If you have ever wondered whether Night at the Museum was even slightly close to the truth, Félicien Michaut, who is a night guard at the Louvre, says the exhibits do not come alive, but all sorts of other things do happen.
“When people film scenes in the Louvre at night, it’s my job to ensure they don’t damage anything, because they can get carried away.
“It takes two hours to walk the rounds, and when it’s raining we do extra checks for leaks.”
But that’s not all.
Louvre support his work
The important thing about his job is that there are people awake and inhabiting the building all night long.
So when he’s done everything else, Félicien Michaut takes photos of model cars.
“Back in the 80s I trained to be a photographer and then I worked in a lab and I really loved learning all the techniques.
“I had started collecting toy cars as a teenager, and I started taking photographs of them.
“But now, I photograph them against real backgrounds in such a way that without any retouching, they look full-size.”
He says his employers at the Louvre are very supportive of his photography.
“They love us doing things like this. Obviously I’m not allowed to photograph areas which are off-limits to the public, but we are more respectful of the artworks than filmmakers, and I always have a miniature car in my pocket.”
Started as a game
He says the only difference between toy and miniature cars is the price.
“A toy car costing a few euros becomes rare and then it becomes a collector’s item costing hundreds.
“These days because I have so many Facebook followers (25,000) people sometimes give me rare cars, just because they want me to photograph them.”
Félicien Michaut’s photography started as a game, but now he holds exhibitions, notably in Châteauroux (Indre).
“The tourist office has been fantastic. I was asked to take a series of pictures using backgrounds in the town, to highlight the various attractions and then they held an exhibition of the resulting images.”
Cultural status of the French models
Because Châteauroux had an American base there during World War Two it still has many links to the US.
It holds a massive country music festival every summer and receives a large number of tourists from the States.
“Foreigners were the first people to follow me on Facebook, and then very gradually French people started following me.”
He has more than 700 models of French cars; Peugeots, Renault and Citroens, and says he’s less interested in the engines than their cultural significance.
“I love documenting the films they’ve appeared in, and at exhibitions I’m fascinated when people come and tell me about their grandfather’s Renault 4 or whatever.”
He likes to highlight the successes of the French car industry too.
“Designs like the Citroen DS, the Renault Espace, and the 2CV completely changed car design, they were completely new categories of cars when they appeared on the market.
“I love people who create something new.”
He is tackling the film Amélie next
In Châteauroux, Félicien Michaut sometimes gets recognised in the street.
“People recognise me from Facebook. That would never happen in Paris.”
He would like to do more real-life exhibitions rather than only posting on Facebook, and says he plans to continue putting his cars into real scenes and shooting them in such a way that the photos look like stills from films.
“I’m currently taking shots in the style of the film Amélie, with bright colours and vintage cars.”
But he has no plans to give up his job at the Louvre.
“It’s the best job in the world. The shifts are long (18.00 to 09.15) but it’s always different, and our bosses treat us really well. Some colleagues have been there for 30 years!”
See https://m.facebook.com/frenchcarstoys for more photos.