Speaking of Paris, let me just say, I love Paris. And, here’s the surprise, I love Parisians, in fact, all the French. Parisians to me are New Yorkers who: 1-speak French, 2-eat better, 3-know wine, and 4-get four weeks vacation in the summer. They are not falsely polite, not one checkout person at my local supermarket ever asked if I had any nice plans for the afternoon. Not one! Not one in five years! Going to my local Boulangerie was like an undercover mission, hoping not to be discovered by the horrible woman who owned it. Aah, but the baguettes were worth the risk, to say nothing of the croissants! I was born in The Bronx, but I sort of grew up in Paris.
I often worked for a magazine group which included “Decoration”. Everything was run through the Director of Photography’s studio. Studio Astre. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Astre, and they specialized in shooting wedding dresses. He was the photographer, she was the stylist. By this I mean, he told the models exactly where to stand on the permanent X painted on the floor, while she pinned the gown to the seamless paper in a perfect circle. All of this went on while they engaged in a furious, shrill, loud argument. Most of which I could never understand, no matter how good my french got. Yet I learned a lot when I shot there. This was because on day #1 Mr. Astre talked with me about the “system” at the studio. I was often hired to do the tabletop stuff for the magazines. Sometimes it was beautiful home accessories, but sometimes it was horrible wedding gift ideas. The stories that had gifts often meant 3 spreads, each with 15-20 gifts. Hopefully, artfully arranged. So far, so good. Then Mr. Astre told me the policy of shooting just 3 sheets of 4×5 per shot…and only 2 sheets of b&w Polaroid. His fee for running the show didn’t include film expenses, so the less film shot, the more profit for him! OK, the challenge began. Next he showed me the 20,000 watt/sec ancient Ascor strobes. Now Ascor strobes of that vintage looked like a weapon of mass destruction, and they were! Many stacked metal boxes with immense connectors joining them in some combination who’s secret was known only by Merlin and Niels Bohr, neither of whom were around for consultation. So I could see this would be an up-hill battle. Then he told me that the model lights hadn’t worked for years! The studio had no windows, no daylight. That was a plus. I would turn off the house lights, look through the camera under the dark cloth and fire the strobes. The more I did this the better I got at seeing what the whole mess was going to look like. I never used more than 3 sheets of film and dared not to ever ask for an extra polaroid. So studio Astre taught the 28 year old me many things. Don’t waste film, some vulgar French expressions, and Cootie Williams. They had a record player with about 6 records. I must have listened to the Cootie Williams album 100’s of times. I still like it, and I still love Paris.