From my trip to the Mercato Centrale in Florence. It’s challenging shooting in someplace like the Mercato Centrale because it’s very crowded, and the lighting is generally miserable- overhead fluorescents mixed with neon mixed with halogen and now mixed with LED spots. One of the things that helps pull it together is a great film – Kodak Portra 800 to be specific. It’s very fine-grained for a film that fast, and it, like the other films in the Portra family, does an incredible job of handling mixed lighting sources. No special filtration was used to color-correct these images.
Here are a few loose odds-n-ends I shot back at the end of September, but kept on the shelf until I was all done with the Paris photos. I like playing around as light levels fall – it’s a challenge to balance foreground and sky, but when it works, it’s beautiful. I also like the colors you get when you mix different kinds of lighting.
I was walking around Glen Echo Park in the evening after visiting for (I think) an exhibit opening. I had the Rollei with me, and a roll of Kodak Portra 800 loaded. Portra 800 is another one of those “miracle” emulsions, in my estimation. It is expensive (almost $10/roll), but when you need it, it’s there and it works so well at what it does. Yes, it does have more grain and less contrast than Portra 400, not to mention Portra 160, but the difference compared to what you would have seen in older 800 speed films is almost not worth mentioning. It’s a specialty film, and because of the price, not something I’d shoot every day in lieu of a slower film. But using it is not a sacrifice, like other films used to be.
Here is one of the street lights in the park, glowing in the pre-dusk.
The Dentzel carousel is endlessly fascinating. The bright colors, the lights, the music, the motion – it’s a nostalgic combination that provokes a range of emotions from childish joy to melancholy. Here the lights of the carousel are glowing inside the carousel house, and the neon of the old Midway perks up the background through the trees.
Another view of the carousel house, framed with ornamental grasses. The glow of the lights is particularly inviting – I’d love to go for a ride.
One of the circus masks on the crown of the carousel peers out at you through the reflections on the carousel house window. The lighting and the stillness gives it a slightly sinister air.
The neon of the arcade reflects in the windows of the carousel house, and I’ve caught myself taking the photo in the reflection as well. The reflected neon gives it a true carnival atmosphere – it almost feels like a real live amusement park, instead of the culture and arts center it has become. Which is not to say that the park lacks vibrancy and vitality, but it has a new character now, a lovable low-key quality that reflects and honors its past while preserving the facility for the future.
This is the last post in the Paris in October series – with this, I’ve finished uploading new images from the series. I may go back and revisit a theme or two that span multiple posts, like staircases, but I’m pretty much done. It’s been a long, fun ride – two months worth of postings from a single nine-day trip. A lot of work, but well worth the effort. I hope you all have enjoyed the series as I’ve been posting them.
These are exterior views of Versailles, or at least view of/toward the exterior. I did not go out into the gardens – my feet were worn out at that point and they wanted an additional 9 euros to enter the gardens because they were going to be doing the musical fountain show, so I did not get around to the famous garden facade of the palace.
The entrance gates when you first approach are gilded iron. It’s one of the very first things you see, and it certainly makes an impression. Impressive as they are now, can you imagine what it would have been like in the 18th century to walk up to these gates?
The words on the building portico say, “A Toutes Les Glories De La France” – to all the glories of France. For a shining period, that was literally true of Versailles. It encapsulated the magnificence and power that was the French state in the era of Louis XIV. I don’t know when that phrase was placed on the building – it has much more of a Second Empire or Third Republic feel to it. It doesn’t seem like something one of the kings would have done – the palace itself screamed that sentiment in spades, putting it down in writing on the facade was superfluous and a bit gauche.
This is a view looking back at the town of Versailles from the palace entrance. The statue is the cousin of the one on the other side that I photographed in black-and-white with the grotesque figure providing a seat with its back for the allegorical female.
This is the palace’s front door. You can tell this is one of the older parts of the palace by the style – some brick instead of stone, less monumental in appearance. Less monumental, perhaps, but no less ostentatious. It had been raining that morning and so the marble tile courtyard surface was still wet.
A view of one of the fountains immediately adjacent to the house:
A view of the garden facade through a window of another wing of the building. The colors of the sky were beautiful with all the rainclouds breaking up. You can see down the long walk with the ponds in the middle, how far off the estate stretches.
