When I Photographed the Hunchback of Notre Dame

by | Oct 14, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Pictorialism, an approach to photography that emphasizes beauty of subject matter, tonality, and composition rather than the documentation of reality.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’m a fan of the now-unfashionable Pictorialist school of photography, particularly the eccentric work of William Mortensen. You can read a review of the modern reprint of Mortensen’s landmark 1937 book The Command to Look on my former blog. It’s another one of my favorite photography books.

Mortensen’s approach to photographic composition is built around three rules and in the book he expands each of them into corollaries, sub-rules and concepts. If you’re curious, here are his three basic  rules:

  • The picture must, by it’s mere arrangement, make you look at it
  • Having looked—see!
  • Having seen—enjoy!

For today’s featured photograph, I’m not really sure if I obeyed any of Mortensen’s compositional rules or suggestions, it is just one of a few quick photographs that I originally shot many years ago in Paris, just  outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame (before the fire) and featured street performers in costumes related to the Victor Hugo’s book Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was made with a Nikon FM (or FE) and probably my got-to (at the time) Nikkor 43-86mm f/3.5 lens on Ektachrome slide film.

My photograph of “the hunchback” seemed like the kind of classic story telling photograph Bill Mortensen would have made back in the 1930’s and inspired me to digitally apply some of his traditional darkroom techniques. I used some of the filters found in Photoshop along with toning from PhotoKit and edge effects from software that both have long since gone unsupported.

For another take on Hunchback of Notre Dame and see the visual poetry of ‎Joseph H. August’s cinematography, you should stream or pick up a copy of the 1939 film version starring Charles Laughton; it’s my favorite of the many versions of this story that are currently available. You can get a DVD for $9.99 or a Blu-ray (the best way to watch it) for $14.99 from Amazon, as I write this.


My book Creative Digital Monochrome Effects is available from Amazon with new copies at $19.30 with used copies starting at a little more than two bucks, as I write this. There’s no Kindle version available, sorry.