This is part of a series I’ve been working on – photographing ordinary objects we pass by on the street every day but take for granted. They are things we see but don’t see, and they may well vanish, like pay phones, mailboxes, and newspaper vending machines, before we realize they’re gone. Pay phones are all but replaced by the cellphone. Newspapers as a physical object may cease to exist thanks to the internet, and along with them the newspaper box. Email has just about killed the personal letter – the only thing keeping the postal services alive these days are mass marketers with their junk mail, Ebay and Amazon with package deliveries. Not everything in the series is vanishing in a literal sense like pay phones, but some of them do vanish from our perception like the fire hydrant, the lamp post, and the traffic cone. We know they’re there because we don’t trip over them when walking on the streets, but they exist at the periphery. They each have their own beauty and form, however, and within their function there are a remarkable variety of forms – the hydrant in Chalon-sur-Saone, while as recognizable as a fire hydrant as the hydrant from Washington DC, has a very different form, as does the Siamese spigot.
Here are some loose ends from my sojourn in Chalon-sur-Saone. You may remember the Valentin Paint ad in black-and-white – here it is in color.
The black-and-white version, as a refresher:
I couldn’t help but photograph this storefront for the combination of the beautiful if faded 1940s Art Deco facade and the psychologically jarring name. Fagot (pronounced Fah-GO) is a family name, not a slur aimed at someones sexual orientation. Today, instead of the original business that built the building, it is occupied by the offices of a political party.
I’m a sucker for Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. So when I see a building like this, I have to photograph it.
The first and last view you have of Chalon when traveling by rail is of this plaza with the modern arbors forming a tunnel to point you toward the center of town. To camera right is the St. Georges hotel, where I stayed, and to the left across the plaza is the english pub-style restaurant where I had the delicious breaded veal with the pasta the French don’t know quite what to do with. Behind is the Maitre Pierre restaurant you saw in my night photos from the hotel balcony.
Around the corner from the Musee Niepce and the Chalon tourism office, I encountered this fascinating courtyard. Perhaps the single most surprising element was the massive bronze Laocoon statue in an otherwise ordinary if picturesque courtyard. Why and how the statue ended up there is a mystery.
If you remember your mythology, Laocoon was a Trojan priest who predicted the Greek gift of the Trojan horse but was not believed. There are multiple versions of why the gods sent serpents to strangle him and his sons, ranging from dishonesty to defiling temple virgins. Regardless of the why, his story became famous, and has been commemorated in art from ancient times. There is a Roman marble of this scene, probably modeled after a Greek one, which was then emulated multiple times in stone and metal during the Renaissance.
Someone who lives in this courtyard favors geraniums.
Courtyard residences seem to be extremely popular in France. I suppose it’s for the relative privacy you have compared to facing the street, especially in older urban areas where stepping out your front door puts you literally a sidewalks’ breadth away from traffic. And it provides opportunities for parking that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. I think I’d like to live on a courtyard if I lived in Paris, or even in a town like Chalon. Who wouldn’t enjoy walking down the stairs every morning to be greeted by your own classical Greek statue?
Greenery of all kinds, in fact, is a hallmark of the space. These flowering vines had taken over the wall and partially obscured the window into the workshop. If my understanding of French is any good, the workshop behind these windows was a specialist in antiques and restoration. I couldn’t tell if they were open at the time so I didn’t try to venture in.
Another somewhat Swiss-looking architectural element, the peaked gabled windows in the roof:
Joseph Nicephore Niepce was born in Chalon-sur-Saone on March 7, 1765 in a house at 9 (now 15 in the new address scheme) Rue De L’Oratoire. The house as it stands today is rather nondescript and gives no clue as to the inspiration behind the man who would invent photography. Rue De L’Oratoire is really more of an alley, closed in on one end, and the other opens to a pedestrian-only street.
In this view of number 15, Rue De L’Oratoire, you can see the plaque on the wall indicating the house where Niepce was born.
A view of the street, including the house:
If you are approaching Rue de L’Oratoire on foot from Rue General Leclerc, there is a driveway into which you can turn, at the end of which is this very ornate iron gate and lamp, guarding a private courtyard. I could not confirm but I believe the front of Niepce’s house faces this courtyard, which is infinitely more appealing than the Rue de L’Oratoire side. I did not photograph the house itself as it is currently lived in by private citizens.
The approach to the Rue de L’Oratoire from Rue General Leclerc is through what is now a car park, at the back of which can be found the Tour Saudon, a medieval tower. I assume the car park was once gardens for the tower. This is a close-up of the iron gate and door to the tower, which again, to the best of my ability to determine, is not open to the public.
Across Rue de L’Oratoire from the Tour Saudon, there is a 17th century courtyard apartment building. I could have spent an entire day just doing a photo essay on this courtyard. I would have loved to have seen inside some of the apartments – what would they look like now, and how would the layers of history be exposed/concealed in such a space?
The red-and-black marble tile paving on the sidewalk inside the carriageway is an enchanting detail to the space, and a very clear sign of its age. It almost feels like you’re looking at a painting, and not the actual stone.
The carriageway into the courtyard is, I suspect, the primary means of vehicular ingress and egress to the Rue de L’Oratoire, as the intersecting street at the bottom of the Rue is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare.
