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Proof
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

two people sleep on beach in beach in Nice, France

I want you to consider the photo above. I took it on the beach in Nice, France at the Nice Triathlon back in September. It may be my favorite photo of several hundred thousand I have taken since I first picked up a camera at age 15.

To me, it says everything that needs to be said about the most powerful thing in human existence: Love.

I decided to call the photo “Proof” because to me, this image proves that the pristine, idyllic, perfect and flawless version of love exists, and this is what it looks like.

It was restlessly warm that afternoon. Earlier in the day a waiter in a café’ had scoffed in frustration trying to keep my menu from blowing away on the warm, relentless breeze. “Ahh, Le Mistral” he said, talking about the wind that is born south of here over the Sahara and is filtered over the azure Mediterranean until it makes landfall here on the Riviera. “Le Mistral”: This is one of those places where the wind has a name.

This soft breath of air, born in the void of the world’s most terrible desert and tempered by the crystal sea, is one of the many things that conspire to make the Cote d’Azur and Nice among the most fertile soils for love in the world. And this photo is proof.

On the rocky beach that is a metaphor for life, set against the vastness of the sea this couple napped in solitude; their love and closeness their only protection from these harsh elements of rock and sea. And this protection being not only adequate but, in fact, providing them with everything to face life against this difficult reality.

I stood on the rocky beach trying to use a 400 mm telephoto lens to capture a particular landscape I was looking for when I saw them, and in an instant I knew what I was looking at. I raised the camera and fired once. Then I scrolled through my photos on the digital playback screen and realized what I had captured. It was the last photo I shot that day. There was no way to top it. After that, you put your cameras away and call it a day.

Back in my hotel room the photo wound its electronic way from camera to laptop and I saw it as you see it now. This is one of very few photos that has not been run through Photoshop or any other artificial enhancement. This is how it looked, because this is how it is really supposed to be. I am convinced of that, have been forever, and now I have proof.

No skill was required to take this photo. My camera was set on automatic exposure, I used a polarizing filter and the lens features a gyroscope to hold it steady. It even focuses automatically. So all I had to do was push the button once. The image made itself. To me, it couldn’t be more perfect.

There is a voyeuristic quality to this photo. And that says a lot about how we see and experience love; from a distance, through a long lens. It often seems like it is something someone else has. People spend there lives looking for it. Women pen personal ads “looking for their prince” and being “tired of kissing frogs”. Men buy sports cars and big houses, make trips to the gym and get hair plugs. But for the most part, they never wind up on this beach in France. The day I took this photo, this was the only couple on the beach. The only one. Everyone else was busy working to buy their Ferrari or their boob job or writing their personal ad, chasing this feeling. This is the feeling all those perfume ads and car commercials try to capture. If you buy what they are selling then you will feel it. But I doubt these two lovers on the beach have any of that.

Look at this girl. She is beautiful of course, but not so much because of her physical configuration but more because of her serenity. This is the country that gave Mona Lisa her smile, and now I know what she is smiling about. It is love like this, here in France. That is the smile you see on this girl- the Mona Lisa smile. Notice how restful her expression is. On these rocks, out in the open, she is utterly content and entirely safe. In the embrace of her lover she drifts on dreams not too far removed from her reality. You and I may dream of doing exactly this on the beach in the French Riviera. What do you suppose someone who actually lives it dreams of?

And what about her lover? This man is a Knight, a prince, a poet. He is free from the artificial edifices of male attractiveness. He isn’t particularly well muscled, he certainly isn’t tan but he gives a nod to the aesthetic with his jewelry. He understands beauty and lives submerged in it. In what is more than a bit of symbolism he is draped over her, having sacrificed his shirt to her. Protecting her, keeping her warm. Shielding her from the elements with his body. This, I would suggest, is a man with his values straight. When he is old and bedridden it is likely the memory of this afternoon will keep a smile on his face. I imagine a daydream like this, for him reality, will be on his mind when he passes to his peaceful eternity. I wonder what will be on yours and mine?

I wager this is what women in countries around the world dream of at night: A place like this, a man like this, a feeling like this. When you consider all the ridiculous behaviors we live in an attempt to capture just a piece of this; the cosmetic surgeries, the sports cars, and all the other pointless primping and posturing, it all boils down to this- a boy, a girl a breeze and a beach. Warmth, closeness, safety.

Warmth, closeness, safety. It really is that simple. If you think about it, everything else just gets in the way. This couple has stripped all the rest of that away, and look what they are left with- the thing we spend most of our lives looking for.

In a society where more relationships fail than succeed and divorce is a bigger industry than marriage you have to wonder what lessons we can learn by studying this couple.

Now, I know what you are saying, this is just a snapshot in time, literally 1/500th of a second out of a life of two people that could be filled with all kinds of normal travails. I will agree. I’m sure this young couple faces their share of challenges. But through the challenges in their young lives they have still have wound up here, on a weekday afternoon in one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you consider that only 1% of their lives together are made of moments like this, isn’t that enough?

When I saw this couple it seemed like a cacophony of every love song I ever heard rang through my mind at once. This is those songs. This is what they are talking about.

You see, it is real. It really is that simple. This picture is proof.

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© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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