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Monday, May 21, 2007

Artiste Extraordinaire

First, I must confess that the subject of this post, Philippe Petit, is a long time acquaintance, so this may not be totally objective. For those who do not know him, Philippe's accomplishments are many: tight-rope walker, unicyclist, magician, juggler, pantomime artist, pickpocket and the earliest modern day street juggler in Paris in 1968. But he is best known for his walk between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. This walk, done without permission, was planned over a period of six years - he made over 200 visits, posing variously as architect, construction worker and tourist. Many have asked how well he "made" it across - he didn't just make it - he did eight crossings over a period of 45 minutes. He has been working the streets of NYC since the 1970s, particularly Sheridan Square and Washington Square Park, where for years he was a regular on Sunday afternoons. Philippe’s ability to gather and hold a crowd is legendary (click here), as is his tenaciousness - he has been arrested for street performing over 500 times. His show, which is completely silent and frequently punctuated with gags and bits involving the audience (click here), features ball juggling, hat manipulation, unicycling and club juggling on a slack rope, supported between a tree and lamppost. He creates his performance space by outlining a chalk circle - no one is allowed to step inside. The occasional violator is dealt with cleverly and handily - click here. His show completed, Philippe packs his tools ritualistically and rides off on his unicycle. Only to return for meeting, greeting and the obligatory book signing - click here. Philippe has authored six books. To Reach the Clouds is a wonderful work, telling the story of his twin towers walk. I also recommend episode eight of the Ric Burns documentary, New York - The Center of the World (Part 8), where Philippe is interviewed and "is the spiritual heart of the film'' according to Burns. Philippe has done a number of commemorative street performances since 911 in Washington Square. This performance was to call awareness to the proposed (and controversial) renovation of the park. When asked why he does what he does: "When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."

13 comments:

Aigars Bruvelis said...

Thanks for the story

An Honest Man said...

Thanks to the photographer and the man who made the story possible.

Moi said...

awesome!!!!

Brian said...

aigars, an honest man, moi;
Thanks. I've seen Philippe's show many times, so I knew what to expect and where to position myself for various portions of his show - like his classic finish and exit.
Brian

Digital Art Photography for Dummies said...

Talented guy, a one-man circus. http://palmspringsdailyphoto.blogspot.com

Abraham Lincoln said...

I really like your photo and narrative.

Today—
Their beaks close, their eyes shut and their heads flop over the edge of the nest.
American Robin series starts today in Brookville Daily Photo.

Coimbatore said...

Th't Crazy man must be brilliant. Post more photos of his acts.

Dsole said...

wow! great shot! and amazing perfomance! :)

G.S. said...

Wow, Philippe Petit! He has long been one of my idols. I didn't know he still performed or that he had written a book about the Twin Towers walk - the greatest stunt in the history of the human race. Thanks.

Carlos said...

Just the perfect spot and timing for the picture.

Pastor Doodah said...

He is unique. I had the privilege of working on one of his walks, at Expo 86 in Vancouver. There's some pics of it here.

showtrotta said...

Brian, thank you for covering Philippe on your site. I immediately was drawn to something about the pictures and your description and if it wasn't for them I quite possibly would've missed out on seeing the documentary "Man on Wire". It was only because of your entry that the name and story rang a bell when a friend recommended the film to me. I enjoyed leaning more about Philippe immensely - such a beautiful and inspiring story. I really hope to one day catch his show in Washington or Sheraton Square. Do you know if he is usually still around on Sundays? Any idea of time? Thanks again so much for introducing me to such an interesting individual.

cathryn said...

Hi. Nicely done piece.

I did not know that Petit had done this performance to call attention to the changes coming to the park. Love the story of how he scoped out the Twin Towers.

Question - I am looking for photos of Petit performance and specifically amidst the two trees that were there (since chopped down). There were these two amazing trees right around Teen Plaza that sloped and had a lot of character. I am looking for photos of them and it would be a chance to mention Petit as well.

Any ideas ? Do you have any?

Thanks!

Cathryn
Washington Square Park Blog
(cathryn.be@gmail.com)