Take a photographic journey of Paris from the 1930’s to the present day at the recently opened exhibit, Paris Magnum. The capital’s social and political history are portrayed along with the glitter, the great fashions and, of course, the celebrities. You can glimpse the hardships of everyday life, the occupation of France plus the everyday joys and the beauty of Paris all in one afternoon.
Henri Cartier-Bressen summed it up beautifully when he said “Magnum Photos is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.”
Robert Capa, 1952, Spectators at Longchamp Racecourse
Photographers Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour founded Magnum Photos in 1947. Magnum was the first photographic cooperative, owned and administered entirely by its members. The photographic profession became empowered by being able to retain the copyrights to their images that had previously been the property of the publications that they had worked for. It became a means by which the photographers could mix their roles as journalists and artists to regulate how their images would be viewed. Today, Magnum follows the careers of new photographers over a period of four to eight years at which point they can be considered for membership. There are currently 80 members with headquarters in Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. These men and woman chronicle the world by capturing its peoples, events, issues and personalities. Magnum has approximately one million photographs in their library and over 500,000 images available online.
I like the rumor that the name “Magnum” was chosen because the founding members drank a bottle of champagne during the first meetings. However, the British journalist, Russell Miller, writes that “it was. presumably agreed by those present (at the first meeting) that Magnum was a fine new name for such a bold new venture, indicative as it was of greatness in its literal Latin translation, toughness in its gun connotation and celebration in its champagne mode.”
The exhibit, Magnum Paris, is divided into four sections. The first section is “Magnum avant Magnum” spanning the years from 1932 to 1944 and before Magnum had been established. Cartier-Bresson’s wonderful 1936 Bastille Day Parade photo is included in this section along with Capa’s images of the liberation on August 26th, 1944.
The second section spans the years 1945 to 1959 and is titled “Pauvreté et Inquiétude”. If you did not realize the extent of poverty following the war, these photos capture beautifully this time of cold and hunger. This section has one of my favorite photos. It is Marc Ribaud’s photo of the nun leaning against a car while looking straight at the camera.
1960 to 1969 are the years for the third section titled “Les Années Pop”. This section documents the extremes from political unrest to Pop culture including the mini-skirt.
“Réaction et Résistance Philosphique” is the title for the next session spanning the years 1970 to 1989. During this time frame, the Centre George Pompidou opened while Coluche and Gainsbourg were young and so very good looking.
The last section is from 1990 to 2014, “Une Esthétique des Marges”, where the photographers are not roaming the city for the opportunity of a great photo but approaching the use of photographs through esthetics and documentation.
The exhibit takes us on an eighty year journey through the eyes of the photo journalists. We see the metamorphoses of Paris and its inhabitants revealing the perpetual transformation of the city and its complexities. There are 150 photos on display in an elegant testimony to Paris and to the photographers that chronicled the history and growth of the city.
The exhibit is free and it is located at the Hôtel de Ville in Salle Saint-Jean, 3 rue de Lobau, 75004 Paris. The nearest métro stop is Hôtel de Ville and the hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Loui Franke is author of Parisian Postcards: Snapshots of Life in Paris .
photos by Loui Franke
photos from the Magnum Paris  website