New York

Edouard Boubat

Witkin Gallery

The best of the French photographers in town was Edouard Boubat, whose romantic images of French life—or life anywhere, for that matter—retain a good deal of charm. The problem I had was that the images in this show are all very familiar; and while familiarity doesn’t breed contempt for such work, it doesn’t breed endless fascination either. Like so much photography of the ’40s and ’50s—Paul Strand’s and Eugene Smith’s and Robert Doisneau’s all come to mind—Boubat’s classic work is a celebration of the simple life. These photographers often sought out peasants as subjects, and always implied that the simple pleasures were best, that simple people were the most beautiful and dignified. This was a lovely fiction, but the fictitiousness grows more apparent, less satisfying, the longer you look at the pictures.

When you came into the gallery, as I recall, the first picture you saw was Boubat’s 1951 Self-Portrait in Mirror, where he is seen poised over his Rolleiflex in the company of one of his models. He appears the kind of man who used to be referred to as “fatally” handsome. He has always had an eye for unusually beautiful women, too. When you look at his pictures, you can just guess what a good time he has had with his life. Even if the photographs seem a little faded now, it’s still nice to imagine how thoroughly he must have enjoyed himself making them.

Colin L. Westerbeck Jr.