Metro station, Cité, 1981.
When I arrived in Paris 26 years ago, at the age of 19, the city I encountered sang to my senses. My heart and mind were immediately stimulated by its light, vibrancy and texture. The French language entered my ears like music, and suddenly communication seemed not merely functional but a celebration of feelings.
I was immediately captivated by the dynamic energy of my new city. During the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s philosophical and ideological debate was a fundamental and active part of the Paris scene. French political life encompassed a plurality of strong beliefs, with the electorate split down the middle between the left and the right. There were frequent labor strikes, numerous student demonstrations, and much political agitation. It was the height of the cold war, and given the centrality of Paris to Europe, just being there made me feel in close contact with world affairs. I remember vividly the mass protest marches in Paris when the Russians entered Poland in 1981. All of this was a strong stimulus for my young spirit.
Travel has been my way of life for many years now. As a contract photographer for Newsweek during the last 17 years, I’ve worked in more than 85 countries, speeding to almost every war, revolution, natural disaster, famine and genocidal conflict. Trying to communicate the human dimension of world events has exposed my sense of inner peace to countless horrors. The one constant in this often wrenching and frenetic existence has been that I always return to Paris, and the city is always the key to my recovery. The elegance and warmth of Parisian “art de vivre” has always offered a soft landing from painful experiences my heart might prefer to reject.
Having lived most of the two decades far from my immediate family, I’ve found a sense of family spirit at many of my Parisian haunts. In particular, I’ve been able to count on the warm and human ambience of the Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis. This restaurant, and life in several Paris cafés, is the subject of many of the photographs that follow.
Many of the people who have contributed to the life of this city weren’t born there, and so the “Parisians” of my book title encompasses anyone living in Paris. I haven’t attempted to present an encyclopedic view of the city, nor have I tried to explain my photographs with words. Rather, I want to share a mosaic of images that express what I feel and cherish about this extraordinary place and its people. Though constantly changing, Paris always moves my heart.
Île Saint-Louis, 1994.
Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis, 1993.
Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis, 1994.
Café, Le Marais, 1975.
Peter Turnley, a 2001 Nieman Fellow, is a contract photographer for Newsweek based in Paris.