6. Everyday People

Despite its undeniable attraction for tourists from around the world, Paris is not a Disneyland, manufactured solely and specifically for the entertainment of visitors; it is a city where millions of people live their lives amidst the landmarks and the history.  This section of my Paris Album is dedicated to those everyday people as they go about their daily lives.
Delivering Bread
Delivering Bread

I spotted this young woman with her basket of baguettes on the Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.

Keeping the streets clean
Keeping the streets clean

In 1973 Paris, street maintenance was not a high technology occupation. In periods of precipitation, a bundle of rags, (hessian seemed to be the preferred material), tied together with twine, were used to create a temporary dam in the gutter which diverted water down a drain. A twig broom was then used to sweep leaves and other debris into the drain. In this picture, the “public thoroughfare hygiene consultant” is opening the drain cover in preparation for debris disposal.

Montmartre
Montmartre

The most famous street in Paris for this kind of trade is the Rue Saint Denis, known locally as the “rue des putes” (putain = prostitute); although Montmartre, where this little drama unfolded, is the official “red light” district.

As usual, I happened on this scene by chance as I wandered the streets looking for things to photograph. The big question is: did he finally pluck up the courage to ask her? I didn’t wait around to find out.

Mime in Montmartre
Mime in Montmartre

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What intrigued me about these scenes was the way the street entertainer and the man photographing him seemed to echo each other’s poses.

I’m sure it wasn’t contrived

Bartender on the Boul' Mich'
Bartender on the Boul’ Mich’

The boulevard Saint-Michel, or Boul’ Mich’ as it is known locally, is the major thoroughfare that separates the 5th and 6th arrondissements of Paris.

On a small square off the Boul’ Mich’ stands the main building of the Sorbonne, part of the present University of Paris and one of the oldest universities in the world.

Needless to say, the area abounds with cafés, cheap restaurants, small hotels, bookshops and, of course, students.

This waiter was one of many I met in the student cafés of the Latin Quarter

Shopper in the Marche Mouffetard
Shopper in the Marché Mouffetard

In fact, the attraction here is not so much the shopper but the knitwear. The hat, the jacket and the jumper whose turtle neck you can just see above the jacket collar are all knitted garments in different styles.

Although the Rue Mouffetard is a narrow, dark street, difficult to photograph most of the time, the light managed to oblige me here and show off the design of the garments as their wearer gave serious consideration to how she might adorn this evening’s dinner table.

***

Paris would not be what it is without its youth. From the steps of Sacré Coeur  to the bustling narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, they bring life and voice to an aged and often stately city that might otherwise become stultified by its traditions.

On the steps of Sacre Coeur
On the steps of Sacré Coeur
The Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter
Hippies in Montparnasse
Hippies in Montparnasse

After the First World War, the epicenter of bohemian Paris shifted across town from Montmartre to Montparnasse. Artists like Modigliani, Soutine and Chagall all had studios here; and writers like Henry Miller and Ernest Hemmingway lived in or frequented this area. Cafés on the boulevard du Montpartnasse like le Dôme, le Select and la Rotonde were patronized by artists, writers and musicians who, although unknown then outside bohemian circles, have become household names. Whilst lacking the “village” atmosphere and quaint streets of Montmartre, Montparnasse will always be known for the creative people who gathered there and extended the boundaries of popular culture.

I was walking down the Rue de Vaugirard one day when I saw these Americans, clearly looking for the bohemian Montparnasse of the 20s and 30s. The look on the face of the young French boy passing them suggests, however, that they “ain’t gonna find it”.

Paris Police
Paris Police

If I had to identify three icons of Paris, they would be the Eiffel Tower (of course!), the Colonne Morris (one of those columns provided in the streets of Paris for putting up posters) and the incorrectly named gendarme. The gendarme is actually a highway patrol officer and the police you find on the streets of Paris with the distinctive Képi (cap) and baton are properly known as Agents de Police.

Sometimes, you set out with modest intentions and the result is better than expected. All I wanted was to take a photograph of a Paris policeman, but this shot, taken at an intersection near the Place St. Michel, turned out to be a carnival of glances.

What appealed to me as I took it was the way the stance of the policeman on the left echoed the “don’t walk” symbol between the two policemen. As for the rest – I got lucky.

***

I used to work for a photographer who often said to his trainees: “If you can’t take a good photograph of a cup with a box camera, you shouldn’t be in the business!” His point was that a good photograph is not dependent upon dramatic subject matter and sophisticated equipment. Almost anything can be photographed in an interesting way if the photographer has patience and imagination.

Rue de Buci
Rue de Buci
Rue Mouffetard
Rue Mouffetard

I noticed that in the late afternoon, the sun streams along the Rue de Buci like a spotlight. I stood in a doorway, pretending to photograph the street until these two students walked into my view-finder; then I pressed the shutter release.

***


xxx

Marketplaces provide good hunting ground for photo-journalists because people congregate there and they are distracted by the merchandise and their purpose in being there: to buy or to browse. You can easily close in on a scene such as those and the protagonists are usually unaware of your presence.

Rue Mouffetard

Rue Mouffetard

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