Tues. Paris Reading Rec: POSTCARDS OF A LOST PARIS

Who says a coffee table book needs to be the size of a coffee table? This small volume is bigger than a stack of postcards, but not much bigger, and is all the more delightful for being so small. 

Postcards of a Lost Paris focuses on the work of Eugène Atget (1857–1927) a French photographer whose images you've likely seen even if you didn't know they were his: black-and-white photos of an almost always eerily empty Paris that seem to feature a thousand (more than 50, anyway) shades of gray. Indeed his photography--and the work of photographers who copied him--is so familiar it can feel cliché. 

That's what makes this book so fresh and fascinating. A series of postcards featuring the "little trades" or petits métiers of Paris, it represents (as the book's introduction recounts, "more or less Atget's only publications during his lifetime [though they] were created near the beginning of his career, long before he was “discovered” in the 1920s and raised to the status of the poetic chronicler of the fragility of time and place."

The photos themselves are beautiful. The content, though, is fascinating. The newsstand on the cover is a familiar enough little trade--but old ladies selling lace? A rolling "couper des chats" wagon (where you could have your cat spayed or neutered or their tail clipped)? I'm reminded of a scene from The Red Balloon where a man, hunched over, marches up the street in Menilmontant carrying long, narrow panes of glass on his back: a sidewalk glazier. But that's a story for another Tuesday...