Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today, Gary Zuercher author of The Glow of Paris.
Over a period of five years, Gary took his cameras out into the Parisian night to capture stunningly evocative images of the bridges that span the Seine. Using his artistic eye and sophisticated photographic technique, he created these glorious black-and- white photographs, rich with detail and possessing a clear, luminous quality.
No one else has ever photographed all the bridges that cross the Seine in Paris in this way. We don’t see crowds of people or heavy traffic. Nothing obscures the beauty and strength of the structures, the romance and symbolism of the bridges. Shooting in black and white allows the details to shine: the architectural elements, artwork, nearby buildings, trees on the riverbanks, and starry lamps casting paths of light across the water.
Gary's career path has been quite different than that of most professional photographers because he has simultaneously combined a highly successful business career with a successful career as a professional photographer. He is also a commercial, multi-engine, instrument-rated pilot with more than 2,000 hours logged as pilot in command.
For more than thirty years Gary provided photography for numerous companies and advertising agencies needing commercial images for publications, advertising, brochures, media, and marketing.
Norm: Good day Gary and thanks for participating in our interview.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
Gary: When I was very young and built a darkroom in the basement of my parents home. That was when I experienced the thrill of seeing my first black and white photograph emerge from its chemical bath, I was blown away. I was captivated by the magic of photography and knew immediately that I wanted to devote a lot more time and effort to photography.
Norm: Did you go to a school to learn photography?
Gary: Yes and no. I studied photography at the Parson School of Design in Paris and took classes at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. I also studied with John Sexton, one of the most well-regarded photographers in America, and in the world today. John spent many years working directly with Ansel Adams as his technical assistant. John has a lot to teach. The no part is that I learned from years of hands on work and experimentation, alone in the darkroom. Trying different things, exploring new ideas. Not being afraid to make mistakes. If something didn’t work, I discarded it and started over.
Norm: What do you like most about being a photographer and what do you like least about it?
Gary: What I liked the most...the time alone, concentrating on shooting, finding the right vantage point, composing the shot, developing the film, making the print, the smell of the chemicals, the hours in the darkroom, all of that. What I liked least was the limited time I had available for the work. In my professional life I founded, built and developed a number of very successful businesses. Even though I did professional photographic work for advertising agencies and companies for more than 30 years I had to devote the major portion of my time to running my companies.
Norm: Who were the first photographers that inspired you and why?
Gary: Obviously the masters of photography, Ansel Adams and the other well known twentieth century photographers. As well as some of the very early photographers in the mid to late nineteenth century when the art of photography was just developing. And on a face to face basis most certainly John Sexton, and also Bob Bishop who was a professor at the Parsons school in Paris, and Craig Sterling and Jim Steele who are professional photographers with studios in the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. And my very good friend Doug Shaffer who was a film director and with whom I worked closely on the 15 commercial films that I produced.
Norm: What quick advice do you have for someone who simply wants to improve their photography skills?
Gary: Learn the basics of photography. Learn about apertures, exposure, lighting. In particular I would recommend taking a seminar or perhaps a course in continuing education in black and white photography. Learn to develop film, learn to make black and white prints in a darkroom. This is not digital photography but everything you learn about black and white film photography has a basic value if you are a digital photographer, and want to become better.
Norm: What motivated you to photograph the bridges of Paris?
Gary: I discovered the stunning nighttime elegance of the bridges by accident. While shooting one night in Paris I overexposed a photo of one of the bridges. Because of that mistake I decided to under develop the film. The resulting negative looked good, I made a print. The luminosity and grace of that black and white photograph took my breath away. I knew there were 35 bridge crossing the Seine in Paris and because of that photograph I decided to try to photograph all of them at night. My second mistake was in judging the amount of time it would take to do the project. I estimated a year. In fact it took five years to complete. Because it doesn’t get dark in Paris until around 11:00pm in the summer, and because the lights on the bridges are turned off at midnight I was forced to shoot almost exclusively during the winter months when it becomes dark at 5:00pm.
Norm: Is there one particular bridge that is your favorite and if so, why?
Gary. It is the Pont des Arts, a passerelle. A passerelle is a footbridge, only pedestrian traffic is allowed. It was built in 1804 under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, and was the first iron bridge in France. The Pont des Arts is an elegant example of grace and form, its metal arches create a structure of rare lightness. The finesse of the structure and the ambiance of the Seine contribute to its simple beauty. Some people call the it the most romantic spot in Paris. The original design concept was a bridge resembling a suspended garden. It is elevated ten steps above the roadways on each side of the river. This elevation gives one a sense of standing on a balcony with a breathtaking view. Downstream, the right bank presents a full-length view of the Louvre. Upstream, the building of the department store La Samaritaine displays its original grandeur. On a summer evening you see picnickers, lovers, friends, and groups of all cultures and languages; the music and wine enhance the ambiance from sunset to sunrise. It very well may be the most romantic spot in Paris
Norm: What matters to you about your book, The Glow of Paris and what mwould you say is the best reason to recommend someone to purchase and read the book?
Gary: What matters most is that it represents a record of the work. It is the compilation of five years of shooting, developing and printing along with another year of research into the history of the bridges. The book contains stunning pictures of all 35 of the Paris bridges at night. These are views that even most Parisians have not seen all together as a group. And just as important as the photographs is the history, the anecdotes and the tragedies of the bridges. From the time of Julius Caesar, as he described in 52 BC in his Chronicles of the Gallic Wars, up to the tragic death of Princess Diana under the Pont d’Alma bridge, and beyond, the history is captivating.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of creating your book? As a follow up, what was one of the most surprising thing you learned in creating your book?
Gary: In fact the photographing was enjoyable, even though some nights the temperatures were in the low teens, you can be comfortable as long as you are dressed appropriately. The research was difficult, finding historical sources and delving deeply into the facts. Most of the research was done through books, papers and military records. I couldn’t rely on the internet because I found so many errors about the actual history in many of the websites that were available. I bought every book I could lay my hands on. And I had access to one book which was written in 1827 that provided a lot of good information
Norm: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Gary:The book has received a multitude of positive reviews which is very rewarding. It is in fact new on the market and is just now starting to pick up steam. I do hear quite a bit from friends and acquaintances who tell me they love the photography and are amazed by the history
Norm: What are you upcoming projects?
Gary: I have just begun to shoot some of the most notable bridges of Europe. I recently shot in Barcelona and will be shooting in Seville, Spain in the near future. This project will incorporate both the old bridges, some from antiquity as well as some of the newest bridges. Regarding the new bridges I find the bridges designed by the famous Spanish bridge architect Santiago Calatrava to be quite appealing. How long will this project take? Probably longer than I estimate.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and The Glow of Paris?
Gary: There are two websites where more information and some of the photographs can be found, and also where the books can be purchased. The first is MY PERSONAL WEBSITE and the second is the website of the PUBLISHER
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Gary: There is. It deals with the research. The question is, Why was the research so difficult. The answer is that the research was primarily available in French and I was writing in English. Converting your thinking from one language and writing in another is very difficult. But it is also the reason I decided to publish two editions of the book, one in English and one in French. The two titles complement each other, the English is: The Glow of Paris - The Bridges of Paris at Night, the French is: Paris s’illumine - Les Ponts de Paris la Nuit.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.