Thursday, November 24, 2005
Meredith Mullins says she spent 15 years trying to get Stevan, a dignified Montmartre street artist, to let her take his picture. Every time she asked he would politely but resolutely hold up one hand and shake his head.
“Montmartre is a madhouse, it’s a frenzy,” Mullins says. “There are 150 artists and they’re all chasing tourists, running after them, but Stevan would just sit there and quietly smoke his pipe. All of these tourists, these paparazzi, would come up to him and want to photograph him, but he refused them all.”
On a quiet day last winter, Mullins says, she managed a conversation with the quiet, cagey old artist, and came to find that all Stevan wanted was to get to know a person before they took his photo. Finally, after all those years, she was given permission to capture a picture of him sitting next to his own self-portrait.
“I was attracted by the self-portrait,” Mullins says. “He had taken liberties to make himself look like he wanted to look. He’d changed his eyebrows and his hat was turned up at the brim and he was smoking a cigar instead of a pipe. I loved all the similarities and contradictions between him and his portrait.”
When Mullins returned earlier this year to show him the photo, he was so pleased he proclaimed her his official photographer.
It’s that kind of intimacy and knowledge of her subject that makes Mullins’ new book of black-and-white photos and stories, In A Paris Moment, so special. The book is her own moveable feast of striking portraits, landscapes and ideas, which together showcase the personal relationship she has developed with Paris over the last quarter century.
Mullins says she didn’t set out with a specific intent to create a book.
“I’ve only had the book in the back of my mind for the last five years,” she says. “It was just finding the creative time to make it happen.”
Year after year, it was the “timeless quality” of Paris and her people which drew Mullins back, camera in hand.
“While many things change, so much remains the same,” she says. “The beauty of it, the rhythms of it, the people—with their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve developed many relationships over the years, many of them beginning with a photo.”
Mullins’ technique is simple: She wanders the streets taking photos, mostly of people.
“Some of these people have stayed in exactly the same place for the last 20 years,” she says. “I’d shoot a picture, go back and present the photo and that would be the beginning of the friendship.”
All of the images in the book were shot on film with a traditional 35mm camera, but Mullins admits she’s been seduced by a “tiny little” digital over the past few years.
“When you’re walking around Paris all day, the lighter weight really makes a difference,” she says.
Yet despite all the years and all the photos and all the people, Mullins insists that she’s still inspired by Paris. In fact, she says, if it wasn’t for her upcoming book signings, she’d be there right now. She says her next series will focus on rhythms and motion and force of music in Paris—specifically its tango halls.
“I’m not done with Paris by any means,” Mullins promises.