Robert Hirsch takes us through history in this interview about his new book, beginning with the groundbreaking 60s to contemporary work of today, featuring artists in his book that "...literally have...
Paris is one of the birthplaces of photography and a city whose casual
beauty makes for rich material to anyone willing to walk around slowly
and observe carefully. It could be that your eyes will settle on a bit
of sculpture on a building facade. Or the arrangement of goods in a
Standard Paris Photos
If you want to convince your friends that you really were in the City
of Light, make sure that you've got some photos of Notre Dame, the
area around Ile de la Cite, the Tour Eiffel, and the Champs Elysees
with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. There is a variety of
ways to make these more interesting than the standard point-and-shoot
image. Start by using black and white film. All the great
photographers of Paris (e.g., Atget, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau,
Kertesz) worked in black and white.
Try using wide-angle lenses with people in the foreground and
monuments in back. Parisians are reliably stylish and tourists are
reliably clownish. Either way, you've got something entertaining and
unique in the foreground. If you're willing to lug a tripod, use a
long telephoto lens to compress multiple buildings into flat patterns.
If you're emulating Cartier-Bresson and traveling light with just a
50mm lens, it is even more vital that you get comfortable smiling at
passersby and snapping their pictures.
People Looking at Art
Paris is the ultimate place to get photos of people viewing and
reacting to art. There is sculpture throughout the city and the
museums tend to be camera-friendly if not flash-friendly. The easiest
museum in which to create dramatic images of art, people, and
structure is the Musee d'Orsay, a converted train station housing art
from 1850 through World War I. Another good choice is Centre
Pompidou, the modern art museum and cultural center.
Pick up a copy of Reponses Photo at a newsstand and turn to
the Actuexpos (L'Actualite des Expositions) section for a list of museum
and gallery photo exhibitions throughout France, organized by region.
A 40-minute RER ride from the center of Paris and you're in people
photography heaven: Disneyland. Try black and white to focus
attention on the bizarre attitudes of the crowd, the pained
expressions of those who've waited on line for hours. I keep meaning
to take a Fuji 617 panoramic camera in
For the graves of great artists, marked by fine stone carving, Parisian
cemeteries are unexcelled. Visit Cimetiere de Montmartre, the resting
place of Hector Berlioz, Henrich Heine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Jacques
Offenbach, and Francois Truffaut. Then move south to the Cimetiere du
Montparnasse, where you find the graves of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
(Statue of Liberty), Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Andre Citroen,
Alfred Dreyfus (Dreyfus Case), Man Ray, Guy de Maupassant, Camille
Saint-Saens, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. You can end your
day east of downtown at the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise (16 Rue du Repos;
Metro: Pere Lachaise). Honore de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Frederic
Chopin, Moliere, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust,
and Oscar Wilde await you.
Except in winter, the hill of Montmartre is worthwhile for
photographing tourists interacting with artists working on the street.
Suggested Day around the Eiffel Tower
Get to the Tour Eiffel when it opens (9:00 am in July and August; 9:30
am the rest of the year). Take some photos from the top and around the
base while the sunlight is still coming from an interesting angle.
Proceed to Rue Cler, a pedestrian street market for photographs of
people shopping, food and flowers for sale. Save your appetite, though,
for the cafe at the Musee Rodin (below).
Proceed on foot to the Musee Rodin at 77 Rue de Varenne. Take some
pictures of the Rodin sculptures in the garden. The little cafe in the
garden serves nice light lunches in a tranquil environment. As a bonus
for Americans, the interior part of the cafe is completely non-smoking.
If you still have energy left, double back to the Hotel des Invalides.
This complex, built on an inhuman scale, is not a great place for
photography but it contains the important Dome Church within which lies
Napoleon's Tomb as well as an interesting army museum. The most unusual
part of the museum is a collection of relief maps (Musee des
Plans-Reliefs). The light levels are too low for photography but it is
If you're in the mood for more art, there is a lovely small museum
devoted primarily to the works of Aristide Maillol at 59 Rue de Grenelle
on your way toward the Sevres-Babylone Metro stop.
You can end your day in the brasserie at the historic Hotel Lutetia,
right on top of the Sevres-Babylone Metro stop and across the square
from the Bon Marche department store.
