Charles Marville

Charles Marville, the official photographer of Emperor Napoleon III was to become the official Paris photographer in 1862. At this time, City Planner Baron George’s-Eugène Haussmann was undertaking the mass transformation and modernisation of Paris, a process that Marville captured in what is recognised as one of the first series of images capturing urban transformation.


I selected Marville as reference in my studies for his ethereal presentation of a city in metamorphosis. Becoming the Paris we know today whilst leaving behind the history preceding it. The image above colourised by Marina Amaral was my first encounter with Melville’s work. The distorted figures from long exposure become the ghosts of the past, in the past. The clash against the detailed and sharp vista creating a double layer of memory. One of us looking back to the 1860’s and another of those in frame building over their own past. Whilst this effect is a result of the photographic technology of the time, the inclusion brings life and meaning to the capture. Other points that caught my eye in this image is the ‘modernness’ of the framing. The image is full of detail, the verticals unusually parallel for the period, the use of leading lines and the depth it creates could all mislead the viewer into feeling this is much more modern image, especially when colourised like this.

Seeing the image again in the original form I still feel that many of the points I took from the colourised version. I do notice how the crop being slightly larger reveals more of the leaning vertices I would expect to see, but I still feel it is well controlled in comparison to its contemporaries. I also feel the depth of the image is supported by the colourising, help to create distance between the foreground and background.

In looking through the catalogues of Marville’s work I found several images of interest. Testament to his legacy. But in this post I have chosen only one other to present, simply for the reason that I think it conveys several of his traits and frankly I find it extremely engaging. This view of Rue Valette, leading to the Pantheon is unrecognisable in the modern day.



Marville’s image captures the original Parisian atmosphere, confined, dark and rambling. Again we see, very faintly, the outlines of figures passing along the street, the leading lines and depth to the frame. Personally, especially having walked this road, the way the Pantheon rises out of the ground towering above is both is awe inspiring and ominous at the same time, seemingly timeless and lighting the way to modern Paris.


Image source – https://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/en/paris-reportage/charles-marville-photos-de-paris-avant-haussmann

Colour Image – ‘Colour of Time’ Marina Amaral & Dan Jones

Wiki – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Marville

National Gallery of Art – https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2013/marville.html

Modern Rue Valette – https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Rue_Valette_and_the_Panthéon,_Paris_16_January_2016.jpg

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Harley Bainbridge Photography

Event and Portrait Photographer Manchester 

07984268356

harleybainbridge@gmail.com

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