Menilmontant in the north east of Paris offers an authentic experience of Paris. Over the 26 years that I have lived in this city it is probably the area I most like to walk around with my camera on a day when I have little to do, (rare). A couple of weeks ago Itook Luke, a keen amateur photographer from Sydney who has visited Paris many times.. He needed little persuading to go to the 20th arrondissement as he had already pounded the tourist pavements in Paris many times.
Luke stays in an apartment in the Marais so we hopped on the metro at Ranbuteau and arrived at Jourdain in just a few minutes. His first words as we started our photo tour was ‘this is amazing, I can’t believe this is Paris’. Within a minute we were taking pictures of a beautiful second hand bookshop on the Avenue des Pyrenees.
I explained that in order to see it all we would be weaving in and out of narrow hilly streets, and there would be some steep streets to climb in order not to miss the most photogenic parts of this authentic, beautiful Paris. Menilmontant was a working class district, made famous by Edith Piaff who lived there at the beginning of her career. Her apartment can be visited by prior appointment. Although it was a cold, rainy day albeit June, Luke wanted to walk the streets.
Street photography is the essence of photography, it is a historical necessity that records precious moments that document life that depicts the heartbeat of a place for ever. When I am coaching photography, I always say the most important thing is to seize the moment.. Use your energy framing the photograph as best as you can, the technical points can be sorted out later. What I like to do, is choose a background I like and wait to see what or who passes into into it. Menilmontant is terrific for this, there is street art of all kinds, narrow winding lanes with cottages and gardens that make you think you are in the heart of the country, wrought iron staircases with attractive lampposts, colourful and delightful cafés and a mixture of architecture not found easily elsewhere.
Luke was blown away by the view from the top of the Jardins de Belleville. The colourful Centre Georges Pompidou clearly visible and the Eiffel Tower rising out of the clouds. I told him how on sunny days the gardens were filled with people picnicking and sunbathing. The Rue de Menilmontant which has equally great views of the city also has a fresque by Jerome Mesnager of the ‘Homme Blanc’, the white man, that dominates this steep street and makes for a great backdrop for interesting photos.
Menilmontant is multi cultural, artistic, charming, and friendly. It is not a tourist attraction and I hope it stays that way. Meanwhile, I offer a photography tour in this authentic quartier of Paris which offers the possibility of taking a completely different set of pictures from any other part ofParis.
My photography workshops always incorporate time in the 20th arrondissement; This destination never fails to surprise and delight regular visitors to Paris who are looking for authenticity and a different set of pictures.