Sydney, 8 May 2009
Due to circumstances largely beyond my control I have been unable to spend time increasing my photo stock over the past three weeks, so I took this opportunity to promote The Paris Album, a labour of love that I have been compiling on my website. My idea was to post a representative sample of the album on Flickr with links back to the relevant chapters on the website where anyone with the time and the inclination could see the complete series.
I fell in love with Paris long before I was able to go there; and the reality exceeded all my expectations when the dream came true for me in 1973. My attraction to the city began with the stories I’d read of the artists and writers who lived and worked in Paris in the period stretching from the start of the 20th Century to the Existentialist period in the 1950s.
My absolute heroes were Amadeo Modigliani, the archetypal “starving artist” fictionalised by Michel-Georges Michel in his novel “Les Montparnos”; and Henry Miller, the real American in Paris who broke all the rules and pre-empted the 60s by three decades. Through them, and the others they lead me to, I created an image of Paris in my mind that no longer existed when I finally arrived for the first of two sojourns in the capital in September 1973; but when I returned later that year for a longer period, I was able to discover a Paris of my own that was contemporary and vibrant and real. The photographs in The Paris Album were my attempt to capture the look and mood of the city during that wonderful period of my life.
I started the series on Flickr with a shot of the Eiffel Tower taken from the diametrically opposite corner of the city, at the top of the Rue de Belleville. As it happened, when I took the shot, there was some building work going on in the area and a large crane bisected the tower at right angles. But this seemed somehow appropriate because the Tower and its salubrious Quarter could not have been further from the lives of the people of Belleville then; whereas a crane would have seemed a far more relevant application of civil engineering to them.
The reaction to the shot was very positive. Generally, viewers liked the mood of the shot, the fact that it was a very different view of the Tower from that which we are accustomed to seeing (i.e. the postcard views). OGP004 got the social significance of the shot (that was in my own mind when I took it). Fabuchan described it as “superb and timeless” and Joe R 1949 said that it was one of the best pictures of the Eiffel Tower that he had ever seen. But the overwhelming reaction was that it was an old photograph, which of course was true (35+ years old!). And no, Art, I didn’t see the triplets. In fact, I don’t think they had been conceived when I took this shot, although I remember the film coming out a few years ago. Sadly, my son had already grown out of that kind of movie by then so I didn’t get to see it but I followed the link you sent me and I think I would have found it interesting. I was a big fan of Django Reinhardt and even visited the offices of Jazz Hot, a magazine which is published in the very same building as housed the famous Hot Club, after which Django’s quintette was named.
On request from Vickmeister, I posted a second shot on Monday; one of the doorway a little farther down the Rue de Belleville, where Edith Piaf was born. I had never really considered this as a good photograph but it suited the narrative of The Paris Album to include it as a visual reference. Clearly, my strategy was working, however, because some viewers were following the link to the Album on my website and looking the photographs I had not posted on Flickr. But again, it was the nostalgia that seemed to attract people; the fact that the photograph had an old style about it. Artcphoto commented: “From humble beginings….” ; acknowledging the fact that Piaf, who was born in this door way, died while living in an apartment on the Boulevard Lannes, in the vicinity of the Tower both geographically and figuratively. She had realised in her life the idea expressed by OGP004 when he said of the Eiffel Tower shot: “I love this photograph. It can have many interpretations. I see a lower class person looking at goals and what could become … in the distance.” These sorts of comments make sharing photos with my Flickr contacts such a joy for me.
On Tuesday, based on the relative success of the Monday postings, I decided to post two images; and continue in that vein for the rest of the week, which would neatly allow me to post one representative image of each chapter in the Album.
My first offering was a shot of the Pont Neuf taken from the Pont des Arts. It looked like a shot of the river on a misty morning and the reaction of those who left comments was that they liked the “dreamy” feel of the shot. Here I have a confession to make. First of all, it is important to know that this is a digital copy of a print I made back in 1973. Furthermore, if you know Paris and look at the direction of the light in the photograph, you will note that it must have been taken in the afternoon; and I can also tell you that the shot was taken on a perfectly clear November day. The “dreamy” effect was achieved by placing a piece of ladies’ stocking over the lens of the enlarger when the print was being exposed; and under-exposing the print. So, you see, photographers were “photoshopping” long before Photoshop was invented. In fact, Photoshop contains many of the tools and tricks we used to use back then in our traditional darkrooms.
The second shot I posted on Tuesday was a street shot of a stallholder on the banks of the Seine and a lady with a cat on her shoulder. In terms of comments, it rated as well as the Pont Neuf shot (but only half as well as the Eiffel Tower shot); but this time, the focus was on the humour rather than the nostalgia. Takadanobaba said that it reminded him of an “old cliché picture” like ROBERT DOISNEAU. He also kindly included a link to a website featuring Doisneau’s work which I found very interesting. Back then, I was a great admirer of Doisneau as well as Cartier-Bresson, Brassaї, Margaret Bourke-White and a lesser known photographer called Izis Bidermanas who compiled a wonderful book called Paris des Rêves. It would be arrogant of me in the extreme to even imagine that my photographs compared with theirs; but they did inspire me to take photographs and if my humble images remind someone of them, then I am deeply flattered.
