Moskwa Sur Seine
Quai Branly in Paris already had a long connection with Russia, even before the completion of the new Orthodox Cathedral at Pont d’Alma in 2016.
Most visibly, there is Pont Alexandre III, my “Muse” as regular followers of this blog will know. The French wanted to honour the signatory of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892 and so the foundation stone was laid in 1896, by Tsar Alexandre’s son Nicholas II, the last Tsar of all the Russia’s. This Art Nouveau masterpiece is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, in my opinion.
Just nearby the north-eastern corner of the next bridge West, the Pont des Invalides, stands the monument commemorating the contribution of the Russian Expeditionary Force to defending France in WW1, as per the agreement with Alexandre III. Two brigades served on the Western Front and in Greece before the little matter of the Russian Revolution upset the apple cart and the brigades mainly mutinied, leaving a reduced, tsarist Légion Russe fighting until the Armistice.
I personally like having gold leaf covered, onion domes pop up on this spot. Parisian and Russian authorities cooperated in view of the importance of the existing architectural perspectives including both the Eiffel Tower and the American Church in Paris, to ensure that the height, scale and general design took account of the aesthetics.
The main buildings for use by the Russian Orthodox community are less attractive and definitively modern, in contrast to the traditional roof. These mainly face on to the quai and a wide boulevard and I had been searching for a sight line which treated the domes in a more discreet, less time-defined way.
As I returned from a demonstration at the Eiffel Tower the day after the American presidential inauguration (if you know what I mean?) I chose a favourite route of mine behind the Musée du quai Branly. I love the architectural whimsies throughout this building, one of which is a reed bed flanking the street at the back of the garden.
It is a tranquil spot in warmer weather, usually with water plants rustling in the breeze and ducks and coots nesting there. This January day, the plants were in hibernation, the ducks were warming themselves somewhere else and the water was frozen.
Moskwa sur Seine
Above all, I had a moment of joy, as my mind recast the view into a reed-covered, frozen stream running towards a dimly seen Orthodox monestary in mother Russia. The setting sun and deep colours of the museum added an emotional edge to my response.
Right Angle, Right Time, Right Light
The first artistic response that stopped me in my tracks was the perspective of the reed-like posts which adorn the stream of water. They formed a natural composition leading left to right, the way that Western readers see things and formed a strange foreground through which everything else was half-seen. Then I noticed that as they grew smaller with distance, they created a natural space in which the Cathedral domes were framed.
Next, I was surprised to notice that the water was solid, not flowing and created a base into which the metal rods were stuck. The water was no longer limpid and formed a solid colour mass which contrasted with the red of the museum and the yellow tones of the church.
Finally, the domes. In truth, the light was not right. Notwithstanding the low sun of a late Winter’s afternoon, their newly applied, high quality gold leaf is a camera burn out nightmare. I struggled with different settings, most notable a really severe exposure compensation of -2.7 EV, measured on the domes using a narrow “spot” metering choice.
I was not helped by the absence of a tripod, given that I had gone out to participate in and photograph a demonstration, so also I relied on the quality of my D800 sensor to save my bacon.
Finally, during processing I used a mask to treat the sky and the dome separately from the rest of the image. Clearly the latter required the shadows to be enhanced, while the former needed both delicate exposure and contrast adjustments, as well as significantly more sharpening than the foreground
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 70 mm
Shutter Speed: 1/320s
Exposure Mode: Auto with bracketing
Focus programme : Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: -2.7 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Hand held, resting on a low wall
If you can’t take a personal tour around these streets until some later date, please take a tour around my other images of Paris on the rest of the website.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2017