Paris: The City of Light on film and in early digital
City of Light: With a reputation like that how can any photographer resist rushing off to photograph the entire city? The problem with Paris is that there is so much of it, so where do you begin? While I could not resist taking pictures of the famous sights, I tried wherever possible to also take a shot that was not a typical view. So while the Eiffel tower does make an appearance or two here, I’ve tried to make the pictures different from the usual postcard shots.
Living in Canada makes it a bit difficult to just “pop over” to Paris for some picture taking, but I was fortunate that my work brought me there half a dozen times over the years. Being there to work, the opportunities for photography were limited to weekends and evenings. Still, with a bit of planning, much can be accomplished in a few hours and with each visit, I set out to make the most of my time there.
I quickly found that the light in Paris is very different from that of Toronto. Somehow a bit more diffused, a bit warmer, and it lends itself very nicely to black and white photography. Even on an overcast day, the light works well for the photographer. The other delight for photographers who like urban landscape pictures is the way the broad avenues and much of the architecture in Paris provide leading lines that fit compositions so well.
This was somewhere on the Isle de la Cite if I remember correctly. Taken with a Casio QV-R40 and converted to B&W. The Casio was a cheap little 4mp point-and-shoot but I was trying out digital for the first time and it fit the bill. There are so many back streets and small courtyards where the old and interesting can be found that you can spend days without looking at a single famous building.
Then again, why not try to do something different with a famous building. This is Madeleine, a famous church in the centre of Paris. Taken with the Casio QV-R40. When I look at these photos, I am still surprised at how good 4mp can look.
Casio QV-R40, converted to B&W. Looking down inside the “legs” of the Eiffel tower. I liked the almost organic looking curves of the steelwork and the way they lead the eye to the people at the edges of the frame.
Casio QV-R40, Skylight in Galeries Lafayette, One of those “tourist shots” that John Shingleton dismisses as trivial. He’s quite right too, but I couldn’t resist all those leading lines.
Taken from the first platform on the Eiffel tower. If I remember correctly, this was shot with a Leica M6, 35mm Summicron, on Ektachrome 160. The weather didn’t always cooperate, but it made a moody shot that was better than no shot at all.
I can’t resist a visual joke, so a statue peering at the Eiffel tower in the distance was a natural. Taken with a Canon F1, 200mm f/2.8, Tri-X.
Notre Dame bell tower, taken while on the tour of the cathedral. I seem to have been on a bit of a roll with leading lines. Leica M6 classic (pre-TTL), 35mm Summicron.
I ran out of film so ferreted out a cheap Fuji print film I had bought while travelling and then scanned in B&W. It turned out to be a superb film, but I didn’t bother to take note of what it was.
Apartments on the Rue De Rivoli taken from inside the Jardin des Tuileries. Leica M6 (pre-TTL), and an early 90mm Summicron.
The light was perfect. It’s not much of a picture, but the combination of the golden hour and the pattern of windows were too much to resist.
Chairs in the Jardin des Tuileries, golden hour. I like the feel of this shot even though it is a “postcard picture”. Leica M4, 50mm Summicron 1962 vintage, Kodachrome 64.
One of the ponds in the Jardin des Tuileries. Leica M4, early Elmarit 21mm (you can see by the corners that it’s not the ASPH version), Kodachrome 64.
Again the light was perfect. Taken during the blue hour with the last bit of lingering red cloud overhead, hence the colour of light.
A few years after taking this shot, my camera bag was stolen along with the M4, early 21mm Elmarit, early 35mm Summilux, and an old 50 'Lux. Insurance replaced the entire kit with the then current M6, 21mm Elmarit-M ASPH, 35mm Summilux ASPH, and 50mm Summilux, all brand new. I was very lucky as I could never have afforded to purchase this kit.
More leading lines. Leica M6 (pre-TTL), 21mm Elmarit-M ASPH, Tri-X.
Even when the sky is overcast, the clouds can look dramatic. This picture was taken as I walked a bit aimlessly around Paris. I passed by the square and all the people standing around caught my eye.
Ok, I do admit to photographing people and there are some wonderful characters in Paris to capture. These two studying the advert on the side of the bus made a nice symmetrical composition. No leading lines though. Leica M6, 35mm Summicron, Tri-X.
The rain was pelting down that day so I took a long lunch in a bistro to dry off a bit. Looking out the window I saw the scene above. They were so entranced by the advert, they had no idea I was there.
I didn’t realize that the inside of Notre Dame was so dark. Almost all the light came from the candles, so I believe this was taken at 1/8 second hand-held. I had steadier hands in those days. Leica M6, 35mm Summicron, Tri-X.
In addition to the Casio, I’ve shot a lot of film over the years in Paris, but the final disappearance of Kodachrome pushed me completely into digital photography for colour. I tried Velvia and several print films but none of them seemed to work for me. I continued with B&W photography on Tri-X for about five years, but eventually carrying a film camera for B&W and a digital for colour became too much for long distance travel. That was about the time the Leica M8 came out. Before that, I had been carrying a Canon DSLR and a Leica M6. The M8 was a significant improvement over the Canon 30d I was using and allowed me to significantly reduce the size and weight of my kit.
Since then I’ve moved through the M9 and then on to the Fuji X-Pro1 and then X-Pro2. The Fujis are capable of superb image quality and while the lenses are larger than equivalent Leica lenses, they don’t seem to be any heavier. In spite of that, I can’t quite seem to settle with the Fujis. There are too many options for me, both in the menus and in the form of buttons and dials on the body of the camera and I find the camera sometimes getting in the way. As soon as I can afford it I will be moving back to Leica with an M10, renewing my use of Leicas that started in 1976.
It’s been more than ten years since I was last in Paris, but it is a destination I will certainly visit many more times, and now that I am a 100% digital photographer, I hope to capture an even greater variety of shots. Using film, I found it very difficult to capture Paris at night, so that will be one of my first goals on my next trip.