I have always loved Paris. When I was young we used to go there every year, stopping off on the way back from the south of France where my parents had a house. I always imagined I would live there when I was older, at least for a while. That hasn’t happened. Yet. But Paris has a special place in my heart.
Earlier this year I realised I was missing Paris, having not been there for several years. I wanted to wander the streets, carefree with my cameras. And then the perfect opportunity presented itself. There was a Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Pompidou Centre!
Henri Cartier-Bresson is of course chiefly known for his “decisive moment” pictures, black-and-white images taken with a Leica and a 50mm lens. He actually did a lot of other things, including colour photography, but just as a rock band is remembered for its best couple of albums, that’s what he is remembered for. Hearing that there was an exhibition of his work inspired me, but in a different way. I had a decisive moment of my own. I booked a train ticket to Paris (and one for my dear friend Georgia, who came with me).
When the day arrived we met at the station in London at the crack of dawn. We were in Paris before lunch, and we wandered along the Seine, visited Notre Dame, had a relaxed lunch at a brasserie and (of course) went to the Pompidou for the Cartier-Bresson exhibition. It was inspirational. The pictures I took that day were not black-and-white decisive-moment pictures; instead I tried to capture the mood of the city, with its distinctive architecture and relaxed ambience. And with my digital camera’s card corrupting on the trip, all I have left from the day are these film images; it helped too that the weather was spectacular. After a brief dinner it was difficult for us to tear ourselves away, heading back to London on the train.
So here are the images that resulted from my own decisive moment. I still haven’t fulfilled my dream of living in Paris for a while, but I’m sure it’s in my future, one way or another. It was great to revisit the streets I remember from my youth, reconnect with my past, and be inspired by one of the masters of photography. Cartier-Bresson took a camera with him everywhere, and was said to shoot a roll of film for every block he walked. His work is a reminder that photography is not a separate activity, but part of life itself.