Nights in Paris – Daniel Frasnay and a quiet sleaze
When I was recently perusing and exploring the work of Daniel Frasnay, in particular his Les Girls book of 1950s-1970s Parisian showgirls and revues, I realised that I had owned and treasured a book of his photographs for many a year now.
That book is Nights in Paris, originally published in 1954/1958 by A.W. Bruna & Zoon / Andre Deutsch.
It’s small, almost pocket-sized book that focuses on Paris’ nightlife in all its forms and Daniel Frasnay’s photographs accompany text by Jane Brusse (or does the text accompany the photographs ?).
This is a book that takes in all walks of nightlife from back when; showgirls, beatniks, gigolos, coupling, cabaret, transvestitism, streetwalkers, visiting servicemen, strippers, fairgrounds, bakers, allnight jazz, destitution, a police presence, drinking, nudity.
On first glance there’s a curious innocence and often a sense of carefree fun to the photographs. Despite all the above, it doesn’t appear to depict a world imbued with sleaze as say does Roswell Angier’s A Kind Of Life book that focuses on not dissimilar aspects of life in Boston around the mid-1970s (see here at Afterhours).
That may well be a side-effect of the manner that over time the more salubrious aspects of life can come to be gain a sheen of curio respectability. It may be a reflection of the spirit of the ages in which the two books were created and captured in the negatives of their photographers.
However, if you look closely, amongst the merry making that can be found in Nights in Paris, there is an undertone of something else amongst the apparent innocence: when I travel through the whole book, I am glad to leave by the end, to see the dawn rising over the newsstand and streets.
The book is a fine snapshot of Parisian nightlife but that sheen of innocence is also just that; a sheen, a surface impression and alongside the laughter and smiles there is something unsettling.
I can’t quite say what that something is, it may be from something in the eyes and face of its subjects here and there. Maybe an awareness of the possible darker other sides of such escapism. That such things are unlikely to be a non-stop consequence-less merry-go-round.
A quiet sleaze indeed.