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[Pont Marie, Île Saint-Louis]
Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899–1984 Côte d'Azur)
1930–32, printed ca. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.9 x 20.9 cm (11 3/8 x 8 1/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2005
Not on view
"Paris by Night," a book of Brassaï's photographs of nocturnal Paris, was published in the winter of 1932-33, and quickly sold out. This photograph did not appear in it, most likely because the publisher preferred prettier pictures with narrative elements. Three photographs of bridges were included: one of vagabonds warming themselves by a fire under the Pont Neuf and another of the same bridge with houseboats and tugboats "sleeping on the smooth water of the Seine," as its caption notes; the third photograph, like this one, shows an arch of stones "eaten and washed by the rain," a reassuring street lamp gleaming on the parapet above it, and a barge moored in the lamplight beyond. This photograph, by contrast, with its heavy Piranesean vault, intense blackness, and unrelieved axial perspective, is infernal and mesmerizing. Nothing is in focus; our eye plunges through the tunnel, the stained stones blurring in the rush. We emerge on the far side into a glaring electric fog, where the double arch of a second bridge stares back, like eye sockets in a hallucinatory mask. Even the most agile imagination cannot coax this River Styx back into the banks of the Seine. Brassaï did not much care where, in the real world, the picture was made, and incorrectly identified the bridge as the Pont Louis-Philippe. Yet he fully understood that the surrealism of such a picture was not unreal; it was, as he wrote, the "actual rendered fantastic by vision."