Rooftops hold a certain allure but it's not just urban explorers and extreme sports narcissists that are drawn to the tops of buildings to capture this alternative view of the city. Photographer and Artist Alain Cornu drags a 4x5 field camera onto the rooftops of Paris to create stunningly beautiful images that feel like portals into another world.
Cornu's ongoing project, "Sur Paris" ("Over Paris"), began almost 10 years ago when he discovered how the rooftops offered a place for contemplation and meditation. For Cornu, the mundane elements — the antennae, chimneys, skylights — take on a unique feel after the sun goes down, and give the city a sense of intimacy. One of the most distinctive features is the zinc cladding that covers 90 percent of all Parisian rooftops, a characteristic of the city since Napoleonic times.
Gaining permission from building owners, Cornu shoots on a 4x5-inch field camera, the Toyo Field 45AII, and exposure times are usually around five minutes. Typically he attaches his 150mm Schneider Apo Symmar and his film of choice is Kodak Portra 160. This gives him the effect that he desires in both the highlights and the shadows, a satisfying "precision and softness" to materials and colors. Digitization is through an Imacon Flextight 949 scanner and small adjustments are then made in Photoshop.
The skyline of the French capital has been an inspiration to countless artists over the years. For Cornu, when night falls, the city reminds him of an animal that has been running all day and is now getting its breath back. There are very few people in his images but, as he notes, they are never far away; there is a life behind every illuminated window and down every chimney. By contrast, the city's famous landmarks are kept at a distance, almost incidental when they do appear, appearing on the horizon like beacons and watching silently over the residents as they settle in for the night.
Cornu has mixed feelings about proposals to protect the Parisian rooftops by granting them Unesco World Heritage status. While he understands the need to protect their history, he is worried that it would hinder the natural evolution of the city and potentially get in the way of greening and solar energy.
Alongside his work as a commercial photographer, Cornu is currently working on a series of landscapes to be exhibited at the Gallery Thierry Bigaignon in Paris in 2019.
All images are courtesy of Alain Cornu.