A while back, 4 months ago according to our WordPress back office, we ran an article describing the importance of exhausting your subject to get the best out of it. The location used to illustrate this was the Louis Vuitton foundation, an airy display of glass spinnakers and arched wooden beams used by Franck Gehry to dissimulate a common-garden museum inside one of his spectacular signature post-Bilbao contraptions.
I ended that article with the un-destination promise of a photographic tour of the “Jardin d’acclimatation”, an adjacent botanical / amusement / family outing park.
Well, Lenny, the best laid plans of rodents and togs don’t always unfold as intended.
Truth is, I did start with the best of intentions but then … totally forgot. So here’s my shameful attempt to redeem myself.
In a way, it might be better that way. Had this been written as a close follow-up to the previous article, I might have pfaffed-on about the place, waxing lyrical about this and that. Whereas now, my goldfish memory ensures I’ll shut up and let the photographs do the talking instead.
Because, you see, as a preamble, I need to let you in on a secret. Fact is, the French don’t do parks well. At all.
At some point in our troubled history, spurred by the urge to place rational thinking before all else and to blood-thirstily behead anyone better-off than ourselves, it appears we somehow lost our connection to nature.
So, while the British were perfecting the noble art of the cram-as-much-utilitarian-colourful-flowers-into-as-tight-a-space-as-physically-possible cottage garden design, refining faux-natural recession of planes techniques to invite nature’s greatest perspectives into the windows of the stately home, or simply dreaming-up the most orgasmically beautiful arrangement of plants around themed spaces, we French were promoting torture as the best way to get nature to kneel before ourselves and bow to our Edward Scissorhand obsession with pruning.
So, if you’ve just basked in the spring beauty of cow-studded rolling hills under the shade of a massive cedar tree, carefully seated so as not to damage the blue bell carpets, if your approach to garden visits is vaguely empathy-based, most of France’s take on grand-gardening – namely, inexplicably convoluted low hedges, trees given permission to grow along one direction, and mountain’s worth of gravel on the ground (because grass must be evil in some way)- might leave you somewhat uncomfortably speechless.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Private gardens are far more interesting than the authoritarian delusions of past kings and current city halls. And this drive for utmost domestication has also given us some really beautiful and interesting vineyards / vegetable gardens. Parks ? Well … em … let’s move on.
But the jardin d’acclimatation, for all its typically French heritage, is actually very enjoyable. Real trees, grass, hell, even decadently long grass, variety, paths that weren’t drawn with a laser beam or according to some mathematical theorem …
What’s on offer there ?
For a start, the best views on the aforementioned Vuitton – Gehry collaboration. In fact, all of the views above and most of those in the original article were made from inside the park. You’ll have to pay to enjoy the privilege but the 3€ admission fee is very reasonable for what you get. Probably far cheaper and far more interesting (photography-wise) than entering the museum.
Also veeery interesting is a Korean garden, a gift from Seoul to Paris as a celebration of the friendship between the two cities, and a fascinating dive into how plants can be made to follow human designs and look/feel healthy and magnificent for it.
At first sight, this immediately felt like 50/1.5 ZM territory and the lens didn’t disappoint. Wide open, it created that special brand of bokeh that looks so un-digital and so much like a time machine took you back a century (particularly in B&W). I love that lens to bits for that effect that no PP can emulate really well and for proving, once again, to the world that chosing lenses is first and foremost a matter of visual taste, lab tests be damned (a 20 euro Casio has better lab tests than an 80 grand A. Langhe & Söhne).
What else will you find there ?
A small amusement park, an aviary with exotic chikens and other feathery friends, horse riding, gazebos and bandstands …
About the latter … During my visit, fellow DS blogger Philippe was called-in to have his (mighty) brains urgently picked by a client in distress. After a solo walk-around, heavy rain started pounding the area and I retreated under one of the bandstands with a deck-chair borrowed from one of the nearby lawns and started working in the cool dry comfort of my elevated platform, to the sound of the storm.
This was a reminder that freelance consulting, for all its evils, is simply the best job in the world (a fact now disputed by my over-paid over-tanned airline pilot of a son, but still …) But I’m pretty sure the park would elicit similar fuzzy feelings from anyone visiting on a quiet day, in particular those with a photographic disposition. As a location to un-destination the heck out of a Parisian afternoon, it really comes highly recommended. Come back Le Nôtre (well, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, at least), all is forgiven.
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Great work with the 50 f/1.5 ZM, that lens certainly has a both interesting an enjoyable rendering wide open.
Thanks Joakim. I think this lens is the one of the great underrated gems. People happily pay 10 x the price for a Noctilux but this feels every bit as nice to me 🙂
Pascal, I must say I LOVE the Korean garden photos in the middle of your article. I don’t know if it’s the lens, or the black and white conversion (lots of mid-tones, not so much pure blacks and whites), but as you comment on the lens, there is something very “vintage” looking about these photos. The conversion also has an almost infrared look to it – perhaps the use of a B&W colour filter in post processing, or the luminance of the colours in the conversion, but it gives a very striking look – whilst avoiding a very “flat” look that I dislike about some B&W photos which are all mid-tone.
Thank you Adrian. That garden was immediatzly inspiring and it was one of those occasions when everything seemed to work together, lens, garden, weather … PP was actually a pretty straightforward B&W conversion (I may have pushed some colours but nothing fancy). The “rolled” highlights, I think, are linked to the lens more than anything else. I used it in Arizona in violent sunlight and the results always had that muted top end that result in this soft-ish but sharp look.
?? – j’adore les jardins de France! The alternative path, where everyone wants their own garden, create a town planning nightmare – unliveable cities, unbelievable and crippling traffic jams, horrendous transport costs, the destruction of lifestyle from appalling commute times (and the need to maintain that personal garden in whatever spare time is left).
France is civilised. So much of the rest of the world is not. Perhaps that’s one of the principal reasons why so many tourists flock to France. Is your angst generated by that, and the selfie sticks they bring with them?
Well, SE England doesn’t feel entirely unliveable to me, and eveyone has their own garden there 😉 It’s very much a lifestyle, really. There are home gardens in France and some in England and they are very different. My preference for the English style is linked to the gentler approach : living in harmony with nature rather than beating it into submission, a pointless and lost battle if ever there was one.
Tourists and their selfie-sticks don’t bother me much. Though I tend to avoid crowded places, I guess that helps 😉
May I suggest
“The Occasional Garden”
A wonderful set of emotive images crafted using the equally wonderful Zeiss T* C-Sonnar 50mm F1.5 ZM. I’ve previously tried to convince others as to how good this lens is, but gave up. Enough said.
Thanks Sean 🙂 Some people just believe charts and lab shots. Their loss … That lens is utterly brilliant. All the best, Pascal