The Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris is a grand park nestled in the middle of the Latin Quarter, the heart of Paris. It’s adored by locals and tourists alike. From the old men who play petanqué, to the sun worshipers and those who come with a bottle of wine to picnic on the grass in front of the château. It’s large enough to have significant differences, but small enough to be contained to a theme, therefore we thought it a perfect place for a little challenge.
Anna Volpi who heads up our Verona and Venice photo tours was in Paris for a week, so we agreed there are few things more inspiring than a challenge, so along with William Lounsbury and myself who both host photo tours in Paris, we set Jardin du Luxembourg at the playing field. The rules were simple enough, each of us had to shoot three images inside the gardens. We picked a day in late spring, and spent a couple of hours together. Whilst we insisted it wasn’t a competition, we did feel the pressure to try and present ourselves in the best light. After careful selection, here are the results.
"I was in the middle of a creative rut, feeling unsatisfied with the images I was making at the time and I hoped a stroll around the Jardin de Luxembourg would create a little inspiration. At first, I struggled. The tree lined promenades and classical statuary felt too well traveled to me and I couldn’t make an interesting shot to save my life, but as the few clouds gave way to glorious late spring sun, I started to see not the statues, but the life.
The first image I selected is of a woman reclining on two chairs. I was drawn to her because she seemed to embody how we all felt that day. The sun was shining, summer was around the corner and what could be better than a nap in the park. I used a low depth of field to really make her our focus, while still letting us glimpse the park around her.
"My second image is intended as a bit of a joke. The two chairs sitting alone in a quiet part of the park seem to almost be in conversation, friends playing 'hooky' from work for an afternoon in the park. Maybe I’m creating too much of a story, but what the hell, it’s fun!
"The last image was the hardest to choose. When I came across the men playing petanqué it was of course a deep mine of opportunities, but I decided to focus on the details. I have a habit of shooting wide, I like to compose images with a character at the focus, but set in the larger scene, for this I decided to find something smaller. I saw the man holding the balls, impatiently waiting his turn and new I had my image."
"I don't live in Paris, but I am deeply enamoured with this beautiful city. It certainly is inspiring, especially if you take your time to stroll, observe, and live the moment. And if you can do that with your favourite photographer friends, what more could you want?
"I am naturally drawn to people, their stories, their moments, so my favourite photograph of the day is of the couple having a picnic on the grass. I took lots of photographs of them, from different points of view, but the right one came when the guy placed his hand on the girl's knee, while I was laying on my stomach with the lens just an inch above the grass. Sometimes photography is like fishing. You just have to sit back and wait. Them sitting right in front of the palace certainly helped the shot a lot. Sometimes photography is also about luck (and so is fishing, I guess).
"Jardin de Luxembourg is great for day dreaming, picnics, and people watching. The woman in the fluffy blue coat captured my attention, although I never saw her face, and didn't want to. There was a wonderful serenity about her, and I felt a touch of melancholy. She sat alone, looking mostly in one direction. The photo is static, there's no obvious interaction going on, yet there's a thousand stories and questions I can think of looking at it. Is she waiting for anybody? Was that coat a crazy buy or is her closet full of fun stuff? Is she out early for a late night, hence the coat in the warm sun? Even though you can't see her face, I prefer the portrait this way, it gives the viewer much more room for imagination. The subject is in the middle, ignoring the rule of thirds, because her thoughts are the centre of attention, the garden is just a backdrop.
"The third photo is a bit far from my usual style and subject matter, but I like it just the same. Maybe it's because of the statue's smug face or its colour, or perhaps because my eye keeps moving from the statue to the cupola and back. It's a detail that makes me want to see more of the surroundings, and curiosity and imagination are what drive me most of the time.
"The overcast day made it good for picture taking, had it been very sunny I would have had to find different photos. And maybe I'd like to go back with just a 50mm. I'm always up for a challenge, especially in Paris."
Alexander J.E. Bradley
"Colour is always important in my work. So while I was working through the images I had from the day I gravitated towards images that not only told a story and displayed a sense of place, but also images whose colour complimented each other as a set. I chose three images tinted predominantly red, yellow and green, creating a sort of traffic light of the gardens.
"There is always a couple of groups of people playing petanqué in the gardens and their relaxed, jovial nature never fails to pause me in my trails. Perhaps it is that I get caught up in my own head sometimes, that the idea of just throwing a couple of balls across the ground calms me. An envy of a simpler life. The red shoes, the red rings and the rusty colour of the gravel draw the image together.
"It appears everyone enjoys a little nap in the park. Like in many parks in Paris, the chairs are designed with the back legs lower so they’re the perfect angle for taking a snooze. The bright yellow of the flowers in the foreground popped and I wanted to capture the nature and surroundings with their sleepy spells infecting all those who cross draw closer.
"I love the third, the full leaves of the trees create a canopy of shade and protection over the lawn I shoot very symmetrically, but I like how this image is offset by the bright red bike. The red mirrors the first image and the series creates a loop upon itself."
It was fun to see the different styles come through in each of our photography. William who is trained as a photojournalist, while Anna and myself have more of an art history, but there are some things that we all did the same. We each thought not only about the photos individually, but also how they work inside a set of three images. We each had a personal image, like someone lazing in the sun, some form of action shot, and then one shot devoid of people, focusing more on the static atmosphere of the park.
The fun behind the challenge wasn’t to find a winner, it was more to see how we would each approach the subject differently. What areas we would each focus on and gaining a new perspective on the same subject. I must admit during the day there were times when one person would gravitate towards a subject or angle and the others were left stupefied, annoyed they hadn’t thought of it first. It just goes to show that there is more than one way to shoot the same thing, and there lies the joys of photography. Finding what little details sets your own photography apart from the others.
Authors : Alexander J.E. Bradley with the assistance of William Lounsbury and Anna Volpi
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours and heads up the photo tours in Paris. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images. See his personal work at his website.
And William, our Paris photo tour expert. Specialising in photojournalism, William enjoys spontaneous moments as they are presented to him. If you would like to see more of his work, head across to his personal webpage.