Love on the Left Bank

Written by Thomas Büsch on . Posted in My Invisible Eye

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In the mood for love: Ed van der Elsken’s Love on the Left Bank at Poligon Istanbul presented by Schaden.com. from Cologne, Germany and with the support of the Istanbul Consulate General of Germany and the Netherlands . The exhibition will be curated by Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi who was also the project manager of the Book Lab held at Poligon in February.

Ed van der Elsken’s groundbreaking book of photographs, Love on the Left Bank, first published in a small edition in 1954, has been reprinted by the small British publisher, Dewi Lewis. This is a cause for celebration. It is a classic of its kind – grainy, monochrome cinéma vérité – and one of the first photobooks to record the nascent flowering of rebellious youth culture in Europe.

Love on the Left Bank is actually narrated by a relatively minor character called Manuel, a young Mexican on the run from his own demons, who falls for Ann and whose thoughts form the text that accompanies the pictures. The text, van der Elsken makes clear from the start, “is entirely fictional and is not related to any living person”. The story of Manuel’s unrequited love for Ann creates another layer of mystery, adding to the sense that this is a snapshot not just of a time and place, but of a mood, maybe even a collective state of mind. That mood could be described as the beatnik sublime, and van der Elsken captures the first stirrings of a kind of youthful non-conformity that would become much more familiar – and ritualised – in the coming decades.

The intimate portraits of Ann – daydreaming, dozing, stirring a coffee – are the still moments in an otherwise impressionistic, often frenetic, narrative. The characters in the book are constantly on the move, from cafe to bar, nightclub to jazz club, the streets of St Germain-des-Prés alive with young people in search of the next nocturnal high. The supporting cast of real-life characters includes Jean-Michel, Benny and Pierre, who look like stylish proto-punks and drift in and out of trouble without much thought for the consequences, getting drunk, getting high and, at one point, getting arrested for brawling on the street. Like Brassaï before him, van der Elsken is drawn to the symbolic as well as the impressionistic: in one portrait of Ann, she leans against a wall on which the word Rêve (Dream) has been painted: shades of the Situationist slogans that would transform Paris during the student uprising of 1968.

Screening of Ed van der Elsken’s movies: 13-20-27 April/4-11 May 2013, 17:00 | Ed van der Elsken |The Empire Project Auditorium

Read also Love on the Left Bank at InEnArt within the Urban Voices Project

 

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