Thursday, 29 March 2012

New books: The history of Paris in photos

Following three enormous photo books on Berlin, New York and Los Angeles, Taschen has recently published a fourth, Paris: Portrait d’une ville. Portrait of a City. Porträt einer Stadt, written and edited by Jean Claude Gautrand. When it comes to photographic histories of cities, Paris is particularly interesting as this city was the city where photography was first invented in the late 1830s and also where the technique to make colour photos was discovered in 1904.
This book thus offers a unique photographic account of the development of Paris from 1839 to 2011 and of life in the metropolis through 172 years. There is something almost breathtaking about seeing street views from as far back as 1839, but also photos of daily life and major events, such as the revolution of 1848, pictures which may well be regarded the first press photos.
Here is the changing of the guard at the now lost Tuileries Palace in the reign of Louis-Philippe, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1852, the troops returning from Italy in 1859, Baron Haussman’s turning Paris upside down, the revolutionaries, politicians, writers, artists, actors and models who have helped create the myth of Paris, but also the destinies of the ordinary man, woman and child.
The book, which is trilingual (French, English and German), is divided into five parts (1830-1871, 1871-1914, 1914-1939, 1939-1959 and 1959-2011). It is only towards the end that the pace is perhaps a bit too hasty as the book moves quite fast from the events of 1968 to the present day.
This is a great book in all meanings of that word, and may almost be considered a must have for all lovers of Paris as well as those interested in the history of photography.

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