The Real Daguerréotypes
Visitors to Orsay 'walking' on Paris.
Henri Cartier-Bresson's First Show
Paris:- Wednesday, 4. June:- We, meaning Parisians, had a trying day yesterday coping with the public transport strike. I shouldn't really write 'we' because I coped with it like I do most Tuesdays, by having my one-day weekend, which usually consists of taking care of all the things not taken care of while I take care of everything else. To do this I seldom use public transport.
So it is with pleasure that I use it today. The pleasure comes from the fact that yesterday's 'Mardi Noir' has prolonged itself with the result that most rides on the RATP's transport system are free even if they aren't as frequent as they usually are.
After a weekend of shopping and watching washing machines slosh and then spin around, I have decided that I will visit the Musée d'Orsay for the first time - to see the exhibition 'Le Daguerréotype Français.'
I know, I know. The magazine is riddled with Daguerre this and Daguerre that. The street is named after Jacques Mande Daguerre, but I seriously doubt her ever lived anywhere near it because it was probably a cow path when he was alive from 1787 to 1851.
Actually it was called a chemin in 1730, of the Pépinière, because there was plant nursery around the area of the Rue Cels. The street was named after Daguerre in 1867.
Anyway, this time period is the one the Musée d'Orsay pays attention to, so it is only logical that it has early photos. These are just going on show now, with the Daguerréotype exhibition as a sort of launching pad.
I get a free métro ride to the museum but then blow this advantage by imagining there is a door in th Rue de Lille, and end up walking all around the big ex-train station to the Quai Anatole France, where striking museum workers wish me a good visit following the free entry.
Perhaps more than half of the museums in Paris were originally built for some other purpose such as palaces or townhouses. I'm not sure diverting the purpose of an ornate 19th century train station is a good thing, and because of it being open 'but on strike,' means that it can't be fully explored.
Luckily the Daguerréotype exhibition is on the ground floor just to the right of the entry. It is in a dimly-lit maze of smallish display areas, each with a centre table-like display, plus Daguerréotypes hung on the walls.
It is possible that one is only able to see anything because of the dimness. Sometimes it is not possible to see any details unless a stance is taken to one side or the other.
Looking at one, it occurs to me that the photo was taken in 1842. There is another shot of the Tuileries Palace, an object I once searched for, and here it is - as ugly as sin. No written description ever said it was ugly. Good thing it was burned down in 1871.
Then there are 'before' and 'after' views of street barricades in the Faubourg du Temple, taken in 1848. 'Avant l'attaque du 26. juin 1848' the little sign says. And 'aprés.'
Then there are lots of photos of the Pont Neuf, beginning about 1845. It almost looks like it was more popular with snapshooters then than it is now.
Nothing today is new. Everything is already here. First nude, male, taken 1840-50. First ugly man, taken 1850-55. A Napoléonic War vet, taken on 14. September 1850. Photos of kids done in 1845, and of dead people, in 1850. Loved ones died and had their photos taken, as souvenirs for the living.
And there are travel photos too. Hardly is the process invented and people are taking photos while on their travels, beginning in 1840. Workers in Siberia, taken in 1846. The Nile. The Acropolis. Some local color, with the first beggar being photographed, also in 1846.
Actually, the photo used by exhibition for its poster, is of a prisoner. Louis Dodier, photographed by De Molard in 1847. I wonder who paid who.
Photography's shot in the arm was the portrait. At first everybody, both famous and not so, rushed out to get their photos taken. But by 1850 a reaction against Daguerréotypes set in. They were too stiffly, posed, lifeless - especially in the hands of all the hacks who jumped on the bandwagon.As well as a free entry, Orsay's 'sortie' is free too.
Yet portraits rated right up there along with nudes. Portraits of Dumas, Nerval and Balzac. The problem with the Daguerréotype was that the photo required a long pose, which made the process more suitable for landscapes - or, more usually, cityscapes - especially Paris.
New words were invented for the craze - Daguerréopippeurs or Daguerréotrappe. There are cartoons by Daumier of the Daguerréotypes, both the photographers and the sitters. It all resulted in Daguerréotypomanie.
