Thursday, November 01, 2012

Flying Houses and The Red Balloon

I don't remember exactly what I was reading on before I happened upon Laurent Chehere's Flying Houses story tease, but I clicked right away and was immediately entranced by these beautiful, otherworldly-yet-beautifully-mundane photographs of flying houses. They captured me at first glance, but I have to say that fairy dust fell from the sky when I discovered that Laurent's photographs were creatively influenced by the film The Red Balloon, because The Red Balloon holds a special place in my heart, too.

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my teachers, Miss Kerr, organized a "Secret Santa" for the class. I think this was my first time ever doing Secret Santa. I immediately loved taking part in it! It was SO much fun to secretly shower someone with creative ideas and things I'd put together just for them. That week, I became obsessed with creating these detailed, cut-out-letter notes I would attach to the treats that I'd leave in my own recipients' desk each day. (In fact, this experience was actually a big, glaring neon sign from the universe that social expressions was written in the stars for me, but I digress.) Anyway, while all of my classmates were busy guessing who had who, I myself could never figure out who my own Secret Santa was. And I couldn't tell whether everyone else just had a really good poker-face when they told me they didn't know who had me, or, maybe they really didn't know!

Well, the last day of Secret Santa finally rolled around, and it was the "big gift and reveal" day. Finally, I would discover who my Secret Santa was! Well, my classmates were not lying to me. They couldn't have known who my Secret Santa is, because it was Miss Kerr herself!  The present she gave me—a book—didn't initially WOW me. (This is to be expected from a 9 year old. Anything but candy or Hello Kitty would most certainly have registered initial disappointment.) But, on second look, I did become a little more interested. Inquisitive, I guess you could say. Than, once I opened it, I officially became captivated. I don't think I put that book down for an entire week (and I don't think I had a dry eye that entire week, either).

The book was The Red Balloon (the picture book counterpart of the film). First thing I loved about the book was that it was something brand new, that I'd never seen before or heard about. This made it so exotic and worldly! And I loved exotic, worldly things (still do!). Second, it was FRENCH! How cool, I was in my first year of studying the language at the time and I was enjoying it, so the book was wrapped in the romance, the culture and the sights of the home of this foreign language that was so new and fascinating to me. Thirdly, the book visually was beautiful, somber and lovely, and it also had photographs instead of the illustrations I usually favored. I wasn't used to this in a picture book. It was a new experience to have a story told in photographs and still draw me into the characters' experience. But the type of connection I made with the story was oddly strange and different than the connection I would make to an illustrated book. Last but not least, the roots of the story itself had an emotional thread that I really related to, but, at the time, I had no idea why. Ultimately I discovered that such a sad, lonely story could be such a beautiful story. And that a great human story transcends language or culture barriers as long as it's authentic and written from the heart.

The photographs in the book were from the original film
The Red Balloon.
Anyway, back to the Chehere's houses. They are a little haunting and a lot nostalgic, but in a comforting way (similar to the Red Balloon-surprise!). If you are familiar with The Red Balloon, you will appreciate how the visual and emotional essence of The Red Balloon seems to hang like a dense fog around these houses. The details of the buildings are charming and beg for deeper investigation. The lighting and tones are gorgeous. They take my memory and my imagination to interesting places. I think they are magnificent!

Check out the story on and for more, check out Laurent Chehere's own web site here.

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