I’m sure you’ve read my rant about how crowded Versailles was. It seriously cramped my style trying to photograph any of the spaces on the main circuit of the house, even with my cellphone. That said, the whining ends here. I’m happy with the pictures I did take; I just wish I could have taken more. When I go back, and I WILL go back, sometime, I’ll do things differently – I’ll do the gardens first, then the house, and I’ll go in the dead of winter, on a weekday. Preferably during a snowstorm.
There are multiple halls filled with statues of great Frenchmen. Here are two such passageways, one with and one without tourists. The shot with tourists provides a human scale and a modern reference point for the house. The one without gives an architectural scale.
The royal chapel is one space in the palace that truly gives you a sense of not only the grandeur of the palace but also the extreme disparity of wealth between the aristocracy and the peasants.
A huge part of the purpose of Versailles was to show off the wealth and power of the state. To that purpose, it lived up to it in spades. This mantlepiece is about level with my shoulders, and the head in the center is about the size of my head. You could actually walk into this fireplace.
Here is Louis XIV as Mars, the God of War.
This is the one view of the Hall of Mirrors I was able to take. It’s an atypical view of the room, and as a result I’m particularly proud of it because it is representative without being cliche. Most people when viewing the room are paying attention to the mirrors and never look up, but half the brilliance of the room comes from the crystal chandeliers reflecting and amplifying the light.
I thought I’d start this post off with a comparison of my 1870s photo of the Opera Garnier with the photo I took this year in 2013. Not exactly the same shot (the antique is of the left side of the facade whereas mine is of the right and middle) but I did manage to include several of the same elements.
I don’t know when my vintage photo was taken, but it could be as early as 1867 when the facade was unveiled. Alas, the lampposts have changed, and significantly decreased in number. I can only imagine what the plaza in front would have looked like with all those lamps lit.
This was a lucky grab of the arcaded balcony on the front when the woman wearing the red scarf just happened to be looking out.
The grand staircase at the Opera Garnier was one of the highlights of the building, and considered a major attraction from the moment it opened. It has been much copied around the world. Photos of the space do not do it justice – this IS truly one of the great public rooms of the world.
I did something a little different with this shot – I cropped it very tall and vertical. It was in part because I wanted to focus the attention on the bronze candelabra, and also to deal with some horrible flare in the right-hand side of the image coming from one of the other light fixtures in the hall.
The Opera Garnier is famous for one particular chandelier (and we’ll get to that), but it houses a multiplicity of beautiful light fixtures. Here are some samples of the variety of chandeliers at the opera:
The salon is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but if it is possible, it is even MORE over-the-top ornate than that palatial room, ceding to it only in length.
The hall itself is a candy confection of red velvet, gold leaf, and frescoed ceiling. Attending a concert here would be quite the experience – I would think you could easily be distracted from the performance by just trying to take in all the architectural details! I don’t know that this would be more sublime than my experience of the concert at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, but it would certainly be a feast for the senses.
And last but not least, we get to the infamous chandelier. Perhaps the best known chandelier on the planet, this is the one around which the “Phantom of the Opera” story revolves. The ceiling, hinted at in the previous photo, is not the original ceiling design for the hall, but was painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall. It brings a modern touch to an otherwise very baroque space and the colors enliven and lighten the otherwise heavy and serious room. The chandelier weighs 7 tons. Originally it was raised through the cupola for cleaning, but now it is lowered. One of the counterweights for the chandelier crashed through the ceiling in 1896, killing an audience member, thus inspiring that part of the Phantom story. The other bit about the underground lake beneath the opera comes from the fact that there is a man-made cistern under the foundations because the ground water is so high that they needed to relieve water pressure on the foundations. It had the added benefit of providing an ample supply of water in case of fire.
The Opera Garnier has been used for concerts and the ballet since it opened, and today it serves first and foremost as a dance space, although classical music continues to have a place in the schedule.
Sainte Chapelle is the royal chapel on the Ile de la Cité built in the 13th century as part of the then-royal palace. It was conceived and designed to house King Louis’ collection of Christian relics, including the purported spear of Longinus and the Crown of Thorns. Over the centuries, especially during the French Revolution, it suffered depredations, including the destruction and/or removal for sale of chunks of its stained-glass windows. In the later 19th century, the windows were restored. Today, a major, 10-year project to clean, stabilize and protect the windows is nearing completion. You can see some of the scaffolding in the chapel in my photos.
