Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I just bought my kid a book on Paris circa 1890 to 1920, and I thought I'd excerpt a few pictures here. My intention was to focus on the mean streets of turn-of-the-century Paris, the places where you could get killed after dark, but my computer wouldn't accept the pictures I scanned (probably they need to be reduced in size, a big task given the number of pictures), so I'm putting up mostly pictures I got off google. That's OK, I can still write about the subject, and the pictures here aren't bad.

How do you like this (above) hillside street? Boy, Paris was covered with advertising, even back then. The narrow, twisting street is in perfect proportion to the surrounding buildings, and the cobblestones give the street a texture, which is sadly missing from modern streets.

Here's (above) the same street, side by side with the street as it looks today. The modern version's been gentrified. Gone are the posters, the cobblestones, & some of the shops and street level doors and windows. I like shops. Without them buildings are featureless and boring at the street level. Why were they taken away?

The windows that remain are mostly shutterless now, and have arid, post-modern frames. Pretty rectangular windows have been replaced by ones that are more square, and out of sync with the shape of the building. And what happened to the nice-looking propane tank with the posters on it? What happened to the raised platform it was on? That was important to the composition! The people who own these houses should be slapped.

Here's (above) a picture I published a long time ago. I love the way old craftsmanship wraps around the side of a building, and nearly butts up against a blank wall on the right. Strangely, I don't mind. The blank wall makes you appreciate the detail on the other side. How do you like the way the way the high building on the right comes in at an oblique angle and cuts everything off?  I wonder where that tunnel leads to? If it goes clear to the next street, then my admiration for the builder knows no bounds.

The poor people of Paris, including artists and writers, just about owned the hills (above) in the old days. This street is pretty much the same nowadays, except it's been cleaned up and gentrified. They should have kept it shabby.

Here's a modern picture of a beautiful intersection. Where is this?

Here's (above) a ledge running under the flying buttresses of a cathedral. A good city has lots of interesting out-of-the-way spots like this. Every artist should be permitted access to the ledge, so we can risk our lives running along it, and feeling the delicious spaces and volumes. 

It's great to glimpse churches at the end of twisting, cobblestoned streets. My guess is that the building on the left has been altered from its original design. Good grief! People were gentrifying things even a hundred years ago!  If only I could have seen this city before the re-construction in the 1860s! I like the way the church comes in at an oblique angle.

Amazing! All that stonework and sculpture above an intriguing tunnel!

You have to click to enlarge this picture (above) to see why it's so special.  The morning dew sits on the silent streets and spaces. The heavy, classical buildings sit on the ground like sleeping dinosaurs (that's intended to be a compliment). This scene reminds me of London and I half expect to see Eliza Dolittle selling flowers here.

I imagine workman who lived on the hill got plenty of use out of these steps. They'd have had to walk to work, even if that work was miles away.  When I see this I imagine that I'm a dish washer in one of the big downtown hotels, and if I'm late for work the boss will boot me into the street and keep my pay. Disputes like this could only be settled with a knife!

Wow! A nice building (above)! I'll bet it's still there!

The building on the right (above) is suspiciously featureless, but I already made my point about things like that.  Paris has convinced me that every street should end facing an oblique or perpendicular street. 

I think I published this doorway (above) twice already, but I can't help doing it again. Now that's a doorway!


Jenny Lerew said...

I gave that book on Paris to Pete last Christmas-with all the fantastic photographs of 1900, next to the same views today. It's great. I hope she enjoys it.

I thought Paris was the best preserved city historically I could imagine...for good reason.

JKG said...

Great pictures, as a Parisian myself it went harder to find places with such beauty. Fortunately they kept the pavement, and places like the Pantheon with great pubs are still authentic.

On the last photo, in the sign is written "Hell" (l'enfer) I wonder where was that...


kurdt said...

It never ceases to amaze me how you can find so much beauty in something as simple as how a building is made or the way a street is composed. It's really an eye opener!

lastangelman said...

1.)The last photo, L'Enfer = Hell. Ghastly fun, that entrance, needs a Cerberus, a dirty great boiling cauldron, huge balls of fire and the stink of putrescence about it ...patrones would line up for miles!
2.)One problem with Dallas is constant gentrification. Hardly anything lasts long enough before it is knocked to rubble, cleared out, paved over, repainted, until it is totally unrecognizable from before, a soulless urban yuppie village. No character anywhere.

Anonymous said...

In America it's Chicago that remains largely the same as it looked about eighty years ago. When Brian de Palma shot "The Untouchables" there they used mostly standing locales, with a minimum of matte work. Chicago has experienced a spate of its ancient building facades crumbling in the last couple of years, however, so this may no longer be true.

Trevor Thompson said...

I wonder if pictures like that third one down are responsible in part for 'wonkiness' in cartoon backgrounds post-1984.

Also, which Eliza Doolittle do you envision, Eddie: Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews?

- trevor.

Vincent Waller said...

Another great post. Thanks Uncle Eddie.

Adam T said...

