Tonight I went out for a walk and saw Notre Dame burn. You don’t experience something like that and not be changed by it. When I first saw the smoke coming from a church, I had to get my bearings. Was it really Notre Dame? I checked my Maps app and determined that it was. Initially the fire seemed contained to the area of the single spire with the scaffolding surrounding it. Before long, though, the fire engulfed the entire church. You could see it crawling along the roofline. You just knew at some point that single spire was going to succumb. When it collapsed, there were gasps from the crowd. I saw it fall. I am still processing that.
I made my first photograph of the fire at 6:57 p.m. The fire alarm had gone off at 6:30 p.m. In the early moments, there were not many people at the Seine, but eventually the riverside was filled with Parisians, many with tears in their eyes and crying. I realized that this was an historic moment. I turned my attention from the fire to the people and their reactions. This is a tragedy, certainly for the French, but also for the world. I can’t imagine the scene of destruction inside the cathedral. You could see the flames erupting from inside the building. Clearly it was a caldron in there. I couldn’t imagine how the firefighters were tackling this inferno. From my vantage point you couldn’t see any streams of water from fire hoses. The thought that occurred to me was that water from fire hoses would be like spitting in the wind. It’s hard to explain the ferocity and size of that fire.
As a photographer, I felt some responsibility to capture images of this historic event, not for likes or follows, but for posterity’s sake. I had my iPhone X with me and a film camera, the Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film. I did my best.