Louis Stettner, Black & White and No Regrets


Paris 1951-52, photos: Louis Stettner

One of the most important living “humanist” photographers is exhibiting his work at the Paris Galerie David Guiraud as part of the Mois de la Photo (until Jan 18, 2012). The exhibition features Louis Stettner’s New York and Paris pictures taken from the late 1940’s to the present. Stettner is part of a generation of photographers, which included Bresson and Doisneau, whose black and white photographs are both social documents and poetry.

Stetner’s photographs have always attracted critical attention. Pupil and lifelong friend of the photographer Brassai  Stettner seeks to capture in his glimpses of daily life a profound connection to reality while casting light on the human experience in all its facets. Starting at the age of thirteen, encouraged by Alfred Steiglitz and Paul Strand, his photographs are now in such permanent collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Among Stettner’s most powerful pictures are his photographs of Paris taken 1946-51. Describing his early  experiences photographing Paris Stettner says, “I came to Paris in July 1946, intending to stay only three weeks and remained for five years. I do not know how it happened that way. When you love someone or something, it is hard to explain why. Eventually, I realized the compelling attraction of Europe. In the States the past is completely obliterated by the present. What is new, happening now, has significance. What is old is irrelevant. Whereas in Europe, the past dominates the present. A huge conglomeration of old stones gives reassurance, a secure feeling that although life is a very difficult business, we humans have managed t survive.”

“…Most important was the outdoor studio that was Paris. I would take long daily walks with my camera, leaving myself open to whatever happened around me. Sometimes I am asked why I did it. There was no economic basis and the possibility of recognition was slight. I suppose I was driven by a great need and love to get close to the world around me. Each photograph was a way of reaching out, an act of discovery… The photographs that remain strong and alive seem to be when your vision and reality are so inexorably wedded together, it is impossible to separate them. Paris was that very special place I defined myself as a photographer.”

Many of the pictures in the current  exhibition were included in Stettner first large book “Early Joys.” Discussing that book he said, ” I gave it that title because early work has a certain purity that no matter how skillful or rich your vision becomes, one can not recapture that early spirit. Looking back upon those early years in Paris, I realize that not only was the city a great inspiration, but also that Parisians gave me the reassurance that I was doing something important. There was an innate respect for artists – for what we were doing and for having the courage to take a hard road. Yet it was a joyous route, such magnificent sights and human splendor along the way that difficulties magically effaced themselves. One regretted nothing and would have it no other way.”

Louis Stettner, Galerie David Guiraud, 5, rue du Perche, 75003, Paris. To January 18, 2012