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May 2005 - Paris Vu du Ciel - Paris Viewed from the Sky

Getting permission to hitch a ride aboard a helicopter to fly over Paris for a photographic assignment is not an easy undertaking. First of all, flights over the City of Light are normally prohibited. Secondly, getting authorization from the French authorities to join a flight with a military, police or fire brigade requires persistence and patience. Jean Ponsignon did persist - and because of his perseverance, he was finally invited to join a number of flights for a mission as a photojournalist. Recently, he gave a public presentation of his aerial photographs in a slide show called Paris Vu du Ciel.

Mr. Ponsignon has not always pursued aerial photography as a vocation. After he received a degree from the Haute Ecole de Commerce, he began working as a business consultant. During the span of his career, he has provided consulting services to over 60 companies, public agencies and organizations located in over 15 countries. He also served for six years as secretary general of the Délégation Catholique pour la Coopération (Catholic Delegation for Cooperation), a non-governmental organization. His interest in flying and photography was sparked when, as a young man, he lived next to an airport. Over the years he took up aerial photography as a hobby, and this passion developed into a vocation. In addition to his career as a business consultant, he has worked as an aerial photographer and journalist for a number of different magazines, including Aviation et Pilote, Aventure and Bourgogne Magazine.

Ponsignon's presentation, held on April 7 at the Port-Royal municipal library (located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris), consisted of color slides and recorded commentary. For roughly 30 minutes, his audience was captivated by stunning aerial shots of Paris projected on a large screen, accompanied by music and explanatory remarks. The scenes that he presented came from a collection of shots taken during flights over Paris for the magazine Aviation et Pilote. On one occasion, he accompanied a military flight during the air display for the Fête Nationale (French national holiday, known to Americans as Bastille Day), held on July 14. On other occasions, he was permitted to fly in the helicopters of the Sécurité Civile (civil security) and the Sapeurs Pompiers (fire brigade).

The slide presentation opened with photos of sites beyond Paris' city limits. Examples included the old Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt, the park at Saint-Cloud, the offices of Groupe Bouygues at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, the Vincennes hippodrome, the airport at Le Bourget, the Romainville fortress and the basilica of Saint-Denis. As the focus of the presentation shifted to the periphery of Paris one could view the cemeteries of the Porte d'Orléans and of Montparnasse, the Cit Universitaire and the Grande Halle de la Villette. Progressing toward the center, familiar scenes unfolded: the avenue des Champs-Elysées, the Musée d'Orsay and, perhaps the most famous site of all, the Eiffel Tower.

The recorded voices of Mr. Ponsignon and his wife provided an historical review for most of the images. During the presentation of the place de la Concorde, for example, the Ponsignons explained that it had been built up on a bog that, at the time, lay outside of the limits of Paris. There, a statue in the honor of Louis XV was erected and the square was named after the king. During the Revolution, it was the scene of public executions, including the beheading of Louis XVI.

The Ponsignons produced the Paris Vu du Ciel slide show for presentation to audiences in France. For audiences outside of France, they have created a traveling exhibition of the same name consisting of 31 mounted photographs, 31 descriptive plaques and 2 presentation panels. Over the last four years, the exhibition has traveled to 29 towns in 6 different countries on 3 different continents. The exhibition is of particular interest to cultural groups, schools and other educational organizations and has been sponsored, at local levels, by the Alliance Française, cultural centers, libraries and city councils. Further information (in French) about the exhibition can be found on the web site Paris Vu du Ciel.

Jean Ponsignon's Paris Vu du Ciel is an inspired program for disseminating historical and cultural information about Paris. It sparks the imagination of people all over the world!

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2005