I went to see a wonderful exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris last week. Entitled Brassaï, pour l’amour de Paris, it was a feature on the photography of Georges Brassaï (1899-1984).
His photos are a complete homage to early 20th century Paris. Paris by night, Paris in the fog, Paris in the rain. The light from street lights shining on gleaming cobblestones, the steam from train engines disappearing into the night, the snow heavy on bare trees, the Eiffel Tower sparkling out all over Paris. He also photographed Paris during the Belle Époque, with photos of women preparing for spectacles, heavily made up, with painted-on eyebrows, and cigarettes in hand. There are also photos of lovers kissing on benches and in cafes, and of children playing in the streets and peeking through holes in fences.
Brassaï was born in Hungary (his real name was Gyulus Halasz), and came to France in 1924, when he was very young. He read Proust as a way of improving his French. He also discovered that for a lover of photography, Proust was the ideal author and guide. For those of you who have read Proust, you will know that his unerring way of capturing the object or feeling he is evoking in his work is with the precise detail of a photograph. What is more, as the literary critic Sue Hubbard says in an article she wrote for The Independent, he even suggests to his readers that; ‘Perhaps you will see better with this lens, or perhaps with this one.’ (http://www.suehubbard.com/reviews/proust.shtml)
Proust had long periods of his life where he was unwell, and confined to his room, which he sometimes referred to as his ‘darkroom.’ It was here that he produced some of his greatest works. As he said: ‘I am the man who has withdrawn from the world in order to more vividly create it.’
Brassaï even wrote a book on Proust and photography, entitled Proust in the Power of Photography, in which he describes Proust’s obsession with photographs and his understanding of the link between photographs and memory. Brassaï writes about Proust’s battle against the constant passing of time (which is reflected in the title of his best known work, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu/ Remembrance of Things Past), and how for Proust, a photograph was a way of ‘fixing’ time, or an experience.
As Susan Sontag said in her book On Photography; ‘Photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal.’ This is particularly pertinent given that Brassaï tried to record the Paris of his childhood memories through his simple, yet powerful images of Paris. Above all, he glorified the banal aspects of Paris, the things that could be observed every-day. Perhaps this is why his photos are such a treasure trove for us today, as his photos evoke a past that we can never return to, only imagine.
This article was originally posted on Just A Platform: http://www.justaplatform.com/things-to-do-in-paris/