Benoit Rousseau is an extraordinarily patient photographer. The Frenchman stalks the streets of Paris in search of his quarry. When the perfect moment arrives, he swoops to capture it and then ghosts away, blending back into the urban landscape. The city’s famous landmarks form the backdrop for his images, but the photographer is more interested in what’s in the foreground.
Strangers are the focal point of Rousseau’s street photography: a fleeting smile here, a knowing glance there. Disparate moments that, when combined, paint an authentic picture of Parisian life.
Street photography is like hunting – it’s impossible to know in advance what you’re going to catch
HomeAway spoke to Benoit Rousseau as part of Picture a City, our series documenting great cities and the great photographers who curate them for our enjoyment. Don’t set foot in Paris until you’ve read Rousseau’s inside guide to its prettiest places and the landmarks his lens can’t get enough of. You’ll never see Paris in the same light again.
In the beginning
In 2008 I discovered photography and swiftly decided to make it my vocation. Prior to that I had never pressed the shutter of an SLR. As I was to discover, shooting a great photo is one of life’s most pleasurable moments.
Whenever I get the opportunity, I take to the streets of Paris in search of moments to capture. I particularly enjoy photographing strangers. The more my work improves, the harder it becomes to better my previous efforts, but as long as I do improve, the desire to master my craft remains.
A Paris street photographer is born
I am lucky to live in Paris, a city that attracts people from all walks of life. Through my street photography, I simply wish to show off the city I live in and love. I relish photographing strangers, it makes me happy. If people like my work too, that’s a bonus.
Street photography is like hunting – it’s impossible to know in advance what you’re going to catch.
Favourite Parisian places
From a photography perspective, my favourite places in the city include the gardens of the Tuileries from Concorde to the Louvre, the Seine River, the district of Mouffetard, the Contrescarpe, Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, old Paris in Le Marais, Barbes and Pigalle… the whole city is beautiful.
I especially like the light of the Seine at the blue hour, the movements of the crowd at La Défense and the bright lights of the nightlife. Taking street photography of strangers is possible in all big cities, but what makes Paris so special are its lights and large public spaces – the boulevards and architecture of its monuments.
The best photos are those that we see but don’t manage to take
It is important for a photographer to have their own style. When you’re shooting places that have been captured thousands of times, you must try to find a new angle. I believe I accomplish this with the Eiffel Tower but I struggle with Notre-Dame.
For visitors to the city, its monuments (Notre-Dame, Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Pigalle) will be the most obvious attractions to see, but after these have been ticked off, I would recommend an early morning walk along Canal St-Martin. If you like street photography, the area surrounding Bercy is ideal.
Successful street photography all comes down to a question of attitude: a photographer can choose to be both ‘furtive’ and ‘positive’. Furtive by your body movements and behaviour: the street photographer has to go unnoticed. The abrupt movements and the endless framing have to be banished. Be natural and comfortable in your movements and you will become invisible. I have a 5D SLR which is not really small or discreet; when it is set to 24mm I have to be one or two metres from my subject. You must also be positive because your attitude reflects the perception that others will have of you.
As I noted earlier, street photography is like hunting. First comes the approach:
This is the most difficult but also the most fascinating part of the job. You must walk and observe, watching and trying to anticipate the crucial moment which could occur at any time. When it happens, you’ve got to be ready to shoot it in an instant. Often you will return home empty-handed, but in those rare moments when a scene occurs, you’ve got a split second: choose your angle and fire!
The second part of the job involves lying in wait:
You may have seen a particularly graphic urban landscape, a poster which would lend itself to your craft. Your composition is ready; now all you have to do is wait for the people to pass and neatly sync with your context. This method is doubtless easier, but it nevertheless takes time and you must be patient.
The third and final technique I call hunting with hounds:
This time it is the character who makes the action: whether it is the slender legs of an attractive girl or the improbable ‘touch’ of a passer-by, you spot your subject and then follow it, until the desired action develops and you can capture the moment.
The best photos are those that we see but don’t manage to take.
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