Cities of the dead are always fascinating. The customs of different cultures reflect the social and anthropological certainties of the living and their instructions to their survivors on how to handle their demise. The greatest such example that I know of in Europe is the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, closely followed by Highgate cemetery in London. Less well known is the Montmartre cemetery, nestling in an increasingly dense residential district nearby the Place de Clichy.
No Peace For The Wicked And The Good
Baron Haussmann (yes, him again) had the idea of creating the western access road to Montmartre, which became the Rue Caulaincourt. It necessitated the construction of a “viaduct” across the southeastern corner of the cemetery and required the displacement of a number of tombs where the pillars of the bridge now stand. This gave rise to protests from the owners of the plots, who organised a petition against the bridge, which was voted on by the Senate in 1861. Along with the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune de Paris in 1870-71, this delayed the construction for decades. It was finally built in 1887, using “eminent domain” (“utilité publique”) authority.
A Callous Aesthetic
I like this treatment of the view, which has the cobbled Street of the Dead going left, “crossed” by the ironwork road of the living going right. I am particularly amused by the stylistic nod to funereal architecture in the Doric columns of the viaduct and the tonal register and verdant colour of the painted ironwork. These echo the Corinthian columns and pilasters of the facing tomb temples. All in all I find it strangely respectful, given the structural brutality of the bridge.
More emotionally, I find the clean, empty, ordered “street” somewhat sad. The effort to prolong life or the memory of life seems particularly pathetic in the face of the silence of the tomb and the emptiness of the road. Lifeless, leafless winter trees on the horizon just add to the effect.
The main issue on this occasion was the wide dynamic range between the late afternoon light on the trees and the darkness underneath the bridge. I estimated that the darkness would be easier to compensate than overexposure in the trees, so I applied a strong underexposure factor of -2EV.
Even with this setting, some “HDR” reduction in highlights needed to be added, along with the application of the same slider to the shadows.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 24 mm
Focus Mode: AF-C
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/50s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: -2 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Mounted on Monopod/ braced on wall
I hope that you like this image enough to explore this sometimes-neglected haven of peace and quiet right next to Pigalle.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2016