Ok who remembers Polaroid cameras? Or rolls of film for that matter? Yes, no? It’s a generational thing isn’t it. Film is almost entirely superseded these days by digital photography.
And that’s fine because digital has so many benefits over the old school. You can instantly check your photos, share them, finesse them and, depending on the size of your memory card, snap thousands of photos in a single day. In terms of convenience there is no comparison between the eras – pre digital and post.
However today our tech-obsessed world tends to be so digitised and ephemeral. So much of it tends to revolve around a little screen. Life moves at such a frantic pace. It’s a blur of rush, rush, rush…
One of the best ways to escape this frenetic pace of modern living, at least for a while, is to go on a vacation. And a style of travel that is growing in popularity is called ‘Slow Travel’. A welcomed juxtaposition to the maelstrom of deadlines and activity in our normal everyday lives. Slow Travel is where travellers try to connect and interact with a destination’s cultures, way-of-life and local people. It’s also about widening perspectives and deepening understanding.
And so it was that when I recently became aware of a new wanderlust experience in a city I just simply adore I had to find out more. The city was Paris and that business – Paris Polaroid Tours.
Paris Polaroid Tours. Say fromage!
Well I was kinda right. An awesome new venture but with a (squinted) eye to the past. I chatted to founder Stéphanie Hochard about the genesis of her new operation.
” I saw a gap in the market for small group, experiential walking tours. I believe there is no better way to discover a city than by wandering through it. Rather than heading to the ‘made-in-China’ souvenir shop, I wanted visitors to be able to create their own souvenirs, to produce instant memories. Et voilà – Paris Polaroid Tours was born.”
I asked her to tell me a little more about why she chose retro Polaroid cameras to be the hero of her walking tours?
Clients appreciate getting off their phones temporarily (they are of course free to take pictures with their phones if they wish!). This means they take in their surroundings a lot more, and think hard before taking each photo. It’s a perfect opportunity to get creative. Children love our tours too. They value every shot taken. They become artists! They fall under the spell of seeing the photo develop right before their eyes. It so novel and magical to them.
And that is a good point. These days we don’t have to be very judicious with the amount of shots we take. Pre-digital it was a very different story. With only 24 or 36 shots available to them a photographer needed to think very differently. Be prudent; be considered. It took many years to master the art and could be a very expensive pastime. As the doyen of street photography – Henri Cartier-Bresson – once quipped.
“Your first 10,000 photos are your worst”
The Polaroid cameras.
The walking tours use Fujifilm Instax Wide cameras replete with a pack of 10 shots. Each photograph has a development time of around two – three minutes and more film is available from the guide for the “trigger-happy”. The cameras have an inbuilt flash and shoot at 800 ISO which gives a high quality, fine grain result with bright colours.
At time of writing Paris Polaroid has three different itineraries:
- Classic Paris – History & Sights
- Montmartre (See review below)
- Paris Street Art – 13th District
- More in development. Stay tuned!
With the rise-and-rise in the popularity of street art around the world I asked Stéphanie how her tours were different to others when it came to Parisian urban art.
“Our street art tours aim to introduce people to the techniques and styles used by the artists. We fully engage participants by encouraging them to interpret the pieces (whether they be murals or graffiti). We want them to reflect on what they are looking at as individuals and thus get a group discussion going. Paris truly is an open air gallery and by offering street art tours we are giving art-loving visitors the opportunity to put more colour into their discovery of our city.”
For my final question I asked if I could get a summary of what the vision for Paris Polaroid Tours was.
“We aim to share our passion for Paris, giving visitors a chance to unleash their creativity and bring home original and lasting memories.”
So it seems to us that regardless of your ‘generation’ status – X, Y or even Z – this creative experience is something well worth trying on a trip to Paris. These cool retro cameras will probably invoke either nostalgia or novelty – so either way it’s a win/ win really.
Then we had an idea…
We decided to ask a pal of ours – accomplished French writer and photo-journalist Julie Abreu – to roadtest one of their trips for us. Perhaps unsurprisingly she didn’t seem too unhappy to be asked to visit Montmartre on our behalf. Below is Julie’s review.
- All tours last approximately two hours and start from €45 per person^
- Visit Paris Polaroid’s website for full details
- PPT on Facebook
^ Prices correct as of August 31, 2017
Paris Polaroid Review.
Paris, the 3rd of August.
August in Paris is quiet. Most Parisians are on the beach somewhere along the French coast, or hiking up a Swiss mountain. At 10 am, the streets are only waking up from a busy night. The sweepers are cleaning the asphalt while listening to their iPods. A group of friends is (loudly) going back home while singing French songs from the 80’s.
Tourists are getting lost (“I told you we should have turned left on the main Boulevard!”) and we are on our way to Montmartre for a walk with Stéphanie, the founder of Paris Polaroid.
As we head toward the Metro station, Paris feels almost empty, or at least as much as it can be. August is the perfect month to travel here and enjoy every secret of the city. Because the Parisians are gone, it’s not as busy as it will be in September, not as crowded as it was in July. August is a great time of the year to make Paris yours.
Opposite the Moulin Rouge, Stéphanie is already waiting for us, with a broad smile. Her English is perfect, tinted with just the perfect soupcon of a cute French accent. “I lived in New-Zealand for three years”, she explains to us when we ask where she learned to speak it so well. “I worked in the tourism industry over there and when I came back home, I wanted to offer special tours in English.”
The tour begins.
She hands us a Polaroid camera. “You have 10 films, use them wisely!” 10 films, 10 photos. The pressure is on!
Stéphanie starts walking towards the hill, and we follow her, listening to her anecdotes and looking around for a perfect subject. Let’s take one of the cobblestone streets. And the street art. And another one of the Sacré Coeur. (Stéphanie has a secret panorama to reveal at the end of the tour so that you don’t end up with the same picture as everyone else!) The Polaroid camera makes you slow down. It’s not like snapping shots with your phone and instantly sharing them on Instagram or Facebook.
During the tour, Stéphanie takes us to places I had never seen, even though I had lived in Paris before. In fact I lived literally less than one kilometre away from Montmartre for a few years and was seeing my old neighborhood through new eyes. She tells us more about the place, its history and culture, but also fun stories about the people that have made it: writers, painters, artists. It feels like we are in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris.
Every time we take a photograph with our Polaroid, we put the film into our bag, for it needs time to develop. I like the idea of slowing down to appreciate things.
In our digital age, time seems to be a luxury. At the end of the tour I sit on a bench in front of an incredible sweeping panorama looking out across the city. I’m looking at the images we took. And later, back at home, it feels great to have actual prints from our day in Paris.
The images on our phone simply don’t compare. These printed Polaroids feel so much more authentic, as they embody those wonderful two hours. A time when we strolled around the beautiful streets of Montmartre, in the summer breeze, one August morning.
Julie Abreu is a professional photo-journalist, writer and lifestyle and portrait photographer with a love for travel. Hailing from France but now living in Melbourne, Australia visit Julie’s blog for more of her photography, writing or to work with her.
For those with an interest in Pinterest.
All photography supplied unless otherwise credited. Please note we were a guest of Paris Polaroid Tours. All opinions and views expressed are our own.