Imagining the Past in Photographically-Illustrated Paris Books, 1924-1938

Auteur / Author: 
Catherine E. CLARK (University of Southern California, États-Unis)
Vendredi 26 Août 2011 - 15:45


It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that photography increasingly illustrated publication in France from magazines such as Vu to travel albums and artist books. In particular, photographs replaced engravings and prints in books about Parisian history. While art historians including Kim Sichel have characterized these books as merely “topographic records of the great monuments,” devoting their attention to what we classify today as “artist books” of Paris by Germaine Krull, Brassaï, and André Kertész, this paper will turn our attention to earlier photo histories such as the cheap photographically-illustrated books of historian and urbanist Marcel Poëte as well as a series of less-scholarly albums of the city. It will argue that these books should be understood not simply as prologues to other studies, but as constitutive in and of themselves of important narratives about Paris and its past as well as the conventions of its photographic illustration. Although some of these books did include old photographs, the majority used photographs of the contemporary city as illustrations of its past. Building on a literature by historians, cultural geographers, and art historians including Joan Schwartz, Michael Crang, and Shelley Rice about “picturing place” and “picturing the past,” this paper thus ask how these photographs of the present could come to function as illustrations of the past. It argues that these modes of photographic illustration depended on and contributed to what Crang terms the “accretive” nature of the urban past: the idea that the urban environment is the physical accumulation of past times. Through close readings of individual photographs, I will examine how this assumption was created in the interactions between photographs, captions, and texts. In 1924, Marcel Poëte wrote that “it is necessary to imagine” the city of the past: this paper asks how exactly, in the spaces between photographs of the present and texts about history, the past was imagined.