35, rue des Trois Bornes 75011 Paris, France

The Americans of Paris

Regardez cette page en français

On July 2nd 2008, George Bensoussan, Catherine Bastière and the team at Expand Drama interviewed and filmed me for their documentary entitled «Les Américains de Paris». The editing staff had lots of fun inserting dozens and dozens my pictures of Paris at the beginning, the end, and all throughout the program. The show aired seven times on NRJ Paris, November 2008 and many other times thereafter. The version shown here is a condensed montage showing me and my photographs in the show. Below is the text I wrote for the show (translated from my French), on the request of George Bensoussan, which ended up being considerably edited and shortened.

My name is David Henry, I am American and I live in Paris. I came to Paris in September 1996 to discover life in France. At first I was thinking of staying a year or two, after a few months I needed to find work, which I did in the spring of 1997.

A photographer walking on rue des Barres.

Walking down rue des Barres behind l’église Saint-Gervais while the cameraman films me.

I had my first major publication of photographs in a for a British publisher. And then George W. Bush became president in January 2001, which drastically changed the political climate in the United States. I had already lived through twelve years of Republican regimes from 1980 until 1992, I experienced that period as an internal exile. Soon after Ronald Reagan was elected all kinds of subsidies were cut and we were shocked to see more and more homeless on the streets. In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, there were some homeless people, but there was always a visible explanation why this or that person was homeless.

So with a President Bush again I had no desire to return to live in the United States, I have already experienced internal exile, and I prefer the real thing. Then came the events of September 11th 2001. It was shocking and saddening, but the Bush administration had only the worst of responses possible.

David Henry in video:

We had our little war in Afghanistan, very good, since this was where Osama bin Laden and his Taliban were. But attacking Iraq was completely senseless, a war whose justification was invented from nothing. The attacks on New York and Washington gave the Bush regime a raison d’être, an excuse to foment a climate of fear, and distract the people of his lack of vision. I frankly had no desire to return and live in the United States after September 11th.

A photographer on île Saint-Louis.

By the River Seine, on île Saint-Louis, looking towards Notre-Dame.

I like big cities for their cosmopolitan aspects, on the other hand, I find big American cities overwhelming because of their skyscrapers. In New York there are vast areas where the sun does not reach the street because the buildings are so tall. In city centers, there’s not much of interest for the average person: the sidewalks are lined with banks, law firms, insurance agencies, etc.

I love Paris because it’s a big city, a metropolis, one of the centers of the world. Most artists and musicians on tour will make a stop in Paris (which is not necessarily the case in Boston where I’m from), and you can see the entire world just staying in Paris. But unlike New York, one does not get the sense that Paris is such a huge city: everything is on a human scale, taking long walks and going from neighborhood to neighborhood, the ambiance changes a bit, but you’re still in the same city. Even financial districts have things of interest to ordinary people at street level, cafes, restaurants, florists, shops, etc.

A photographer taking a picture with a Nikon F4.

Another picture of me with my F4, Nikon’s top-of-the-line professional camera released in 1988.

In the last sixty years, American cities have been built for automobiles. In most cities and agglomerations in the United States you have to drive five minutes to buy a stick of chewing gum or a newspaper. It’s easy to get around in Paris on foot, by bicycle and on the métro, and I feel more comfortable in the urban texture of Paris, with people all around, businesses and resources everywhere.

I was never able to make my living from photography in Boston, life is expensive, photo equipment even more so, and I worked a succession of day jobs. I’m not very good at “active” marketing, i.e. prospection, I find it hard to guess what may interest people and I am always afraid of bothering them. On the other hand, it appears that I’m good at “passive” marketing, which is what I do with my website, which I started in 2000.

My great leap forward was I took in the summer of 2004 for the illustrated edition of the novel “The da Vinci Code”, released in November 2004. A few weeks after taking the pictures, I put them on my web site, people were already looking for images on the themes mentioned in the book, and the pictures brought more visitors to my website.

«Impressions de France», a TV show about the da Vinci Code phenomena in Paris, broadcast in Shanghai.

Watch a TV show about the Da Vinci Code in which I appeared.

The book was a “gift idea” of Christmas 2004, which brought even more traffic to my site. The film based on the novel was released in May 2006, and the interest it generated was impressive, to say the least!

I sold and resold the photos many times over. The photographs for the novel pushed my site up in the search engines. Most of my business now comes through my web site, and I owe this success to the Da Vinci Code. So it can be said that it has been the years living in Paris which allowed me to become a professional photographer.

—David Henry

The mailbox:

Your photos of Paris are remarkable! You obviously have talent. However, your anti-American prose stinks. Why not just put a warning on your website that reads: Warning, only liberal democ-rats welcomed!

—Jean-Charles Gifford, an American in Montreal, March 15th 2010

Hello Jean-Charles,

Thanks so much for your kind words about my pictures, and thanks for visiting my web site!

I’m not sure what you mean by “anti-American prose”. My political views were formed at a very young age, when my father served in the Army from 1967 to 1971, spending the last year of his service in South Vietnam. Thus reactionary knee-jerk McCarthyism stole my father at an age when any child needs them the most.

It be might helpful to mention that I’m from Boston, where Obama carried 80% of the vote in the elections of 2008. Most people in Massachusetts would have no problem at all with whatever I have written on my web site, so I am comfortably in the mainstream as concerns all that.

With your opinions about Democrats, you would be the minority in New England (aside from New Hampshire perhaps) and for the most part people in the northeast of the United States, or any where in Quebec or Canada for that matter, would give you a weird look if you said something about liberals being rats…

All the best,

Go to the home page of my web site

Enter the gallery of photographs of Paris

See the pictures I’ve taken in the United States

Portraits in Paris: with your family, friends and loved ones in the City of Light, and the famous monuments of Paris in the background.

Jetlag and culture shock: Read my thoughts on what it is like taking pictures in Paris

See the pictures I’ve taken in England

Take a look at the pictures I have taken on trips to Italy

Photography workshops in Paris: Learn the secrets behind these pictures!

See the pictures I took on a trip through Alsace-Lorraine

What does all this new technology mean for photographers? Read my thoughts on digital photography.

Take a look at the pictures I took on a trip through Switzerland

See the pictures I’ve taken elsewhere in France

Take a look at the pictures I published in the Traveler’s Companion series of tourism/travel guide books, pictures of Canada, New England, and Mediterranean France