Paris

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Willy Ronis, Sabine Weiss, Luigi Comencini, Lucien Aigner, Gina Lollobrigida, George Hoyningen-Huene, Claude Sauvageot and Marie Ange Donzé

Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris

This wasn’t the case with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s show, of course, though its size—more than 300 pictures—was overwhelming despite the familiarity of many of them. The few older pictures that hadn’t been seen before were often doubly interesting because they were not only good photographs, but also shed light on Cartier-Bresson’s life. Another Leica pioneer whose work has remained engaging is Andre Kertesz, who was on hand for the opening of his show, and who, at age 86, is as vigorous and garrulous as ever. In the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, however, slightly younger photographers softened and sentimentalized Cartier-Bresson’s humanism. This was apparent from the selections of the work of Izis and Edouard Boubat recently acquired by Paris for its municipal art collection, and in the work to be seen of Willy Ronis, Sabine Weiss, Luigi Comencini, and (at least as represented here) Lucien Aigner. Izis and Ronis seemed to epitomize an urban romanticism shared by all these photographers. The picturesque culture of European cities they depicted was already vanishing at the time they photographed it. Like many French movies of the day, their photography presented as if it were real, a way of life that existed, even then, only in nostalgia.

Still, their weaknesses were nothing compared to some of the contemporary photographers whose work was to be seen. Even if you make allowances for the fact that a municipally supported event like this has to have broad tastes and mass appeal, it’s not necessary to dignify Gina Lollobrigida’s tourist snaps or Franco Fontana’s color telephoto work with a show. That the Carnavalet gave the former a one-woman exhibition and included the latter in “Paris/Rome” only diminished the real importance of the museum’s Marey show and Hoyningen-Huene show that it imported from New York’s International Center for Photography. The same sort of misplaced emphasis might be attributed to the display of recent color photographs of China by Claude Sauvageot and Marie Ange Donzé. The idea of giving an intimate view of Chinese life, without the usual public scenes, sounds like a good one. But promotional photography is still just promotional, no matter how noble the détente it serves. To have given this work two exhibitions seemed to me excessive. To have made one of them a permanent installation in a luxurious new Métro station seemed absurd. As time goes on, the tackiness of both the photographs and the architectural space they occupy will become apparent.

Colin Westerbeck