â€œCan you meet me in Paris on Thursday Oct. 26th (2006)?â€Â At least thatâ€™s the way I remember the call from Julie.Â She was assimilating into a new job and it was time to visit the European operations; London, Amsterdam, Paris.Â Clearly, a rendezvous was in order.
When I think of Paris, many of the images in my head are those taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson now imprinted as archetypes.Â And donâ€™t forget those long rainy afternoons in Baba & Uncle Johnnyâ€™s converted coal bin where decades of Life magazines were stacked on chronological order.Â The multiple fruit flavors of Holly â€œpopâ€ were on the opposite side, so I could hold out for hours (admittedly sneaking an occasional, and absolutely essential, pee break down the basement floor drain).
Where would we stay? How were the flight connections?Â Was Paris really a black & white city?Â No problem, I always felt more at home in Kansas than in Oz.Â Camera and film were no dilemma.Â Two cameras:Â The Rollei twin lens thatâ€™s older than I am and the M4 Leica thatâ€™s a year older than my son, Matt (he was 33 at the time).Â And plenty of 100 and 400 film (mixed bag of Ilford Delta 100, 400 and Kodak T-Max 100, 400).Â 35 50 and 90 Summicrons for the Leica, tripod and not many accessories.Â Carry-on baggage only.
With a few weeks to wait, I took the Leica out to Mountain View, Calif., where we have an apartment convenient to Julieâ€™s work and my Silicon Valley communicationÂ clients.Â
Castro Street is the main downtown artery in Mountain View with a train station at one end that goes to San Francisco, and three dozen or so restaurants of all kinds, though Asian variations predominate, City Hall, the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, a handful of coffee houses that provide alternatives to the roasts from the MBAs at Starbuck and Peets and a pace that isnâ€™t frantic.Â Castro Street offers myriadÂ subjects for an observer with a Leica.
The Mountain View images were decent.Â I hadnâ€™t worked with the Leica very often.Â Medium and 4×5 formats have been my concentration since the mid 80s when I stopped taking pictures as part of my corporate job with GM.Â I missed a few things and I now had to contend with reading glasses to read a meter and set an f/stop, but the results were encouraging enough that I thought I could get something worthwhile in Paris.Â You decide and tell me about it if youâ€™re inclined.
A mentor once told me not to drink alcohol on an international flight and to eat the next meal the locals are having after landing.Â I arrived in Paris â€“ that is the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport â€“ in early morning.Â It was late morning when I arrived in the real Paris, a hotel on the left bank two blocks from Pont Neuf, a bit further to La Louvre.Â
I checked in and soon headed for a walk and lunch with the Leica.Â Julie wouldnâ€™t be arriving until early evening.Â Some of the intimate cafÃ© scenes were done from my seat along the sidewalk on the street that borders the Seine near the Institute Francais. (LOOK UP) .Â The distinctly unfriendly parking officer didnâ€™t like my photographing her at her work.Â Not many of the others seemed to take notice.
Here was my thinking.Â What are some of the notions that Paris evokes?Â Lovers.Â CafÃ© Society.Â Art, Literature, Music, Dance, Theatre (all proper nouns in Paris).Â Fashion.Â History and its monuments.Â Barges plying the Seine.Â
I left out aviation and diplomacy intentionally.
Those were the things I would look for, but I would also remain open to interesting people and interesting compositions of light and shadow.Â My â€œassignmentâ€ wasnâ€™t to get this shot or that; it was to make pictures that would evoke all those curious photographers who had given me my unexperienced image of the city.Â Maybe Brassai not so much.
How does one make a photograph of the Eiffel Tower that is different from the others?Â
I donâ€™t know.Â Iâ€™m pretty sure itâ€™s not by lying down on the ground and aiming up as a handful of really creative tourists did.Â The weather was cloudy and drizzly.Â Not without hope, as the cloud layer sometimes thinned and brightened, butÂ a plastic bag for the cameras was a good idea.
Julie had a strong need to climb the tower steps.Â I didnâ€™t.Â
I crossed the road and climbed the stairs to the monument on the hill.Â I reasoned that from higher up, I wouldnâ€™t have much of a problem taking the tower straight-on instead of aiming up and making it look like a Pisa tumbling backward.Â That proved true; level camera, no distortion.
The cloud layer brightened.Â I noticed a modern building in the background through the Rollei viewfinder.Â The image didnâ€™t look different from all the others, but it looked pretty good.Â The light had an antique quality to it, likely from all the moisture in the air.Â The Rollei Tessar captures all this beautifully.Â It has a feeling thatâ€™s very complicated to describe.Â Not soft like a pictorialistâ€™s study; sharp but gentle on the final print.Â
Coming down a different set of steps back toward the tower I saw the Carousel de Paris and picked up my pace with some eager anticipation.Â I had my unique image of the tower as background to a father smoking a cigarette while watching his daughter enjoy the ride.Â Very French, right down to the Gauloises Caporal.
The night photographs presented a challenge.Â Julie and I were experiencing Paris together and the cameras need to rest.Â As we strolled to and from dinners, took the Seine cruise and simply walked for the fun of it the charm of the city at night became apparent.Â The night closes in, but the famed lights of Paris make the city exempt.Â Paris is a cocoon of light within the mass of dark ness.Â
On our last night, we had dinner early and I set out with the cameras while Julie packed.Â The scene with the Institute Francais dome foreground left and the searchlight atop the lighted Tour Eiffel Â seeming to brighten the clouds at twilight.
Julie can be seen in two of the images in the Paris portfolio.Â In one, hers are the hands squeezing lemon into a Perrier, and in the second sheâ€™s petting a rolled-over smoosh of a Siberian Husky. The silver and black of her hair and the dogâ€™s coat are an interesting play off each other.