Voir Paris

 

The only thing I’m not impressed by on Marion Blank’s Tumblr are the photos by the old masters like André Kertesz. Which is not to say that I dislike Kertesz’s photos. On the contrary. But they have no place among Marion Blank’s black and white photos of contemporary Paris.

Generally when I see photos of Paris, although they may be beautiful photos, I have a sense of looking into the past. The photos are looking backwards, to past glories and supposedly better times. We are already saturated with images of Paris from the 1920s, ’30s, ’50s, that when we look through a camera lens, this is what we’re looking for. Nor is this entirely the fault of the nostalgic masses of tourists that swarm the City of Light. Paris itself, as a city harkens back to previous times. This is what Adam Gopnik referred to as the “museumification of Paris.”

It is hard to see Paris as anything else than a parody of its former self. Looking at photos of contemporary Paris, I generally see a photo that is self-consciously trying to be a past Paris. Like a pose, the photo knows what Paris is supposed to look like and imitates that.

This is not true of Marion Blank’s photos. (I don’t know Marion Blank, not even if it’s a person or persons, and the name sounds suspiciously like a pseudonym, but I’m here assuming it is indeed one person with that name and that she is a woman.)

When I look at them, I see a living, breathing, un-self-conscious city, with its dwellers and structures being nothing other than what they are at that very moment.

Look at the photos. On the surface, black and white, one could almost confuse them with the old masters’ photos of Paris. But then you see that they are all taken in 2012. These are photos not one month old! (Marion Blank’s Tumblr contains many photos from before 2012, but I selected for my post ten out of seventy-seven photos that were marked 2012.) Instead of looking at a contemporary photo and seeing a previous Paris, as is the case with most photos of the great city, these are photos that look old but reveal a Paris that is present, imminent, our peer.

I see in these photos a city surprisingly vibrant, not ready to be thrown into the bin of “been there, done that.” Not ready for museumification. A city which still wants to be photographed. Not for what it used to be, but for the way it is. Paris isn’t over, we’ve just been photographing it wrong. Until now.

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