Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theaters of rue de la Gaîté

Marquee, rue de la Gaîté, Paris, April 2010.

Theatre Rive Gauche, rue de la Gaîté, Paris, April 2010.

In Montparnasse, off rue de Maine, you will find a narrow alley lined with theaters that date back to the cabarets and music halls of 19th century Paris. The place is called rue de la Gaîté, the street of gaiety.

I found this street by chance during an early morning stroll after having breakfast at the public market. I knew nothing of its history, but was captivated by the marquees and the fire engine red facade of Comédie-Italienne, the last remaining theater in France that stages plays written exclusively by Italians.

While I took pictures of the marquee painting by Clayette above the Theatre Rive Gauche, an old lady watched me with amusement and explained its history to me -- in French -- saying it was a copy, but a good one (if I understood her correctly).

I realized later on, with the aid of Google, that I’d been walking along the street that was the heart of bohemian Paris, the Paris of Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway, Doisneau and Brassai, the Paris I've romanticized in my mind for so long. On rue de la Gaîté, in its cafes and music hall stages, the likes of Josephine Baker, Kiki (Man Ray's muse), Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco and Jacques Brel entertained writers, artists and intellectuals who came to Paris from around the world to live la vie bohème.

That evening, I returned to rue de la Gaîté to toast my sister's birthday. We sat outdoors at a cafe with multicolored seats, talked about our loved ones, and soaked ourselves in a most perfect April evening.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Pause near Ponte Vecchio, Florence, April 2010.

Montparnasse, Paris, April 2010.

Florence, Italy, April 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No photos, please!

(A bit of) David, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, Italy, April 2010.

For someone who is compelled to photograph everything, nothing frustrates more than the words, "no photos please!" Faced with magnificence like Michelangelo's David, the words become maddening. So there I am at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence; as the statue of David looms larger as I approach it, the finger on my Leica shutter itches and twitches as I spot the location of every docent that roams the hall with fascistic vigilance.

As I circle the statue, I resolve to shoot this naked fellow, Italian polizia be damned. I settle in a corner, rest the Leica on my lap, aim high, and take three blind shots with no flash. "No fotos, per favore!" shouts a bat-eared docent as she gives me the evil eye. So much for Leica's quiet shutter. Here are the unfortunate results of my stealth photography. Like my daughter loves to say: "Fail."

As luck would have it, a copy of the statue stands in the public, docent-less square of Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Ironically there was absolutely no thrill in shooting the statue here so I took one obligatory shot. Anyway, here's David, in his entire naked glory, in what to me is a far less interesting picture.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An unexpected visit to Fondation HCB

HCB's Leica, Paris, April 2010.

Getting stranded in Paris during last week's volcanic ash air space crisis had one grace note for me: I was able to visit Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, the modest gallery established in 2003 by Cartier-Bresson's wife, Martine Franck, and their daughter, Mélanie, to preserve the legacy of the master photographer's work. The foundation is tucked away in an alley off rue Lebouis in Montaparnasse, housed in a four-story artist's atelier that was built in 1912.

Two floors of the building house exhibition galleries that sponsor three shows a year. I was able to catch the last day of an exhibition of Robert Doisneau's Paris photographs, Du métier à l'oeurve. Doisneau's charm and sense of humor are on full display in this collection of 100 pictures of everyday suburban life in post-war Paris. The catalog of the show has been published in a new book by Steidl Press, entitled From Craft to Art.

Up a spiral staircase on the third floor, in an airy room framed by a large atrium window and outfitted with Corbusier chairs, a few pictures by Cartier-Bresson are on permanent display. Here, films and multimedia presentations about the photographer are screened daily. It is a room to relax in, and for this ardent admirer of HCB, a room to ponder the serendipitous way that he has found himself in it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cartier-Bresson at the MOMA

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brussels, 1932.

Sixty unseen photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson are included in The Modern Century: Henri Cartier-Bresson, a retrospective of his work that opens on Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art.