Even after the first efforts to fix photos on paper by Hippolyte Bayard and William Henry Fox Talbot, the Daguerréotype remained highly popular. The beauty of this show, is the view of past time, fixed forever of these fragile plates.
This exhibition is in step with the museum's collection of 50,000 photos, from 1839 to 1920, which it expects to present three times a year. Until Sunday, 29. june you can also see 'La Beauté Documentaire, 1840-1914.' The next exhibition will feature the turn of the century, with photos by Eugène Atget, from Tuesday, 15. July until 19. October.
Before leaving I take an abbreviated tour of the museum. It seems as if most of it is closed, so this doesn't last a long time nor do I see much.
Le Daguerréotype Français. Un objet photographique - continues until Sunday, 17. August. Except Monday, daily from 10:00 to 18:00 and on Thursdays, until 21:45. Beginning at 9:00 on Sundays and in summer. Musée d'Orsay, Quai Anatole France, Paris 7. Métro: Solférino and RER 'C' Musée d'Orsay. InfoTel.: 01 40 49 48 14.The Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
This opened in a villa near where I live almost exactly a month ago. It is a rare building of elegance that probably narrowly escaped the near general reconstruction of the area close to the Gare Montparnasse.
The foundation's purpose is to look after the body of the photographic works produced by Henri Cartier-Bresson during a career that began after his studies of painting in the 1920s. He must have had a quick success because his first photos date to 1931 and his first exposure in a gallery was in 1932, first in New York, then in Madrid. After this, he went 'on the road,' and it has been a long one.
The entry to the multi-floor gallery is by way of a small passage on the left side of the villa, and the first gallery is one floor up.The circular stairwaywithin the 'Fondation.'
The inaugural exhibition is called 'Les Choix d'HCB' and consists of photo prints by Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, David Seymour, René Burri, Seydou Keita and Wu Jialin - in 90 photos. Pierre Assouline has called this collection 'L'oeil du siècle' - or 'the eye of the century.'
Although the galleries are shielded from direct outside light, the photos are a hundred times easier to see because they are prints and not Daguerréotypes. They are, roughly, the photos of a rough century.
I have never been in a public exhibition space so new since the Pompidou Centre opened, and that was a mob scene. The galleries at HCB's place are not big, but there are so few other visitors that there is no need for waiting to see any photo.
If one on your circuit is temporarily occupied, the other side of the room is near enough to continue there. The decor is so minimal, it is like being in rooms where diamonds are discretely displayed.
When a gallery has been seen, then it's another trip to the roomy stairs. Here light pours in through glass-bricks or actual windows. Near the top the wooden-stepped stairway becomes a graceful upwards curve. As it is now, it does not seem as if everything to display - HCB's graphics - are yet to be seen.
This exhibition continues until Saturday, 26. July. At the same time, and continuing until Sunday, 27. July, the Bibliothèque Nationale is featuring a retrospective of photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, called 'De qui s'agit-il.' This is at the François Mitterrand site, at the Quai François-Mauriac, Paris 13. Métro: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand. InfoTel.: 01 53 79 59 59.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson - Open Tuesday to Friday from 13:00 to 18:30, on Wednesday until 21:00 and on Saturday from 11:00 to 18:45. At 2. Impasse Labouis, Paris 14. Métro: Gaité. InfoTel.: 01 56 80 27 00.
On leaving, it is a bit more than warm outside and Paris is in full semi-transit-strike rush hour. The nearest main street, Raymond Losserand, is a river of cars, taxis and buses. Just across the Avenue du Maine there is a café with a spacious triangular terrace and a shady tree overhead.The 'Rule of Frites' - always leave two - for the birdies.
I have a rare craving for frites. The owner says the frites machine is turned off, but when I look extra glum about this, he offers to turn it on. In no time I have a citron-pressé and a huge bowl of very hot frites. Mustard is already on the table.
The show is - watching the traffic coming out of Raymond Losserand and mixing it up with the traffic going both ways on the Avenue du Maine. Some drivers get a little vexed and there are many amazing man&brkbar;uvres - but hardly any beeping or honking. Only one motorcycle rider shortcuts across the terrace.
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