Paris Magnum

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Paris Through the
Magnum Viewfinder


“2003.” © Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos

Paris bursts into life in the exhibition “Paris Magnum” at the Hôtel de Ville, a kind of brief pictorial history of the city from 1930s to the present by some of the world’s best photographers.

Magnum is the famed cooperative photo agency founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour, and still owned by its members. Cartier-Bresson described it as “a community of ideas, a shared human quality, curiosity about and respect for what is going on in the world and a desire to transcribe it visually.”

The show begins with some of the quintessential images that still represent Paris in the collective imagination. One can’t help thinking at first that Cartier-Bresson is still the king – we have here, among others, his wonderful photos of a man caught in mid-air jumping over a puddle on the Place de l’Europe in 1932, of a stolid burgher in a bowler hat sitting in a café on the Avenue de Maine the same year, and of two gendarmes and a bourgeois lady looking directly at the camera, unaware of an incongruous row of girls’ legs above their heads, during the Bastille Day parade in 1936.

But Cartier-Bresson is not the only one who cast a sharp eye on the life of the city. Robert Capa is here with, among others, an image of urchins playing next to a crumbling wall in 1937, and another of tourists watching a bereted, goateed artist painting portraits on the Place du Tertre (some things never change, but tourists from the 1950s, in color to boot, somehow look much more interesting than today’s tourists). Herbert List snapped people


Striking metalworkers in Saint-Ouen on June 12, 1936. © David Seymour/Magnum Photos

crossing the street in Montmartre with a huge advertisement for Lu cookies and a poster for the Studio 28 cinema (which still exists today) behind them. Raymond Depardon caught the Bacchanalian delights of an oyster tasting at the old Halles market in 1967: the wine flows, the endless table in the long glass-roofed halls is strewn with oysters, and each individual is reacting in his or her own way: unadulterated joy on the face of one man, studious


“1949.” © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

concentration on that of an older woman about to taste an oyster, great bonhomie among the wine pourers and so on.

Another favorite photographer is Marc Riboud, who weighs in with some winning images, including one of a bespectacled nun in full regalia leaning casually on a car and chatting with the driver in front of Notre Dame in 1953.

Elliott Erwitt’s black-and-white picture of a man carrying an Eiffel Tower model bigger than he is (1966) across the street is echoed by Martin Parr’s more recent (2012) image of stacks of glittery colored souvenir Eiffel Towers.

Personalities have their place here, too, with such images as formal portraits of André Malraux (Philippe Halsman, 1934) and Simone de Beauvoir (Erwitt, 1949), a candid shot of the real Serge Gainsbourg meeting his wax double in the Musée Grevin (Guy Le Querrec, 1981), and a portrait of a handsome Pablo Picasso in his studio (Capa, 1944).

Color predominates in the past few decades, offering what seems like a different Paris than the one depicted by the “humanist” photographers, who liked to work in black and white. This is a less picturesque, more modern Paris that suddenly turns into a war zone during the uprising of 1968. The events of World War II, are completely absent, however, as the Magnum photographers turned their attention to other fronts.

Do take the time to watch the slide shows, which include many great images not presented in the form of prints. It’s a shame, however, that the curators didn’t credit the photographers and give the dates for these images.

If you’re already a Parisophile, you will be delighted by this exhibition; if you’re not, you may just fall in love.

Heidi Ellison

Hôtel de Ville: Salle St-Jean, 5 rue de Lobau. 75004 Paris. Métro: Hôtel de Ville. Tel.: 01 42 76 51 53. Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6:30pm. Closed on public holidays. Through March 28, 2015. Free admission.

Reader reaction: Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).

Please support Paris Update by ordering books from Paris Update’s Amazon store at no extra cost. Click on your preferred Amazon location: U.K., France, U.S.

More reviews of Paris art shows.

© 2015 Paris Update


What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.