Interview: Claudia Toutain-Dorbec – 3

Claudia_Toutain-Dorbec_5Claudia, who is your favourite French photographer?

Three classic French, street photographers come to mind: Edouard Boubat, Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Izis. The humanity in Edouard Boubat’s images has always touched my heart. I admire Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s incomparable sense of style (which is still being imitated today). Izis, he combined both these qualities in his own way.

The style and method used by these famous men is now in the past, it is a time that will not come again. I envy the freedom they experienced – to take photographs of what they saw through their lens without hesitation. Today even the Eiffel Tower is copyright protected and cannot be reproduced commercially without paying a fee or acquiring permission.

Think of what it would have taken them to get signed releases from all of the people they photographed on the street? All of those spontaneous photographs we enjoy looking at today were usually just street shots. They are simply impossible today. Without those wonderful photographers who hauled their cameras down the streets of Paris, we would have missed the visual record of an entire era.

Who is your favourite French artist (outside of photography)?

I have many favorite French artists, but for many years Claude Monet was at the top of my list. Not just because he is the Father of Impressionism, but because he was so much more – he was a Renaissance man of his time. Monet was a man of taste and opinion, and a rebel with a true artist’s heart. He put the conventions of the time, as well as his family’s expectations of him as a young man, aside and he did what his passion dictated. Curious and surprisingly open to the world, he had many interests and created art in everything around him.


He was a ‘foodie’, in French a gourmet. He kept a food diary, helped create recipes, and was actively involved with how his household’s food was prepared. I’ve made his favorite banana ice cream recipe and I must say it is one of the best I’ve tasted.

He was an avid gardener (this is probably an understatement) including of food, flowers and trees, and created a garden (style and process) now regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. Here are a few other examples: Monet collected Japanese art, he loved and raised special breeds of chickens and knew a lot about them, and he created the interior design in his home we all still admire today. Multi-faceted, complicated and very talented, the genius of it all is incorporated into the breathtaking fleeting moments he captured on canvas.

Which is your favourite gallery or museum in Paris?

Le Louvre, it may be my favorite place in the world.


Where is your favourite place in France to shoot photos and why?

I love to photograph Paris in August. Although my list of other favorite French locations could be long: Mont St. Michel (morning and night), Le Cap Ferret, Bordeaux (city and wine country), Burgundy has dozens of amazing places, the French alps, spots on the Canal du Midi, the Marseille harbor, Normandy cows, and of course Monet’s Garden, how to choose?

Paris, however, is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities condensed in one place; I can hardly keep my camera out of my face – difficult when you ride a bike around town. Sometimes in Paris in August, the weather changes unexpectedly and creates unusual moods that add drama and provide never ending choices. The street, the varied and beautiful architecture, dozens of parks, canals and rivers in the middle of the city, small charming shop fronts — Paris offers so much it is hard to resist not moving there. Yes, I am working on a book about Paris…

Which is your favourite restaurant, bistro or bar in Paris?

It really depends on what part of Paris I’m in, my mood and what time of day it is. Here’s a list of places I go back to when I am in a specific part of Paris:

  • Ma Bourgogne (café) for traditional food and a view on the Place des Vosges.
  • The tiny Le Poulbot (restaurant) in Montmartre for a little or a lot of eccentric charm.
  • There are three spots in Saint-Germain des Prés: La Palette (bar) – a piece of Paris art history; La Closerie des Lilas (restaurant) – the writers’ gathering spot; and Le Petit Zinc (restaurant) – amazingly restored French art nouveau.
  • When top quality is in order, the Senderens (restaurant)
  • The Train Bleu (restaurant) at the Gare de Lyon, it’s like an adventure into the past on the Orient Express with gold leaf, cupids, etc.
  • For jazz, I adore the Le Petit Journal in Montparnasse,
  • To see a real French band, head for the basement at Caveau de la Huchette
  • Finally (whew), if you are married to a Frenchman and he is craving a full-on, full-course French meal with all the traditional dishes at a reasonable price with good service, head to Le Navigator on Rue Galande (near the Notre-Dame).


You can see Claudia’s photography and other artworks, in these already published books :

A Season at Monet’s Garden – Printed – ISBN 978-0-9802432-1-5

A Season at Monet’s Garden – eBook ISBN 978-0-9802432-2-2

Une Saison Chez Claude Monet (French version) – eBook – ISBN 979-10-90285-00-2

And in the [Nothern Hemisphere ] Fall of 2011, you can see more of her works in these upcoming books:

I Come Again to See Giverny – Printed – ISBN 978-0-9802432-5-3

Portraits of the Natural World: A Year in the Southwest – Printed – ISBN 978-0-9802432-4-6

For more information visit CSF Publishing or

We’d like to thank you Claudia for taking time to do this interview with us at My French Life™.  We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learning more about your unique and wonderful photographs and other artworks.

Read more about Claudia Toutain Dorbec…
Part one
Part two 
Part three – this interview

All images © Claudia Toutain-Dorbec

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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