A photographers long weekend in Paris

Paris is one of the world’s great photography cities.  To entice my husband to return  (I gotta be nice to him, he’s my blog photographer), and in honor of our planned dinner with the most renowned photo editor of the 20th century , I decided to dedicate this trip to photo exhibits – a new twist on my favorite city.  How hard could this be?…    In short, pretty darn hard.  We learned by trial and error, walking across town to museums to find them between exhibits then stumbling upon temporary shows near our hotel.  My pre-trip internet research was helpful but incomplete.  The first day ended in a fog of confusion and frustration.    

There are three buckets of photographic exhibits to consider.  The first are museums which are dedicated to photography.  The next group are those venues which house temporary exhibits which may – or may not – be photography.  Both of these groups are easy to investigate before you set foot in Paris.  Last are those exhibits randomly situated around the city in a variety of smaller galleries and other venues.  We explored all three.   

The “Maison Europeean de la Photographie” (translated, House of European Photography) is a Le Marais permanent photographic museum nestled on the Rue Forcy just south of the Rue de Rivoli near St. Paul’s metro.  During our visit, the museum featured an exhibit by Paolo Pellegrin. a Magnum Photos photographer (more on Magnum later).  The exhibit is entitled “Dies irae” an illusion to “Judgement Day”.   The photos, taken over the last 15 years, are from Cambodia, Kosovo, Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami, Gaza, Haiti, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iran.  Needless to say, none of the photos are of children playing with puppies.  These pictures  are gripping – and the title an acknowledgement that those who set the stage for these raw photos will need to defend their actions at their own judgement day.  During our dinner with John Morris, he was “thrilled” we had visited the exhibit.  Paolo Pellegrin is, in John’s estimation, one of the top photographers in the world today.   

The “Jeu de Paume“, located on the northwest corner of the Tuileries Gardens closest to the Place de la Concorde, is Paris’ other famous museum dedicated to photography.  This museum historically housed great impressionist works subsequently relocated to the Musee D’Orsay.  Now, it is opened to the cadence of their temporary photo exhibit schedule.  When we visited they were installing a new exhibition due to open May 22nd.  Consequently, we could only visit the bookstore.  Check their website before you arrive in Paris to decide if this option is viable before you schlep across town to visit it.   We will certainly pencil this into our next visit to Paris.

Helmut Newton Poster – Grand Palais

A short stroll from the Jeu de Paume is the Grand Palais created for the Universal Exposition of 1900 and fully refurbished during the last decade.  This belle-epoque treasure houses a series of temporary exhibits – both photographic and not.  During our stay the Palais housed an exhibit by the famous Berlin photographer, Helmut Newton.  For the men in the crowd, this is photography exhibit pay dirt.  Suffice it to say, Helmut photographed the most beautiful women in the world for Vogue and Elle magazines before reshooting the photos with the models naked.  There’s nothing like a little artistic porn to bring out the art lover in the male species.  That said, I enjoyed it.   He didn’t make his name off soft porn alone.  Go for the photos and the beautifully restored venue.    

Lastly, on this list of permanent structures housing temporary photo exhibits, we trekked over to Montparnasse to visit the Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson.   You will need a good map to find this small building on the alley way Lebouis (just off the Rue Lebouis – a bit south and west of the southwest corner of Montparnasse cemetery).  The building is architected to provide the perfect lighting for photography exhibits.  

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cartier-Bresson was one of the founders of Magnum Photo and a photographic tour de force of the 20th Century. The next exhibit, by the photographer Yutaka Takanashi, began the day after we left Paris.  Not a problem, I love to have a list of reasons to return to Paris.  Again, do your homework before walking to this out of the way photo venue.  

To see the photos of Cartier-Bresson, follow the exhibition schedule of Magnum Photo.  Magnum Photos was founded in 1947 by four of the greatest war photographers of the day: Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour.  They created Magnum to have more independence in their work – an “associated press” of photographic images.  Thru September 16th of this year there is a Magnum photo exhibit in Verona, Italy featuring Robert Capa and Cartier-Bresson.  If we can score two cheap airline tickets in early September, we’ll certainly drop in on this exhibit.

