View From the Top: Jean-Louis Blondeau, Chronicler of High-Wire Walker, Shows Shots at National Arts Club

On opening night of "No Why," a show of 50 photographs taken by Jean-Louis Blondeau of his friend, high-wire walker Philippe Petit, the National Arts Club was packed, uncomfortably, with attendees. Susan Sarandon was there, to introduce Mr. Blondeau in a speech. So were Tim Robbins, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the guy who replaced Jesse Martin on Law & Order. Given the size of the crowd, you’d have expected Petite to show—perhaps on a unicycle, wire in hand. He did not.

The photos, ranging in date from the late ’60s into the ’70s, follow the pair on their run of clandestine tightrope walks way, way up there on Notre Dame and Sydney Harbor Bridge. Their run, and friendship, ended with Petit walking across the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a feat of daring that was recently dusted off in the documentary Man on Wire.

For those who haven’t seen the film: sometime in the early-morning of Aug. 7th, 1974, after months of planning, Mr. Petit, Mr. Blondeau, and a couple of accomplice friends conspired, successfully, to string a high wire across the towers. Mr. Petit, a street performer with an inspired, far-away stare, walked the wire that morning, a quarter of a mile above traffic. Blondeau took the photos, feet planted firmly on the ground, or a roof.

Mr. Blondeau’s early photographs of his friend’s performing in parks and street cafes have the feel of youthful romance, hot and swift and heedless. The later ones, taken from the top, are enthralling. Best of all: Mr. Blondeau’s photograph of Mr. Petit doing his thing for the crowd, top hat balanced on the tip of his nose, like a circus seal. In front of such photos, one is made to feel that the spirit of Blondeau and Petite’s undertakings didn’t change—only the scale of their ambition.

The Observer had a chance to speak, briefly, with Mr. Blondeau, who today lives in Paris with his family, and has had nothing to do with tightropes for the better part of thirty-five years.

"This was a very dear part of my life, yeah. Seven years of complicity and friendship with Philippe Petit," Mr. Blondeau told The Observer. "It was a time of freedom. We did it all with very little means. Just the will."

"No Why" runs until Nov. 1. View From the Top: Jean-Louis Blondeau, Chronicler of High-Wire Walker, Shows Shots at National Arts Club