Karin, David and Charlie, Brasserie de l'Isle Saint-Louis, 1993
Photo Peter Turnley / courtesy of Abbeville Press
Peter Turnley's Paris
an affair of the heart
Born in Indiana, Peter Turnley moved to Paris in 1975, at the age of 19. He admired the work of the great French photographers Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau and Boubat, and meeting them on their home turf made him decide to become a photographer himself. While employed as Doisneaus assistant he started doing assignments for magazines, and has spent most of the last 25 years covering wars in 85 countries, notably for Newsweek.
He talked to Scott Steedman about his new book, Parisians (Abbeville), a photographic homage to his adopted home town.
Q: Are you repaying a debt to the French masters with Parisians?
PT: Its more that I am very proud to contribute to a certain visual tradition, a humanistic and spiritual tradition. I most definitely had inspiration from some of the photographers that worked in Paris, like Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, Boubat and Brassaï. There was a combination of humanism and elegance and sensuality and humor that really struck me as an interesting model, as a way to see and as a way to live.
That said, my experience with Paris has evolved throughout a 25 year period. I began to feel that I was part of the landscape myself. On a certain level this was my own culture, my own, if not country, then home.
Q: How has Paris changed?
PT: I still think that what makes Paris distinctive, as without a doubt in my mind the worlds most beautiful city, is the attention to human detail. The other fascinating element about life in Paris is that it is a very modern, dynamic place. You feel that in all ways, in the world of technology, fashion, political ideas, philosophy. Im always impressed by how rich and forward-looking the French thought process is. There is a really interesting and ongoing debate about social institutions and ones right to a quality of life, and not such a strong attention to materialism.
Q: What makes Parisians different?
PT: What I like about that title is that it refers to anyone who has chosen to live in Paris, and is making their own contribution to life in Paris. I love the notion and tradition that Paris has always been a very cosmopolitan and diverse and international center. So much of what is rich about French cultural history comes from people who have contributed from elsewhere.
People can at once be extremely soft and elegant and intimate and decent and civic, and at the same time its a very big city, people can be very hard, reserved, cold, quirky.
Parisians dont accept easy answers. I have always appreciated that challenging and curious spirit, people who challenge themselves intellectually. I think that it is extremely healthy and positive that in this modern time, when one country, the US, has acquired such a powerful role globally, that there are other poles of guidance and thought. Paris and Frances role in providing an independent expression is extremely healthy for the world.
Parisians can be sampled online at www.abbeville.com/parisians
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