Friday, 20 November 2009

"The more impoverished his own life, the stronger is his faith in the mysterious, inaccessible center, in - if one may put it this way - the absolute of the city. Tourists traveling to the great capitals naively pursue this elusive spirit in nightspots and suspicious neighborhoods. Part of the myth is the feeling that the daytime, the surface city, is not it, that somewhere beneath the cover of the quotidian, the real city exists, boisterous and crazy, about which the local inhabitant who prowls the streets can provide information and reveal it to others. The den of the city is created from inflated fantasies about people who disappear from view, about their hoarded goods, their battles, their successes and failures. In just the same way, hunters, never able to come upon the bones of animals who have died from natural causes, create a legend about an animal cemetery concealed in the heart of the wilderness, where elephants, lions and bears go when they sense their imminent death. People always mythologize the absent, it seems."
Czeslaw Milosz, The Legend of the Monster City

A couple of streets away work has restarted on a Center for Documentary Film and Photography
, the brainchild of the photographer, film-maker and photojournalist, Raymond Depardon. Construction was halted for almost a year owing to the discovery of a thirty square meter void underneath the building which will house the new center. In a previous life this building was home to the largest betting shop in France and before that it was the site of Chez Isis, a legendary 1920s brothel. In the 19th Century this street was a notorious hangout for criminals of all kinds. In this thirty foot hole we have a real example of Milosz's mythologized absence, an actual site in which to place our urban fantasies. (The fact that these fantasies are forced to exist in the past only adds to their mythic potential; the real Paris was that of 1968 or the 20s or the 1890s or the Paris of Balzac, just as the real New York was that of the punk rock 70s or the hard-drinking New York of Pollock, O'Hara and Dylan Thomas. You should have been here yesterday.) How fitting that this endlessly evocative empty space, a space about whose past and original purpose we can know nothing but hence can imagine everything should now house a center for documentary images, a means to record, to bring things to the light.

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