Notre Dame looks very different in color than in black-and-white. The stone takes on a different texture, the shapes of the arches and buttresses are somehow different, and I think you feel the age of the place much more. This is, after all, a 900 year old building.
In the garden behind the cathedral, there is an apple tree. The groundskeepers must zealously patrol for fallen fruit, as I never saw one on the ground in a week of passing through. I was talking with someone at work about this apple tree and he observed an irony of having an apple tree in the garden of a cathedral, if you’re into Christian symbolism.
A closer-in view of the rear of the cathedral, including the spire. The towers top out at 226 feet, but the spire and its weather-vane go on to 300 feet tall. I don’t think you realize that when looking at the building because of the relative mass of the towers, and the perspective you have when viewing either spire or towers – you’re always looking up, and at the distances required to see both, the height differential is erased by perspective. You can clearly see in this photo the stacked wedding-cake structure of the building – the lower floor with its side chapels spreads out much wider than the center aisle.
A side view of the cathedral, showing both the towers and the spire. Even from this view it’s hard to see an extra 75 feet of height on the spire.
Another view of the rear, with the apple tree. This one includes people in the garden for perspective.
These are a few more from that last remaining roll of b/w I didn’t develop until yesterday. Just some additional looks at Notre Dame cathedral in black and white.
It’s hard to view the cathedral without trying to interpret the towers as a graphical element. They’re the most recognizable element to the church, perhaps other than the rose window. The main body of the church is actually rather narrow and delicate, relative to its perception. All those flying buttresses make it seem much more massive than it is. The tower facade, though, really establishes that perception because when viewing it straight on, it seems like a solid wall, and that the church behind it must be equally as massive.
Trying to look at the towers is a vertigo-inducing experience. They are quite tall, and the nature of the decorations make you keep looking up to see all the details to the very last set of gargoyles some 226 feet in the air. Getting up in the towers to view them up close and personal is vertigo-inducing as well – it’s a nearly 400-stair climb to the top of the tower (which I did NOT do – I’m too out-of-shape to attempt something so heart-stressing). At one point in time, Notre Dame was the largest building in the western world – you can still easily spot it from the 2nd tier of the Eiffel Tower, despite the intervening buildings, several miles and the bend in the river between the two landmarks.
Here is a view of the incredibly detailed facade. One thing I did not realize until looking at this photo is the fact that all three main doorways are different. I always assumed that the left/right halves of the facade would be symmetrical. If you look carefully, the archway over the left hand door is a little smaller, and crowned by the angular, peaked molding. The right arch is larger and lacks the angular molding. Another detail that often gets forgotten – we assume that these cathedrals were all bare stone, and that the way we see them today is how they were intended. Au contraire – most cathedrals of the Romanesque and Gothic periods (the 7th-15th centuries) were brightly painted, inside and out. The statues on the exterior would all have been polychrome, as would the interior walls have been. Time, weather, wear and neglect have conspired to strip the coloring off the buildings. They did find some early medieval frescoes inside the old cathedral in Salamanca that had been covered up for centuries after an earthquake damaged both cathedrals (they’re kind of conjoined twins and share a wall).
I really don’t know why they built this mammoth viewing/reviewing stand in the plaza in front of the cathedral. You can ascend the steps on the front face, or you can climb the ramp up the back. This is the view of the towers from the ramp – the tarp-like covers on the ramp provide a starkly modern contrast to the gothic stonework of the cathedral.
The crowds at Notre Dame are non-stop, even at night after the cathedral is closed. This is a typical weekday afternoon on the plaza out front. The little house to the right is the rectory for the cathedral. Along the fence surrounding the rectory is where you will find the bird feeders – people who will sell you a scrap of day old bread or a stale churro that you can hold up in your outstretched hand to attract the sparrows who will hover over to get a bite.
Some architectural details of the fence around the rectory:
Beside the cathedral there is a park with views of the Seine, replete with benches, gardens and, as part of Haussmann’s renovations, public drinking fountains. I loved the way this looked backlit with the evening light. Consider it another one of my portraits of everyday objects.
And last but not least, the tradition that began in Rome of young couples buying a padlock, writing their initials on it, locking it to the railing of a bridge, and tossing the keys in the river as a symbol of how their love cannot be undone has come to Paris. It is so popular that it has infested three or four bridges across the Seine now, and the boquinistes with bookstalls along the Rive Gauche nearest the Ile de la Cité sell a variety of padlocks and permanent markers. It seems only natural that people would do this on the bridges closest to Notre Dame, as it is one of the most romantic, inspiring buildings in a city full of romantic inspiration.
(see, I told you you wouldn’t have to wait long for the next Paris post!)
Ok, it’s far from a comprehensive survey of the city by night, but whaddya want, I only had a single night for night shooting, so I confined myself to where I could walk to from my apartment.
One of the great things about where we (my father and I) stayed was the fact we were in walking distance of just about everything, from the subway to all the historical buildings and neighborhoods. Notre Dame was a stone’s throw away, across the bridge. Here is the rear view from the approach I took over the Pont St. Louis.
The front facade is fully illuminated at night, and they have built a set of large risers in the plaza in front that if nothing else serve as a great camera platform for photographing the towers. The night I was out shooting was the night of the full moon, so I got lucky and was able to get this shot of the tower and the moon.
Another view of the towers, from a side street. It had been raining that evening, so the streets were wet giving them that Hollywood movie look.
Another shot of the full moon, over a grand Hotel (Hotel in the Parisian sense of grand city residence/townhouse as opposed to place-where-you-rent-a-room-by-the-night) on the Ile de la Cite.
The Pont St. Louis, slick with rain. This is the bridge that connects the Ile St. Louis with the Ile de la Cite.
A view of the Hotel de Ville (Paris’ City Hall) from across the Seine. The white line at the river level is created by the lights of a passing river tour boat that has flood lights on the roof to illuminate the buildings on the quays as it passes. I don’t envy the people whose apartments face the river because of that, even if the boat tours do stop sometime between 9 and 10 pm.
Another view of the bridges across the Seine. In the background on the left you can see a rather castle-like building which is La Monnaie, the old French Mint where they used to make coins.
The last bridge of today’s program is the Pont Louis Phillippe, which connects the end of the Ile St. Louis to the north bank of the Seine. The bridge I used every day to get to and from the subway was the Pont Marie, which abuts the middle of the Ile St. Louis. I wanted to get a view of the bridges from water level, so I went down a set of steps on the quayside of the Ile de la Cite and set up my tripod at the very bottom – you can see from the facing set of steps they descend all the way into the water (I did not test how far down they go, as I had no desire to get wet, especially at this time of year).
The St. Regis cafe has a view of the Pont St. Louis. Notre Dame itself is hidden by the buildings across the bridge. On my excursion, I saw people sitting outside the cafe all evening – I returned home at nearly midnight and there were people still outside the cafe as it was closing up.
Here’s a look into the courtyard of one of the hotels on the Rue St. Louis en l’Ile, at number 51. I looked through the doorway, which had always been closed when I walked by in the daytime, and saw the light on in the library window on the second floor, and I just had to take that picture. I love libraries (I’m sitting in one as I type this, my modest personal library of 2000 or so books), so seeing in to one had a rather Proustian effect on me.
I shot all these on Kodak Portra 160 because I like how it responds to nighttime color better than Ektar. It has a less contrasty look which is good for night because night scenes are inherently contrastier than daytime scenes, and it handles overexposure better than Ektar.