If you look through the archway over the Rue de L’Oratoire, you can see the pedestrian street, the Rue au Change. If the overpass connecting the apartment building with the building across the street looks Swiss, it should not be surprising in Chalon- it is about 70 miles (120km) to Geneva from Chalon. The building in the courtyard to which the iron gate and lamp at the top of this post is attached on the left looks just like a traditional Swiss chalet that you’d expect to see on an alpine meadow, not in the middle of a French town.
On the Boulevard de la Republique there is this fascinating Art Nouveau building that stands out amidst its neighbors. Having spent 10 days in Barcelona, perhaps the global epicenter of Art Nouveau, it’s hard not to be sensitive to it. A Gaudi building this isn’t, but the sculptures over the doors that support the first floor balconies are particularly notable – they look like they’re organically emerging from the stone, or perhaps swirling in and out of a magical smoke from some genie’s lamp.
The archway over the building entrance (#18) is obviously stylistically linked to the entrance archway to the courtyard behind the building (#16 Blvd de la Republique), but in no way a mirror.
Here is the full facade, so you can appreciate the context of the doorways. I wonder what it housed in the past, and for what purpose it was built. Today there appear to be offices in the building on the lower levels, and possibly apartments on the upper floor.
I did not see anything else like it in town, in my admittedly extremely brief survey of Chalon, which makes me wonder all the more about the motivation for building it. How did this come to be? It’s obviously prior to the (now gone) Kodak presence in Chalon. It also doesn’t have the feel of being the residence of a single wealthy family, like the Gaudi commissions in Barcelona.
I know, Chalon-sur-Saone is NOT in Paris. It is in fact several hundred kilometers from Paris, and about 120 kilometers from the Swiss border, on the river Saone, which feeds the Rhone. I stayed at the Hotel St.Georges, which is immediately adjacent to the train station. It was the perfect location in town for me because of my travel schedule. It had been rainy off and on the duration of my visit to Chalon. I got lucky when it stopped raining after dinner long enough for me to step out on my balcony and take some night photos. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you know I like taking night photos- I think they’re particularly poetic with their distorted colors and blurred motion.
Here is the view of the hotel marquee from the balcony of my room. The train station is in the background.
A view up the Avenue Jean Jaures from my balcony. In the far background on the avenue you can start to see the lights of a traveling carnival that was set up in town.
A different view of the plaza in front of the hotel. Across the plaza is the British Pub-style restaurant where I had lunch right after my arrival. The food was excellent and cheap (10 euros for a 3-course lunch!), but it cemented in my mind that the French don’t quite know what to do with pasta – the veal cutlet was delicious, but the pasta that accompanied it was bare, and the marinara sauce came in a dipping cup more appropriate for salad dressing on the side rather than an integral part of a pasta dish.
The corner across the street is the Maitre Pierre restaurant, which never seemed busy, and two doors up the Avenue Jean Jaures is an Indian restaurant.
A close-up view of the Maitre Pierre restaurant.
Photo-geek techie note, for those who care: shot with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, using Kodak Ektar 100. I may have said this before, but my favorite film for night photography is Portra 160. I love the way it handles mixed lighting and the extreme contrast you get at night. When I came to Chalon, I wasn’t expecting to do any night photography, so I left all the Portra in Paris, and all I had for color was Ektar 100. You can see from these photos that if that suddenly became my only option for color night photography, I wouldn’t be mad. It’s not a case of not liking Ektar for night photography, just liking Portra more.
Here are a few more photos from Chalon-sur-Saone. The Niepce monument is the marker of the reason I took the trip in the first place – to visit the birthplace of photography. Nicephore Niepce invented the first successful photographic process, Heliography, in the mid 1820s. One reason most people haven’t heard of it and have never seen a photograph made by this process is that due to the extreme insensitivity to light of the chemicals, a single exposure required HOURS to record an image which ruled it out for photographing any non-static subject, like people, animals, or even plants, and it made photographing buildings difficult as well. In the early 1830s up until his death in 1833, he collaborated with Louis Daguerre, the net result of which was the publication of the Daguerreotype process in 1839.
This statue of Laocoon, an ancient Greek mythological figure of a priest who warned the Trojans against admitting the wooden horse into the city, and was punished by he and his sons being devoured by sea serpents (for various reasons by various deities, depending on which version of his story you read). He’s also credited with the phrase “beware of Greeks, bearing gifts”. It’s a bit of odd statuary to find in a random courtyard around the corner from the Niepce Museum in Chalon, but there it is.
In the same courtyard as the Laocoon statue, there was this iron plant stand in front of the stairs to a second-floor doctor’s office.
This is the basilica in Chalon. In significant architectural contrast to the old cathedral (which has parts dating back to the 7th century, and abuts the Roman walls of the town), this is clearly a 17th century structure. I peeked inside and the stained glass is very modern, like the lower windows at Notre Dame, but even more drab – greens and yellows and clear glass, and in desperate need of a cleaning from the outside. The light fixtures on the plaza are quite new and part of an effort to reinvigorate the downtown area. If you look carefully at them, at around the 12 foot mark, you’ll see metal disks protruding that serve as anti-climbing devices.