This Monday’s opening celebration of the “Paris Night and Day: Photography between the Wars” exhibition at Boston College’s McMullen Museum was a lively success in showing off a diverse collection. There was an atmosphere of excitement as visitors and BC Students navigated the crowded museum, enjoying hot chocolate and dessert, listening to BC bOp’s live music, and enjoying the impressive display.
Historically focused on Paris’s interwar period (1918 to 1939), the exhibition holds the incredible work of famous photographers from Man Ray to Ilse Bing who collectively exposed the City of Light through art. The show is divided into two floors, the top focusing on Paris by day, and the bottom revealing the famous city by night. The historical aspect of the show is stunning in itself. The images depicted the fashion of the period with high, thin drawn on eyebrows of the women and men in loose tunics gallivanting through the streets. New inventions, like that of the airplane, are frozen in time within the photographs, drawing upon the wonder and excitement such a machine must have brought.
The show is one of social dichotomies. The contrast between a picture of a wealthy woman draped in fur walking her dainty dog in the park and that of a poverty stricken young man slumped over himself on a park bench just a few steps away in the gallery gives incredible insight to the divergent social spheres of the time. The nightlife of Paris includes photos of swanky bar top conversations with tangled lovers and the dark activity within brothels . The photographs give insight to what life was really like in the streets of peacetime France, exposing regular people and the happenings in their everyday lives.
Each photographer has a unique approach to style, adding to the already intriguing historical aspects of the exhibition. The artists played with the idea that a photograph is a true representation of our observations. Distorting the film in its development allowed some artists to shape a seemingly factual photograph into creations from their imagination. Other artists played with perspective in truly striking ways, transforming a seemingly simple moment in time into beautifully constructed pieces of art.
“Paris Night and Day: Photography between the Wars” offers a glimpse of high and low society and how those people behaved. The photographs show all one hopes Paris to be: romantic, diverse and mystical.