Oblique road intersections do make for a nice change and an opportunity for interesting buildings and landscaping.

They're pleasing to the eye but when you throw cars into the mix they're impractical; they disrupt traffic and are usually dangerous to cross as a pedestrian. :(

Paris seems to have a lot of them. I think they're beautiful and that along with narrow streets have a lot to do with the appeal of old European cities.

Ever been to Barcelona? That city has tons of eye candy. They have the Gothic Quarter with old narrow winding streets like in these images, but they have have the L'Eixample neighborhood which is basically laid out on a grid but every intersection is chamfered and there are impressive buildings built on the corners. The chamfered intersections really help to create interesting views and get people looking around and enjoying the city and not just rushing around. It's a nice compromise.

Beau Tobler said...

Nice Post. Paris is definitely one of my favorite places in the world.
Anyways, great post.

PS. there's, what looks to be, a typo in the third paragraph. you've typed "the way" redundantly.

Anonymous said...

Man, I love good street photographs. Good commentary makes it even better. Thanks, Eddie!

"I like shops. Without them buildings are featureless and boring at the street level."

The City of Wichita prides itself on its cool old buildings, even though most of the old buildings are either: abandoned, or being demolished. Quite a bleak, depressing Downtown we have. Hope Southern CA is better.

Hans Flagon said...

This essay is reminding me of Jacque Tati's Play Time, which is about modernity in Paris. If you have never seen it, you owe it to yourself to see it, I think you would like it.

I have seen one of those street scenes used in examples of computer based retouching, where algorithms rebuild a scene after removing obstructions such as people, and other life.

Hans Flagon said...

Oh, I think maybe I was thinking of Tati's Mon Oncle, but both are worthwhile films to see.

Kali Fontecchio said...

GORGEOUS photos, Eddie! Thanks tons for posting them!

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey Eddie?

Do you know much about Toulouse-Lautrec? I'd like to see a post about that, if yuh have the time.

- trevor.

PS: Sorry for the off-topic nature of this comment. The people in charge of comment relevancy have been sacked.

Jennifer said...

Really fun post, Uncle Eddie! The photos were fantastic. One of the cities that I do want to see (in person) in my lifetime is Paris. There's something "cool" about that city - I just can't explain it. I better get Rosetta Stone and brush up on my French - eep!

Deniseletter said...

Amazing angles you get or this city has!!Only you see the pic and think,A fight on the stairs with a knife for paying rights!!What a creative imagination and knowledge you have Eddie,you could think about a short story!!!!Eliza Doolittle...some places remind us others by the climate or lights,I see she's there too.In general,the dinosaurs can be a methaphor of buildings,mountains etc for all what is big an dark and without movement.Paris is a city of details,cobblestones are distinctive Parisian,without them and the other things you mentioned here,their environment loses personality and seems like any other european street.The only pic that I'm not agree with you is for preserving the shabbiness,I imagine they have the water filtering through the wall and maybe other damages to repair.Wow!!The last doorway pic can swallow you.

Frank Forte said...

wow! really great stuff. very interesting shots. is that an old absynthe bottle on the ground?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hans: i saw it! It was great!

Trevor: Hepburn, definitely! I already did Lautrec, but he's worth a second visit!

Adam: Barcelona sounds great! I wish I could go right now!

Beau: Thanks! I must have dyslexia. I'm always doing making mistakes like that!

Kali: Thanks!

Jennifer, Denise, Frank: Thanks much!

Matt J said...

Fall 2006 I worked near that modern intersection at BIBOfilms on rue du faubourg Saint Denis. PERSEPOLIS was being animated at the same studio.
Email me & I'll send you some close up pics of the details of that arch.

Last year I saw an excellent exhibition in Paris of photos from the turn of the century in COLOUR. Scroll down to see them in this post:
I can email you the full size pics if you're interested too?

Julian said...

European cities are great, they're full of all these little details as well as big monuments. Walking around Palma in Majorca was a really great experience, It had a lot of Gothic and art nouveau architecture, and lots of maze like streets.

glamaFez said...

Eddie, I think that tank-like object in the first photo is actually a pissoir.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

GlamaFez: Aaaargh! Maybe you're right!

Matt: Thanks a million for the offer! I sent an email!

El Chongo said...

All These pictures are so great! Its hard to find pics of city scapes you actuallly would be interesting to draw unless there at least half a century ago. That first before and after picture kills me to even out everything like that board up the stores they killed that street.
On a related note heres a blog i found of old NY:

Anonymous said...

what a treat for an "old" lady in rainy Memphis TN..what is the name of this book on Paris..I need to have it!.

Cynthia Holland

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Cynthia: Most of the pictures look like they're by Atget, which is lucky for you because there's a couple of fairly inexpensive books on his work. Get the larger format book or, if the printing is too light, get the small book with the more saturated pictures. The pictures I used here were from Google images.

I Googled your name because I could swear I know a Cynthia Holland, but I just can't place the name. Are you a real-estate agent, or a singer?

Anonymous said...

Really nice!