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Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists and architects engaged with the landscape of modern cities.


Avenue des Acacias, Paris

Jacques-Henri Lartigue
(French, 1894–1986)

1911. Gelatin silver print, 11 9/16 x 15 11/16" (29.4 x 39.8 cm)

Born near Paris into an inventive, fashionable, prosperous family, Jacques-Henri Lartigue began taking pictures when he was seven years old. He had received a handheld camera for Christmas and immediately put this new invention to use. Its rapid lens and shutter gave him the freedom to capture the fleeting sights of the world of the French upper-middle classes that particularly drew his sharp eye: stylish women, automobiles, flying inventions, speed, and games. Lartigue called his new camera the “trap of images.”1

By the time Lartigue turned 10, he had made hundreds of remarkably direct images reflecting his skill with framing and timing. At 17, he took this photograph of a finely dressed woman walking her dogs along the Avenue des Acacias, a tree-lined thoroughfare in Paris. Though this and his other images may seem lighthearted or informal, and were originally intended for his and his family’s amusement, they capture the changing fashions, culture, and street life of Paris in the early 20th century.

Jacques-Henri Lartigue, quoted in John Szarkowski, The Photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1963), 3.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

The method by which information is included or excluded from a photograph, film, or video. A photographer or filmmaker frames an image when he or she points a camera at a subject.

A City Remade
Between 1850 and 1870, following periods of revolution, Paris was transformed by city prefect Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. His plans called for razing its winding and crowded medieval streets to make way for the broad avenues—like Avenue des Acacias—and spacious buildings that define the city today. Haussmann’s work was mandated by Emperor Napoleon III, who wanted to eradicate overcrowding, improve sanitation and civic infrastructure, create better traffic flow, and make it easier for his government to quell future uprisings. Some praised Haussmann’s modernization of Paris, while others accused him of destroying its character.