Though additional cemeteries in Paris were banned in the late 18th century, the Montparnasse Cemetery was opened in 1824 because the area had not yet been incorporated into the city. Today, it’s an odd dark space in the otherwise bright city. The idea of adjacent blocks belonging to graves and apartments has a polite kind of symmetry.
The homogeneity of Parisian streets seemed a little bit anomalous to me until I visited the Catacombs and came to realize that much of the stone making up the city had been quarried from directly beneath it. The cave-ins and collapses that this eventually produced demanded the project of stabilizing these artificial caverns and ultimately made room for the human remains that now occupy them.
After nightfall, the Eiffel Tower puts on an hourly strobe light show that transforms the tower into a sparkly pillar in the city skyline. Much as a flash can brighten a photograph, this effect also means that long-exposure photographs of the tower make it the brightest object in the skyline by an order of magnitude.
A certain anthropologist encouraged us to visit the Catacombs of Paris, and we were stunned by the walls of bones. In a decades-long project, more than six million remains were moved to caverns under the city.
I’m not sure I was really prepared to come face-to-face with so many skulls.
The bridge in the distance is the Pont au Double, and it is one of several that connect the Rive Gauche to Île de la Cité. That central island fascinates me because it is the site of the medieval refounding of the city. The island used to be packed with residences alongside government and religious buildings. Today it is almost entirely dominated by the latter buildings (like Notre Dame on the right), yet I heard that census information still lists a few hundred people living on the island. Where are those last homes hiding?
There’s that perfect moment when the sky is still blue but the oranges of sodium vapor lamps begin to scatter from the surfaces of the clouds and the Eiffel Tower looks particularly otherworldly. When so many American cities have switched to lighting their streets with white LED lights, I was surprised at how much of Paris is still lit by sodium lamps.
A Parisian cliché says that the best view of the city comes from the top of the Tour Montparnasse—because it’s the only shot in which the enormous tower can’t be seen. My trip to Paris last week didn’t give me the time to establish that definitively, but I can certainly attest that the city looks fantastic from the deck. Cityscapes like this were what originally inspired me to get into HDR photography a decade ago, and they still fascinate me now.