Monday, May 5, 2014


The now-closed Charles Marville Exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was fascinating for a number of reasons. Paris's history is a big enough reason. But in addition to photos of a city in transition from a medieval to grand thanks to Georges-Eugene Haussmann, the proto-Robert Moses of Paris, the exhibit also shows early versions of today's media—including reinvention, selfies, and integrated displays.

In my random connections below, the material in quotes is from The Met's wall text. The images are screenshots from the Metropolitan Museum's website.

Born in 1813 with an unfortunate name ("Bossu," which means "hunchback" in French), Marville remade himself by changing his surname when he was around 19 years old.

Photo: a selfie from 1851.

19th-century Instagram-equivalent

The Metropolitan's wall text notes that, “About 1854, buoyed by his financial success, Marville moved to more spacious lodgings in an upscale neighborhood” and continues, “. . . the carefully-staged view of the impressive interior, lined with Marville’s own photographs, acts as a form of professional self-definition, announcing the artist’s stature and celebrating his accomplishments.” The photo of his studio calls to mind what we do on Instagram these days to announce our latest creations, observations, or achievements.

No photo; the image is so light-sensitive that in the exhibit, it was covered by a liftable cloth.

Adjusting reality

In the 19th century, skies were difficult to capture because photographic emulsions were not equally sensitive to all colors of the spectrum. "Some photographers painted clouds on the negatives. Other photographers made two negatives—one for the landscape and another, faster exposure for the sky—that were printed as a single image." In the mid-1850s, Marville   experimented with sky photos as eventually produced some of the earliest successful sky and cloud images. Did he or didn't he? The question remains whether Marville made the sky photos "in camera" or manipulated the shots after the fact.

Putting all forms of information on one device.
Messy posters all over the place were controlled by a structure devised by Morris Cie. to bring order to the chaos of posters all over walls and buildings throughout the city. All ads on one device! The columns are interesting, but nothing beats the gorgeous typography in the pre-perfected Paris.


Beautiful typography
Many of today's bistros—Balthazar, Pastis, you name it—are homages to Parisian typography. 

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