Street Photography in Paris by Paul Perton

Street Photography in Paris by Paul Perton

It’s late May and I’ve been very glad of the central heating in my room when I’ve got up at 06:00 and stottered back into my room after 23:00 most nights. When I first arrived, I was puzzled that the central heating was still on. Now I’m very glad of it and on a number of occasions used the radiator as a clothes horse to get shirts and fleeces dry before my daily routine kicks-in once again.

Why am I mentioning this? I’m in Paris and was expecting the weather to be somewhat better, as did the thousands of tourists that flock every street, corner, restaurant, café and museum.

Peter Turnley is the reason I’m here. He’s a sometime Paris resident going back three decades and a street photographer somewhat in the mould of Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau, albeit younger. Peter’s street workshop started on Saturday and has eleven of us walking the streets photographing les Parisiennes as they go about their daily business.


The chilly and damp tourists are of little interest to us; they only hide the real city; ancient, full of light and entirely enchanting.

I haven’t been in Paris for some years and find my hard-learned post-school colloquial French has completely deserted me. In it’s place the awkward sounds and flat vowels of Afrikaans spring to mind as I try to make myself understood. This is a solo trip; Mrs P is at home dealing with builders and so, no use in the translation department.

Despite my clear British heritage, I lie a lot when I’m in France; “Non. J’habite á l’Afrique du Suid” being my biggest porkie. That immediately seems to put the French at ease and like me, which wouldn’t usually happen were I to confess to my real pom roots. At that point experience has taught me that the French invariably sneer, or shrug, but either way, provide absolutely no assistance or succour, depending on what I seek. Pretending to be South African is expedient to say the least.

Curiously, the city does seem to have become somewhat less parochial and on this trip and I hear English spoken everywhere, including the Metro. That’s a definite plus.


Back to the workshop. Peter Turnley is one of a rare breed; a photojournalist that has managed to forge a hard-won reputation for being in the right place at the right time, camera in hand. He is attempting to inculcate us with some of his street wisdom and I for one have felt a significant change in my photographic attitude since arriving here.

The ten others on the workshop are having similar experiences, with varying degrees of photographic success. Peter’s style is as you’d expect for a successful photojournalist; direct and somewhat confrontational. The streets of Paris aren’t a war zone, or a refugee camp in Somalia and I find myself wondering whether such an in-your-face style is justified. His photographs speak otherwise and we are all finding ways to adapt his guidance to our own styles.


After an orientation meeting and dinner on Sunday evening, the pattern of our days quickly takes shape; shoot, edit and submit a day’s images for group discussion and selection, then it’s back out on to the streets for another go-round.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are chilly, overcast and rainy by turns. As the week progresses however, the weather improves as do our skills. Those readers familiar with my early morning habits won’t be remotely surprised to find I was out on the streets at around 07:00 – earlier than that and there really wasn’t sufficient light pour la photographie.


Slowly, we each built a group of selected images on Peter’s computer, the aim being 15 photographs from each of us that would be collected into an end-of-workshop show featuring the work of the entire group.

Interwoven with shooting and discussion were two guest discussions; Voya Mitrovic the Serbian-born darkroom superstar who printed for Cartier-Bresson and an entire galaxy of other Paris-based photographers of that era. He also prints for Peter and his work is full of the love, care and tonality that only a master of his craft can produce.

The second talk came from Gerard Uferas, a master photographer, with a passion for the opera, ballet and haute couture. By his own admission, a sensitive and complexed man, he showed us a collection of the most exquisite, textured and colored photographs. Unusually with a group of people all from various walks of life, the impact Uferas’ work left every one of silenced and awed by it’s sheer beauty.


Meanwhile, my meanderings saw almost 100km disappear under the soles of my shoes, countless cups of café créme, beer and as is to be expected, fine food. On the latter, I should mention a plât du jour lunch of lamb rib chops, a cassoulet fit for a king and on two separate occasions, a wing of exquisitely prepared skate with beurre noisette and capers. For food like that, I’d (almost) live here.

Friday was deadline day for our photographs, as the final show was due on Saturday morning, along with a viewing of the individual portfolios we bought from our various homes. An unusual decision to view this work so late in the day, defended by Peter who makes the valid point that to see this work before setting-out might reveal a professional, or specialist photographer, whose input could adversely impact the hopes and plans of everyone else. Good point.

So, that was it. a week in Paris. Howling wind and rain at La Défense, mellow afternoon sunshine at Pont des Arts, magnificent buildings and some of the worlds most visually interesting people. How bad could that be?



  1. Dear Paul, the girl in the subtway is reading L’Armée des ombres, by Joseph Kessel, a novel about a group of french “resistant” during WW2. It’s been adapted for the screen in the late 60’s by Jean-Pierre Melleville. Both men were involved in this “army of shadows” prior to this work of art. A moving movie, more realistic than a fullblown action flick.
    Kessel was a famous great reporter and novelist. Film maker was well known for his “film noir” works. Interesting to see a young woman reading this kind of litterature (best-seller of yesteryear but with a rather bleak atmosphere and dread theme). Thanks to your eye 🙂

    More info here :


  2. I really like the compositional and situational feel of your street photography. Comfortable, not confrontational, and definitely not “forced” if you will.

  3. Excellent photography from the streets of Paris, and I am sure Peter Turnley’s workshop must have been a great inspiration for you. The man is a great photographer, and his pictures from “Parisians” are just brilliant.


  4. Excellent street photography and any camera can sing in your hands. Probably the closest tonality to film ever posted in Steve’s site.

