A couple of months ago we had a week in Paris. There’s a lot of wisdom out there about not mixing photography and holidays too much, but when you have limited opportunity, you have to take your chances.
Paris is of course one of the most photographed places in the world, and for good reason; I honestly never expected to do anything particularly original, but I did have hopes that Paris in September might give me something to celebrate. It definitely did that, but capturing it was another thing altogether.
One of the problems of holidays is the desire – if not need – to kick back and relax. Naturally for me that involves lots of beers and bars, and fewer sunrises or sunsets than I might more nobly wish. On this trip I was particularly stung because in the whole week I managed ONE sunrise, and that was the rubbish one.
This shot, for example, should have had the first light of the day kissing the dome and bringing a warmth to the whole scene. Only it didn’t happen. Dark became slightly grey, and stayed there. For hours. I was so cross I went for an unduly early drink.
Likewise I’d envisioned a shot of Notre Dame with a long exposure, blurring the flow of the Seine. But my memory had failed me and the view I thought I could get was obscured by massive trees.
On the other hand, I found this overlooked Victorianish bridge right next to it that worked really well. Serendipity was waiting for me.
In some ways that was the theme of the trip: many things I’d planned simply didn’t come off, but a lot of the more casual stuff pleased me enormously.
A lengthy walk from our hotel in the Marais up to the Champs Elysee took us past a display of covers from Elle magazine – not something I could ever have planned for but felt so Parisian I couldn’t resist it.
While we’ve wanted to visit the catacombs for ages, I hadn’t imagined it as a photographic thing – in some ways it feels inappropriate. But the scale of the place was at once awesome and awful, and again I couldn’t help myself. I really can’t convey how the staggering quantity of death piles upon you, and the pictures I got there please and sadden me in equal measure.
One of the most appalling things was the way the “builders” seemed to have got bored, and started considering the dead as decorative material. It’s an extraordinary and humbling place.
More happily, the Musee des Artes et Metiers was more extraordinary than we ever imaged. Not only does it hold Foucault’s actual Pendulum (and if you haven’t read the book, you must – if only to understand just how exciting that is), it contained an amazing array of engineering in a beautifully repurposed church.
And yes, you can actually see the car Casaubon might have hid in, but the culmination of the whole place is probably the best Batmobile ever.
Of course I can’t not mention the river, the Hotel de Ville…
The stalls on the Left Bank…
But the highlight of the trip was without doubt Sainte Chapelle, on the island with Notre Dame but often overlooked (not least by us on our last visit).
While Notre Dame is beautiful from outside, we found it disappointing internally; Sainte Chapelle is quite the opposite. We queued for over an hour to get in but it’s probably the best wasted-time I’ve ever spent. It’s a truly jaw-dropping place.
Sometimes the plans all go to pot, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.