An LA photo exhibition that’s a love letter to Paris

The romance of Paris during the 1930s and 1940s is captured in the work of Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and co

View from Notre Dame, 1952, by Henri Cartier-Bresson
View from Notre Dame, 1952, by Henri Cartier-Bresson | Image: Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos. Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery

Imagine Paris. It is more than likely that your mental picture of the French capital and its inhabitants has been highly influenced by the work of artists such as Robert Doisneau, Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These photographers, alongside many more, are being brought together for an exhibition devoted to the gaze of the French humanists in the 1930s and 1940s.

Pluie, Place Vendôme, 1947, by Willy Ronis
Pluie, Place Vendôme, 1947, by Willy Ronis | Image: Peter Fetterman Gallery

This largely photographic movement was based around the development of a new form of representing the world. Balancing poetry and the everyday, these artists created a body of work that elevated the ephemeral and intimate fleeting moments of life to art. The work was not quite photojournalism, as it was more poetic than politically motivated. Instead, it was something egalitarian and beautiful yet always based in the real world. It was a movement embraced by Left Bank intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and André Malraux.

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Los Angeles is a funny location for an exhibition devoted to Paris, but the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica is doing just that for people wanting a romantic urban respite from the LA sunshine. The photographic artists included in the Toujours Paris show (from October 27 to February 23) are outstanding – including the aforementioned Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson, as well as Willy Ronis, Louis Stettner, Martine Franck and Sabine Weiss. Their vision of the world, and in particular Paris as a city, had a huge influence on the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers in the 1950s and the formation of photography as a medium.

Le Manège de Mr Barré, 1953, by Robert Doisneau
Le Manège de Mr Barré, 1953, by Robert Doisneau | Image: Estate of Robert Doisneau. Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery

Notable highlights in the show (prices from $5,000 to $30,000) include Willy Ronis’ image of a woman jumping puddles in the rain in Place Vendôme; Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of couples admiring the city from the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, and Sabine Weiss’s picture of commuters hurrying from the metro station. These black and white images emerged at a time when the photographic image began to dominate the world through printed media in magazines such as Paris Match, Look and Life. This is the photograph at its most tender, dreamlike and emotional.

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