On Wednesday, I again posted two photographs from my 1973 series. Of the two, the shot of the Place du Tertre fared better arousing almost as much interest as the two shots I posted on Tuesday. Yes Anders, you were correct: this was shot in Montmartre; and whether you are a painter or a photographer or a juggler or a mime, who could NOT love Montmartre? Marcojmg described it as “un homage à Doisneau” which, again, was very flattering.
The image I entitled “Fashion Shoot”, however, drew very few comments. I found this particularly disappointing because it is a favourite of mine; but this sharply illustrates a problem that I always seem to face: my inability to separate the image itself from the circumstances, personal experiences and associations of its taking. After a couple of weeks of solitude, wandering the streets of Paris, looking for things to photograph, I encountered, on this occasion, what we call in Scotland “a ken’t face” (someone I knew). It was the model, whom I had known from my days working in a fashion photography studio in Sydney. I actually took the shot before I realised it was her and I still like it for itself. As anni gbg and Marcojmg both remarked, I liked the angle; and as Marco also said, I liked the reflection in the water; and I thought the composition was good, especially the wardrobe mistress with her foot on the chair. But I think, by then, Flickrites were beginning to tire of these “dated” shots of Paris.
So, on Thursday, I decided to post only one shot and I picked one that didn’t look so “dated”; a low-key shot of the Rue Xavier Privas in the Latin Quarter which could have been taken yesterday (assuming that the street is still there and it was raining in Paris yesterday).
The response was better (sigh of relief!) and included a keen observation by some viewers of the difference between the versions posted on Flickr and the version on the website. It was encouraging to think that people were paying such close attention. James Yeung wrote: “A little bit too dark I think. But the darkness has its own special feel to it. Much like imagejoe’s work this one! :-)” To have an picture of mine compared with imagejoe‘s work is a great (although I’m sure, undeserved) honour…but I’ll take it!
Which leads me to my final flickr posting in this series. I chose this shot of a man, apparently down on his luck, sitting on a bench in the gardens of the Palais Royale. The story behind the taking of the shot appears in The Paris Album but I will add that, because this was taken in the days of film, I had to wait weeks (until I returned to Australia) to see this result. I had to successfully bring the film through several x-ray scanners then develop it in my darkroom without ruining it.
If any picture reveals me, it is this one. Not that I am down on my luck, of course; but when I was younger, I dreamed of being a photographer, of being a writer, of being a musician; and none of those dreams came true. Now, Flickr has given me the oportunity to at least be an amateur photographer with a small but important audience. So I am far luckier than this man appears to be. In the Paris series, I was looking back nostalgically; but next week, I hope to be looking forward again.
What, then, I have I learned from this series? One tactical error I may have made is to give everyone access to the entire series from day one. This probably meant that those with the time and the inclination to visit the website had already seen the subsequent photographs before they appeared on Flickr and therefore decided not to comment on them, which is fair enough. Flickr is very time-consuming.
I have many more photographs taken in that period of my life, when I was still dreaming of a career in photography; before I got serious about my future, went to college and got a proper job! I could do a mini-album of New York from the same period – another city that I have come to love very much – but as Gremxul said in his 16 facts recently, maybe its better to forget the past and focus on today and tomorrow. I wish a could go back to Paris and take new shots but that is not on the cards right now so I will have to make do with Sydney for the time being.
On the other hand, there were enough positive comments about the individual shots I posted, and about series (The Paris Album) on my website, that I feel satisfied with the outcome. Here are a few of the comments regarding the series:
|fran&ois||Your Paris series rocks!!|
|radanie||I got to agree with Fran&ois|
|fabuchan||1973?? Great-thanks for sharing these piece of priceless photography… absolutely superb and timeless!|
|chivamusic||so awesome to look back in time with this series.. thank you for sharing these 🙂|
|radanie||love this series, thank you for hyperlinking your website!|
|Takadanobaba (Back From Tokyo)||in your photography of Paris, i see old cliché picture same like ROBERT DOISNEAU|
|Takadanobaba (Back From Tokyo)||super very nice, love all look same like old’z Paris shot, love your photo from Paris|
|oliveapekin||all this serie is just fantastic!!!! to see Paris with old style cars and quiet narrow streets…you made my day! Superb!!!|
|mariekejoan||Saw the ather ones..Great!!!
The two photo’s of the Saint Rustique Montmartre are my favorites!
|Marcojmg||Vraiment une très belle série. Bravo.|
Particularly gratifying is that some of the comments came from French people. To get their approval is extra-special for me.
Thank you to everyone who commented on my photographs this week; to those who favourited some of them; and for the invitations I received. Thank you also to those of you who took the time to look at The Paris Album on my website; and a special thank you to Marco, who left a comment. I was really thrilled to receive it. I did make a couple of new friends as a result of this series; although not as many as I had hoped. One of the Paris groups I tried to post to didn’t accept any of my images so I didn’t reach as many people as I expected. It was, however, an interesting experiment; and I think I have learned something from it. So, as Edith Piaf famously sang, I can say overall that Je ne regrette rien.
With all best wishes,
 The book comprises 75 photographs by Bidermanas and each is accompanied by a text composed by one of the leading contemporary writers of the day, including André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Elouard, Blaise Cendrars and Henry Miller.