The Architecture of Cities: Paris


I have been coming of age as recently as today, and as far back as my memory allows.

I remember my first Croque Monsieur at a busy touristy restaurant on Avenue Champs-Élysées. The top slice of bread had two branded corners: the left corner of the crust was an emblazoned  postage stamp of the Arc de Triomphe. The right corner of the crust was an emblazoned postage stamp of the Eiffel Tower.

My eyes know no lies. Like a gator’s eyes widening above the swamp’s crest, John Lennon whispered “I Am the Walrus”. For a nano second, I was the Walrus. There doesn’t have to be an explanation when your eyes experience a thunderous wonderment. Just allow your body to rock a bit more until it settles. I was in Paris.

Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation.

Lonely is a life experience that few allow themselves to say. It is a moment of unfounded desperation. We think we are lonely because we are alone. Both words (lonely, alone) trigger dreams and nightmares. As I write this moment, I feel as if I am dancing a jig. I am levitating above places I have never been: above places that have been profoundly influential.

The only time I was ever lonely in Paris was during this short time in 1986 when I needed to hear spoken English: I was lonely for the words I didn’t need to translate.

Louis Vuitton Store front on the Rue Bonaparte.

I saw a movie marquee advertising Out of Africa. I needed Meryl Streep’s listless romantic English. Oddly I needed an escape from one of the most beautiful cities in the world to Sydney Pollack and David Watkin’s Africa. I knew from the very first frame, that I didn’t need Africa. My eyes merely needed to be somewhere fresh and new for my imagination.

Jean Nouvel’s Cartier Foundation.

Throughout the movie I imagined hearing an overlay of Miles Davis’s soundtrack:”Elevator to the Gallows”. Miles was made for my Paris. The melding of Meryl’s Africa, and the jazz of Miles’ Paris gave rise to fresh eyes. I walked, danced and raced out of the theater eyes aglow. I knew the night and thereafter it was just me and Paris: the city.

Certainly the thoughts were overtly and emphatically romantic. But what is the point of being creative if you can’t express yourself!

I have visited Paris over many decades. I have heard the passions of the French: La Marseillaise, Serge,Jane, Hallyday, Piaf and Montand. But for a reason that might take volumes to explain, Miles Davis’ “Gallows…” and Roxy Music’s “Avalon” seemed to have accompanied me to every Parisian arrondissement. I don’t ever remember taking a photograph without the two wildly different sounds in my ears.  In Paris, their music somehow makes me feel as if each picture I make is a Chagall superimposed atop of a Dali melting clock.

I remember staying one time across from a ballet studio. Every time ballerinas walked out of rehearsals or exercise classes I imagined that the dancers were floating above the rooftops. Paris has that affect on my photography.

I have spent extensive time in Paris photographing architects’ architecture and artists in their studios. The artists: Cesar, Arman, Topor and more awakened my visual sensibilities. The architecture by French Architects; Christian Portzamparc, Odile Decq, Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault and more lured me across the entire Parisian metropolis. Along the way I traveled to enviable trysts to see architecture by aliens to France like Oscar Niemeyer, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Frank Gehry and more. It was a privilege to travel and peruse the city with and without agendas.

Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party HQ.

Odile Decq Restaurant L’opera.

I have felt an enrichment in Paris that seems to have gone on for a millennium; or merely my

life was interlaced among events that had been a simple  “two step” tethered to a million other dance moves.

I know that in Paris, I felt I had been empowered to make photographs: Paris in a way was a beginning. Possibly Paris was my Bethlehem.

If I know one thing, I have been coming of age as recently as today, and as far back as my memory allows.

All photographs by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.