Sunday, July 30, 2006

A View of the Boulevards of Paris

The early photographers framed landscape views but ended up provided images that highlight the small un-regarded details of nature and modern life. For example, in ‘The Apse of Notre-Dame, 8 December 1852’, one of the photographs in Album photographique de l’artiste et de l’amateur (produced by the firm of Blanquart √Čvrard in 1852), the eye is drawn not to the cathedral but to the row of delivery carts in the foreground. As Ian Jeffrey points out in his book Photography, ‘the anonymous photographer intent on Notre-Dame has ended up with evidence of routine commercial life in the city’. Looking at this image, my eye glances over the familiar shape of the cathedral and I am moved instead by the punctum created by those carts, a particular transitory detail of life in nineteenth century Paris.

William Fox Talbot, A View of the Boulevards at Paris, 1844

Even at the time, William Henry Fox Talbot was fascinated by this chance aspect of photography, describing such mundane details in his book The Pencil of Nature (1844). For example, in presenting ‘A View of the Boulevards at Paris’ to the reader he describes the pattern of water on the road surface and the proliferation of chimneys: ‘The weather is hot and dusty, and they have just been watering the road, which has produced two broad bands of shade upon it, which unite in the foreground because, the road, being partially under repair (as is seen from the two wheelbarrows, etc. etc.), the watering machines have been compelled to cross to the other side. By the roadside a row of cittadines and cabriolets are waiting, and single carriage stands at a distance a long way to the right. A whole forest of chimneys borders the horizon: for, the instrument chronicles whatever it sees, and certainly would delineate a chimney-pot or a chimney-sweeper with the same impartiality as it would the Apollo Belvedere.’

1 comment:

Candy Barr said...

Pretty interesting....happened upon your site googling chinese mountains.
what a world. I'll have to return when I have more time to read up more of your posts! I paint en plein air, alla prima and from models..