Usually, I would have categorized a post about Paris Historical Library as another chapter of “Paris Grand Siècle”, for it is located in one of the fine Renaissance style hotels of Paris Marais.
It was built in the last years of sixteenth century for Diane de France, a legitimated daughter of King Henry II, and bought in the mid seventeenth century by a sir de Lamoignon who was the president of the first Paris parliament.
Many of the “classic period” famous writers, like Racine, Madame de Sévigné, Boileau, or Malesherbes used to visit the place, which quite naturally became the Historical Library. Besides the interest of its catalog, the reading room has the most beautiful Renaissance painted ceiling.
If you go down the street, you get to the modern building where the book shop and exhibition room are located.
This is the place where opened on March 20 the exhibition of photos by André Zucc, first called “Parisians during the Occupation”.
The main point of his exhibition was to show the only color pictures taken by a French photographer during the German Occupation in Paris on world war 2. We are used to black and white pictures of this period, and these are really striking. The contest came first from the press, who pointed out that at least this needed some explanation, and then the guy in charge of culture at Paris town hall got mad about it, said it was outrageous and wanted to close it (maybe he was that mad mostly because he should have known better and earlier about it – historical library is part of Paris municipal libraries).
Finally, the title was changed into “some Parisians under the occupation” , Paris town hall edited a foreword in several languages given to visitors at the exhibition’ entrance and hired an historian to write commentaries about some of the pictures – maybe the Historical Library staff cold have thought of it in the first place.
So what was the big deal? André Zucca, who was a quite well known photographer was hired during the Occupation by a newspaper called Signal, which was the organ of Nazi propaganda in Paris, to take pictures of German officials, and Paris social and political events – involving Vichy government and collaborationist spheres. These published pictures were black and white. But thanks to Signal, Zucca got some color film, which only Germans could afford, to achieve his private work (he took over a 1000 color photos). He certainly was not a Nazi militant, we was just taking advantage of the situation, without questioning it – and no doubt that he knew for whom and what he was working for, and he did not bother.
The color film needed a lot of light, so most of the displayed pictures show Paris streets under a bright spring sun, just as it was when I came and took the street pictures you see on this post. And of course, life looks more cheerful under the sun. Even this refugee moving out with his children after a bombing does not look that miserable.
So there is no set up, it was really sunny and Belleville street was crowded, these pictures point that a photographer’s eye is not objective, it chooses his subject and and shows his point of view : Paris as a lively and cheerful town, where people went on enjoying their life, not bothering about German occupation, just the way Zucca felt.
His color pictures have a strong impact, because these images make the war years closer to ours than black and white photos, and in the same time, they look a little like fiction – because the first German colored films had the same color and light effect. And sometimes, in spite of the carefree mood of the photographer, some harshness shows up -as the text on Nazi posters, and the so bright yellow stars pinned on the chest of people passing by in a Marais street.
This is a poster which has been removed from today’s Paris street, but all this fuzz has made a great deal for this exhibition, which is a big success, and is really worth visiting. The bookshop ran out of catalogs, but they will be soon reprinted – around May 10 – and for 35 euros, it is really an exceptional document.
Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris, hôtel de Lamoignon, 24 rue Pavée, métro Saint-Paul, open Monday to Friday 13 to 18, Saturday 9.30 to 18, closed on Sunday. Information on 33(0)1 44 59 29 40
Exhibition : “Des Parisiens sous l’occupation – photos en couleur d’André Zucca”, bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris 22 rue Mahler 75004 Paris Metro Saint-Paul, up to July 1, open everyday 11 to 19, entrance 4 euros.