Inspiration

Portraits de Villes Are the Travel Books You’ve Been Searching For

This imaginative, impressionistic travel series aspires to be the "anti-guidebook."

Pages from the Tehran edition of the Portraits de Villes series.

By Hannah Walhout 

Jun 16, 2022

WHAT IS TEHRAN? For the architect and designer India Mahdavi, it is a family piled onto the back of a motorbike; mirrored mosaics and bas-relief tulips; oranges and pomegranates rolling on a finely embossed tray. In her recent contribution to the series of books “Portraits de Villes” (saint-lazare.co; from US$18), the Paris-based Mahdavi turns her lens to the city where she spent her childhood, telling its story with these images and more. 

Since 2007, the Portraits de Villes books have been a passion project for Clémentine Larroumet and Antoine Ricardou, cofounders of Paris architecture and creative firm Ateliers Saint-Lazare (whose clients include hotels like Les Sources de Cheverny and NoMad). “At the time, photography was all about coffee-table books,” Larroumet recalls. They wanted something less showy— notebook-sized, hand-bound, with a short introduction in the artist’s own words. “This is a more intimate format, a travel journal of sorts.” 

Pages from the Tehran edition of the Portraits de Villes books series.
Pages from the Tehran edition of the Portraits de Villes series

Each of the Portraits des Villes books pairs a photographer, or a notable creative with camera in tow, and a city: the usual suspects (New York City, Tokyo, Dubai) as well as less-covered cultural centers like Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first featured artists were mostly friends of the Saint-Lazare founders, but as the books began appearing in chic bookstores around Paris, more people began reaching out. The series now includes dozens of cities around the world. 

In a way, the destination is secondary to the artist’s place in it: “We choose photographers we would like to work with, and they choose the place,” Larroumet explains. “We prefer to give them carte blanche. The goal is to see the destination through their lens.” 

Sponsored by Tourism New Zealand

In other recent releases, Alistair Taylor-Young takes in the domes and high-rises of Cairo, and nature photographer Jonah Smith captures Aspen’s still-rugged side. Coming soon: the next edition of Portraits de Villes for Kids, which will teach young travelers the basics of Rome with illustrations by tattoo artist Jean André. 

All photos courtesy of Saint-Lazare.

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