We challenged a photographer to capture glimpses of unexpected, everyday life in Paris—and found ourselves falling in love with the city all over again.
About the Photographer
Ian Gittler is an author, photographer, and designer living in New York City. He is currently working on two new long-form books, one about youth culture and another comprised of detailed still lifes of vintage motors. You can catch him online at iangittler.com.
Best Road Trip?
"Sound Avenue any summer afternoon, heading east on the north fork of Long Island."
Favorite Travel-Inspiring Book?
"Robert Frank's The Americans"
Biggest Travel Gripe?
"I wish I spoke a few more languages—or even one more. It would make moving about less cumbersome, more respectful, and way more romantic."
1 This is Paris, and I was as curious and enthusiastic about being here as anyone. Luckily the jaded French artistes I know were busy rioting at the university, so I was free to wander and snap pictures of random or even insignificant details simply because I thought they might inspire a sweet memory at some point down the line. Photo
2 A typical Paris apartment building with typically romantic details: A spiral staircase is lit by sunlight through diagonal, floor-to-ceiling windows. The building's elevator seems to be an afterthought and barely fits two people—that in itself is kind of romantic, too. Photo
3 The man pictured looks like actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, but it's actually France's current prime minister at 16. The poster was pasted around town, and it reminded me of the French New Wave film movement of the '60s. The headline promises something entirely different and more indicative of our modern preoccupations: "The secrets of youth." Photo
4 A lot has changed about Paris, but for the most part, the skyline hasn't. There are so few tall buildings here that a low-hanging, late afternoon sun bathes Montmartre with brilliant winter light. I was standing on a friend's balcony breathing in the very cold air of a city I hadn't seen in years and years, and this view felt like a memory. Photo
5 Jean Cocteau designed the interior of Cinema Studio 28, a movie theater and café. I guess I really am a tourist, attracted to signage that wouldn't interest me if it were in English. Photo
6 Paris is a city of grand thoroughfares, but they all seem to be connected by narrow, winding passageways and secret shortcuts. Montmartre is a great place to get lost, although preferably on the way back down the hill. Photo
7 No, these French babies were not sharing a smoke, and yes, their mothers were nearby. I have no clue what this wall in place des Abbesses, at the edge of Pigalle, is all about, but I liked its look. Photo
8 Even though it's seconds away from Montmartre, it's seedy around Pigalle, kind of how New York City's Times Square used to be—strip clubs, dance halls, and sex shops with shifty, beckoning doormen. I hear that independent theater groups and trendy dance club impresarios have been staging programs in some of these venues, which may be the first signs of a transformation. Photo
9 Palais Royal is elegant and monumental, but this seemingly incongruous art installation adds an element of fun, and it's a challenge for a group of teenage boys with a soccer ball. Photo
10 I would compare the restaurants dotting the perimeter of Palais Royal to the café at the Stanhope Hotel, across from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It's beautiful and glittery, a place I'm happy exists and happy to walk past and peer in at, but it's also a place that I'd rarely enter. Photo
11 Another wonderful view of Palais Royal. How I see things, and how I translate my experiences in to a picture, will affect how others envision their vacations, fantasize about a destination, or drift off into a daydream. My advice for amateur photographers is to show up, get out of the way, and let the light do the work. That's what I did here. Photo
12 One of my Parisian friends dismissed his neighbor's paintings with an elitist's snort, so I only had time to snap a couple of frames from outside this open-studio event before being dragged along. I don't like these paintings either, but I like the idea of anyone making a life for himself in the arts who's willing to share his corner of the universe with the rest of the world. Photo
13 "Biquette has disappeared. She is small and gray." I've heard that Avenue Junot, an appealing, winding street at the top of Montmarte, is sprinkled with the homes of a handful of legendary French entertainers. Photo
14 Marché des Batignolles. On a frigid Saturday morning, this organic market was very busy. In Paris you'll find cheeses that are illegal in America. Yummmm. Photo
15 In February 2008, a fire ripped through la maison Deyrolle, a natural-sciences library and repository of curiosities that was established in 1831. Weeks beforehand, I was lucky enough to discover Deyrolle through a friend, whose father first brought her here when she was a child. It was quiet, serious, even eerie. Deyrolle is open while rebuilding, so support this landmark on Rue du Bac. Photo
16 No time for late dinners on this short visit, but one Parisian says that Aux Fins Gourmets, on boulevard St.-Germain, is her favorite restaurant in Paris. I'm guessing this means the food is excellent, the prices are high, the dress is tres chic, and the scene is warm and beautiful. Next time. Photo
17 Miss.Tic is a graffiti artist who has become a familiar name in Paris. This piece was stenciled on the side door of La Hune, the historic St.-Germain-des-Prés art-book store, across the street from Café Flore on rue des Rennes. Photo
18 Serge Gainsbourg's last home, on rue de Verneuil, has become a shrine to the French superstar. In a bizarre coincidence, moments before reaching this landmark, I spotted his daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and her quintessentially Parisian family, on a weekend stroll along Rue St.-Germain. She's about as close to royalty as this city gets. Photo
19 As this postcard rack proves, I am definitely not the first photographer to find inspiration on the streets of Paris! Photo
20 This slightly gauche sidewalk table—with its cheery diagram of touristy landmarks my Budget Travel editor requested I not photograph—struck me as simple proof that not all Parisians are above expressing a bit of unabashed pride. Don't believe what you hear; French people don't really look down on us because we're excited about the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Photo