19th Century French Photographers: Charles Marville

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19th Century French Photographers: Charles Marville
This is the latest in a series of photo essays on early French photographers Charles Marville (1813-1879) lived in Paris at the same time as Adolphe Braun and spent his career as a photographer also documenting the large-scale urban renovations overseen by Baron Haussmann. The comparison between Marville’s photographs of the city and Braun’s is fascinating. Unlike Braun, Marville was a great fan of Haussmann. So much so that the city of Paris hired him to photograph the renovation of the city. Although he and Braun shot very similar scenes, their photographs display radically different points of view. In Marville’s pre-Haussmann photographs, Paris is desolate and dirty, as you can see in the photo featured above. But the mood is hopeful. A brighter future awaits. As does the gaze of the boy in the photo, our eyes travel toward renewal. In the middle ground, we see new buildings going up. They are neat and clean, even handsome and well-proportioned. And in the far-distance, we can just barely make out the Eiffel Tower, symbol of progress. In this photo, Hausmann is a hero; he is clearing slums and creating a new and better Paris. Marville’s photographs of the old Paris convey the message of “good riddance.” He shows us scenes that no one could love. We see slag heaps, derelict buildings and barren warrens. No one will miss these streets when they are gone. Charles Marville, Rue Estienne, de la rue Boucher, 1862–65. Public domain To underscore his positive view of Haussman’s building program, Marville presents absolutely charming photos of new “conveniences” in the modernized streets. Below is a photo of a pissoir. Even despite the liquid running out from its base, it is a ported as a charming architectural artifact of the new Paris. Charles Marville. circa 1875. Public domain There is also a spectacular new produce market, close cousin to the Eiffel Tower in its cast-iron design, soaring height and airy beauty. Charles Marville. Les Halles. 1867. Public domain

Lead photo credit : Charles Marville, Haut de la rue Champlain, between 1877 and 1878. Public domain

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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fern Nesson is a fine art photographer with an MFA in photography. She visits Paris regularly where she captures interior scenes. Her work is abstract, and brings fresh perspective to lovers of Paris, while also illuminating interesting museum exhibitions and cultural events taking place in the City of Light. She recently published a book compilation of the popular Bonjour Paris series "50 Things I Miss About Paris." Purchase this beautiful, photography-filled book on Amazon or contact Fern directly by email: fernlnesson [at] gmail.com. She's offering a special deal for Bonjour Paris readers: purchase the book at cost, a $25 discount.


  • Kathleen Curtin
    2021-03-12 01:34:01
    Kathleen Curtin
    I am interested in the special offer for your book. It seems like the perfect gift for all my friends. I miss Paris too.