Parisian Views

Shelley Rice, Author
Shelley Rice, Author MIT Press (MA) $38.5 (288p) ISBN 978-0-262-18184-6
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 286 pages - 978-0-262-68107-0
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In this book, Rice, a lecturer at New York University and the New School and a freelance journalist for the Village Voice and Artforum, has opted for the prose style of the lecturer. In a cramped, crabbed voice, she examines the rebuilding of late-19th-century Paris by Baron Haussmann, focusing her rather complex, arcane and disjointed analyses on photos of old buildings taken prior to their destruction. The goal, according to her publisher, is to explore ""not only the literal connections between photography and the transformation of Paris but also the metaphorical ones."" Sometimes Rice's academic approach seems removed from literal reality, as when she observes that Baron Haussmann's new sewers for Paris had no more ""hints of mystery or foulness"" when, of course, even today Parisian sewers smell like, well, sewers. And there is something irritatingly misguided about the pronouncement that in Haussmann's era, photography ""forced subjective vision out of the realm of the idiosyncratic and personal and into the realm of the social,"" especially since photographers such as Baldus, Nadar and Marville are now admired precisely for their personal, charming visions. The 19th-century transformation has been the focus of important works, like those by Yvan Christ, Jean Des Cars and Pierre Lavedan. While many urban historians feel that Baron Haussmann was in several respects a vandal who destroyed much of Paris's precious past, Rice's theorizing--for those who care deeply about architecture--is much like examining war photos to see what f-stop was used. 98 illustrations. (Nov.)
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