“Ah bon?”, Dweezil, Hats, Lynch and The Kingdom

This week another theory about French culture crystallized in my head. It’s something I’ve noticed and have been thinking about for a few years and I am calling it the “Ah Bon?” theory. “Ah Bon?” is the expression the French use to express surprise about something they thought was one way but in fact, was actually another way. In English, the closest expression is probably something like “really?”

The “ah bon?” theory can best be described by example, which actually happened to me this week. Each time I photograph a concert, I am credentialed in advance by the record company who assure me they will put my name on a list at the door. Approximately one-third of the time when I show up, after confirming my credential the day before each concert, I am told that my name is not on the list. And I am told this with an air of confidence that one would normally have after an exhaustive check of all possible records, lists, files, etc. of who is credentialed for the concert. I feign disbelief and then tell them who I was credentialed by and produce an email confirmation that I always print out and take with me. That’s when it happens; I invariably get an “ah bon?”, another look down at the list and then a “go right ahead”. The “ah bon” theory does not speak about the incompetence of the individuals I encounter; it speaks about the confidence of their response in light of the fact that I know for a fact that they’re 100% totally wrong.

To continue … after getting past the front door, I am given my photo pass sticker clearly designating me as a photographer as well as a physical ticket (even though photographers are only allowed to be there for the first three songs and then are escorted out by security, they can’t let us enter without a ticket – “pour des raisons de comptabilite” (for accounting reasons)). I approach the man guarding the door on the stage level and show him my photo pass and he asks to see my ticket. I show him and then he tells me that he can’t allow me to enter here because my ticket is for a seat on the upper level. I calmly explain to him that I’m a photographer (looking subtly down at the giant orange neon sticker with the words “PHOTOGRAPHER” attached to my chest) and he says to me with the utmost confidence that he doesn’t care who I am but since my ticket says I’m on the upper level, that’s where I have to go. I continue that I have shot dozens of shows at this venue and photographers are always right next to the stage but once again, despite the fact that I can see a few photographers right next to the stage, he assures me, with firm confidence, that that is not the case this time and that I’d have to go to where my ticket says my seat is.

Knowing the drill, I went back to front desk and asked someone to come with me and explain to the automaton at the door that of course I was supposed to be next to the stage. The person accompanies me and explains to the confident fool at the door that of course photographers are supposed to be next to the stage. And the fool’s response? A hearty “ah bon?”

I really don’t know where this “ah bon?” mentality comes from in French culture but I’ve seen it from the highest professional ranks down to bouncers at clubs. I would be happy if anyone out there has an idea about why this happens here. It appears to me to be some sort of pre-emptive strike but I’m not exactly sure against what. Any ideas?

Shot four events this week, all quite different from each other – two of them particularly entertaining.


I went to go photograph the Frank Zappa concert (this is where the “ah bon?” experience crystallized) at the famous Grand Rex Theater and when the show started, I was very confused because I was told that there was no opening act and yet it wasn’t Frank Zappa on stage. Imagine my surprise to learn that Frank Zappa died 14 years ago and in fact, it was his son Dweezil Zappa playing his father’s songs.


Dweezil played a few songs “with” his father on a big video screen on the stage. But the night was memorable thanks to my complete confusion.


Also shot one of my favorite annual events in Paris – the hat contest held at the biggest horse race in Europe … Le Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. This race is basically the French Kentucky Derby. Each year women show up at the race wearing outrageous hats, for three reasons: (1) they get in free with a hat, (2) they try to win an associated “Best Hat” contest and (3) they adore the attention. It’s quite a scene.

To see more women in hats, CLICK HERE.

The director David Lynch was in town to receive the French Legion of Honor from President Sarkozy. I got to go to the Elysee Palace (the French White House) to photograph the event, which was attended by other well-known guests such as Roman Polanski.

Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx made a stop in Paris along the Champs-Elysees for the French premiere of their movie “The Kingdom”.
And finally, my cousin spent the week in Paris and I had a really good time with her playing a bit of tour guide and passing time the way it should be passed here – chatting about life in a café. We explored parts of town that tourists don’t normally get to but I believe are very interesting to see – rue Faubourg St Denis, Bellville, etc.

Some photos of the week …

Doorman at the Elysee Palace
Sarko checks out the babes
For those times when you really have the taste for ass
Clouds above Paris

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