Skip The Marais
If you're short on time, you can skip the Marais, every guidebook's
favorite Paris neighborhood. This is a gentrified-in-the-1960s
quarter of narrow streets that lacks the authenticity of the rest of
downtown Paris. For example, there is a street containing some kosher
food shops, Rue des Rosiers. You're supposed to see Hassidim walking
down the streets in dreadlocks, stocking up for Shabbat. In reality,
any Jews that you see are most likely to be from New York and clad in
jeans and a T-shirt.
The Marais contains some important museums. The Musee Picasso
displays the painter's personal collection of works, i.e., stuff that
didn't sell. The museum is further notable for being perhaps the only
museum in Paris that has bothered to put up an English translation of
its signage. The Museee Carnavalet is even more interesting, though
photography seems to be forbidden. This contains paintings and rooms
from various periods in Parisian history.
Brentano's at 37 Avenue L'Opera is better and bigger than the average
mall bookstore in the US. WH Smith at 248 Rue de Rivoli is also a
good choice for selection. If you want a conversation and a bit of
history to go with your Danielle Steele novel, visit Shakespeare and
Company, 37 Rue de la Bucherie.
In terms of the way that goods are organized and displayed, Paris is one
of the world's finest shopping cities. And the Parisians are thoughtful
curious shoppers. This leads to some good photo opportunities. The
area around Madeleine contains Fauchon, the most famous name in Paris
gourmet foods, and also a variety of more specialized competitors.
A particularly interesting kind of shopping experience is the 19th
century gallery or "passage". There are a bunch of these just to the
east of the Opera Garnier.
Another interesting theme is the exotic and unfamiliar brand names that
you'll find in Paris:
If you need Internet connectivity from your room, there are but few
choices. Sofitel Arc de Triomphe will supposedly have 10base-T jacks
in every room for Ethernet-based connectivity by the end of February
If you don't need Internet connectivity or perhaps you're willing to
struggle with a modem and a European ISP, your choices are varied. It
is best to decide on a neighborhood first.
If you're interested in nightlife and shopping, the Opera Quarter is
fabulous. I've stayed in the Millenium Hotel, 12 Boulevard Haussman,
www.stay-with-us.com, email@example.com, (01) 49 49 16
00. It is conveniently situated for the gourmet, with a McDonald's to
the left, another McDonald's across the street, and a third down the
Boulevard des Italiens. Nearly 20 cinema screens are within a
5-minute walk (look for "VO" or "version originale" if you don't want
to strain to understand a French-dubbed "VF" or "version francaise" of
your Hollywood classic) and a bunch of good all-night or late-night
brasseries. I've never stayed in the Ambassador Hotel, next door at
16 Boulevard Haussman, but it is reputed to be excellent as well.
From either hotel, it is about a 20-minute (interesting) walk to the
Louvre and Notre Dame.
If you want to wake up and stroll by the river, walk into an art
museum, or visit Notre Dame, you can't do better than a hotel smack in
the middle of the Ile St-Louis. These will all be small; don't expect
the facilities of a palace or business hotel. The DK guide recommends
Hotel des Deux-Iles, (01) 43 26 13 35, and Hotel du Jeu de Paume, (01)
43 26 14 18.
If business calls you to the southern portion of the city, the only
palace hotel is the Lutetia (www.lutetia-paris.com). This
place is steeped in history. The Nazis camped out here during WWII and
French Jews who'd survived the war and returned to Paris stayed here
right after. To be a good value, the Lutetia would need to add (1)
non-smoking rooms, (2) Ethernet drops in the rooms, and (3) better
temperature control in its showers.
The Michelin Red Guides are the most reliable source for restaurants
throughout Europe. A
Red Guide Paris is a bit cumbersome to carry around a city, however,
and tends not to bother rating quick and simple places. One useful
strategy for Paris is to stop into a good hotel and ask the concierge
for a recommendation in the neighborhood.
Below are some personal favorites.
