Paris long-time expat Louis Stettner recently died at his home in Saint-Ouen, France. He was 93. Stettner was one of the last living “humanist” photographers of his generation, which included Bresson and Doisneau. His black and white photographs are both social documents and poetry. Pupil and lifelong friend of the photographer Brassai, Stettner sought 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.
He talked to me about his photography and early days in Paris a couple of years ago. As a fellow expat I wanted to know how he came to live in France: “I came to Paris in July 1946, intending to stay only three weeks and remained for five years,” Stettner said. “I do not know how it happened that way. When you love someone or something, it is hard to explain why.”
“…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.”
” Looking back upon those early years in Paris,” he said “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.”
Photo caption: © Louis Stettner, 1951-1952