Ernst Haas / Getty Images

Top 10 France in 10 iconic images

© Ernst Haas / Getty Images

Few, if any other nations on earth boast the rich photographic heritage of France, the birthplace and adopted homeland of many of the finest practitioners in history, and a popular destination for so many others.

─── by Josh Bright, August 3, 2021
  • From the streets of Paris to the fields of Provence, over the course of generations, eminent photographers have found inspiration in its diverse landscapes and inhabitants, capturing arresting images that together communicate the unique quintessence of this beautiful land.

    Willy Ronis, The Lovers of the Bastille, 1957, Paris, Black and White Film Photography
    © Willy Ronis

    1. Willy Ronis – The Lovers of the Bastille, 1957

    A contemporary, close friend and compatriot of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, was one of the most important photographers of his eon, who spent much of his time capturing thoroughly compelling images of everyday life in his homeland.

    A deep humanist and romantic, he invariably focused on the lives of the working classes, finding rare moments of profound beauty in the quotidian. This is exemplified no more exquisitely than his 1957 depiction of a couple overlooking the Paris skyline, a truly flawless image that embodies the artistry for which he is renowned.

    color landscape photo of Mont Saint Michel, France by Rémi Bergougnoux
    © Rémi Bergougnoux

    2. Rémi Bergougnoux – “Morning Freeze”. Mont Saint Michel

    Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy, situated around 1 kilometre off France’s northwestern coast. While it’s a frequently photographed landmark, Bergougnoux’s blend of patience and mastery of composition, light, and tone has produced something truly unique. The slightly low angle of the shot guides the viewer’s gaze along the meandering stream into the distance, where the magnificent Mont Saint Michel commands attention against a breathtaking pink sky, accented by a diagonal sweep of pastel-hued clouds.

    Early Daguerreotype photography by Louis Daguerre, Boulevard Du Temple, paris 1838
    © Louis Daguerre 

    3. Louis Daguerre  – Boulevard Du Temple, 1838

    Louis Daguerre, one of the medium’s founding fathers, was the inventor of the eponymous Daguerreotype, the first photographic process to be available publicly, and one which would become the most important and widely used of the 19th-century. His portrayal of Paris’ Boulevard du Temple, one of the first successful images he captured using the method, is also thought to be the earliest photograph to contain people (though they are barely visible), thus marking a watershed moment for the medium that henceforth, dramatically altered its course.

    Black and white photo of two boys playing by Robert Doisneau. Paris, France, 1934
    © Robert Doisneau

    4. Robert Doisneau – “Les Freres”, Paris, 1934

    Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) a pioneer of photojournalism alongside his compatriot Henri Cartier-Bresson, was born in the suburbs of Paris, and dedicated much of his prolific career to capturing everyday scenes on its bustling streets.

    Unlike many of his contemporaries who favored gritty realism, Doisneau was a natural romantic. He sought out moments of beauty, which he likened to “finding treasure”, exemplified in this charming and iconic depiction of two boys doing handstands on the Paris streets which typifies his style.

    View from Notre Dame, Paris, 1955, photography by Ernst Haas
    © Ernst Haas / Getty Images

    5. Ernst Haas – “ View from Notre Dame”, 1955

    Austrian-born photographer Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was an early pioneer of color who possessed the unique ability to infuse ordinary moments with profound artistic expression. While renowned for his captivating depictions of his adopted New York City, Haas’ portrayals of Paris are equally captivating. Despite the Eiffel Tower being a ubiquitous photographic subject, Haas’s lens unveils fresh perspectives, showcasing the vision and artistry that made him one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, whose influence endures.

    Discover our profile on Ernst Haas here.


    Black & White photography by Brassaï. Couple in a bar in Paris.
    © Brassaï

    6. Brassaï – “In the Bistro”, Paris, c. 1930–32

    Though born in Hungary, it is the French capital with which Brassaï is synonymous, the city where he spent the majority of his adult life, and the subject of much of his work. Nicknamed the ‘Eye of Paris’ by his close friend and contemporary, author Henry Miller, Brassai spent much of his time wandering the city after nightfall, capturing utterly arresting, surrealism-imbued depictions of its streets, landmarks, and enigmatic residents, with remarkable percipience and skill.

    Color film photography by Evelyn Hofer, Roofs, Paris, 1967
    © Evelyn Hofer

    7. Evelyn Hofer  – Roofs, Paris, 1967

    Renowned for her sensitive portraiture, landscapes, and still life, enigmatic German-born photographer, Evelyn Hofer, possessed the ability to perfectly capture the ambience of a place, illustrated beautifully in her often-overlooked images of Paris, which display the rare sensitivity and remarkable dexterity which define all of her work.

    Discover our profile on Evelyn Hofer here.

    black and white landscape photograph of Aiguilles d’Arves mountains in France by Yann Calonne
    © Yann Calonne

    8. Yann Calonne – “Majestic” Aiguilles d’Arves.

    This stunning landscape image captures the North face of the Aiguilles d’Arves (3500m) situated in the Maurienne valley (an ancestral passage between France and Italy) at the heart of the French Alps. Beautifully captured in monochrome, which enhances the dark shadows and the contrasting bright sunlight that illuminates the clouds from the other side of the peaks, it is a wonderful photograph that serves as a fitting tribute to the breathtaking beauty of France’s alpine region.

    street color photograph of a car and dog shot in Dordogne, France by Marcel van Balken
    © Marcel van Balken

    9. Marcel van Balken – “Repair”

    Marcel van Balken‘s captured this somewhat surreal scene in France’s southern Dordogne region, where a woman appears to be fixing her broken-down car. Despite being taken recently, the image exudes a vintage charm, with the subtle colors and the old-style Citroën car reminiscent of earlier times. The presence of the onlooking dog adds to the image’s charm, evoking the spirit of renowned French photographer Elliott Erwitt and his iconic portrayals of canines.

    André Kertész, aerial image, Paris, Eiffel Tower, Black & White, 1929
    © André Kertész

    10. André Kertész – The shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1929

    “I just walk around, observing the subject from various angles until the picture elements arrange themselves into a composition that pleases my eye.” – André Kertész

    A true master of his craft, André Kertész was one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, renowned for his utterly compelling monochrome imagery that set the foundation for generations of eminent practitioners. In 1925 he left his native Hungary for Paris, and it was here, during the ensuing decade, where he created some of his most memorable work. Characterized by geometric shapes, shadows, reflections, and a remarkable acuity, the visual language he created is expressed beautifully in this stunning, aerial image (a vantage he frequently used) which exemplifies the rare artistry for which he is remembered.

    All images © their respective owners