Yvon’s Paris

Yvon’s Paris
The genius of Paris is knowing when to stop. The French did, early on, and now they have a city with extravagantly beautiful buildings topped with a sky as open as Kansas. Customs change. Storefronts and restaurants change. Paris remains. It should be a simple matter to photograph Paris. Pick your image, wait for the best light, shoot. What we do not know, as we hold up our digitals, is that one photographer beat us to most of these pictures—Pierre Yves-Petit, known professionally as Yvon. Born in Bordeaux in 1886, he discovered photography at 12. A few years later, he “discovered” 100 francs—a worker’s wages for a month—in his father’s desk and bought a camera. At 23, he moved to Paris, took a dull job, and spent his weekends bicycling around Paris. By 1919, he was a published photographer. Yvon’s great gift was a refined sense of light. He loathed direct sunlight, working most often in that great light that defines Paris for many of us. That light revealed architectural details and shadows; it suggests the fullness of the day. When he shot in fog, in the early morning—even better, when there were clouds—he felt the photo was complete. Cars became common, and, with them, tourists. Yvon printed his photos as post cards and was an instant hit. The gargoyles of Notre Dame, gardeners raking leaves in the Luxembourg Gardens, the Eiffel Tower at night—Yvon’s the one who took those classic pictures. (For a slide show of Yvon’s pictures, click here.) Yvon’s Paris collects more than 70 of his best images. Some remind me of black-and-white versions of Manet paintings. Boats on the river evoke L’Atalante, one of the most romantic films ever made. Mostly, because the subjects are so familiar, they’re like sherbet for the eyes—they refresh and sharpen your senses. Sadly, I’m not going to Paris soon. Dream books help. This one, especially. If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe.

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