Rose, c’est Paris (with DVD)
By Bettina Rheims and Serge Bramly
Taschen, February 2011
The title alludes to Duchamp’s alter-ego, Rrose Selavy, and there are echoes of the artist and his work to be found within these pages as well.
You can perhaps best describe the book as a photographic novel composed along the lines of Max Ernst’s novel in collage Une semaine de bonte, though Helmut Newton and Cornell Woolrich are also likely influences. It begins with a missing girl and then moves on to what seems like a séance, before switching to a near-naked girl on a train, fur coat draped around her shoulders, reading a well-thumbed copy of Fantomas. Just following this there is a mermaid in a tiara dispensing gifts; and there are diverse shenanigans to follow. In character, the photographs could be called surrealistic, fetishistic and ludic. They are intriguing and dreamlike rather than disturbing and dark.
Paris is the main character in the novel, cliché though this may sound, but it is Paris as primarily the city of artists and of the imagination. Though having said this, actual locales – the Boulevard du Palais, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower (of course), the Seine, various gardens and cemeteries – are in fact used rather well. Among the interiors are two photographs of Boris Vian’s home; and it’s a great pity that Andre Breton’s study was not likewise preserved when it was put up for auction a fair few years back.
Every photo is listed at the end of the book and several are annotated, revealing a recondite knowledge of the ancient City of Lights. Reading the notes to ‘Mona Lisa of the Metro’ (each photograph is titled), I learn that Rembrandt’s great painting was stolen from the Louvre on 22 August 1911, exactly a century ago today. Quite a period of time passed – over two years – before it was returned.
This is an enchanting volume and, while many models are present, Inge van Bruystegem is the principal one. She is very easy on the eye.