That is to say, Cartier-Bresson and Kenna, of course.
Knowingly repeating a “Study” previously executed to perfection by two of my favourite exemplars is a perilous exercise. I have many reasons for daring to do so. The first and most powerful is that this iconic and moving scene compels my own artistic passion to engage with it creatively for myself, to personalise it. The second, is the amazing variety of combinations of light, angle, photographic treatment and subtle evidence of the passing of time, which render each capture unique. A third is the breadth and power of the story that this view tells.
Michael Kenna stunningly followed Henri Cartier-Bresson in imaging the Isle de la Cité from the Pont des Arts on a misty winter’s dawn. My point of view is farther downstream, which includes the bridge, and was taken in dull summer conditions only last week. Being a student of such masters generally creates a fascinating, subconscious response to passing sights, which I compare, without thinking, to the general lessons they teach about aesthetics, composition, method and even rule-breaking. How much greater the reaction when I am privileged to pass by a concrete example of their best work.
In all humility, this is not just I being a pale copyist. I am always touched and encouraged when I pick up a book or visit an exhibition where I see that where my predecessors have passed time in the same sites as me, I have often independently been grabbed by similar subtle beauty and not only applied the same composition principles, but also created versions to my own taste.
“Time passes…” as Dylan Thomas’ narrator in “Under Milk Wood” gently murmurs. In my own case it seems that time accelerates as the years roll by. However, for cities, even ancient ones, the rate of change in the short term seems imperceptible. In the long term, the risks are of sudden man-made and natural catastrophes. Even these are mitigated for Paris, which has been protected by millennia of good civic management and even by inhibitions in the destructive instincts of invaders and occupiers, too ashamed to be forever condemned as the destroyer of the City of Light. Beyond that, Paris seems to have a mystical ability to swallow whatever structural changes are thrown at it and integrate them into what went before.
In this image, the most visible evidence of time sliding by is the replacement of the padlock-loaded railings of the Pont des Arts by solid sidings decorated in a semi-graffiti design which is not personally to my taste. Thankfully the longer timeline is movingly present in the skyline. I look forward to a more permanent, padlock-free and elegant frame to the deck of the bridge.
I love history as much as photography and this fascinating place just reeks of it. Paris started on this island, with the Parisii tribe, followed by the Romans, but what we see dates from 1000 years later. Reading the image from left to right starts with the 13th century Conciergerie, steeped in the French Revolution’s tears from “aristos” crammed into the main hall awaiting their fate and the deeper dungeon, where Marie Antoinette showed more courage and dignity than she is mostly credited for.
Many of the other island buildings serve the purposes of the state in applying the law, both civil and criminal. Now integrated into the central criminal court, the highest steeple is the Sainte Chapelle, contemporaneous with the Conciergerie. Physically much abused by history, it keeps bouncing back, as evidence by the restoration of Archangel Michael to the top of the nave in 2013.
Moving further right, the clock tower is part of the mythical (for the French) Quai des Orfevres, the origin of all great real-life and fictional French police investigations and the office of those great modern rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Maigret and, less admirably, Inspector Clouseau.
Sweeping off the island and past the majestic tree to the image end point, the left wing of the 17th century Academie Française looms into view. Founded by Richelieu and restored from the ravages of the Revolution by Napoleon, here reside the 40 “immortals” that preside over the safety of the French language for eternity. Interestingly, their fascinating title does not prevent regular gaps appearing in the seats, which now – shock horror! – Include women. Seat number 5 is currently vacant. You can apply, on condition that you are willing to eulogize the previous holder of the seat. I don’t know who that was. Maybe you might be lucky and find that they were truly admirable?
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 70 mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/80s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Mounted on a Monopod
Please take a tour around my other images of Paris on the rest of the website.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015