Black and white photography is trending in Paris. From the recently finished Anders Petersen exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Brassaï at l’Hôtel de Ville (ending 8th March), to the highly anticipated Henri Cartier Bresson retrospective at the Centre Pompidou (opening 12th February), it is evident that the nostalgia of monochromatic film in this iconic city is a captivating and dare I say it, failsafe combination.
In a single room at the BNF, the exhibition showcased 320 images from Petersen’s career spanning almost fifty years. Elected as ‘Photographer of the Year’ at the Recontres d’Arles in 2003 and one of the four finalists for the £30,000 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2007, the Swede is regarded as one of the foremost photographers of our time.
“I am more of that style of photographer, who is more intuitive, using my stomach and heart. I want my cut to be organic, I want an organic result.”
Noted for his personal, intimate images, the exhibition astutely arranged still lives, human and animal subjects together combining the immediacy of street photography with a focused documentary of marginality. Completely immersing himself in spaces on the periphery (psychiatric hospitals, prisons, the world of prostitution) Petersen’s photography offers the viewer a frank commentary of humanity that is overwhelmingly beautiful in its rawness.
His seemingly unaware, candid shots have a sense of timelessness with their uninhibited air. Vintage and digital prints stood alongside each other, allowing the eye to flow seamlessly through the decades from the recent images of debauched Soho (2011), to the coquettish, verging on aggressive photographs from the notorious 1970s Hamburg, Café Lehmitz series.
The temporary feel of the exhibition (printed images were pinned to the wall with small, white pins in a typically minimalist, Scandinavian fashion) further emphasised the fleeting, ephemerality of the captured moments. While quotes from the man behind the lens broke up the walls of black and white, reinforcing his simple photographic philosophy:
“The more you talk about photography, the less it is about photography. It’s more about the conditions of life, people and it is more interesting than talking about technics, lenses and cameras. You are not supposed to be a slave of mechanical tools, they are supposed to help you and be as small and as unimportant as possible not to disturb the communication.”
It may be a little clichéd, but the allure of film photography in beautiful Parisian settings is undeniably hard to resist. If you missed Anders Petersen at the BNF make sure to check out Henri Cartier Bresson at the Centre Pompidou (12th February to 9th June 2014), with over 350 photographs, films, documents and other archives, it looks to be an unmissable retrospective of the man responsible for ‘the decisive moment’.
By Laura Simpson