Thursday, 8 December 2011

Pictures of Paris

” An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris" Nietzsche

Christmas can make the most cynical human beings feel sentimental and in my case the holiday season always makes me want to go back and visit Paris. Paris is the first city I ever got to know properly. Having spent my early childhood in France I continued to visit family in Paris regularly growing up spending countless days and weeks witnessing and experiencing all manner of beautiful and dreadful things in this city. From a late night stabbing to a romantic picnic on the Seine, I have gotten to know Paris warts and all, and I still love it.

Sadly this Christmas I won’t have time to visit so will resort to listening to Reinhardt and Gainsbourg, re-watching french New Wave Films-especially Truffaut's Jules et Jim-and pawing through stunning street photography books containing images by the likes of Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These photographs capture – or perhaps help create – the romantic image of Paris. Not a Disneyland romance, after all this is France and needless to say ‘reality’ is a big deal in this city (check out Baudrillard’s critique of the reality of America) but I won’t divulge into philosophy today. There is so much to divulge into when talking about Paris-art,literature, food, film, wine, apothecary - but I will stick to the pictures for now.

These photojournalists captured Paris in all its states; a mixture of social classes, emotions and characters. From a passionate kiss, to a passionate protest: a prostitute taking a break to a child playing in the street. The real beauty is in Paris’ ability to really test a person’s emotions. People either love or hate this city as around every corner is a new experience, a whole heap of contrasts to take in. Paris is unapologetically raw and as a result exciting.  It’s being swept up in a moment. This is what inspired artists, lovers and all kinds of romantics. Is the feeling you get in Paris love? Well, Paris may well make me sentimental but I’m still too much of a cynic to say so. To quote Beckett (promise will stop with quote heavy posts after this);'Do we mean love, when we say love?'.
Let’s call it beauty or better still let’s not define it in a word. This is Paris after all…

Bresson was a prolific photojournalist capturing many world events. His 1968 photographs of the student rebellion in Paris seem particularly poignant right now. Doisneau’s talent lay in capturing human fragility and what these photographers both had in common was their ability to capture ‘the defining moment’. That moment that brings meaning and makes all those hours wasted standing in queues or sat on the bus feel like they were worth it. Or perhaps within these hours are the moment that's defining? 

Doisneau and Bresson also created portraits of great artists which seem to act as punctuation to the series of street shots. To quote Guillemets; ‘Grammar stops at love, and at art’. These portraits are a reminder that everyday Paris inspired and continues to inspire great art. Check out Doisneau’s portrait of Beckett. It captures the man behind the eyes, no? 

Everybody’s experience is different (again working hard not to divulge into philosophy) and everybody’s Paris is different but what transpires is that going to Paris is definitely an experience, good or bad. When asked if he did outdoor sports Oscar Wilde responded; ‘I once played open air dominoes in Paris’. Totally recommend doing this and boules! When discovering Paris you happen upon your own defining moments, like those captured in these photographs. For me it was deciding not to go to law school whilst lying under the Eiffel Tower. What’s yours?

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