Photographing the Seine's Riverboat Tourists
This article originally appeared on VICE France
Tourists in Paris go crazy over the riverboats on river Seine. According to Haropaports (the official website for Parisian ports),the Promenade-en-Île de France cruise attracted more than 7.5 million passengers in 2013. That is more than the Eiffel Tower, which in the same year hosted 6.7 million visitors.
The idea for this series, which I titled Down the River, came simply enough. I was walking on a bridge by the Seine one day, and as a riverboat passed below my feet, I took a photograph. Once I got home, I thought it would be interesting to shoot more tourists huddled on boats in the same way – vertically.
I tried to approach this series in the same way I work on street photography: to find an extraordinary moment within the ordinary. When that moment is harder to find, I try to create it with my use of colour, or by focusing on the people's behaviour: the position of their bodies, the distance they keep from each other or just the overall emotion generated by the scene.
I have been working on Down the River for two years. I shoot at all seasons and always from the same bridge – it's the only one that has no edge and that allows me to keep a clean frame if I lean the right way.
I will not lie, it's a pretty tedious job – it takes patience. Boats float by at 20 minute intervals on average but it's happened often that I get no worthwhile photograph even after standing on that bridge for several hours. It took me about 50 visits to figure out the exact times when the light is in the right position, when no one can see the shadow of the bridge or that of the surrounding buildings.
During those visits, I also found that there are different types of boats: the bigger boats pack in hundreds of tourists, and these guys are mostly Asian. Then there are the medium-sized boats who carry tourists, but also deal with corporate parties, weddings and saga cruisers. Finally, every now and again a yacht carrying people drinking champagne will also make an appearance. There is something for everyone on the Seine.
The only thing that never seizes to amaze me is the people who prefer to stay glued to their phones rather than looking at the monuments.
The tourists on Seine's riverboats are a weird species – for starters, they can't help but wave every time they notice someone looking at them. I wanted to avoid taking staged photographs so I often had to resort to tricks, like pretending to look at the sky, while pointing my lens on them and clicking at the last minute.
I'm quite shocked by the way tourism works in Paris: masses of people experiencing the city from a bus window, or following tourist guides around like cattle – never discovering anything on their own. I met a woman in the Philippines who told me she had toured Paris for a couple of days – the Eiffel Tower, the Versailles and the department stores is all she could recall. I found that sad.
I've now become one of the bridge's regulars. Besides me, that bridge is host to a country singer, a Roma beggar and a couple of girls who rip off tourists by posing as deaf. I think I'll meet more interesting characters as time goes by. I intend to continue this series and turn it into a book.
See more of Adrian's work here.