Monday, January 02, 2006

willy ronis à paris

I recently went to the Willy Ronis show at the Hotel de Ville in Paris. He's a photojournalist that had been working in that city since the 1930's until just a few years ago. I entered the packed exhibit with a cynical attitude-- in a city that is essentially a museum of itself, what could be more popular than photographs of the real thing? It seemed that everyone in there was 50 or 60 years old, desperately searching for images to recollect the city life that they knew.

In reality, however, what was proven to me was slightly different. Since the photographs presented a continuous history of the last 70 years, what was emphasized was more the continuity and similarity of urban life. It was difficult at times to tell the difference between 1950 and 1980. And the early color work he did immediately postwar has the effect of recontextualizing the late 40's as today, without really straining.

So maybe the quai d'Austurlitz and Bercy are not quite so dirty and industrial. Belleville is more sterile and less rustic, and Les Halles is a hellish supermall instead of graceful ironwork markets. What was suggested in these photographs was not that urban life has been fragmented, but that it was always so-- moments of real life always exist in pockets; that's why they're so intimate and immediate. The true enemy of this life is not modernity or ubiquity, it's ennui and fear-- as long as people are out, interested in their city and actively claiming pieces of it, photo opportunities will abound.

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