back to photo tours page photo tour to Paris
photos by Barbara van Zanten & Susette Willhite
PARIS in the SPRING
DATES: Wed June 24- Sunday June 28, 2009 (4 nights)
LOTS OF WALKING - minimum six hours a day
This will be an intense three-and-a-half day photo tour of Paris, a city I lived in for eight years and to which I return just about every year, so I know it VERY well. I have researched Paris for five previous photo tours and I have walked just about every street and lane in every district searching for great photo ops. We will shoot the famous landmarks and also the hidden corners, stair wells, shops, cafes, old buildings and alley-ways that only the locals (and I) know.
Paris, as everyone has heard, is a magical city, especially at night. The heart of the city lies spread across the river Seine from the Left Bank (also known as the Latin Quarter) where the University of the Sorbonne is situated, onto the two islands in the middle of the river (Ile de la Cite and Ile St.Louis) and over to the Right Bank, where the Louvre is found. The city was re-designed at the end of the 19th century, and the beautiful wide Grand Boulevards lines with trees, the monumental facades of the buildings, and the harmony of the Belle Epoque architecture are all testimony to the benefits of inspirational town planning.
Paris is full of famous sites that we will shoot both by day and illuminated at night: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (freshly cleaned and restored), the Louvre Museum with its modern glass pyramids, the Champs Elysees...the list goes on. Paris also has many less well known delights for the photographer...the Pont des Arts is one example. This is a pedestrian-only bridge that spans the Seine and has wonderful views of the Ile de la Cite and the river banks. At all times of the year, in fine weather Parisians linger on this bridge well into the night to enjoy each others' company and the music from the street musicians, while they sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset over the nearby Eiffel Tower. We have had great success with people shots on this bridge during our previous Paris tours and it is included on this one. The small back streets of the Latin Quarter, the islands, and the Marais; the sumptuous street markets; the booksellers along the Seine; the artists painting views of Notre Dame Cathedral and the view from the top of the Cathedral are other scenes typical of day to day Paris that we will photograph.
Also on the itinerary will be some of the other less famous corners of Paris that tourists rarely visit and that I found during my research for our "Retro Paris" tour in 2006. I love the parts of Paris that remind me of the black and white shots of Doisneau and Atget. For my black and white image gallery of Paris click here. It is still possible to find old parts of Paris where you can construct great nostalgic photographs. All Paris streets are atmospheric and so very "French" and shots of famous Paris landmarks are timeless. But by going to the parts that are not mentioned in the guide books where tourists rarely venture and by looking into courtyards and through cafe doors you can find authentic retro vignettes. There are even some tiny bits of old Paris peeking out from under the skirts of modern-touristy Paris. After all, it only takes a square yard of something wonderful to give us enough material for a great photograph. Who cares if there is a nuclear reactor just out of shot? (Don't panic, there are no nuclear reactors in Paris). Paris is still full of old cafes and bistros that did not succumb to the tax deductible temptations of a 1960’s government modernization program, that resulted in zinc counters and marble tiles being replaced by Formica, flock wallpaper and nauguerhide. These places are treasure troves of nostalgia and by getting up really early we will be able to shoot inside them before the daily rush begins.
We will be based in the Latin Quarter, (hang-out of Earnest Hemingway in his poverty stricken period at the feet of Gertrude Stein), site of the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and the College of Medicine, and hence a lively and youthful part of town. I feel that this part of Paris is where “it’s at”. This is the heart of the great city and the daily life of this quarter is the heartbeat. It is light years away from the Grand Boulevards and opulence of the Right Bank, a district that breathes money and power. Our simple but comfortable hotel is a short walk away from the river Seine and the Cathedral of Notre Dame - convenient for the insomniacs of the group to visit this illuminated edifice at night and marvel at the expertise of the 11th century masons that built it, as well as the current cost of illuminating it. We will venture south into the university district, and north and north-east into the islands, Bastille-land, and the Marais. It is in these areas that vestiges of old Paris still flourish, fully supported and protected by the inhabitants of each quartier, fiercely proud of their Retro Paris shabby-chic. Also of course we will spend time in Montmartre, the Parisian "village" where artists of the 19th century lived and painted in poverty and squalor. This quarter is in the far north of Paris and was made famous most recently by the film “Amelie” (if you haven’t seen it, rent it. Consider this an obligatory preparation for the tour). Touristy though it can be by day, Montmartre still looks, smells, feels and tastes like the Paris of Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, the can-can and absinthe. Disregard the fake artists in the Place des Tertres and the tourists sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur. We will get there early before the tourist buses arrive, and the streets and alleys once walked by the most famous painters of all time sparkle their magic.
We will photograph the little square where Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, Braque, Utrillo, and Modigliani stumbled home after a long night out. A few streets away are the cafes that served Van Gogh and Renoir, Corot, Degas, Cézanne, Apollinaire, Matisse, Vlaminck and Braque. During the day these cafes and restaurants are taken over by tourists and their history is lost in the crowd, but in the early morning, who knows how many ghosts will accompany us fellow-artists in the search for their old hang-outs? Maybe they (along with the street cleaners and trash guys) will show us the Montmartre that they loved. The ancient buildings, the shutters, the cobbled alleyways, the old scooters tied to wrought iron fences, the café windows, the decorated boulangeries, the steps up and down, the endless views, the pots of geraniums... Whether you are looking for retro Paris or a more modern interpretation, everything is there for us to photograph…
We have a lot to cram into our three-and-a-half days but as we will be there in late June we will have long days (it gets light at four in the morning and dark at 10:30 at night) in which to shoot. To avoid the tourist crowds we will get up very early and shoot the streets at dawn. After a short breakfast we will continue shooting in less touristy districts. Then we will probably eat a big lunch, have a nap and then shoot through the afternoon and evening grabbing a bite to eat where possible in the evening. We will also set up one of our, by now legendary still lifes. We will buy some flowers and props and set up an arrangement or two with something typically Parisian in the background. Also on the itinerary will be a visit to at least one of Paris' street markets with flowers, fruit, cheeses and fish artfully arranged on the stalls.
Driving in Paris is a nightmare, parking is even worse. So we do not use a motor vehicle. We walk or take a bus or metro. (Or if you choose, you can take a taxi at your own cost). This means that we have to carry our tripods (essential for night shots), but this has not seemed to be a problem during past tours. Paris lives in a constant state of excitement and we always get caught up in its web of charms, so much so that we do not notice the weight of our equipment or how far we have walked....However, you should be fit for this type of tour as we will walk at least six hours every day.
Food for thought: “I love postcard clichés. You have to be a genius to take a good picture of Paris. So many have already been taken.” Jean-Paul Gautier