by Lisa Anselmo
When cafés were forced to close as part of an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19, the sight of stacked chairs behind locked glass doors broke the hearts of Parisians. But artist Geoffrey Guillin saw something different: a beauty in the stillness of a city in lockdown mirrored in its cafés, which are at the center of Paris life.
In his newest series of 44 photographs called Bright Silence, Guillin documents café closures during confinement, but also tells the story of Parisian lives very much on pause. Shot entirely through the windows of closed cafés, these haunting images with their soft light and shallow depth of field, present a dreamlike portrait of abandoned rooms suspended in time. Reflections of a troubled outside world are superimposed over calm that has been carefully preserved and protected behind glass. These convivial places seem to retain their lightness despite their emptiness.
“I took these photos to show the bright soul of cafés,” Guillin says, “and how important the details of the decoration affect our well-being when we are there.” Undoubtedly, it’s a story told in details: coffee cups hastily stacked; empty water decanters lining a bar; a calendar frozen on 14 March, the last day cafés were open for service.
“I wanted to show the intensity and the luminosity of these places so dear to us, and our cultural heritage.”
The images stir emotion, yet are not maudlin. Guillin lets the cafés and their details speak for themselves without manipulating the viewer. “I wanted to show the intensity and the luminosity of these places so dear to us, and our cultural heritage.”
In showcasing the quiet details of these restaurants, making them glimmer and glow like jewels, Guillin exalts the everyday café—and lifts the viewer’s spirit the way cafés themselves do. “A café is a refuge when you are feeling sick at heart. It’s also a symbol of life,” Guillin says. “So, yes, [this work] represents the heartbeat of Paris, where friends can meet, love, forget, laugh, cry—but above all, feel alive.”
LISA ANSELMO is a writer, branding expert, speaker, and coach, and has worked at such iconic American magazines as Allure, InStyle, and People. She is the author of My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), and has been featured in New York magazine, Travel and Leisure, Bustle, House Hunters International, Expatriates Magazine among others.
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