Dance Insider Directory
featured photo
 

Flash Reviews
Go Home

Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.


The Arts Voyager, 4-18: Paris the Eternal
Atget documents a patrimony: A walking tour of yesterday and today in the City of Lutece

Extending from the 6th to the 15th arrondisement, the rue Vaugirard borders the Luxembourg Garden. Eugene Atget. "Fete de Vaugirard," 1926. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 6 13/16 x 8 3/4" (17.3 x 22.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.

Text copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
Images courtesy Museum of Modern Art

No matter the momentary favorites that the current Parisian cultural establishment -- headed in the wrong direction by mayor Bertrand Delanoe and culture minister Frederick Mitterand -- may try to impose on the city of alternating gloomy grey and luminescent light, there's an eternal Paris which valiantly weathers the fleetingly famous and guards its cultural lore and the patrimony of its inheritors, be they current or past residents or devoted visitors. It's that Paris that was celebrated in the recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition of more than 100 of the 8,500 photographs produced by Eugene Atget from the late 19th to early 20th century. The sign over Atget's Montparnasse studio called them "Documents for Artists," but they might have well been called documents for everyone that has ever fallen in love with the city's artistically romantic boulevards, lingered before its shop windows with their animated mannequins and displays of dusty books, sympathized with the desperate but determined denizens of the desolate quarters of the North, the faubourgs and the legendary Zone, or succumbed to a revery in the Luxembourg Garden or a voluptuous melancholy on a narrow street in the Latin Quarter (in Atget's scope extended, rightly, beyond the more famous 5th arrondissement to include the periphery of the 13th).


A window display on the Avenue Gobelins, which starts at the Place d'Italy in the 13th Arrondisement and eventually lead to the rue Mouffetard at the heart of the Latin Quarter and university district; and a taxidermist's on the rue de l'Ecole de Medicine, not far from the Sorbonne. Left: Eugene Atget (French, 1857-1927), "Avenue des Gobelins," 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 8 9/16 x 6 3/4" (21.8 x 17.1 cm). Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden. 1.1969.1379. Right: Eugene Atget (French, 1857-1927) "Naturaliste, rue de l'ecole de Medecine," 1926-27. Albumen silver print, printed 1984 by Chicago Albumen Works. 10 3/16 x 7 15/16" (25.8 x 20.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden. SC1984.67.


When Atget's Montparnasse neighbor and colleague Man Ray bought 42 photographs from him, the quintessential American Surrealist photog said he recognized a kindred Surrealist spirit in the Frenchman. Atget protested, "These are simply documents I make." Those documents would influence subsequent generations of photo-documentarians, including Walker Evans. (It was Atget's relationship with Man Ray's then studio assistant Berenice Abbott, who went on to become an accomplished photographer in her own right, that ultimately brought the contents of Atget's studio at the time of his death in 1927 to MOMA some 40 years later.)


Right next to the rue Mouffetard (so-called because back in the Middle Ages, the police had to 'mouffe' 'tard' (late) to keep a lid on the n'er-do-wells who roamed the street), the rue Broca once housed the journal Le Monde. Eugene Atget, "Cour, 41 rue Broca," 1912. Albumen silver print, 6 5/8 x 8 1/4" (16.9 x 21 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


For this pictorial summary, we've selected photos of endroits or corners of Paris that still look largely the same, presented more or less in the order you might discover them if you took a promenade today -- starting out on the Left Bank of the Seine in the 13th arrondissement, descending the Avenue des Gobelins and crossing Port Royale to the 5th, then climbing to the heights of the Latin Quarter before descemding to cross the Seine -- taking time first for a side trip to the Luxembourg Garden -- and climbing to the Boulevard de la Chapelle below Montmartre before ending with a scene from a Roma encampment in the Zone that might have been taken yesterday (the Romas still being Europe's outcasts and recurrent French scapegoats, regularly evicted from their camps and the country only to quietly trod back) -- with some circling back to tell a more coherent photographic story.

Paul Ben-Itzak lived in Paris for the better part of 10 years, from 2000 to 2010, and wants to go home.


Not far from the Arenes de Lutece, at 2000 years the oldest structure in Paris, and the former flat of Ernest Hemingway on the rue Cardinal Lemoine -- not to mention the ancient home of its namesake -- the rue Descartes descends from the height of Mouffetard to just about the Left Bank of the Seine. That may be the Paris demeure of Descartes himself on the left. Eugene Atget (French, 1857-1927), "Rue Descartes," April 1926. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 7 x 8 7/8" (17.8 x 22.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden 1.1969.171.


The rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve more or less parallels the rue Descartes; now dotted with used record shops, the quarter, one of the oldest in Paris, was formerly referred to by this name. Eugene Atget. "Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve," June 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 6 11/16 x 8 3/4" (17 x 22.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


The queens of France still reign over the Luxembourg Garden, their crowns spiked to deter roosting pigeons, Hemingway no longer being around to break their necks and take them home for lunch. Eugene Atget. "Luxembourg," 1923-25. Matte albumen silver print, 7 x 8 13/16" (17.8 x 22.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


Looks exactly the same today, the perfect spot for sipping a cafe while reading your morning paper. Eugene Atget. "Luxembourg," 1902-03. Albumen silver print. 6 5/8 x 8 3/8" (16.8 x 21.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


Not far from the Metro Barbes, where Montand missed the last Metro and ended up passing through 'Les portes de la nuit," and where today one of the city's cheapest outdoor markets, the Marches Barbes, takes place Saturdays and Wednesdays. A largely French-Arab quarter, it's also the best place to find cheap, authentic cous-cous. Eugene Atget. "Coin, Boulevard de la Chapelle et rue Fleury 76,18e," June 1921. Matte albumen silver print, 6 13/16 x 9" (17.3 x 22.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


From Left Bank to the Zone, polished to poverty: Left: Eugene Atget. "Avenue des Gobelins," 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 8 1/4 x 6 1/2" (21 x 16.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden. Right: Eugene Atget. "Romanichels, groupe," 1912. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 8 3/8 x 6 11/16. (21.2 x 17 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden.


Flash Reviews
Go Home