A Terrible Confession
I love Paris, but...
I love to photograph Paris and I love to see other photographers' views of "La Ville Lumiere". Paris is an aesthetic delight: chic, scruffy, surprising, cheeky, formal, changing, unchanging and - above all - real. For that reason, my two most unfavourite images of Paris are "iconic" black and white images, best known to Paris tourists, of a boy carrying a baguette home for lunch and lovers embracing in front of the architectural splendour of the Town Hall. See them here :
The photographers are Willy Ronis and Robert Doisneau, two iconic, prolific, 20th century artists of exceptional ability, generosity and professional integrity. Ronis resigned from a press agency, when one of his images of a labour dispute was captioned in a manner that offended his sense of justice and Doisneau refused to photograph the shaven-headed women accused of collaborating with the German occupying authorities, who were being humiliated after the Liberation of Paris. It just so happens that I am ignoring their immense bodies of great work to focus on how these images contradict my personal preference for photographing my home city. Forgive this terrible confession!
My real Paris
I stated my central theme that Paris is "real", which is to say that, for me, it is not the "postcard pretty" destination that provides so much pleasure to visitors. It belongs, first and foremost, to its citizens, who have built it, maintained it, improved it, demolished it, criticized it and loved it. Generations of enlightened city fathers and State Presidents have also left their mark, daring to improve, at the same time as maintaining the essential character of a city which is, above all, residential. I have to confess that these visionaries challenged me, when I was sure that IM Pei's proposed Pyramide du Louvre was going to be a tragic mistake. Luckily the French have flair, daring and a (mostly) unerring aesthetic sense. Relatively few monstrous errors have been allowed to occur, although the Tour Montparnasse and Bibliotheque National de France are, for me, notable exceptions.
However real or posed they were originally, Ronis and Doisneau's images now engender in me a sense of "oh how cute" and how unlike the experience of the city as it is today. The famous gruffness of Parisians is part truth and part fable. Many interactions are indeed less courteous than they should be and are not enhanced when crushed into the Metro at rush hour. Knowing the rules of engagement and speaking the language of Moliere do help to mitigate the frequency of such experiences and allow the French to reciprocate appreciation to those who seem to love their city.
The Majesty of the law
A separate issue impacting what is actually allowed to be photographed for commercial use are the draconian, modern rights to the protection of your own image, which make it increasingly difficult to legally capture images of people in the way that Ronis and Doisneau did. In fact Doisneau was sued before he died for the rights to his photograph of lovers kissing. Luckily for him he could prove that they were not the original people in the image and they lost the case. Equally, draconian copyright laws protecting the work of architects, which is defined as "art" according to aesthetically-minded French lawmakers, makes unauthorized sale of images of their constructions illegal until 70 years after their death.
My Paris aesthetic
Given the changing reality, my view is that there is no reason to force cuteness on the Paris experience. It is there in abundance, quite naturally. My own photograph above, taken from the "Paris by Night" section of my recent exhibition in America, is my case in point. The assembly and dismantling of the giant Ferris Wheel on Place de la Concorde has now become an annual marker of the passing of the seasons. It spends the Spring, Summer and Autumn in the Tuileries Gardens and Winter at Concorde. I have a love/hate relationship to it visually, with grudging acceptance being granted thanks to the matching grand scale of the surrounding area and monuments.
The lamp standard is the elegant counterpoint, as far as I am concerned. Together they are "cute" if you want to think it so. The wheel also demonstrates the aesthetic daring of city managers and their desire to please both residents and visitors alike, by providing cheerful Christmas brightness in the depths of Winter. The out-of-focus rendering is my own quiet comment on its inappropriateness, and emphasizes the street architecture that meets with my conservative approval.
Together though, they provide me with a satisfying contrast of light and dark, old and new, and a strong composition opportunity of circle and lamp stand. Such attention-grabbing sights are a daily reminder that the Paris experience does not have to be manufactured. This place is not "pretty" or "cute", it is daily, naturally and abundantly breathtaking.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2013
Keywords: Fine Art, I Rise at Night, La Grande Roue, La Ville Lumiere, Paris, Photeinos, Place de la Concorde, φωτεινος
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