In addition to these exhibits, Paris is a cornucopia of much smaller temporary photo exhibits and photo galleries.  You can get a grasp on what’s in town during your visit two ways; my favorite way is to stumble upon them and visit spontaneously.  Look for the posters advertising the latest event.  Many of these smaller exhibits, often in old churches and other interesting buildings, are labelled “gratuite” or “libre” (meaning free).  Alternatively, buy a “Pariscope” at any newspaper kiosk.  Pariscope is a challenge as it is written in French.  However, if you thumb thru the 20 or so pages of “arts” and circle those which have “photographie” in their description, I’m sure the concierge will help you translate the exact nature of the exhibition and how to get to it. 

There are worse things to do in life than stumble around Paris looking for a photo exhibit, restaurant, quiet corner of the city you can call your own.  Use this as a start – and feel free to color outside the lines.  Most of all…   enjoy!                 

Places to Stay and Eat:

Hotel Diana 73 Rue St. Jacques (5th).  This little hotel just across from the Sorbonne is not my idea of paradise.  The common area and the rooms are plain albeit clean.  However, the price (110 Euro for a double room), the location (on the Rue St. Jacques near the Sorbonne and a 10 minute walk to Notre Dame), and the extremely helpful staff (say hello to Thomas) all conspired to win me over.  My “go to” hotel in Paris is still Hotel du Champs de Mars.  However, if you want a cheap, clean, quiet option in the 5th – this little place is just fine.  (to get “quiet” ask for a room in the back of the hotel). 

Pain Quotidien

Le Pain QuotidienRue des Archives, 20 (Le Marais – 4th).  This is an upscale (read expensive) option for breakfast with wonderful breads, fresh juices, yogurt, soft cooked eggs.  The portion sizes are substantial (esp. the “bread basket” which could easily feed 3 or more people).  We spent between 15 and 20 Euro here for coffee, hot chocolate, fresh OJ and all the bread we could reasonable eat.Restaurant PerraudinRue Saint-Jacques, 157 (5th) This small restaurant is just up the road from the Hotel Diana.  It is exactly what I think of when I imagine a French bistro…  lace curtains, tile floor, red checked table clothes, and stick to the ribs country French cooking.  The food was good, the atmosphere classic, the waiter adorable, and the bill 85 Euro for 2 appetizers, main courses, desserts and wine.  

Brasserie BalzarRue des Ecoles, 49 (5th) Just around the corner from the Hotel Diana – a good choice for a simple “fixed price” breakfast (juice, coffee, croissant for 6 euro) or a serviable dinner.  I had the steak and fries… the extra money paid for the fillet was well worth it.  The lemon tart was delicious.  Two appetizers, mains, desserts, and wine was 100 Euro.  It’s a nice alternative to the more touristy brasserie choices nearby (Deux Maggots, Brasserie Lipp…) – but not a restaurant I would go out of my way to visit.

Chez PapaRue Gassendi, 6 (14th)  We weren’t hungary after walking around Montparnasse cemetery… but we could not ignore the crowd at this small restaurant on Rue Froidevaux at Rue Gassendi.  We split an appetizer of specialties from the south west of France.  The dish, which was served on a large wooden cutting board, was more than adequate as a lunch for two – containing salad, roasted potatoes, and a variety of liver pates.  I am not a liver fan – but these were delicious.  Other nearby diners enjoyed a variety of stews served in individual ceramic crocks.  Our meal (only 2 glasses of wine and the large appetizer) was in the 30 Euro range.  The restaurant is tight, packed, quaintly Paris.  It is a nice lunch option near the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.  

Au Bistrot de la Place:   Place de Ste. Catherine (Le Marais – 4th) We had a very pleasant meal at this small restaurant on the quiet square in the heart of Le Marais – so close and yet so far from the heart of the tourist city.  I had steak and fries – one of the best of my trip (I ate this almost every night).  The location is paradise.  The square gets very busy – so arrive early or late.  

Bistrot Pergolese: Rue Pergolese, 9 (16th) This small resturant, near nothing we visited, was a last day find.  With a few extra hours on our last day, we wandered behind the L’Arc de Triompe looking for a local restaurant on a small street.  The restaurant is just north of the Avenue Foch.  It is classic, French, local, reasonable, and very good.  Two steak and fries with pepper sauce and wine was 58 euro.  If you are in this area, a great place to stop by for a quiet and authentic French meal.

Categories: Western Europe

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