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Paris by Night: Fleeting Glimpses


I've never set out to document Paris at night, never had a conscious plan to record a particular area or its life. These are just selections from several visits, held together only by the late hour or by something that pleased me. Night doesn't have to be very late; it can start with the lowering of the light, seen here from the terrace at Sacre Coeur, atop the Butte de Montmartre, or below, just after sunset, from the Eiffel Tower.




I never used to do much night photography; too much equipment, too much thought. But with the transition from film to digital, I eventually discovered that my camera's bedtime had changed; shots that would have been possible only with flash or extreme time had become possible...and different. The color spectrum shifts as the camera scrounges for enough light, and often the effects please me.




Often, I find my night pictures focus mostly on things and places. Partly that's because even digital magic often blurs what's in motion in the night. But sometimes that produces pleasing effects; the cars circling out in front of the Arc de Triomphe, or the crowd passing in the dark below the brightly-lit statue of Henri IV at the Louvre.




Here are some more Louvre views, just after closing on the weekly late night.






The limited light, and the camera's response to it, create colors that are different from what the unaided eye sees; the resulting city can be warm and comforting, or eerily spectral. In the case of the Choisy-le-Roi building on Rue du Paradis, it transforms an ordinary though pretentious commercial building into a cathedral, while the ancient Saint-Merri church seems to lose all substance...a ghost of itself. Adding to the effect is the comic face that is actually on the building next door.





A much newer museum than the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou presents a "mechanicals on the outside" face to the world; at night much of that recedes, and the exterior staircase claims attention. The picture below it is also at the Pompidou; a highly popular (if baffling to me) Salvador Dali retrospective had crowds queued up until quite late.





Some of the night pictures rely primarily on the (very limited) ambient light; others depend on buildings that are lit up; the contrast between the two is strong in these two images of Sacre Coeur, shot late at night from a bedroom window. In the first, the towers are isolated; only in the second does the "real world" intrude in the foreground.





Of course, towers and landmarks are not the only bright lights in night-time Paris, as this welcoming Montmartre fruit stand shows. We were glad to find it on our long walk home.





And here's a stretch of the Canal Saint-Martin at night, Readers of Inspector Maigret will recognize the area this way. The area has long since ceased to be active waterfront, but at night, it's still possible to imagine boatmen's taverns and a self-contained community around them. 




And now for the only real cluster in this gallery: this group of pictures of one of my favorite Paris places to sit and "waste" time: the Stravinsky Fountain, just next to the Centre Pompidou. Walking by it at night and making a few pictures, I was amazed to see what a different feel the pictures hold—not the playful magic of daytime, but an almost menacing or foreboding night magic.


















For more TravelGumbo articles and photos from Paris, click HERE


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