Minnesota photographer Peter J. O'Toole's love affair with Paris began as romances often do, with a friend's casual suggestion of a trip there. With a new Leica in hand O'Toole went first in 1996 and has been back every year since, usually for two weeks in summer or fall. Sometimes he goes in May to dodge the tourist season, and once he chose December, a misty time when chestnut sellers hawk their hot-charred wares to dispel the penetrating winter chill that seems to seep from the city's cobblestone lanes and limestone walls.
Artists have raved about Parisian light for centuries, of course, and O'Toole knows why. "There's something unique about the overcast and the luminance," he said. "You can't take very good panoramic shots of Paris because there is so much moisture that the air is seldom really clear."
Perhaps it's that special atmosphere that gives such a classic look to the black-and-white images in "Paris Photos: Paris Walks," O'Toole's handsome book of photos and annotated tours that's now in its second printing. His first edition of 500 copies sold out quickly last year, so he arranged a second run of 1,200 copies. They're available at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Bas Bleu mail-order catalog and online site (www.basbleu.com).
Each of O'Toole's 14 neatly mapped walks begins and ends at a metro stop. They're a nice mix of touristic neighborhoods (Eiffel Tower, Latin Quarter, Arc de Triomphe), historic areas (Ile de la Cité, Place des Vosges), parks (Bois de Boulogne, Buttes Chaumont) and off-the-beaten-track spots (Père-Lachaise cemetery). A 15th chapter suggests and photographs villages and sites near Paris including the Palace of Versailles, Parc de Sceaux, Chartres, Auvers-sur-Oise and Napoleon's favorite haunt, the Château de Fontainebleau.
The photographer's sensitivity to vistas is always at work, as when he begins the Eiffel Tower tour across the Seine at the Place du Trocadéro, which he believes offers the best view of the iconic landmark. After passing under the tower (climbing optional), he guides you through a charming neighborhood to the Musée Rodin.
His is mostly a timeless Paris, of sidewalk cafes, outdoor painters, accordion players, strolling gendarmes and wheelbarrows parked by rose beds. He even took a close-up of three goats in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, a quintessentially French fusion of urban and rural life.
O'Toole laces the walks with literary and artistic notes, pointing out the homes of Marcel Proust and Victor Hugo, for example, and the graves of Oscar Wilde, Colette and Jim Morrison. Many tours include optional museums, and most wander down streets lined with enticing pastry and cheese shops and past cafes suitable for lunch and a bit of people-watching.
"Last year we walked each tour at least twice to be sure every detail is right," O'Toole said recently. "The camera is always ready; every minute I have it cocked with the light aperture set."
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431