Winnie Denker is afraid of heights. Yet she has spent the best part of the last 20 years taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, precariously balancing herself and 60 kilos-worth of large format camera on the tower’s various extremities.
Originally from Denmark, Denker took her first picture of the Eiffel Tower on January 4, 1986. She remembers the exact date because it was her birthday. The tower had just had a makeover and received a spanking-new set of lights. The ten or so pictures she took that day before returning to New York were a special birthday present to herself. Since then, she hasn’t stopped taking pictures of what she calls “her tower.”
“It was the lighting I was fascinated by, and I started making pictures from far away. I got into the tower and started making close-ups and getting into the structure of this wonderful monument.” Denker always refers to the Eiffel Tower as being female. “C’est une belle dame, you know.” A beautiful lady who dresses up for special occasions, like when she was bathed in red lights for the Chinese New Year. “What a challenge to put lights on such a monument. It’s so lovely because it’s like putting different outfits on a woman.”
Her new book, The Eiffel Tower, out this year, is her second on the monument and the culmination of almost two decades of work. It’s a stunning collection of her photographs with each one depicting a different aspect of the tower from its metal skeleton and nuts and bolts to its spectacular special occasion lighting effects. Published in 1989 – her first book, titled La Sentinel, celebrated the Tower’s centenary.
She approached the French author Françoise Sagan to write the text but at first Sagan refused to be even remotely associated with the Parisian landmark. “I chose her and then they asked her if she wanted to. She said, No I hate the Eiffel Tower. I want nothing to do with the Eiffel Tower. So I set up a meeting with her. And I met her and then she saw my pictures. She said, This is the tower? OK Winnie I’m going to do it.”
When asked what it is about the Eiffel Tower that she loves so much, Denker’s blue eyes light up. “Ah, the weird and wonderful thing that is the Eiffel Tower” “Everywhere when you come to Paris what do you see first? The Eiffel Tower, it’s true” – For the photographer, the Eiffel Tower isn’t just a Paris fixture. It’s a universal symbol of Paris, and one that she comes across in the most incongruous places. ” Everywhere. Everywhere in the world I see a little Eiffel Tower somewhere. It’s weird. I spent 7 months in Syria and I was driving in the middle of the desert and what do I see on top of the roof? There was an Eiffel Tower. I think this is crazy. Even there.”
La Tour Eiffel. Photographs by Winnie Denker, text by Bertrand Lemoine. Éditions Mengès. (Bilingual edition)