The book brings together 58 original photos from a collection uncovered in 1980 at a construction site. These images of occupied Marais were made by two professional photographers, Cayeux and Nobécourt, working on an official commission from the German-controlled City of Paris and the Seine Prefecture. They were meant to furnish documentation for a campaign substantiating the claim of unsanitary conditions in this symbolic Parisian neighborhood, which was slated for demolition. Most of the structures in these photos have fallen victim to city planners and developers. The architect, artist, and collector P.F. Roy investigates the images, offering a meticulous architectural description.
In her Preface, Isabelle Backouche, an historian specializing in the history of Paris, sheds light on this period of the urban transformation of the capital. The buildings and the streets of “Old Paris” are like vestiges of a bygone world, seemingly frozen in time, but whose many traces and scars give us a glimpse into how people lived and worked. Partly neglected buildings, a world of bricks and stones, slate and plaster, wood and iron, are evidence of an active, industrious Paris.
The resulting involuntary aesthetics allows for multiple interpretations of this series of “portraits of buildings,” both as a whole and of the individual images. P.F. Roy invites the reader to take a closer look at the images through his commentaries: describing, observing, imagining, and identifying phantom inhabitants who bear witness to a neighborhood pulsing with life amid wartime chaos.