"Paris freed, Paris photographed, Paris exhibited."
|28 August 1944 – D.C.A. américaine, place de Varsovie, Original photograph: Jean Séeberger © Photo Séeberger Frères; Reproduction: © Carnavalet Museum / Parisienne de photographie|
Timing is everything. If I would have seen the exhibition Paris freed, Paris photographed, Paris exhibited shortly after it opened last June, I would have left with a vague impression of events that happened 70 years ago. The black and white photos showing a deserted Champs-Elysées and the bodies of dead hostages lying in the street would certainly have made an impact, but they would have borne little resemblance to the city I know.
That was then. This is now. The Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killings have altered my perceptions.
When I received an email last Monday reminding me that I had registered for a special evening visit of the exhibition at the Carnavalet Museum, I incorrectly assumed that "Paris freed" in the subject line somehow referred to the deaths of the terrorists. Considering that the horrific events had overshadowed everything else in my life for the past week, my mistake wasn't surprising.
|Unity March at the Place de la République on January 11, 2015|
The Carnavalet's email sparked an internal dilemma. Even though Stéphane and I had joined the millions who turned out for the Unity March on Sunday, I suddenly felt worried about going to the museum on my own on Monday evening. After all, it's located in the Marais, the neighborhood known as "the Jewish heart of Paris". The police had closed the nearby rue des Rosiers during the kosher supermarket attack because they feared the street might be one of the terrorists' next targets. Unbidden questions rushed into my mind. "Is it safe to go there?" one side of my brain asked, while the other countered, "Do you want to let the terrorists' actions rule your life?"
|"Partie de la rue de Rivoli interdite" 1940 © Roger Schall / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet|
On my way to the museum, I found myself calculating the odds of another attack. The armed soldiers patrolling the streets did little to allay my fears. "Would they be able to stop a terrorist carrying a Kalashnikov rifle?" I wondered as I hurried past the synagogue on rue Pavée.
It was only after I was safely cloistered within the ancient walls of the Carnavalet Museum that I felt my hunched shoulders start to relax. And then I saw it. A photo that spoke directly to my heart.
Slightly out of focus, the grainy black and white photograph featured a monument that I had seen splashed across the front pages of the world's most prominent newspapers during the past week. It was the statue of Marianne at the Place de la République. Rather than being surrounded by enthusiastic crowds waving flags and wielding oversized pencils supporting the freedom of the press, the national symbol of France was encircled by barbed wire. A sign in the foreground read, "Attention ! Celui qui ira plus loin sera fusillé !" (Caution! Those who go further will be shot!")
Paris freed, Paris photographed, Paris exhibited examines the narratives created by the German Occupation, barricades, arrival of the 2nd Armored Division, reprisals, parade of August 26, 1944 and the American presence. The photos are a reminder that personal memories are shaped by collective memories, just as individual narratives merge with collective history. Featured quotations of historians and philosophers challenge our sense of history and the way memory works.
Seventy years from now, how will the world's collective memory view the heinous killings of last week and the inspirational Unity March? The beginning of the narrative has already been written...
Be sure to see "Paris freed, Paris photographed, Paris exhibited." It's at the Carnavalet Museum through February 8, 2015.
Carnavalet Museum, 16 rue Francs-Bourgeois, 75003 Paris
Opening hours: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm, except Mondays and public holidays
Last entrance for individual visitors at 5 pm.
|"Charlie Hebdo" Unity March in Paris on January 11, 2015|