Two Days Alone in Paris, With My Camera
Paris, Rain, and a Grand Glass Domed Playground
Back in late 2013, I decided to join my wife and stepson in France to celebrate the holidays with her family. We would arrive and leave on different days, as I made my reservations well after she had, and I wanted to stay in Paris for a few days to take some photos... something I've been known to enjoy doing... :). The holidays would be spent where my wife grew up and her family now lives, along the Western coast of France in a region called Brittany. The winter months in Brittany are quite similar to most of the year in Britain- cloudy and rainy, and 2013/2104 did not deviate from that norm. My camera stayed tucked away under flat, wet skies for the most part. Itching to get some images, I was excited to spend my last two days in France in Paris, prior to heading to Charles DeGualle for my flight home.
As the daylight broke on my first morning in Paris, the rain continued... I brought a rain cover on the trip for my main camera, and my street camera bag had a rain cover integrated, which is where I would keep my second camera. Armed for foul weather, after a baguette and coffee, I headed out hoping at least for the weather to improve.
I decided to join my sister-in-law and her adorable children at Le Grand Palais which was hosting an indoor amusement park. This would provide some great subject matter while the rain continued outside.
Le Grand Palais makes a striking presence along the Seine in Paris, as its glass roof defies its age. It was inaugurated in 1900, and has since hosted events normally designed for outdoors in its great hall, along with many forms of artwork.
Whenever I'm in Jardins des Tuileries, I remember the first time I met my mother and father-in-law. In Paris on Business, I was to spend the day touring Paris with them, culminating in dinner in Montmartre with my sister-in-law and her family. They did not speak english and I no French, but the day was easy, exciting, and one I will never forget.
Today, back in Jardins des Tuileries with my sister-in-law and her children, I spot a man who appears to be waiting, for what is a mystery to me. But the mystery is wonderful, as I can imagine and create a story myself.
Glassy Streets, after the rain
Upon existing the Metro in Montmartre at the Chateau Rouge station on my way back from Le Grand Palais, I could see some sunlight filtering through soft, unstructured clouds. For a time being at least, the rain had passed. What I noticed first were the shine on the streets and sidewalks, and the people filtering back out onto them.
I have learned over the years that a street photographer has to be patient if he or she has any chance to get quality shots. If you bounce around impatiently from one spot to another, you never get familiar enough with your "stage" and you don't give it enough time to develop- to host inspiring characters and ephemeral "plays". With Le Sacre Coeur visible atop a steep Montmartre alleyway cobbled with well-tread stones and banked by jewelry stores and graffiti, a mysterious woman crossed my stage, for me to imprint forever.
The day is growing long, and I'm looking for a cafe to enjoy a hard cider, and glance through my day's work before continuing on. Where would Hemingway go? Wait! Captured first by the royal blue framed storefront, and then by its name- Chine Machine- X-Pro 1 is readied, and I wait... The play? A man with camera perched on tripod slung over his shoulder walks onto my set. Unlikely fashion professional, maybe shooting retail or restaurant promotional content, or, maybe a kindred spirit creating stories
A new day and love is in the air!
The Paris metro is the largest subway system in the world, and one of the oldest. What strikes tourist and unfamiliar visitor as impossibly complex upon first glance soon becomes the enabler for so efficiently and cost-effectively seeing the city. Threading through all 19 arrondissements, the metro connects some of Paris' most affluent neighborhoods to its most poor. I'm proud to have learned how to get around Paris on the Metro, and find it also to be the source of fine subject matter for my photography. Sometimes a station can be easily empty...
And sometimes, the Paris Metro station can be filled to capacity, with so much going on. You must be ready, and comfortable with your equipment when the scene appears! Such as when a couple gave me yet another reason to call Paris the city of love, as a young man knelt to tie his apparent girlfriends boot laces. Ah, j'adore mon cherie!
Was my love Cécile on my mind this day in Paris more so than on other days? For loving couples seemed on the other end of my lens again after coming up from the subway as I turned to enter a narrow alleyway on my way to Place de Bastille. Covered at its entry I thought, ah yes, the tunnel of love, as a couple strolled close together, hand in hand. The rain indeed appeared to be over, and while I strolled alone, Paris as my stage was offering up her magic
Seeking the soul of Cartier-Bresson
The walkers must share many sidewalks of Paris with cafe and restaurant tables and chairs, but although today's rain was past, a moist chill kept most of them empty. So the photographer finds a spot that shows potential. He scans for reflections in glass, repetition of structures, maybe lighting that can be used to highlight or add drama when the right thing happens to make the scene come alive. Then he notices the man behind the glass, tucked warmly inside the restaurant concentrating on something on his ephemerally owned table. Coffee cup beside paper, pen in right hand, left hand adding structure and focus, he peaks my curiosity. But before I search for the source of his distraction, I snap two, maybe four images... then walk away without spoiling the game and looking at his pad to see if he's writing a great
Place des Vosges, along with Place Dauphine, is one of my wife and my favorite residential neighborhoods in Paris. No surprise then that Henry IV had both built in the early 1600's. A square garden (Americans would call it a park) surrounded by four interconnected residential buildings, Place des Vosges offers one of Paris' peaceful retreats from busy city streets. Immaculately landscaped shrubs and grass protected by ornate iron gates, the garden hosts readers, little soccer matches, and strollers. Your eyes have everything to feast on here- repeated archways supporting light and dark toned brick structures topped in steep Parisian roofs whose narrow chimneys rise from somehow not tipping after 400 years of service. Come here if you get the opportunity, and taste a splendid piece of Paris.
I am the soul of Cartier-Bresson, staked out by the centered south archway portal of Place des Vosges, waiting for the decisive moment... subject and shadow, cast by the day's eventual seemingly magical sunlight, they appear... a girl skip-stepping to catch up to her mother, as the two rejoin brother and husband already on Rue de Birague.
On Foot and In Market
You walk a lot when you come to see Paris, and as day two started to draw to a close, my feet let me know I had indeed. This ancient city so densely packed, a playground of never-ending riches. Under foot in so many places, time-worn pathways and structures...
I stop on a bridge over the Seine and notice two walkers unaware of each other stepping along in parallel, and of course, because this is Paris, set against a canvas of the artful and gentle sweeping river bank.
Île Saint-Louis is one of two natural islands in the heart of the Seine, and one of the oldest (and most expensive) neighborhoods of Paris. Late afternoon sun offered a few interesting opportunities, though most did not develop any enough interest. Some texture, shadows and light, however, may have saved one...
Marché aux Oiseaux on Ile de la Cité is, of course, an outdoor market where you can buy birds. You can buy plants as well, but this is where you can buy birds and all the trappings you need for, birds. Its a timeless place, somehow able to still be a market at one of Paris' central tourist and geographic points. It's not at all fancy, and after a long day of business, can get a bit messy. I love coming to Marché aux Oiseaux when I can, though never with the intent to buy a bird... :)
So, you thought I wasn't going to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, huh? Well, the reason its so frequently photographed is not simply because it is an icon, or that its beautiful, but because you see it from most anywhere you are in Paris. Paris is a "low" skyline city in that most of its buildings are very old. Tour Eiffel is very tall, so even from over the rooftops of Montmartre, she can be seen.
Until next time tres jollie Paris!