Denim in Paris, 1923

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"He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime." - Victor Hugo

Colourful photographs of mind-blowingly beautiful Paris in 1923 by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont. It was a picturesque and idyllic time when Paris was still Paris - the streets weren’t jammed with noise and cars, the abundant city parks were filled with flowers and greenery, the gentlemen wore hats and women denim skirts blue as the smog-free skies.

Jules Gervais-Courtellemont was a French photographer born in 1863 outside of Paris, in the province of Seine-et-Marne, but grew up mostly in Algeria where he developed a passion for the pre-colonial Orient and therefore, devoted most of his professional career in search of the exotic.

As a restless traveler, he roamed throughout the Middle East and north Africa, from Morocco to Turkey. He even traveled as far as India and China, photographing as he went.

Gervais-Courtellemont was one of the first masters of Autochrome, an early colour photography process. Patented in 1903 by the famous Lumiére brothers, Autochrome used a layer of potato starch grains dyed red, green and blue, along with a complex development process, to produce a dreamy colour transparency.

The long exposure times necessary for the process meant it was only suitable for relatively static scenes. Nevertheless, Gervais-Courtellemont stuck with the format when he returned to France to document World War I. His photographs are some of the only colour records of the conflict.

In 1911, he opened the “Palais de l’autochromie” in Paris, which comprised an exhibition hall, studio, laboratory, and lecture hall with a seating capacity of 250. It was in this hall that Gervais-Courtellemont would project his autochromes both of the Orient and, after 1914 of the war - particularly the Marne battlefields.

Renowned for his precise composition, attention to detail, and painterly use of light and colour, Gervais-Courtellemont became a photographer for National Geographic. In January 1923, he photographed landmarks and scenes throughout Paris, a city experiencing a period of economic growth and optimism following the end of WWI.

 

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