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How could one photograph a miniature city in the 17th century?

mardi 15 novembre 2016

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  • Plan relief mont st michel
    Take of plan-relief of Mont-Saint-Michel before clipping
    © RMN - Grand Palais - Adrien Didierjean
  • Plan relief Mont St Michel
    Take of plan-relief of Mont-Saint-Michel after clipping
    © RMN - Grand Palais - Adrien Didierjean

Behind the scenes of the shooting in plan-relief of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Right after crossing the Cour d’honneur of the Invalides, where the fire fighters are practising in uniform while bearing the ceremonial axe, we enter the Plan-relief museum. More precisely, it is located on the 3rd floor of the Musée de l’Armée. Behind the scenes, a masterpiece of the museum awaits: the scale model of Mont-Saint-Michel, its abbey, village, walls and of course its wonder.

A first session of photo takes had already be taken in 2012, and had enabled production of several more or less monumental plan-reliefs, such as the towns of Saint-Omer, Brest, Briançon and Neuf-Brisach, in 1/600th scale. Less imposing by its proportions, the Mont-Saint-Michel plan-relief is exceptional by the level of details it offers. It was returned right before the campaign after being restored.

 

A number of global views and details are on now display. To grasp the magnitude of the plan, I chose to create natural light, with cloudy sky and low sun. For obvious security reasons, we didn't go as far as creating high-tide conditions.

This scale model is full of surprises: when the curator of the museum, Mr Polonovski, opens the removable parts of the plan, I grasped the incredible magnitude of the project. In each of the small hidden cells in the building structure, a tiny people were recreated: monks’ cells with furniture and reproduction of Biblical scenes, defence weapons, abbey church altars. These tiny scenes are sure to pose a number problems to the photographer. One of them is the depth of the field: indeed it is not possible to capture the whole scene clearly in one simple photo. That’s why there are multiple takes while changing positions: they are then assembled later. Some require up to 50 takes for a single image.

The size of the piece requires an massive lighting mechanism, and established within absolutely safe conditions. The plan-relief is old, mainly made up of paper: it’s therefore fragile and mustn’t be exposed to any contact or knocks. 

All of today’s solutions will need to be reinvented tomorrow, when a small fishing port known as Saint-Tropez is photographed in plan-relief.

When we leave the behind the scenes, the fire fighters have completed their practice, there only tourists around, who, like us, are walking out of the Invalides court.

 

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