(Eiffel Tower by André Kertész (1929))
The beginnings of photography
On the 7th of January in 1839 François Arago presented the photographic procedure of Daguerre to the acadamy of sciences in Paris and thus carved the way for photography to become what it is nowadays. Since then Paris’ history is tightly connected with the history of photography.
Through the efforts of two fathers of photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Jacques Mandé Daguerre, photography as they had invented it quickly became socially accepted in Paris. In 1839 the first daguerrotypes (which means the photos created with Daguerre’s procedure) were created in Paris. In the following decades the city stayed the home of many great photographers, some local, some who had moved here. In the middle of the century photographers like Bayard, Baldus or Le Secq, all key figures of the early history of photography, worked in Paris and continued to work on the large photographic canon which now exists of Paris. Another outstanding generation of photographers followed these.
The most famous of them are Félix Nadar, on who’s hot air balloon excursions Jules Verne based his novel Around the World in 80 Days, and Ètienne Carjat, who photographed countless famous artists of his time, among them Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Georges Bizet and Delacroix; masters of all crafts. The photographers always had friendly as well as professional relationships with the painters, writers, sculptors and movie makers of their time.
Edward Steichen for example (a photographer of a later generation), who was friends with Gertrude Stein, was responsible for the first exhibition of the works of Rodin, Picasso, Matisse and others in New York.
Before Steichen became famous Eugène Atget and Jules Séeberger became known around the world as photographers of Paris. Atget with his modern street views, early street photography so to say, and Séeberger with his nostalgic and romantic views of the city.
Photojournalism, Street Photography and Fashion Photograhy: Between the World Wars
„Paris stood for freedom of thought, for joy of living and exuberance, the most important ferment of every artistic creation.“ (Paris Mon Amour)
Let’s jump to the time after the First World War, which was very important for the photography in Paris. In the period between the Wars the Photographic Avantgarde developed as an alternative to the common Pictorialism, with Paris as its centre.
Apart from painters and writers Paris attracted many of the most important photographers of the time in the 20s and 30s. Man Ray, who joined the Dada group of André Breton in 1924. Or André Kertész, who was one of the early photo journalists with his work for the photo magazine Vu (first edition 1928). Or Brassaȉ, the famous portraistist of the nightly Paris, who was convinced by André Kertész to switch from writing to photography.
The 30s then were the time of the Bauhaus, the New Objectivity and of the Photo Journalism. Robert Capa and Henry Cartier-Bresson made a name for themselves with their work for the 1931 created magazine Regard. Together with Vu, which both were published in Paris, the French capital became one of the centres of photo journalism. Apart from that three of the most famous photo books about Paris were published in the 30s: Atgets Photographe de Paris, Brassaȉs Paris de Nuit and Paris vu par André Kertész.
Fashion Photography bloomed as well during this time, with photographers like Séeberger, Tabard and Horst P. Horst inventing completely new styles of photography.
Second World War and beyond
With the outbreak of the Second World War the artistic efforts stopped almost completely. As the Parisians went on the barricades and chased the Nazi’s out of the city in 1944, the photographers were there as well; Capa, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Séeberger and others captured the liberation.
After the war Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Maria Eisner, David Seymour und George Rodger founded the biggest photo agency of them all: Magnum. Until the 70s Paris became less important for the advancement of photography, until the founding of the agency Viva by Martine Franck, Guy le Querrec and others in 1972.