A couple of weeks ago, on a briefing call with the creative agency working on a brand campaign I was to be photographing and styling, the conversation came to a halt on the matter of location. Our references were beautiful – Anja Rubik hopelessly glamourous, endless limbs stretched out across matte parquet floors, glaring up at high ceilings, ornate marble fireplaces, plaster of Paris curling and tumbling around door frames, French windows thrown wide open by poetic city winds. But the shoot was to take place in Sydney.
Silence on the phone.
The Langham Hotel used to look a bit like that, I offered awkwardly.
But they’ve renovated now.
In the end, the art direction had to be changed. There was no private residence, hotel, anything the team could find in Sydney that fit the bill. Australian architecture simply doesn’t have the history.
Even seven years after my first visit to Europe, it’s still incredible to me that people can be living in buildings well over 500 years old. I so distinctly remember, at fifteen, stopping a woman on the left bank and asking in awe what the building on the corner was. She gave me an uncomfortable look (the facial equivalent to shuffling one’s feet when you’re unsure whether a question is serious or a joke, and perhaps whether there’s a hidden camera behind a tree with Ashton Kutcher waiting to jump out screaming PUNK’D) and kept walking. C’est rien she half-spat in the way that impossibly chic French women over the age of fifty do. It’s nothing. Just an apartment building.
I was a little offended until I saw the Louvre for the first time later that day. Compared to that, the sweet iron filagree in St Germain really was nothing in scale, but certainly not in meticulous detail.
Fast forward to last month in Paris with my brother for the Couture shows, and imagine my dorky déjà vu excitement that this apartment I had booked to stay in for the week sat on the same street in which I’d overzealously ambushed that poor woman all those years ago. My French didn’t come quickly enough to express this revelation to my cab driver. Before staying in this absolute dream of a place, I’d always mentally categorised photographers as those who saw light and those who saw subjects. Australian and Los Angeles shooters are generally the former.
Every other big fashion capital equally produces and demands the latter – the rest of the world replicates that. But, spending more than a week in Paris, and waking up in a home like this, makes you see stories – and not just because of the architecture. Europe makes me want to shoot wide to capture movement, interactions subject to subject, subject to environment. Parisian street culture is so powerful in its collected demeanour and authenticity in contrast to, say, New York’s scattered frenzy of a thousand people trying to be a thousand things to a thousand more people. The immense romance of
Paris makes you breathe again – for any creative. It feeds your mind in the same capacity that an ocean swim and Chopin’s Ballades and a yoga retreat and Howard Koch can. There is so much to learn from the history entrenched in the lifestyle from very small elements like the specialisation of different food groups between charcuteries, boulangerie, and pâtisseries, to huge, mind-boggling questions like how could human beings possibly have constructed something as heartbreakingly beautiful as Palais Garnier?
Where you wake up is a good place to start.