INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL SAINT JAMES
How would you describe your creative vision – what themes are you trying to explore in your work?
It developed over the two years I spent in Paris photographing the bridges. At first my vision was all about the architecture of each bridge, how it looked in different weather and at different times of day, the beauty of its details. Then I wanted to understand why the bridge existed, its history, how did it serve the people of Paris. Why was it built in its own unique way? Finally I saw how life happened on each bridge, the joie de vivre (joy of life) Parisians so cherish. The families, couples, loners; the locals, international tourists, officials, immigrates, merchants; the bicycles, cars, buses, fire trucks; the clothing fashion, umbrellas, hats, boots, all in a rainbow of colors.
Rather than design unusual compositions or dramatic angles, I wanted the viewer to feel as if he or she had just walked onto the bridge, right at the moment when all the visual elements were perfect. I didn’t want my photographic technique to get in the way.
Who are your three favorite photographers and why do you like them?
Ansel Adams. He spend hours, days, months, hiking and living in the wilderness; always persisting until the lighting and composition for each image was perfect. Like him, I learned that patience is one of the most valuable skills an artist can develop.
Annie Leibovitz. She turned the classic portrait photograph into an event, a story. Every image is a creative original.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, Seven, The City of Lost Children). Each of his movies has a very different look; he starts fresh with each project rather than repeating the style of his past successes. His composition is always perfect yet organic, natural.
I would spent hours, days sometimes, on a bridge in Paris working on a single shot, waiting for the perfect composition of people and cars. It felt like I was watching a movie waiting for the background actors to all hit their marks correctly. I imagined the joy of a cinematographer who could control the light, dress and action of each actor, each compositional element.
If you had to pick one of your photos as your favorite, which would it be – and why?
Easy, the one on the cover. It’s my favorite bridge, Petit Pont. It offers the best view of Norte Dame and I liked watching the tourists stop to get their photo, mesmerized by their location. This crossing is where the first bridge of Paris would have been built. Standing on this bridge I can breathe the same air as travelers have done for over 2000 years of history. I was four weeks into the project when I captured that photo, late on a cold rainy night. When I viewed the image the next morning, I knew I was creating something special.
Where did the idea for Bridges of Paris come from? Could you please talk us through the process you went through from the start to publication?
I knew I wanted to tell a story about Paris and chose photography because it is my strongest artistic talent. A good story need a theme and I considered the Gardens, Statues, Fountains, Drinking Fountains, Graffiti, and even Cats of Paris (which I discovered had already been done by three different publishers). The 37 bridges that cross the Seine River were a perfect choice because each is so different and most all are beautifully designed and built. I discovered how the history of Paris could be told in a new way through its bridges.
I spent a Parisian spring shooting photos at different times of the day. My images were well received by my business associates and we decided they were worthy of a large-format book. I went back and spent a year living as a Parisian in a tiny Latin Quarter apartment, getting to know the Seine bridges.
I knew I could create pretty pictures but was looking for a more intimate vision. “What makes this bridge special?” I spent hours on each bridge just watching the people and traffic go by. I studied the light: sunshine, clouds, rain, streetlights, morning, evening and night light. I captured a portrait of each bridge, intimate photos of the surrounding area and wrote a short essay about each.
My 20,000 words went through two editors and a fact-checker and my Chinese printer helped me adjust the color of each photograph to get the best results from their printing press. We made a couple hundred Advance Review Copies and our publicity company sent them out for review. The response was excellent so we moved forward and released the premiere edition in May.
Metaphorically, it was like getting pregnant and birthing a baby. A good idea that turns into a year of uncomfortable change and new experiences, fears of the future and judgment from friends and family. Finally comes the labor of a thousand tiny details needing immediate attention and then the shipping company delivered a beautiful baby book. Bridges of Paris is now living a life of its own.
Any more books (or e-books) planned for the future? If so, could you tell us a little bit more about that?
My next is likely a book I began about five years ago, In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh. I have studied the Post-Impressionist painter and his historical era for many years, including visits to all the locations where he lived and painted, throughout the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I’m looking to get beyond his history and share his artist-vision, his human drive, the way he saw the world. I find it amazing that he is so popular around the world. Why is that? I suspect that Vincent’s story is a powerful artist-archetype that the average person can relate to. That’s what I want to explore.
Since I work as a book “packager,” someone who can design and direct the complete production of a book, I’m also keeping my eye out for a unique project, something new to challenge my skills and talent.
This book is A M A Z I N G. When I received a box (it was rather heavy!), I was wondering what could it be and when I saw the content (this book), my jaw dropped. It was, my friends, a large 14" by 9.5" coffee-table book filled with heaps of stunning photographs. I wasted no time in pouring over the bridges and was immediately transported to Paris. I have been to Italy (twice) but have never touched foot in the City of Light, so you guessed right, I was beyond elated.
I love photography but I am not a professional photographer, so Bridges of Paris is very special to me. For one, I have a thing for bridges. And then, it is the way this book is done and the layout, the quality, the pictures, the colors, the story... this book literally took my breath away.
There are four sets of bridges in the book: Island Bridges (13, such as Petit Pont which is also the one on the book cover, Pont au Change, Pont Notre-Dame), Palace Bridges (9, such as Pont des Arts, Pont du Carrousel), Downriver Bridges (7, Pont Roulle, Pont Mirabeau), and Upriver Bridges (8, such as Pont Amont, Pont National). According to the author, these groupings form the history of Paris; the most recent was built upriver. In total, 37 bridges from those four groupings are featured. I also liked the index which makes it really easy to look things up.
This book will always have a place in my living room and I cannot wait to show it to my family and friends. It will definitely be a treasure especially to book-lovers, travelers, and it makes a wonderful gift. Like a 5-star hotel, Bridges of Paris is a 5-star book!
Bridges of Paris is a large-format coffee-table book, with over 350 original color photographs, which casts new illumination on the City of Light. The 37 bridges over the Seine River emerge as beautiful, historic destinations rather than unnoticed thoroughfares. The book features stunning portraits of each bridge as well as intimate riverside moments. Once you’ve experienced this river tour, you will never see Paris the same way again.
Living as a Parisian for a year, author Michael Saint James left his American lifestyle and spent his days and nights capturing images from over, on, beside and under the bridges of Paris. With over 30 years experience as a photographer, educator and world traveler, Michael immersed himself in French culture to search out his authentic artist self. The result is a visual treasure to share with everyone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As an educator with California teaching credentials, he has taught media production and technology arts as well as photography, art history and visual storytelling. He is an expert speaker on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Indeed, he walked in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in order to immerse himself in that troubled master’s vision.
The father of two grown children, Saint James once owned a café in Berkeley, California. He has bicycled from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C. and is rumored to play a mean blues harmonica.
Many thanks to Laura Fabiani from iRead Book Tours for sending me a complimentary copy of this wonderful book. I'm proud to be a part of this book tour!