My dear French Seams readers,
Happy New Year! Wishing you all a ridiculously wonderful ringing-in of the New Year and a very prosperous 2014.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of viewing the exhibition Brassai, Pour L’Amour de Paris, currently on display at the Hotel de Ville in Paris through March 8th 2014. For your viewing and reading pleasure is a bit about the exhibition and some lovely photographs by Brassai, all taken in Paris. Hope you enjoy!
Cheers, champagne, and all good, bubbly things,
The love between Brassai and Paris is a passionate affair, captured best in his photographs of the City of Love after dark. Luckily for anyone in Paris (and those are lucky ones, indeed), Brassai’s photographs of Paris are the subject of the exhibition, Brassai, Pour L’Amour de Paris.
Brassai captures romantic moments between couples in cafés (one might imagine Hemingway and his wife Hadley as one of the couples), thick-built prostitutes staring down the camera with defiance, and the abstract curves of the cobblestone streets. The images are gritty and vibrant at once, imbued with the burbling life that flows through the city.
In our imaginations, and in Brassai’s photographs, Paris of the 1920’s and 30’s celebrated life in all its forms, making it a haven for oddballs, artists, and lovers. Brassai was one among the most prominent artists who gathered in the City of Lights, many of whom he knew and photographed, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Genet, and Henri Michaux.
More interesting, though, is Brassai’s focus on strangers. In his photographs, policemen bike around the city in chic capes, a young boy loses his red balloon, prostitutes undress in front of their client, and young people gather in bars to drink and be merry. Brassai’s photographs of strangers are like visual conversations between the photographer and his subject. His subjects allow him into their world for a moment and he shows their most intense, beautiful moments—a passionate kiss in a café, the vulnerability of the prostitutes when they are lined up before a client so he can choose one of them, the overflowing joy in a child as he plays with a sailboat in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
The exhibition is chronological but also categorical, beginning with Marcel Proust’s Paris, a city whose streets are dominated by a mix of cars and horse-drawn carriages and a (then new) Eiffel Tower. The “Walls of Paris” section focuses on the prolific graffiti strewn across the city. The exhibition then takes you through Paris at night, with a whole section devoted to the mostly-naked women of the Folies Bergère cabaret. The final section of photographs is dedicated to the breathtaking curves of a woman’s body, carefully contorted so her body is de-sexualized. The photos are erotic but never pornographic.
Brassai captures his intimate and loving relationship with Paris through his photographs, giving his audience a new lens through which to view the City of Love.
At the end of the exhibition, there is a short film by Brassai, “As Long as There are Animals,” filmed in the Zoo de Vincennes. The film shows the monkeys hopping around and swinging from the trees, the giraffes flitting their tongues, and polar bears splashing around in the water. It is a humorous and fun end to a quietly beautiful exhibition. It’s also very nice to sit down to watch the film after standing for hours to admire the photographs.
If you are fortunate enough to be in Paris, go see the exhibition. It’s free, too, though if it’s busy you have to wait outside to get in, as they limit the number of people in the exhibition to prevent it from being too crowded. If you are not in Paris, enjoy the Brassai photos (most of which are included in the exhibition) below!
Brassaï Pour L’amour de Paris
from 8 November 2013 to 8 March 2014.
Hôtel de Ville, Salle Saint Jean
5 rue Lobau 75004 Paris