This district contains a bunch of Michelin 2-star and 3-star
restaurants at which you'll need reservations, a jacket and tie, a
long time to eat, and the right attitude. They're all great if you
book weeks in advance and dedicate the evening to the experience. If,
on the other hand, you want a beautiful fish dinner after a movie, take
the advice of the concierge at the Hotel Georges V and visit Le Bistro
de Marius at 6 Avenue George V (a few blocks towards the river from
the hotel; (01) 40 70 11 76). For about $35 per person they serve a
fabulous three-course dinner with wine. They don't take reservations
and the dining room is rather smoky.
Le Petit Bofinger, 20 Boulevard Montmartre, is friendly, open fairly
late, and has a large non-smoking section at the back of the
restaurant. Menus at $15 and $25.
Just beyond the north wall of the Palais Royal, Le Grand Colbert is a
beautifully decorated brasserie (2 Rue Vivienne; (01) 42 86 87 88).
St. German Des Pres
Restaurant Paris, inside the Hotel Lutetia, is an 8-table 1-room 1-star
temple of cuisine (45 Boulevard Raspail, (01) 49 54 56 90). Closed
Saturday and Sunday.
There are seven Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris and several
thousand crummy crepe or couscous joints. Those are your starting
odds. Unlike the small towns of France, highish prices won't
guarantee quality food and service. A crowded brasserie on the Champs
Elysees may merely be serving tourists too lazy to ask around, check
the guidebooks, or walk a bit. Even the locals aren't necessarily
discriminating; fast food chains proliferate and prosper throughout
(One aspect of the French restaurant experience underscores the
difference in mobile telecom infrastructures between the US and
France. Instead of taking your credit card up to a hard-wired
terminal, your waiter will bring a little machine right to your table.
This uses the reliable GSM mobile phone network to dial up for credit
approval, something that would be impossible in the US where AT&T
or Sprint PCS would drop half the calls.)
In the good old days, the answer would be obvious:
to Paris. This is still a useful book and the star system helps
one prioritize the numberless sites of the city. However, the
Kindersley Eyewitness Paris is more useful, especially for a photographer,
because the book contains a small snapshot of each site. Thus you're
able to make an informed decision as to whether or not the journey
will be photographically worthwhile. The Dorling Kindersley guide is
also good about indicating whether or not photography is allowed
within a site. Finally, the guide contains a Metro/RER map on the
back cover, a small street atlas, restaurant recommendations, and
hotel listings. Somehow the end result is just a bit weak for
planning purposes but it is perfect to keep in your pocket.
If you are visiting the southern portion of the city (left bank),
consider trying to find a flight into Orly; it will save you time and
money in a taxi. Most international nonstops, however, fly into
Aeroport Charles de Gaulle (CDG; also known as "Roissy"). From CDG it
is an hour-long $40 taxi ride to the center of Paris or a few dollars
on the RER.
For airline choices, see the
photo.net guide to international airlines. Bottom line: Air France
is most likely to have a nonstop flight from wherever you are. Their
people are friendly and relaxed. If you're on a 777 or A340 you'll have
personal video in every seat, even in coach. If you must connect, try to
take British Airways; it is the best large airline and you fly directly
over London on most flights to Paris from the U.S.--i.e., you lose some
time changing planes in London but you've not flown any extra distance.
American Airlines is the only carrier that I actively avoid.
Though the Metro is efficient, taxis in Paris are surprisingly cheap,
practical, and scenic. Within the tourist areas, a one-way taxi trip
is unlikely to cost more than $10. For long trips by yourself,
though, you can save the big bucks by taking the RER, a kind of
American citizens don't need a visa to visit France. Despite the fact
that the country is modern and has excellent health care, you should
expect to get sick. Either you'll catch a cold on the plane going over
or you'll lack immunity to a food or flu virus that is common and
harmless over there.
The time in Paris is GMT+1, i.e., one hour ahead of London and six
hours ahead of New York. Thus if it is 9:00 am in New York, it is
already 3:00 pm in Paris.
Electricity in France is 220V at 50 Hz. Most laptop computer and
digital camera power supplies can function on this power and at most
you'll need a mechanical adaptor. Business hotel rooms often are
equipped with an American-style plug near the desk. If not, the hotel
will lend you an adapter.
The country code for France is 33.
