Almost nine months after my initial request to photograph inside the Monte Carlo Casino, the gold-leaf backdrop for fictional British spy James Bond in "Casino Royale", I was contacted for an interview to present my project and three months later received news that is was accepted.
Perched above the Mediterranean Sea to the east of the French Riviera, Monaco is synonymous with the glamour brought by Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, whose marriage made her Princess Grace, the roar of Formula 1 motor racing cars in the streets of the principality, luxury shops and its famous Casino, where gamblers win or lose at the turn of the roulette wheel, the luck of the cards at the blackjack tables, or with the one-armed bandits.
During the Casino's off hours, I entered a world unto itself, meeting craftsman in their workshops and employees who maintain the Belle Epoque rooms, restaurant and bar for the players.
What a shock to see gambling chips and plates worth €200,000 displayed in a row on a gaming table of green baize.
I met the doormen, parking valets, card dealers, electromechanical engineers, technicians, salon cleaners, waiters, the head chef, barmen, cashiers, a physionomist, cabinetmakers and croupiers who together form this often invisible staff who work with precision and professionalism to give the Monte Carlo Casino its worldwide reputation for excellence.
The Casino operates from two o'clock in the afternoon until six am the next morning. I was given access to photograph only during off hours as the casino prepares for opening later in the day.
I arrived at seven-thirty to watch as specialized mechanics worked on slot machines in the luxurious Salle Europe, Monaco's first gambling parlour inaugurated on January 1st 1865. During the three-days of shooting, I was escorted from one room to another, to photograph the professionals who contribute to crafting a unique experience for each and every guest.
I was surprised by the lavishly decorated interior, and greeted by the sound of vacuum cleaners as valets cleaned the gaming tables, removing dust and bits of foreign matter that might compromise gambling results.
I quickly realise how privileged I am to witness this private world with its codes and particularities. Two flights down, I entered the currency exchange room - 'Photography Forbidden' - but am allowed to watch as suitcases with chips and metal plates, the highest valued at €200,000, are prepared. I was at a loss for words.
I learned there are seven craftsmen, including one doing the tapestry and embroidery, who along with a woodworker (cabinet maker), construct and maintain the gambling tables. This is all done in-house.
Technicians check the level and balance of the roulette wheels and inspect the white balls for defects. Dice receive the same inspection to meet the casino's standards. I met the playing card handler (dealer), who each day verifies decks of cards and I visited the room where 36,000 packs of cards are stored row upon row at 20 degrees Celsius like fine, vintage wines.
This is a zero-tolerance environment. For three highly-charged days, I was escorted from room to room, met employee after employee, often having to wait for a supplementary authorization due to security and confidentiality, to make a simple photograph. And all the time discovering a secret universe that remains sheltered from the public's eye.
I discovered that a small room, the "Morgue", where the casino parking valets rest, was used in the past to hold the bodies of desperate gamblers, who lost their fortune and immediately killed themselves with a pistol shot, while still seated at the gaming tables.
Then the croupier announces as the gamblers huddle around the tables watching as the roulette wheel turns, "Les jeux sont faits..... rien ne va plus....."