Yvon’s Paris [W. W. Norton & Company; May 17, 2010; $40.00 hardcover] gathers more than seventy-five of Yvon’s most beautiful distinctive photographs—many of them reproduced from photographs only recently discovered—with an introduction by photography historian Robert Stevens. Now for the first time outside of the world of postcard collectors, Yvon’s distinctive views of Paris have been discovered and praised by the public at large. Yvon photographed Paris at a moment of transition, just as it was becoming the modern “City of Lights.”
Postcards of Paris had existed since the late 1800s, but they were mostly straightforward documents of the city’s greatest sights, seen head-on in the bright midday sunlight. For Yvon, this was a wasted opportunity for visual poetry. He preferred recording his images early or late in the day when the light was dramatic or in the shimmering afterglow of rain. His photographs have a style as unique as the other visionary flaneurs who prowled Paris at the same time: Eugene Atget, Andre Kertesz, and Brassai. Yvon always sought out new views, even climbing to the top of Notre-Dame on a cloudy day with all his heavy camera equipment in order to photograph the gargoyles high above the city. Sometimes he took advantage of a snowstorm to photograph the city in a white cloak.
The results first appeared on his postcards, with his signature “Yvon” printed on each one, like a work of art. His postcards of Paris became the most popular in the world, reaching far more than the original ten thousand he printed of each. Still sold on the streets of Paris today, Yvon’s images helped preserve our collective memory of Paris before the modern time. In Yvon’s Paris, these legendary images are revealed for the first time in the luxurious size and rich detail they deserve. They capture the poetic beauty of Paris in the last years before it was transformed forever by the modern world.
You probably don’t know the name Pierre Yves Petit, but you may have seen this master photographer’s iconic postcard images of Paris in the early twentieth century: a bookseller sitting next to the Seine in the late afternoon light; dramatic gargoyles atop Notre-Dame; boatmen in the early morning light of the Seine with a leafless sycamore tree in the foreground.
Yvon, as he called himself, wandered the city streets between the two world wars, seeking moments of ephemeral, poetic beauty that he would capture forever on film.
Saturday, December 18
The Main Gallery
51 Bergen St.