Catherine Clark

Oct 18, 2019

Paris and the Cliché of History

The City in Photographs, 1860-1970

Oxford University Press 2018

purchase at What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear the words “Paris” and “photography”? Is it a famous photo, perhaps an Atget, Brassai, or Doisneau? In her new book, Paris and the Cliché of History: The City in Photographs, 1860-1970 (Oxford UP, 2018), Catherine Clark explores the history of how and why photographic images have been central to understanding and imagining the city’s present and past, figuring profoundly in the representation and documentation of change over time in the French capital. In this beautifully illustrated and fascinating book, Clark recounts and analyzes the story of the collection, mobilization, and recollection of photographs as historical documents, a visual archive of urban transformation and memory. From the inauguration of the city’s first photo archives at the Musée Carnavalet, to the illustrated “photohistory” books that used images as documentary evidence, to the photographic museum exhibits, commemoration, and even a citywide contest, in which past and pictures were imbricated, the book looks at how photographs work, and takes seriously their biographies long after moments of capture. Moving beyond the work of key photographers, Clark examines how publishers, historians, public servants, and a range of other actors all participated in making Paris the quintessential capital of photography from the nineteenth century up to the 1970s. The book will be of great interest to anyone interested in the history of the city, of photography, of how the past is conceived and made in a field at once visual, technological, material, and affective.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, '"No Hiroshima in Africa": The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara' appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (

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