Mona Lisa gift shop souvenirs at Louvre Paris France

A photo art walk in Paris with Barbey, Halsman, and Dali


If you intend to linger in art galleries when you visit Paris, go in winter.

The cold weather quickens your pace from one gallery to another and when you arrive, there are no line-ups outside and no crowds inside. I’d discovered this on the first half of my visit when I’d done an art walk to the Picasso, Modern Art, and Grand Palais galleries.

For the second half of my visit, my goal was to seek out photography. I had read in The Eye of Photography that there were a number of shows, so I added the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Jeu de Paume, and the Centre Pompidou museums to my must-visit list.

And along the way I also happened to stumble upon a forbidden performance at the Louvre, to dissect a dead fish on the Left Bank, and to meet my maker in Montmartre.

I didn’t have to go far to find art in the streets.

Poster in front of Cite International des Arts reads: Paris Stay Strong.
A poster in front of Cite International des Arts speaks to the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France.

Bruno Barbey at Maison Européenne de la Photographie

At the European gallery of photography, a modest entry fee gave me access to six photographers on four floors of gallery space in a restored heritage building.

Exterior of the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France.
The Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France. (2012 photo by Mbzt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
The images of Morocco by Daoud Aoulad-Syad and Leila Alaoui* were strikingly different; the former shot by a film director on-site in black-and-white and the latter shot in a mobile studio in colour.

Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France

* As I write this post, I am very sad to say that Alaoui has been killed January 19, 2016 by terrorists while she was on assignment for Amnesty International.

18 portraits of Moroccons in eloborate, traditional dress.
Screen capture of the portrait series by Leila Alaoui called The Moroccans, from her site leilaalaoui.com. The series recently exhibited at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

On another floor of the gallery, six-foot-high images by Massimo Berruti showed how the gruelling search for water dominates life in Gaza, the Middle East.

Massimo Berruti at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Massimo Berruti’s image of children fetching water in a destroyed Gaza home, on display at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris, France.

But the Maison show that captivated me the most was Passages, an exhibition of images by photojournalist Bruno Barbey. He seems to have a knack for being in a place when a global political event is about to explode.

The show included 55 years of his work including assignments from LIFE magazine, as well as travel images from repeat visits to Poland, Korea, Spain, Portugal, India, Brazil, and Morocco.

Brazil by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Brazil boys playing, by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

A particular image he shot in Morocco really stunned me—the subject matter, the composition, the colours, the patterns, the light, the moment. It was perfect.

Bruno Barbeys s Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, 1985.
Bruno Barbey’s “Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes” 1985.

My next stop was near the Louvre, so I stopped at a café for a tartine jambon serrano and sat out a sudden, sunny hail shower. When it stopped, I passed the museum’s famous pyramid with no intention of going in.

Instead I short-cut through an adjoining courtyard and caught strains of recorded violin music. I kept walking and, tucked under an arch, discovered two string students performing the gorgeous music live. While they played for coins, they kept glancing furtively at the gates. On a break, they told me their performance there was interdit—forbidden…(Video, 0:41)

Philippe Halsman at Jeu de Paume

In the show Étonnez-Moi! (Astonish Me!) at the Jeu de Paume, I learned that Philipe Halsman also shot covers for LIFE magazine—but his subject matter was very, very different. He photographed celebrities.

Life magazine portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
LIFE magazine cover portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris, France.

In fact, it was Halsman who was given the assignment to shoot a group of young starlets in 1949. One of them, the blonde in the front row, caught his eye…

Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France

He and Marilyn become friends and she even allowed him to photograph her in her apartment. I was amazed by this image of Marilyn Monroe lifting weights in her home to stay in shape. I’d never seen that side of her before.

Marilyn Monroe lying on bench press with free weights.
Marilyn Monroe, circa 1950, working out in her apartment, photographed by Philippe Halsman.

Living and photographing in New York from the 1930s to the 1970s, Halsman had a deep interest in art, science, and psychology. He also had some interesting friends with whom he collaborated, most notably Salvador Dali. This exhibit showed the contact sheets for this famous photo shoot:

Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus
Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus.

Halsman also staged elaborate special effects for photo shoots such as this image of writer Jean Cocteau.

Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery in Paris, France.

The next day, I met fellow writer Hazel Manuel on the Left Bank for lunch and a catch-up. We sat at the suitably bookish Les Editeurs café and I ordered the bar entière grillé—whole grilled bass.

Basically, it was a dead fish on a plate.

Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France
Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France

But thanks to some practice eating seafood living in both Vancouver, Canada and Goa, India, I was able to dissect, eat, and enjoy the specimen.

Both Hazel and I have travelled to and written about India, and so after lunch Hazel kindly gave me a signed copy of her novel about India, Kanyakumari.

Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France
Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France

20th century art at Centre Pompidou

I’d saved the most modern of the modern art galleries for last: the Centre Pompidou.

Centre Pompidou Paris France
The Centre Pompidou gallery in Paris, France. (Image source: museums.wanderbat.com)

I didn’t have much time, so I went straight to the Collections Modernes 1905-1965. Year by year and room by room, the fifth floor carefully explained and demonstrated the history of modern art to me. It was exhausting and fantastic.

I stood before Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Man Ray, the Constructivists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhaus school—all of it. All in one place.

Sacré-Coeur church at Montmartre

My final culture stop in Paris was the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur—the grand church at the top of the Montmartre hill.

I walked back to my hotel, taking care to investigate interesting-looking sideroads.

Montmartre street Paris France
A Montmartre street in Paris, France.

On the way, I passed the immense Place de la République square, still charged with the emotions and mementos of the November 13, 2015 bomb attacks. Skateboarders and cyclists weaved around clumps of people staring down at the mementos or staring up at the statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic. She holds aloft an olive branch.

Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks
Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks.

My time in Paris had come to an end.

I’d snacked on fast-food and cans of beer, but I had truly feasted on art. It felt like a sustaining, winter meal—the kind that stays in your belly and soul and keeps you alive for weeks and months afterwards.

I didn’t see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I did catch a glimpse of her in the adjoining gift shop when I went searching for a toilet. She told me it was okay—I’d done a pretty good job of supporting the arts in Paris without her.

And then she smiled.

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UR

Writer, rider, traveller.

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