Money seems to be the franc rather than the euro. You can get francs
with an American ATM card from just about any bank machine. The
exchange rate is usually between 6 and 7 francs per dollar. Prices are
also marked in euros, each of which is roughly equivalent to one
dollar. Supposedly on January 1, 2002 the French will start using Euro
bills and coins.
France is just a bit smaller than Texas and packed with interesting
historical photogenic scenery. You could hop the TGV and get to
Marseille in 4 hours (or Milan in about 6!). But it is rather
difficult to apply yourself seriously to the craft of photography when
the landscape is whizzing past at 185 miles per hour.
Rent a car. Throw the tripod and camera bag in the trunk and poke
along from village to village, keeping your eyes open for side roads,
backroads, old signs painted on the sides of buildins, etc.
Don't let your ignorance of obscure traffic laws concern you; the
French don't follow laws very carefully themselves. Do make sure that
you've got a reasonably large car with airbags; France has an auto
accident death rate that is, per passenger-mile, 3 times that of
Britain or Germany.
To a first approximation, everyone in Paris speaks English. A lot of
times the shop assistants are from other European Union countries and,
in fact, speak better English than French! Nonetheless, you'll have a
much more enjoyable trip if you brush up your junior high school
The Complete Idiot's Guide to French is a pretty good
book but its 456 pages of instruction are substantially diluted by the
personal reflections of the author, "who has taught in New York City
public schools for 20 years and lives in Bayside, New York." The book
also contains tips on navigating the exotic commercial waters of
France. For example, "check out rates of a few car rentals before you
make a decision [on which company to rent from], because rates vary
from agency to agency."
As an example of how reduced human capabilities have become in the
second half of the 20th century, pick up a used or library copy of
Margarita Madrigal's An Invitation to French (1945
reprinted 1972; Simon and Schuster). This is a small-format 200-page
book that is almost exclusively in French and conveys more useful dialog
and grammar than Complete Idiot's Guide and similar modern
You won't learn any French language from
which is in English, but it will give you a good feel for the city.
The French, especially Parisians, have a reputation for rudeness. This
is occasionally confirmed in luxury shops, especially if you're
dressed like a schlub. Sifting through 17 years of personal
experience, however, I can relate the following anecdotes of French
Whenever I initiative a conversation or transaction in my broken
junior high school French, I get an answer in reasonably good English.
In 1983 I was riding as a passenger in a Parisian's car. We were
driving past a train station and two people ran frantically into the
street to flag us down. They explained that they'd just missed their
train, one of the TGVs with reserved seats, but that it would be
stopping for 15 minutes at a station in another section of Paris.
There weren't any taxis available but if we'd be willing to rush them
over to the other station, they might make their train. My friend
quickly agreed to drive 20 minutes out of his way to help out these
In 1984 I attended a conference in Italy and met a Parisian
computer scientist. He found out that I was going to be stopping next
in Paris and was sorry that he'd be out of town that week. He gave me
the keys to his centrally located apartment. The morning after I
arrived two of his girlfriends turned up to take me sightseeing. He'd
called them from his hotel in Italy.
In 1984 I was in the Champs Elysees drugstore cafe eating dinner by
myself, reading the Herald Tribune. Next to me were two
impeccably suited business men from Strasbourg. Next to them was a
penniless college student working in Paris as an au pair. At the
end of our meals all four of us got into the business guys' huge Renault
sedan to be guided around the city by the college girl. We didn't split
up until 3:00 am.
In 2001 a colleague and I were dining at Le Bistro de Marius. The
couple at the adjacent table heard us order two glasses of wine and
interrupted to offer us their nearly-untouched second bottle of
white wine. We fell into conversation with the businessman and his
civil servant wife. When they heard of our plans to visit Disneyland
Paris we were given his card and an offer to be shown around Paris
personally. Meanwhile we'd been attempting to talk with the waitress
in French but she only wanted to speak English. Though she'd never
visited the U.S., she'd developed a passion for our country and was
actively seeking a restaurant job in the States.
Paris is a big city. People there aren't exactly starved for social
contact. But if you're reasonably soft-spoken, good humored, and make
an attempt to speak the language, you may be surprised at how friendly
the natives turn out to be. Remember that if Parisians didn't like
people, they'd probably have moved out to the countryside a long time