Working with French hotels for the past seven years, I have become all too familiar with the seasonal travel calendar. The third week of June every other year brings the Paris Airshow and we’d have little chance of getting availability for a group. The Ironman Triathlon in Nice, the medical conferences in Tours, the Avignon Festival in July. The dates are ingrained in my head and send off warning signals as soon as I see them.
Almost two years ago, I was looking at the calendar for the summer of 2014 and one date jumped out at me: June 6, 2014. The anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy has always been on my radar, but the year stood out to me this time. The year 2014 would represent the 70th anniversary of the landings.
My grandfather, Lieutenant Louis Shutoff, had been among the roughly 150,000 Allied soldiers who landed on the Calvados Coast by air and by sea on June 6th, 1944. He had passed away in 2005 and our family knew little about his service. It’s not something he would discuss. When Saving Private Ryan came out, my father had asked him if he would see it. His response? “I’ve already seen it once, why would I see it again?”
But ever since his passing, we’d all been eager to learn more about D-Day and specifically his experience. While I travel to France at least once a year for work and know Paris and the South pretty well, Normandy was unfamiliar. So, I threw out the idea to my wife and my parents who had been married in France 35 years earlier but hadn’t been back since. Should we try to go to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day? Despite my conditioning to avoid the madness that normally comes along with these type of events, we decided to go for it. We would do our best to research my grandfather’s service in the Battle of Normandy and would spend a week in Normandy re-tracing his steps. If we could get to any of the official D-Day commemorations on June 6th, even better.
Knowing that such an opportunity would not come again, I wanted to find a unique way to document the experience. I took photography back in high school and have had my dad’s old 1978 fully manual Nikon Nikkormat SLR camera ever since. After spending the past two years looking at the few grainy black and white photos that remain from D-Day, I decided it would be appropriate to record the trip on film the old-fashioned way. Unlike in 1944, I was able to scan and digitize the film once it was developed. Here is more of the photographic account of our journey in (hopefully) beautiful black and white.