As with painters and sculptors, ambitious young photographers from around the world flocked to Paris between the World Wars. Some used photography to document the old ways of life; others, to celebrate the new. Some have enjoyed continuous acclaim, while others were forgotten for decades. Some saw themselves as part of a movement, such as surrealism, modernism, or a new kind of documentary record made possible by the hand-held 35mm camera. Others were dedicated loners who blazed their own path, such as Jacques-Henri Lartigue, a child prodigy photographer from an upper-class family.
An evocative traveling exhibition of their work, French Twist: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray, is on view at the Delaware Art Museum this summer. Drawn entirely from the comprehensive photography collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, the show is divided into several telling themes, such as life of the street, diversions, the lower classes, Paris by night, and art for art’s sake.
Lovers, Bal Musette des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe by Brassaï, c. 1932. Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg.
Interestingly, much of this quintessentially French imagery was created by immigrants: Man Ray and Edward Steichen (American), Ilse Bing and Erwin Blumenfeld (German), Lisette Model (Austrian), and André Kertész, Brassaï, and Pal Funk Angelo (Hungarian). Many of them settled in France for good, while others, fleeing the Nazis, brought their Paris-trained sensibilities across the Atlantic to the United States. As a counterpart to this cultural exchange, it is notable that the celebrated native Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson actually took most of his famous photographs abroad, giving a uniquely French twist on far-flung people and places from Mexico to Madrid to Madras.
Future showings of the exhibition will be listed in our Events column.