Paris' Other 1900

photo: brocante shop, belleville

In little more than a month, this place will be two
centuries behind our times.

On Show Now, In the Archives Forever

Paris:- Friday, 24. November 2000:- While there are 20 or 30 major and minor exhibitions in 20 or 30 major and not so major museums and galleries, and there are 40 or 69 - what numbers! - photo exhibitions currently on in Paris, I have to be perverse to find one that is worth an extra long métro ride.

Even after all the years on this Paris beat, it is still my duty to find places I haven't been to yet - especially ones that may be of considerable interest to visitors too.

Paris has its history on display in several places that are pretty well-known, but there are a couple of other places that are lurking in the relative obscurity of the outskirts.

One of these is the Archives de Paris. Its big disadvantage is that it is not in the centre of the city - where it was 10 years ago - where you might have popped in to get out of the rain, and ended up spending hours in it.

It has an exhibition in conjunction with the 'Mois de la Photo' named 'Paris, la Rue: un Autre 1900.' Since therephoto: cour, 266 r st jacques, before 1898, archives de paris is so much of what sounds similar with downtown handiness, a normal person is going to think twice before hopping on the métro's line 11 and riding out to the Porte des Lilas.

The courtyard at 266. Rue Saint-Jacques, photographed before 1898. Photo©UPF - Archives de Paris.

But I feel so good after my week off that 'Porte des Lilas' sounds like the smell of perfume or a sight of good color, especially in November. The line's other stations sound exotic too - Pyrénées, Place des Fêtes and Télégraphe.

There is no need for a travel agent to use this métro line, if you are in the Châtelet or Hôtel de Ville area, because the line begins right under the Place de la Châtelet. If you get on here, 'Lilas' is the only way to go.

When I get here - the 'Porte' station not the 'Mairie' - I follow the tunnel signs to the Boulevard Sérurier. Once on the surface, I cross to the east side of the boulevard and drift north. The first apartment buildings look largely unpromising.

Beyond them, at first it is possible mistake the entry to the Archives de Paris for a park for sports - and the archives' building itself is far back from the street.

At some distance beyond the gate is one of Paris' odder-looking buildings. I don't know what it is supposed to look like; maybe a small twin-tower nuclear reactor, with an unrelated porch tacked on its front. It doesn't take more than half a day to reach it on foot.

The exhibition starts right inside the odd building's administrative-like entry, but the main part of it is in a well spaced-out medium-sized room off to the left.

About 70 photos are on display. They were done between 1898 and 1913, and represent about 1400 photosphoto: r beaubourg, 1911, archives de paris ordered by Paris' bureau of architecture, to aid the city with expropriations necessary for renovating run-down neighborhoods.

At the turn of the last century Paris was world-famous for its Tour Eiffel, its Universal Exposition, its art nouveau, its wide boulevards - especially the Champs-Elysées. But there was another Paris.

The Rue Beaubourg in the 3rd arrondissement, photographed in 1911. Photo©UPF - Archives de Paris.

It was a Paris where horse-carts were far more common than cars, a Paris of workers and little factories, a Paris covered with gaudy advertising signs, with kids playing in the streets - a Paris where the frilly elbow of the 'Fin de Siècle' was somewhat distant from the unpainted elbow of 'popular' districts.

Around 1880 the city's municipal council had initiated the establishment of cooperatives or associations of workers, and furthered the aid by awarding these with civic contracts. One of these groups was the 40-member Union Photographique Française, formed after the Photographic Exhibition of 1892.

Beginning in 1891, the city office charged with renovating the city's slums - for this is what 'popular' usually meant - began a census of buildings to be demolished. For the 'before' photos the 'operators' of the Union Photographique Française were engaged.

The photos on exhibition show neighborhood scenes, offices, shops, advertising posters, factories, Paris' 'villages' such as Belleville and Vaugirard, groups of Parisians, civic transformations - the tidying-up of some of Baron Haussmann's projects - and even Paris' 'countryside' - which were areas not yet subdivided or organized.

The photos are not the works of world-famous photographers such as Marville, Atget or the Seeberger brothers - yet they are not much different even if they wherephoto: 39 r st medard, 1898, archives de paris made by a co-op crew for the city's use.

Their greatest interest lies with being unfamous; mostly of an epoque not so 'belle,' and you haven't seen these photos before - this little-known 'popular' Paris of the last turn of the century.

Number 39, Rue Saint-Médard; photographed in 1898. You can order prints of these photos. Photo©UPF - Archives de Paris.

In addition to the Archives de Paris' photo exhibition, there is a catalogue for it containing 56 of the photos, for a modest 85 francs.

All of the photos on exhibit have Archives de Paris' registration numbers - as do all of the documents in the archives - and the photos can be ordered as prints at any time; with the small sizes costing 32 francs and big prints of 30 by 40 cms costing a very reasonable 70 francs.

In fact, just about anything contained in the Archives de Paris can be copied for a small fee. These archives are undergoing an organizational renovation, which involves a slow change-over from original documents to digital versions.

The archives also contain some records donated by private persons - such as the 'Fonds Feydeau de Brou,' dating from 1322 to 1851. Also included is the 'Collection Parrel,' about emigration to England from 1792 to 1853.

Considering that the archives contain - for example - records of orphans from 1743 to 1896; births, marriages and deaths before 1860; and complete commercial directories from 1838 to 1925, and that the present system of finding items is provisional - the archives themselves are in a state of becoming; between what they were and what they will be.

After a tour of the photos on exhibit, I head down the Rue de Belleville, formerly one of Paris' out-of-town 'villages.' I go on foot because one of the photos has showed the buildings at numbers 168 and 170, but on the spot the only thing remarkable about the corner is the fact that there is a photo of what it used to look like 100 years ago.

Finally, I walk down the Rue de Belleville downhill all the way from the métro at Télégraphe,photo: cours, r de belleville, 2000 and a pale sinking sun winks splashes of yellow at twists and turns of building fronts, while the Tour Eiffel is a grey shadow far on the other side of Paris.

A courtyard off the Rue de Belleville today. You may be able to order a copy of this photo soon.

If I want to take another fair walk, there is a dead-end street in the depths of my own arrondissement I can go to, to see what the studio and laboratory of the Union Photographique Française looks like today.

For a short walk, I should have noted the address of the photo of the building in the Rue Daguerre, one block over and a few blocks along from where I live.

Paris, la Rue: Un Autre 1900 - exhibition of photos, continues until Wednesday, 20. December. This exhibition will reopen on Tuesday, 2. January and will continue until Wednesday. 3. February 2001.

I assume the exhibition has the same opening hours as the archives' reading room, which is from 13:30 to 17:30 on Monday; 9:30 to 17:30 from Tuesday to Friday; and from 9:30 to 17:00 on Saturday. There is no entry fee for the exhibition. Access to the archives' reading room is also free, upon presentation of an identity document such as a passport.

Archives de Paris, 18. Boulevard Séurier, 75019 Paris. Métro: Porte des Lilas. IntoTel.: 01 52 72 41 23, and from abroad, InfoFax.: 33 1 53 72 41 34.

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