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© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Galerie kamel mennour

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2014-04-05

For the past many years, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) has sought out some the world’s greatest photographers, tasking them with the rather formidable assignment of capturing Paris in images.

Henri Cartier-Bresson has done it (some could even argue mastered it), as has Edouard Boubat and Ralph Gibson. Duane Michals lent his unique perspective to the project while William Klein beautifully captured the city’s beauty and diversity, as well as its clichés.

This year, it was British photographer Martin Parr’s turn to take a stab at Paris. Known for bringing a sense of intimacy and irony to his work, Parr crisscrossed the city over a number of years, taking pictures of the people you’d find wandering its streets on any given day.

These, for the most part, are tourists. There are tourists taking photos of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Tourists corralled behind the safety netting at the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques. Tourists roasting in the sun at Paris Plage (because, as just about anyone who lives in the city knows, most Parisians wouldn’t be caught dead there).

The exhibit actually contains few photographs of “real” Parisians. There’s one of a guy standing shirtless trying to light a cigarette while holding three pétanque balls in one hand. There are a few others of men crouched over in prayer in the city’s streets. And then of course there are the scenes from fashion week, which capture the excess and self-importance of Paris’s elite.

But it is as “real” of a depiction of Paris as you could hope for. While the city still lives up to many of its stereotypes (the heavy smoking on café terraces, kissing in public spaces…), Parr shows Paris as it actually is, bringing his characteristic humour to each of the nearly 60 photos on exhibit.

In the end, it is a place that tourists like to visit, get lost in and take pictures of. It is a place where people pray and fashionistas gather. It’s a place where everyday life can look like all of these things.

Martin Parr’s “Paris” is on display at the MEP (5/7 rue de Fourcy 75004 Paris) March 26 – May 25. For more information call +33 (0)1 44 78 75 00 or visit

Date created : 2014-04-01


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