William Meyers on Paris-19th Century Photographic Exhibitions

Napoleon III and Paris
The Metropolitan Art Museum

1000 Fifth Ave.

Until September 7

Paris was fortuitously home to a host of great photographers in the mid-19th century when Emperor Napoleon III undertook the transformation of the medieval city with dark alleys into the modern city of light, with its wide boulevards, hidden sewers and magnificent public parks. Gustave Le Gray, Charles Marville, Édouard Baldus and several other master photographers captured the old capital with their cameras, celebrated the creation of the new one, then recorded the wreckage the day after the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. Thanks to them, the past was not entirely lost.

The 40 photographs in the exhibition include portraits of the emperor and his family, but most deal with the city itself. “The Bièvre River, ca. 1865 ”is the picturesque view from Marville over the charming but pestilential canal which was then covered up. Baldus renders precisely the detail of the “Imperial Library of the Louvre, 1856-57”. Several images by Louis-Émile Durandelle reveal the advanced construction methods used to build the new Paris Opera. Franck exhibits the underground “Canal Saint-Martin, 1860-62”, a marvel of vaults, water and light. Unfortunately, “L’Hôtel de Ville, Paris, 1871” by Hippolyte-Auguste Collard, the burnt hulk of the magnificent town hall, reminds us of other images of other cities ravaged by conflict.

Debbie Fleming Caffery
Gitterman Gallery

170 E. 75th Street

Until July 31

These are disturbing images. Ms. Caffery has been photographing in Mexico since 1990, focusing on a cantina she discovered that houses a brothel. A Guggenheim grant in 2005 gave him the means to complete this series of black and white photos of prostitutes. Prostitution is a difficult way to make a living. Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, wrote of prostitution that “Sex and contempt are adjacent regions in the psyche of the typical customer; and a prostitute must willingly accept being spit on her. These women seem both vulnerable and tough; their bodies at the same time simple objects and too human.

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