Tuesday, July 14, 2009

La Vie de Chateau

Over the last summers and winters, New York photographer Christopher Flach has been photographing French chateaux and their gardens. His black and white (and sometimes sepia) images are oneiric, original, classical, and elegant—and I have been collecting them for several years. Like me, Chris is a Francophile.

For many years, Chris Flach has been creating haunting and elegiac images of the gardens, statuary, trees, ponds and fountains of classic chateaux in the Ile-de-France, Versailles and south to Melun.

A restless artist, he has also recently been working on two self-published books: New York City neon and New York city trucks and ATM machines. Yes—from Vaux-le-Vicomte to bank machines.

On moody, cloudy, softly-lit days, he would spend his time alone (no assistant, ever) scouting topiaries and grottos and plinths and urns, and photographing hidden corners of Saint-Cloud, Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Versailles.

“I have always admired the photography of Eugene Atget, and so Saint-Cloud, which he shot many times, will be forever in my memory associated with Atget,” said Flach.

Saint-Cloud is a formal garden of the same vintage as Versailles, and superbly maintained, but bereft of its chateau.

“Without its grandeur and pomp it is rather unknown today—except for the Grande Cascade. Saint-Cloud for me was really about the woods, the terraced balustrades, the allees, and the pools,” said Flach. “I was drawn to its naiveté, its natural beauty, its childish intelligence.”

Flach said that photographing at Saint-Cloud, often with the sun behind him, he was very conscious of the dazzle of grand environs—a theme that continued to Versailles.

“I spent more many days at Versailles, where I spent less time on reflection and more time on intuition,” said Flach. A favorite location was the music pavilion (shown here, with a cherub fountain in the foreground.)

“Versailles was all about splendor—a feudal fortress built to withstand a siege, with its walls and moats,” he said. “I was always aware, even if I was shooting an urn or fountain, of the whole history of Louis XIV, the sun king, and the engineering genius Le Prestre de Vauban. My images were about simplicity of composition, tones, and subject.”

Flach noted that as he developed the images, he discovered that his images suggest a bittersweet melancholy.

“Inside the images and my work are more private, more complex and infinitely about the personal,” said the photographer. “My images are about my ideas, my determination and my sense of awe from the creative work that was done.”

Flach said that in his work he wanted to achieve atmosphere, resonance, and mystery, as well as a lush expression of a moment of time.

I’ve always loved these perfectly composed and quiet pictures—and private moments of reflection of gardens and objects that have been overly photographed and fetishized. They’re a walk in the park on a rainy fall afternoon. They invoke a sense of time passing, a meditation on life and death, and encourage a quiet review of the seasons and times of day. Without trying too hard, they are also very wonderfully French.

All photographs by Christopher Flach, www.chrisflach.com. Contact: 415-225-9476. He lives in New York, on the Upper East Side.

Atget Inspiration

New York photographer Christopher Flach was inspired by French photographer, Eugene Atget, as he photographed statuary at Versailles, trees in the Tuileries, a trianon or two, and the delights of Paris parks.

Atget (1857-1927) traipsed through Paris and the surrounding parks and palaces to craft sublime black and white images using glass plates, hand-coated emulsion, and bags of all the laborious accouterments and chemicals he needed to make just one image.

Working at a time when the handcrafted picture was his métier, Atget recorded corners of Paris that are lost—as well as Paris scenes I walk past every day when I am in Paris. He took a fabulously dramatic image of the wedge-shaped corner of rue de Seine and rue de l’Echaude that still looks basically the same almost 100 years later. The Notre-Dame scene, shown here, is precisely as it was in 1922. The Jardin de Tuileries is presented in an enigmatic image and the formal layout and statuary is all there today.

Atget was a commercial photographer—producing fine art, in fact—who spent more than thirty years finding and crafting more than 8,000 pictures of Paris before he died in 1927. He was unknown during his lifetime.

Like Atget, Flach is looking for a serene clarity in his work—the opposite of a glossy image. Working in black and white and carefully supervising each print, Flach, like Atget, seeks out hidden corners of Paris and Versailles, far from the obvious postcard pictures.

These are photographs that are quiet, timeless, and utterly beautiful.

Photographs by Eugene Atget include a stairway in the Hotel du Marquis de Lagrange, 1901; Notre-Dame and the Seine in winter, 1922; statuary and chairs in the Jardin des Tuileries, 1907; lines of trees in the Jardin de Luxembourg,1903; and the riverbank at the Porte des Tuileries, 1913. From Paris Style (Taschen).


cotedetexas said...