Today, you enter the chapel through the lower level, which houses a few video exhibits and the gift shop. Even on the lower level, the stained glass windows are beautiful:
To enter the main chapel on the second level, you ascend a dark, narrow spiral stair, and then emerge into a room bursting with light and color. Directly above and behind you is the rose window.
To your front is the main altar:
Another view of the windows and vault above the altar:
On the side walls there are statues of saints:
I realize I’ve got two pictures of the same saint statue. I was trying to capture the different looks of the statue as the light changes when you move around him. Can you imagine the effect of seeing a place like this in the 13th century, when even today to our glitz-and-glamour-jaded points of view it is breathtaking? This would have outshone the contemporary Saint Peter’s in Rome! (today’s Saint Peter’s Basilica of course makes this look paltry, but that is a Renaissance/Baroque confection re-imagined by some of the greatest artists and architects the world has ever seen. This is a late-Medieval Gothic chapel).
Looking up at the ceiling vaults and the side windows presents this view:
Again, all these were taken with my trusty Rolleiflex, and hand-held. The film is Kodak Portra 800 – until I tried some of this recent version of Portra 800, I never would have thought an 800 speed film would be this sharp and grainless, or the colors so vivid. In the past, films above 400 speed, even in medium format, had obvious grain and lacked the same contrast, sharpness and vivid color of their slower speed counterparts. Kodak has banished these shortcomings in Portra 800. Even though it’s pricey (about $10/roll), this is one of the reasons I hope Kodak manages to stay in the color film manufacturing business for many years to come.
This fountain is visible from both above ground and below as it cascades down a series of steps, sliced through in cross-section. The East and West wings of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC are connected via an underground passageway, and in the middle of this passageway is a large cafe and seating area. The wall of the passageway opposite the cafe is floor-to-ceiling glass, looking directly in to this fountain. The odd orange dots in the lower corners of the photo are reflections of the Christmas lights on miniature trees placed in front of the window. I deliberately used a moderately slow (1/30th of a second) shutter speed combined with a fairly wide aperture (f5.6 I think) to keep some blur in the water and render it abstract. Just off camera right in this photo is where the light sculpture I posted earlier is located.
Here is a view of the I.M. Pei designed East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, from the exit of the John Russell Pope designed West Wing. The strange colors are caused by the coatings on the glass to prevent UV transmission and keep the lobby cool in the summer. I waited for some people to go through the doors to add a touch of energy and human engagement to the image. You can see the above-ground portion of the fountain from this photo.
This is the North entrance lobby of the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I’m standing at street level by the security guard’s desk, looking up through the oculus at the chandelier. This is another grand space that is under appreciated because most people never look UP when passing through to take in the building design.
All photos were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, using Kodak Portra 800.
Two shots of the Gallery Place Metro station, looking down on the Red Line platform from the mezzanine. Taken with the Rolleiflex 2.8E, hand-held, with Portra 800. Exposure times were 1/2 second or 1 second @ f2.8.
Here are some views of the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. The blue lighting in the nighttime shots of the courtyard was for an after-hours reception being held at the museum. The courtyard used to be a fairly typical Victorian-era affair with a pair of fountains and some scraggly looking shrubbery, open to the air and more importantly, the weather. A few years ago they undertook a multi-million dollar renovation, ripping out the old landscaping and (non-working) fountains and enclosing it with a Norman Foster designed undulating glass roof. At first I found the interior design rather stark. It has grown on me, though, with the modern interpretations of fountains being just a thin sheet of water flowing in a rectangle across the floor. Of course the roof is the masterwork – it bends and twists like a piece of origami paper. The courtyard is now a very pleasant place to sit and just pass the time, reading a book or eating something from the museum cafe.
All photos were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Kodak Portra 800 film. Also, for the die-hard photo geeks out there, I’ve been using the free light meter app for my iPhone to do the metering. I’d say it works pretty darned well 🙂
Three shots of the light sculpture in operation, taken with the Rolleiflex, hand-held, using Kodak Portra 800. I thought it would make for a different take on the piece compared to the video (which was shot on my iPhone, thus the shakiness). The light sculpture has been set so that it will never in fact repeat itself exactly.