Paris is known the world over for its art, fashion and photography. It is the city of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and many more great photographers. The streets and boulevards are full of images just waiting to be taken. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the millions of tourists who visit this beautiful city each year come to capture some of these images, and also to get themselves on film standing in front of the tourist attractions that the city has to offer.
The appeal of this subject began many years ago when I was “A Tourist In Paris.” Sitting quietly in the gardens behind the Cathedral of Notre Dame I was amazed to see a busload of Japanese tourists file into the gardens. The frenzy of activity that took place was in itself an unbelievable sight. The object of all this frenzy was to have your photograph taken with the Cathedral in the background. Group’s, couples and individuals all jostled for position, cameras were exchanged and the process continued. All of this took less than ten minutes from beginning to end and the gardens were once more returned to tranquillity. I still have this image in my mind after 30 years.
I have continued over the years to watch tourists do their thing, fascinated, as always by their antics, but I never thought to photograph tourists photographing themselves. A number years ago (1997), and just two weeks after the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Al Fayed and the vehicle’s driver I visited what has become the place that people now come to pay homage to the deaths that occurred in the underpass by the Pont L’Alma in Paris. A new tourist attraction had been tragically and instantly added to Paris. The Liberty Flame, a full sized replica of the flame that sits atop the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbour was given to the city of Paris by America in celebration of the bi-centennial of the French Revolution. The Liberty Flame by the Pont L’Alma was now added to the list of places to visit when in Paris. Watching these people having their photograph taken in front of this perhaps appropriately adopted monument rekindled my interest. People did not know whether to smile or be sad, but one thing was sure, they had to have their photograph taken with the monument in the background. In was time to get my own cameras clicking.
Stepping out on to the Champs Elysees from the metro station Etoile I was confronted with the Arc de Triomphe and scores of tourists having their photographs taken in front of the structure. Families would ask a complete stranger to take their camera and photograph them; groups select a volunteer, give them numerous cameras and all line up for this person to struggle through the array of compacts and get the group picture on film. Finally the person exchanges places with someone in the group, swapping the tangle of cameras in the passing and pointing out the one that belongs to them. Then the final picture is taken with no one left out. Perhaps no more than five minutes have passed for this occurrence to take place, and then they are gone, off to another tourist sight. The constant drifting of people towards and away from these places of interest and the relatively small amount of time that is spent viewing these famous sights, that some have flown round the world to see, makes an amusing sight in its self.
As a photographer it created a fascinating attraction in me. The position that people get into to obtain the photo they want and the amateur film directors who must get their wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend into the right position to make the photo perfect. All of this gave me many laughs, and of course the last laugh was on me, because over the years of taking photographs, I have done all of the things I watched other people doing. I make a bad tourist myself and it gave me a great deal of delight to be among people and have some of their excitement rub off on me. The intrigue is just how much film is used and just how many photographs are taken?
The tourist industry is big business in any part of the world and Paris is no exception. From the postcard and trinket sellers, who bustle around the queues beneath the Eiffel Tower, to the street artists and musician of Montmartre, these are only some of the ways that people earn their living by teasing a few coins from the pockets of tourists in Paris. The process of standing in front of whatever you want included in the photograph continues in the museums. In the Louvre at peak times there is a traffic jam leading up to the Mona Lisa with people waiting to snatch a place in front of her lovely smiling face. The ultimate irony of recording images was watching a Japanese tourist wander round the Louvre with a video camera clamped to his eye. To travel that distance, only to see through the lens of a video camera what could be seen first hand, seemed such a waste. Perhaps he had his other eye open!