  5. Mooi geskryf en pragtige fotos Paul. Ek’s altyd verbaas (en moet glimlag) waar ek my ou landsgenote teekom. As ‘n “soutie” wat nou oorsee woon gee dit vir my ook kans om my ou tweede taal to oefen. Ja Mev. Lourens, tog nog nie vergeet nie. Good effort Paul, I’m lucky enough to go to the city of lights for a few days every Spring and without fail am enchanted each time during my stay. Your photos also tell me I need to spend less time taking photos of the Sacre Couer etc. and more time of everything else. Good stuff man.

  6. Great post and very nice images. I would say pic 3 is my favourite as the gent is mimiking the statue. More like Doisneau, well done.

  7. Great images in true Turnley style, Peter! I envy you getting to Turnley’s workshop. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time but the finances were never there. Try as I might I cannot pick a favorite over the others. Each one stands on its own for different reasons. Thanks for sharing your experience and images!!!

  8. Also agree on the umbrella shots, especially that last one. Such a great design. I follow on flickr so I’ve seen some of these, but many are new to me. Nice work!

  9. Great pictures, I love the one of the lady in the jacket reading her book! And yes as others have said so good that there is no mention of equipment used as it does not matter, rarely does:)

  10. Très belles images, félicitations. Heureux de lire ce bel article.
    Je vis dans un petit village du sud-ouest de la France au sein duquel cohabitent 14 nationalités différentes. Pourtant, inutile ici de dire “Je vis en Afrique du Sud” pour susciter l’intérêt. Cela doit être une réaction purement parisienne…

  11. Nice shots, specially with the bad and boring weather we suffer since two month !!
    I leave near and work in Paris, and perhaps too used to this town for seeing things like you. Interesting work, far away from “clichés”.

    There is snow, now. If you like… 😉

  12. 2 fantastic umbrella shots…they both say a lot to me…weather wise and what those 2 were feeling with the wet and gloomy weather…and yeah agree with everyone..nice touch not talking about gear. but somehow your pictures make me very curious to at least know your lens..was it prime or zoom.. 🙂

  13. Great post, one of the best I’ve seen on here of late.
    The last image is the standout. You saved the best for last.
    +1 for no gear porn. I’m really over it too.
    Although if someone could actually take a decent photo with the new Leica M, I suppose I’d be interested in that… Leica: Please let me trial…

  14. Nice post and story, and some wonderful shots! And well done on not bringing the gear into it. I really enjoyed reading this piece.

  15. Lovely!

    Guys, do any of you have any insight into street photography in Paris in the winter outside of the tourist seasons? I’d be ever so interested in checking that scene out. Also, what was it like for any of you, not being residents there, in Paris at that time of the year…


    • I was in Paris in March a good few years ago, before I had developed any real interest in photography. It was cool. I think if you can find the right time and situation to go, like anywhere else, just go! Even if the photography time doesn’t turn out as planned for whatever reason, time spent travelling somewhere new is never wasted.

  16. Great post. These are excellent photographs and the post is about the image making and not the gear.
    I also like the picture on the Metro of the young woman reading-natural and well framed by other bodies.

  17. It’s so refreshing to see some nice pics and not a single talk about equipment. Thanks my friend

  18. ‘…I lie a lot when I’m in France; “Non. J’habite á l’Afrique du Suid” being my biggest porkie.’

    You also don’t disclose any technical details. Is this a color-b&w conversion? Digital/analog captures? Camera/lens/film/workflow? I don’t see the motivation of Paul’s post other than a venue to show off his Parisian travel and make us wonder about what’s missing and what else are lies.

    • Envy is not the best source of inspiration when writing a post, Jonathan.
      Besides, I find it refreshing not to have a whole discussion about gear: It allows focusing on the pictures and the story around them.

      Belles photos, Paul. J’ai aussi beaucoup aimé ton site, très sobre et apaisant. Bravo!


    • What? Please, you want to know that the wonderful tattoo image was taken with the exotic and almost unattainable monochrome M? Suit yourself brother, but I’m perfectly happy imagining it was made with the NEX 6, a camera, um, I own. As for showing off his work, geez, don’t all photographers want to do the same?

    • Thanks for the comment. Kit? Out of the box Sony NEX-7 (I’d been using an NEX-C3 for several months prior to this) and a Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon.

      All images shot RAW, converted using SilverEFX Pro.

    • I kind of admired the fact that the post was about photography and culture and not equipment.

      Beautiful images, BTW.

  19. Great pictures !
    Just came back from a trip there in December, absolutely loved walking late nights and shooting in the dark !
    Sorry you have had such a bad experience with the locals.. Being a Parisian myself, I always -and so do most my friends there- provide assistance to the occasional tourist in dismay.. Keep trying ! NYC in my experience, is far worse 🙂
    Anyway, you seem after all very inspired by the local subjects, so that’s good. Fun city to be clicking in, isn’t it ?

    • Paris is much, much better than it used to be, although there’s still a whiff of Les Anglais, the rolled eyes and shoulder shrug. That said, I really enjoyed my week there and am am planning a return soon.

      NYC? Love it, but the New Yorkers are very, very aggressive and want to be paid for any and everything. These days I avoid it if I can.

      • The idea that french people hate english people is a myth. We love english humour, english music, english cinema and the english way in general. But Paris is an exhausting city and alas, parisians are not really kind with tourists (well with anyone really).
        By the way, I think that much of the hate is on the other side of the channel. You’d nether see a french newspaper bashin england on its front page.

  20. Nice photos and sounds like a great week.

    So who do support world cup time….Springboks or Poms?

Comments are closed.