Black and White All Over

photo: cafe deux magots

In Paris, Christmas trees are saved until they wither away.

Winter Sales Begin In Paris

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 17. January 2000:- You will probably notice that none of the pictures in this issue contain any color. One of the reasons for this is Paris' winter weather, which tends to render the city in a million shades of grey.

According to my big red dictionary, 'gray' is an adjective with the substitute spelling of 'grey.' 'Grey' itself in a noun; the name of an achromatic color, 'of any lightness between the extremes of black and white.'

You could therefore write, 'a gray and overcast afternoon,' and be perfectly correct to use 'grey' instead. But if you write, 'the sky is grey' you should use 'grey' and not 'gray.'

Before I looked this up, I thought 'gray' was reserved for 'warm' grey and 'grey' was used for 'cool' grey. What we have in Paris these days is very definitely cool grey. About once a week, a bit of weak sunlight peeks at Paris - but never when forecasted.

At a recent Café Metropole Club meeting Mark Kritz showed us his new digital camera. He made one comment that stuck in my memory - he said he didn't think it was any good for making black and white photos.

There may be very high-end digital cameras that offer the possibility of turning the color off. But it seems hardly necessary, because it is a one-step operation to substitute the 'millions' of colors for 'millions' of shades of grey.

Mark said he knew this, but he wasn't happy with the results. Even though I don't 'dump the color' often, I thought I could show him a way to do it if we could sit down together with a computer, an image-editing program and a photo to work on.

The time to do this never came around. Meanwhile, I discovered that my building is full of photographers - which is not really a surprise because the neighborhood has two or three photophoto: beaux-arts, m kritz galleries and some professional labs. Oddly, there is no photo-hardware supply shop within 500 metres.

Without my knowing it consciously, my brain apparently added up Mark's desire to make digital black and white photos, the photographers in my building, the current winter weather conditions - and the fact that the important 'Atget & Abbott' exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet was about to end, as it did yesterday.

Mr. Kritz is not praying, he is puzzling over a correct camera-setting.

I have known about Eugène Atget for some time, but I only learned a little about him after I found that I seemed to be following his wanderings through Paris, 100 years later.

To do this week's feature about him, I took what I remembered and went out and took the photos. After these were 'in the can' I discovered that buying a new book about him had been unnecessary, as my library already contained two good ones.

'Good books' about Eugène Atget contain photos of course. If they are really 'good,' they also contain as much biography as it is possible to have.

In Atget's case, this doesn't amount to much. Atget didn't write much about himself; instead he took a lot of photos - mostly of Paris - over a 30-year period, roughly from 1897 to 1927.

What we know about Atget is largely the product of art historians. Atget's motivations, as he wrote them, are mere scraps - so his pictures of 'Vieux Paris' are essentially his biography.

Atget lived, from 1899 until he died in 1927, in Montparnasse's Rue Campagne-Première. He moved in a long time before Montparnasse's heyday. May Ray lived inphoto: cafe interior the same street for three years before he 'discovered' Atget - after Atget had been living there for 26 years.

Atget began to become famous two years after he died. While alive, he sold photographs of Paris to city institutions - as 'documents of Paris.' Nobody at the time saw these photos as unique. Nobody imagined that Atget would become synonymous with 'Paris photographer.'

If the café is heated, inside tables near windows offer winter scenes in grey.

The fact seems to be, nobody knew that Eugène Atget had given himself the 30-year-long job of recording 'Vieux Paris' while he was alive. It is like one of the cliché starving and unknown artist stories - which turn out to be true.

One Metropole reader wrote to say that he managed to find many of Atget's subjects in Paris, and spent a whole visit photographing them. This means that Atget's fear of 'old Paris' disappearing completely, was unfounded.

Instead of doing this, I went to one area where I'd never been before and three others that I knew. I looked for 'Atget-type' subjects, but I didn't spend 30 years on it.

This issue is in black and white, for all of the photographers of Paris, but especially for Eugène Atget - a man who gave his vision to his own job, with indefatigable determination. The Paris fan's ultimate fan.

On Friday with Mark Kritz, we did a little tour of Saint-Germain, by starting on the Rue de Seine. From there we shifted over to the Beaux-Arts, crossed west on the Rue Jacob and went up the Rue des Saints-Pères, past - as Mark said, "The second ugliest building in Paris."

The 'digital darkroom' session never happened, but there's always the next time.

My Busted Window

'Do-It-Yourself,' if it is not drawing, is not my profession. It ws not comfortable last weekend in Metropole's editorial office, with all the fresh air let in by the window I had to break to get inside after I lost my door key.


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