From France to ATM Machines? Only a true artist could make that leap!

the last photo of the staircase is my favorite of Atget's that you've shown - you want to stop at the landing, but the second floor is calling. what a fork in the road.

Mrs. Blandings said...

It seems Flach achieved just what wanted. The images are bittersweet, indeed, as is their inspiration.

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Photos by Chris & Eugene are intensely beautiful. Rather sad that an artist like Eugene went his lifetime unrecognized as a talented photographer. People such as that feed my desire to take up photography. The photo of the music bldg. is my favorite.Versailles is like heaven on earth. Truly, wonderfully french indeed, all of them.

Unknown said...

Merci for that post of quite remarkable photo images by Flach. The leap of subject matter, from urns to ATM's seem logical to me, its a matter of perception. And because Atget seems to have forever captured that moody distilled French ambiance, M.Flach is wise to bring that sensibility to contemporary objets. If Atget was shooting today, you might assume that the ATM could be a very viable subject!
Gaj Lambert

Brillante Interiors said...

This post resonates so much with me, I am a B&W film photographer and I studied the French masters like Atget, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau and more. I recently spent time in Paris in a flat in the Marais belonging to Peter Turnley, another photographer I admire... and no, unfortunately he was not with me, I was renting from him but most of his photography was there! At the ICP in New York I have seen a few years ago an exhibition of Rauschenberg (photographer)who "was walking around Paris in Atget's shoes" Incredibly beautiful and it showed that Paris, even if changing is toujours le même!
As for Vaux-le-Vicomte it is a real gem worth a visit. I did not know Chris Flach so thank you Diane, you made my day with this post!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

HELLO! my favorite bloggers!

Chris Flach:
Yes, Mrs B, they are bittersweet--and that is what makes them great.
All of these chateaux and parks of Paris have been so reverentially 'postcarded' and are in all those glitzy books. What is there to say that is credible, true, personal, and effective--and not glossy.

Atget: at one point, he was photographing all the trees around Paris. The photographs belong to the BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE and there was a fantastic show last summer of trees by Atget at the old Bibliotheque (not the Mitterand one) and it was a dream.
I flick through books of Atget photographs--rooms, people, parks, all obsessively recorded--and am often startled to see, a hundred years later--a street or a square of a building or architectural detail that is still precisely as it was then. His images record--there is no personal twist (as with Brassai, for example) or fakery as in Cartier-Bresson, who often set up those 'moments captured', as did Doisneau (whose famous 'kiss' shot is now said to have been posed and set up). Speaking of which--you'll all recall that famous shot by a woman photographer (?) of the American beauty 'running the gauntlet' in the sixties or fifties in Rome, and the men all kissing the air and making gestures and it looks spontaneous...it was posed and directed as well.)
The Atget example I noted--the corner of rue de Seine and rue de l'Echaudee, a wedge of a building--is the same now, different tenants, but view and street the same.
I love that about Paris--the past lingers on.
Bravo Chris and bravo Eugene!
Thanks for great comments and insights. Love and appreciate them all.

Rebecca Corvese said...

Diane, I am a fan of your design books. Your writing flows gently through your books in a way that makes one want to keep turning the pages. Thanks for introducing us to Flach and his incredible photography. I love the photos that seep with history and melancholy all at the same time. I look forward to more of your posts!

Brillante Interiors said...

The photographer in Rome I believe was Ruth Orkin and I am sure that if it was staged it was quite easy and natural to do given the attitude of Italian men back then. As for Cartier-Bresson I need to disagree, I would not use the word fakery while in fact he always pursued spontaneity in the photographic process. He would also have used another camera instead of a Leica range-finder if he was staging images. The most famous image of Robert Capa was real or staged? we'll never know.
Today many famous photographers stage an image even for a year (Jeff Wall for instance)like a major production. Different approach, different artists, all valid to me when the results can be called Art.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you, Yes, Ruth Orkin.
It was always published as 'cinema verite'--and then more recently Ruth Orkin talked about how she posed it and arranged it.
Even The Sartorialist taking 'street fashion' aims his lens at fashion editors departing a fashion show, or boutique owners outside their shops, or tailors and buyers. That does not make his images any less sublime, superbly crafted and edited.
Cartier-Bresson-while it may have been a purely chance moment that he captured the little boy with the baguette and other famous images, I doubt that he was wandering around waiting for something to happen. Like Sart, he could not be wandering the streets hoping that an interesting person chances along. Better that they do a bit of planning, some directing--and that does not lessen their art. In fact, most likely it enhances it.
Great conversation. I love your points Brillante--have a beautiful summer up there in the north!! Stay in touch.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

I am always amazed at the many images of certain subject matter that always haunt-the aritist, the place, time, the moment-which is what makes them so great. eudora welty-paraphrased-the photography a moment in time-never to be captured again. One of the many reasons I love photography.As always a thought provoking post and thank you for adding me to your favorite blogs- though I don't see it listed. la

Brillante Interiors said...

