Sunday, July 5th

Weddings & Honeymoons - Magazines Since 1992

Paris Love Locks images in Bridges of Paris book

June 6, 2015 6:00 pmViews: 468

Photojournalist visits to the Paris Love Locks bridge began in 2010.

Paris Love Locks images in the Bridges of Paris book cover the railings.

Paris love locks photo in new book Bridges of Paris by Michael Saint James.

Images of the Paris Love Locks are seen through the lens of photojournalist Michael Saint James new coffee-table book the Bridges of Paris. And James discusses the controversial Paris Love Locks that have been hung on the bridges.

Originally the romantic tokens were of affection and the enduring bonds of love. But, these Love Locks are causing big problems both aesthetic and structural. And that is why the French government felt that it is time for their removal.

As Saint James calls it, Locks on the Seine: Love or Litter?

Love in Paris, and it is known as the city of love. That’s why sweethearts on a bridge over the Seine write their names on a padlock. And then they hook it to an available spot in the bridge’s wire-mesh parapet.  The parapet is the railing that runs along its edges. So, the sweethearts fasten the lock and securing it, they hope, their love forever. Then they throw the key in the river.

While spending months photographing the bridges on the Seine for his new book, Saint James  frequently saw this ritual. And he was helplessly charmed every time. After the key is tossed in the Seine, most lovers kiss, hug, and linger. And now it has become their favorite spot in the city. Many photographs are taken during the experience. One couple even had a video camera on a tripod documenting them taking their selfies.

The lovers wander off, holding each other, slightly punch-drunk and staggering, to their next destination. Perhaps their hotel room or a bar. Their lock will surely persist for all time. Or at least until the fence, under the weight of hundreds of heavy locks, rips free of the bridge and tumbles into the Seine.

Paris Love Locks images in Bridges of Paris book show some destruction.

Paris love locks destruction on the bridge railings.

Railings were originally put on the bridges to prevent children from falling into the river. Now the danger comes more from the risk of a lock-heavy fence falling onto a boat full of tourists.

‘I heard one of Paris’s bridges collapsed!’ a friend emailed me from the States in June 2014. When I arrived on the bridge, the Pont des Arts, I found only one small section of the chain-link railing, filled with locks, hanging over the Seine. It didn’t fall entirely but hung there until city workers removed it. Plywood had been put up to cover the gap. The bridge’s integrity was never in question.

When the Pont des Arts’ railing collapsed Parisians lost their tolerance. The love-lock ritual may fuel the French capital’s reputation as the “City of Love,” but not everyone finds it charming.

The Paris love locks began to arrive on the railings in 2008. Today, an array of locks—antique locks, bike locks, chain locks, handcuffs and other tokens of devotion are attached to bridge railings, lamps, sculptures, signs, grates or anything they can be fasten upon. Some couples plan ahead and arrive in Paris with a personally-engraved lock. A few choose combination locks, which certainly have their advantages.

The Pont des Arts was the city’s first love-lock bridge. When the municipal government cleared the locks off the bridge in 2010, the tradition continued on the Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s Bridge). With its romantic view of Notre Dame. Both bridges were targeted because it is easy to fasten locks around their chain-link railings. Once these bridges were choked with padlocks, the ritual went viral and spread to other bridges.

Paris Love Locks images in Bridges of Paris book and the Notre Dame bridge at night..

The Notre Dame bridge at night in Paris, France.

On my visits to Paris, beginning in 2010, and then during my year-long photographic sabbatical there in 2014, I watched the lovers’ ritual display an increasingly dark side. Bridges that were once artfully cluttered had turned into sickening masses of tumorous metal.

Tradition has it that the Paris love locks started from a tale from the First World War. It tells the story of Nada, a young schoolteacher in the Serbian spa town of Vrnjačka Banja. Her soldier sweetheart leaves for the front and, having arrived in Greece, falls for a local woman. Nada dies of a broken heart.

Young women in the spa town, fearing a similar fate, began fastening locks with their and their lover’s names on the city’s Most Ljubavi (Bridge of Love), where Nada and her fickle boyfriend used to meet. Decades later, the tale was popularized by Desanka Maksimovic’s poem, Prayer for Love. Today, the Most Ljubavi swarms with as many love locks as any of the Paris bridges.

Meanwhile, love locks have sprouted all over the world, including London, Budapest, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Charles Bridge in Prague. Love-lock trees now provide an alternative on the Luzhkov Bridge in Moscow. And the North Seoul Tower in South Korea. Websites offer metal trees and lock-dispensing vending machines to make things more convenient.

The tradition spread to the wild-west mining town of Lovelock, Nevada, named for Welshman George Lovelock, who founded it in 1868. In Lovers Lock Plaza, behind the town Court House, couples can attach their love locks to an endless chain. The tradition began on Valentine’s Day, 2006.

Trash or treasure? In Paris, the locks are now considered visual pollution. A blight on the city’s architectural history. The heavy metal locks not only weigh down the bridges but damage their railings, lampposts and sculptures. Tossed keys litter and pollute the river.

There is a symbolic risk here, one perhaps more at the heart of Parisians’ objections. Love, like life, is a transient experience, always flowing, always changing.

Love flows like the Seine through Paris, it can never be locked, one local told me. But fear of change and anxiety over life’s impermanence create the urge to try to create stability and lock things down.

According to tradition, as long as the lock remains fastened, love will endure. This may be bad news for all those who have locked their love to the bridges over the Seine. Except perhaps, for those who wisely chose a combination lock.

Paris has launched a No Love Locks media campaign. As new love often replaces old, lock-filled grates are being replaced with lock-proof clear acrylic panels. A grassroots No Love Locks movement was started by two American women who now reside in the city. Although many love-struck tourists are still resisting such restraints on the expression of their affection, the tide is turning.

Paris Love Locks images in Bridges of Paris book.

Bridges of Paris by Michael Saint James.

The love-lock fad will fade away as surely as love will always triumph in Paris. The beautiful crossings over the Seine will regain their classic architectural beauty. Lovers will always meet on Parisian bridges, hold hands, kiss and gaze into each other’s eyes. They will always make commitments beyond their understanding, just as the waters beneath continue to flow ever onward.

When the time comes, Saint James will be going back to take photographs for the second edition of his book, the Bridges of Paris Sans Serrures (Without Locks).

You might also like to read.
Romantic Getaway in Paris.
Romantic Getaways digital Magazine.

W&H | Paris Love Locks images in Bridges of Paris book.


Leave a Reply

Destination Weddings