Monday morning at school felt very surreal, being in the 6th form centre didn’t feel right. Many of the group were understandably still nervous. The whole experience has brought us together and will stick with us forever. However, it did also provide insights into how easy things can be at home. The fear we experienced for only two or three days is, tragically, a daily experience for too many in other parts of the world.
By Gabriel Bush, Year 12, St Peter's School