I have to say that in the Blogger world (still quite new to me and a coterie that at times express itself only with just a wow...) the few times that I politely disagreed with someone I was dismissed. It is a great feeling to be able to "discuss" even if of different opinions. That is the beauty, among others, of your blog! If interested I wrote a brief post on "Making pictures or Taking pictures" months ago. A great summer to you too, hope not much fog! Last year I visited, for the first time in summer, with my group of Contemporary art (private collections: Ann Hatch, the Fishers etc.)and it was amazing to see how fast the fog moves from the ocean, so dramatic!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Little Augury...you will be back on my favorites, be sure. We rearranged them, added more, and seems you were jiggled out between the new llls...alphabetically speaking. You will be back! Better than ever.
I love your sign-off-la--which I always read as you saying 'La!'...which I find very charming.
Since you ask about the fog--it is here. We listen to the weather forecast and it is the same year after decade--'early morning coastal fog burning off by mid-day and becoming bright and sunny in the afternoon, with fog returning in the evening.' It is cool and grey and calm and quite here this morning--ideal weather for writing.
Herb Caen talked about the fog coming in 'on little cat's feet' but these days in the evening it sweeps in, with force from the ocean.
It has been incredibly hot just over the GG Bridge--in the 90s according to my friend Joe up in Sonoma, and my friend Jean said it was in the 90s in Marin.
I do love the fog. If I wanted heat (I do sometimes) I'd live in LA.
I'll be in the Napa Valley next week and expect it will be super-hot.
Air here where I am is clean as a whistle. Clean and fresh. Love it.
Brillante: yes...open to discussion of ideas, that is my ideal. I love different points of view, appreciate them, and honor them.Thank you for your wise and wonderful comments.
Let me know when you are next down here on an art tour!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

dds- I sometimes can not help but profess a chill from the west coast-So glad it wasn't that. my best whether "in" or out. la!

La Maison Fou said...

I love the garden insired photos, and that staircase is trult divine....Joni is right, you want to creep up to the second level, wondering what awaits for you there!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


CHILL--NEVER! From me, not at all.
You'll be back in a flash...A slip in the 'L' section, was it.

As the weather person predicted--the early morning fog burned off (whatever that means) and it is bright bright sun here, but fresh and crisp. You would love it. Do you feel the heat from the West? You must.

Tavarua said...

Sofisticated - Elegant - Brilliant - Post...

Brillante Interiors said...

Diane, I just posted on Martin Margiela, linking to your "About me" which inspired me. Hope you like it.

Jenn @ Dear Heart said...

These photographs are beautiful and strangely haunting. Something about the black & white makes you feel a bit like you've stumbled someone's secret garden.

I especially like the starkness of the trees against the sky in the second picture by Flach. I'm enjoying your posts! :)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Welcome The Traveler, a fantastic blog, just discovered. Please send us some comments from you travels.

Brillante: Yes, Martin Margiela (never met him) is great.

Jenn-welcome to the salon. Yes, black and white is more soulful. A note on the Music Pavilion in Chris Flach's series, with the cherub pond--it was recently restored and renovated. I was able to visit while the work was in progress and it is exquisite. There was a lot of gold leaf (columns, ceiling moldings) but it will oxidize and tone down fast. I'll be in Paris soon and will check on it. The location is lovely--with the Petite Trianon on axis.

*Chic Provence* said...

The haunting elegance and quiet symmetry of these photographs transport one. I have a feeling he could make Times Square look alluring and soulful!!

a la prochaine!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

DDS, What a wonderful post on a wonderfully talented photographer! Your poetic prose is the perfect accompaniment to his otherworldly images. EEE

Clarity said...

A charming mystery and poetry in every image. Paris calls to people. There is something about that city that inspires photographers for all ages. Thank you for posting about this early genius of the medium.