I sometimes wonder if perhaps I flatter myself by using the French term flaneur to describe how I photograph when in Paris. But for more than 50 years as a photographer – no matter where in the world my magazine assignments or self-determined travels have taken me in quest of imagery – I have, in fact, adapted the manner of a flaneur: I have always preferred to simply wander and watch.
In the words of Edmund White, author of The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris, a book I consider akin to a bible of human observation—at least as regards the streets of Paris – I have often been an “aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes where ever caprice or curiosity directs his or her footsteps.” Within my profession I have long been considered a ‘street shooter’.
I’ve always been drawn to the edges of an event or a place, whether it’s meandering the streets of a city neighbourhood, frequenting a visually beckoning cafe or bar, roaming the cavernous rooms of fine museums, or probing the wings and the back stages at music events or fashion shows; that’s where I love to visually explore. Just about anywhere I go in search of pictures, I go serendipitously. And Paris is the most serendipitously generous city I’ve been fortunate to visit in my life. White says that “…more than any other city Paris is still constructed to tempt someone out for an aimless saunter, to walk on just another hundred yards — and then another.” That’s so true. And for me the best picture may always be found somewhere in those next hundred yards or perhaps just around the oncoming corner.
To walk in Paris is to stroll through a never-ending series of one-act plays with ever changing, often beautiful, sets, populated by sometimes equally attractive characters on display. Edmund White points out that “Americans consider the sidewalk as an anonymous backstage space, whereas to the French it is the stage itself.” And indeed it is.
It is my hope that some of the images in this book and this exhibit drawn from 31 years of trips—short, and not so short but never seemingly long enough—to the City of Light, will brighten some of the days of readers and viewers for years to come.
William Albert Allard