Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
An artist reimagines the city's homes against the sky.
For many visitors to Paris, the leafy boulevards flanked by long rows of mansard-roofed apartment houses are the very essence of Parisian charm. Not for photographer Laurent Chéhère. Like generations of Parisian artists before him, he finds Haussmann's architectural influence stifling.
"This guy tried to destroy half of Paris and build the same building 20,000 times," Chéhère wrote in an email.
Chéhère's "Flying House," series, which frames some of the quirkier slices of the Parisian patrimony against the sky, is a tribute to the diversity beyond the "copy-pasted" architecture of the grands boulevards.
"I tried to highlight forgotten buildings to show their hidden beauty," Chéhère says, "getting them out from the anonymity of the street to help them tell their stories."
Viewers may see shadows of The Triplets of Belleville in these rickety structures, which is not surprising: Chéhère is from nearby Ménilmontant, a neighborhood in Northeast Paris where, he says, "you can cross the world when you go to buy your baguette." Part of the inspiration for setting the houses afloat comes from Albert Lamorisse's 1956 film The Red Balloon, which was filmed in that area.
To gather his material, he wanders through poorer areas of the city and its suburbs photographing buildings that catch his eye. Later, using Photoshop, he isolates them against the firmament and adds his own details -- an imagined underside, a splash of graffiti, electrical wires holding them down like the mooring on a hot-air balloon.
"I am interested in all these people," Chéhère writes. "Gypsies in a caravan waiting for eviction by the police, African immigrants, the heart full of hope, sailing to one of these insalubrious buildings, a clown trying to light a cigarette on the roof of a circus in winter, a decrepit hotel... as well as a pretty, little, boring, suburban house."
All images courtesy of Laurent Chéhère.