On March 14th, the curtains were pulled for French cinemas. A hard blow for the street photographer Hervé Chatel, passionate about the art form. Nuit américaine is not just a stroll through the streets of Paris, it is a true homage to the medium.

“Lining up for a long-awaited release, listening to discussions about the film, finding yourself at the opening of a cinema almost alone, eating a meal with my sweetheart before a screening at the Méliès, in Montreuil, or simply letting ourselves be carried away by a story and cutting off from reality”. More than the cinema, it is these extra things that Hervé Chatel, a street photographer based in Paris, misses most of all. And since Gaspar Noé’s Lux æterna – his last cinematographic experience – he has been waiting, like everyone else… “I have always loved going to the cinema. It is an experience to be enjoyed before, during and after the screening. The atmosphere of the place, linked to its history, the different attendance each time, and above all, our companions”, continues the artist saddened by the closure of the theatres. During the first confinement, he photographed a few Parisian cinemas using a technique, which bears the name of the series: filming in “American night”. “It involves shooting outdoor scenes in broad daylight, which are supposed to take place at night. This process is mainly used to save money: film crews are only mobilised during the day. As a tribute to the cinema screens, I chose to make a panoramic shot on 16:9. In concrete terms, I took several photos vertically, then I put them together, and I worked on a night-time aspect in post-production”, he confides.

Imagining the scenes

Hervé Chatel offers, with his series Nuit américaine (American Night ed.), a leap back in time. A time made of magical moments where we were waiting, nervously, for our date, or the release of the latest Star Wars. And then, there are all the storefronts we pass by, without ever paying attention to them. Instead of settling for a streaming-filled lockdown, Hervé Chatel chose to walk the streets of the capital, in homage to movies. We (re)discover – among other places – in the 2nd arrondissement, the Grand Rex whose facade and roofs are listed as historical monuments, or the particular architecture of the Louxor, a cinema located in the 10th arrondissement of Paris: “the building designed by the architect Henri Zipcy was inaugurated on 6 October 1912!”, the photographer explains. “Cinema is fiction, just like photos. So why try to reconstruct a reality? You have to let yourself be taken in by these beautiful places, and imagine the scenes being played inside”, concludes Hervé Chatel.

It is true: only our imagination is left to escape from this very strange world… And although the cultural establishments remain closed, the pictures are a testimony to their usefulness… A word to the wise!

© Hervé Chatel