Place Sainte-Opportune

Place Sainte-Opportune: Lens May Change but Certain Things Remain by Lourdes Arana

While walking down modern-day Place Sainte-Opportune it is hard to imagine that it was once barren, no trees surrounding the area. It is also hard to imagine that there was no metro station and that the area was calm and quiet. If you walk around the area today, you shall notice that most of the road and the sidewalk is undergoing construction. The loud noise of the machinery combined with the passerby’s chatter as they make their way to the metro is hard to picture in Atget’s 1907 photograph. Found at the heart of Paris, in the first arrondissement, the Place Sainte-Opportune retains many historic characteristics that demonstrate the passing of time and the change that the city has undergone. When comparing Atget’s image to Rauschenberg’s image to Griffin’s image, it is easy to envision how Paris has become a modern metropolis. Although it could be assumed that Paris has only changed, it should be noted that there has also been some continuity throughout the years.
Place Sainte-Opportune is located in Les Halles and it gained its name from a church located in the same square, Church Sainte-Opportune, which was destroyed in 1792 (Lazare and Lazare 503). Atget photographed this area in 1907 and, sadly, there are no traces of its religious history. However, most of the architectural structure of the two buildings remains the same. The building on the right still has the same façade and each room still has its own little balcony. On the left, the windows still open outwards and there is still a single store at the bottom of the building, although that boutique is now a chain store. The fact that the boutique is no longer the small, probably family owned store that Atget photographed speaks to the rise in consumerism in Europe and the gentrification of businesses. The fashion industry split into different branches, the high-end couture brands and the more trendy, affordable chain store brands. A few local, chic boutiques can be found around the city, but it is more common to see chain store brands that attract tourists and locals with their low prices. When Atget photographed this scene there were two stores at the bottom of the building in the right. When Rauschenberg photographed this scene, there were three stores and there was no sign that the building was still a hotel. When Griffin photographed this scene, there were still three stores at the bottom of the building and instead of it being a hotel, it seems like it was an apartment complex. It would be interesting to analyze the trend in real estate prices and try to understand why the hotel became an apartment complex.
One of the most obvious changes in these images is that the stores have changed. In Atget’s photograph, the shop on the right used to be a liquor store. In Rauschenberg’s shot, a restaurant has been added to the left, there is now a Japanese restaurant in the center, and the liquor store has become an unknown business. In Griffin’s photograph the leftmost shop continues to be a restaurant, the Japanese place is now another upscale restaurant, and the unknown store is now a beauty salon. This demonstrates how the businesses around the area have also changed as people’s necessities have changed. It is less common nowadays to see a liquor store and it is more common for large convenience stores to sell alcohol. Similarly, the Japanese place may have closed because more Japanese restaurants opened around the area and it may have been hard to compete. One can find another Japanese restaurant not even a block away. Similarly, two restaurants were added and they both serve European food, which has become increasingly popular among the tourists. Considering the area this shot was taken it, it is possible that the restaurants are targeting a more international audience. Additionally, the beauty salon is definitely not a necessity, but it proves how luxuries like hair care have become more accessible to the regular Parisian.
Considering that Place Sainte-Opportune is located in the district of Les Halles, it is important to understand the history of the area and what is planned for the future. The region was originally made up of swamps, a public cemetery, and a church. The district slowly became more urbanized when two markets moved to the area, baptizing the area as Les Halles (Huard). The swamps were drained, the cemetery was closed, and the church was demolished, and the area was transformed into a neighborhood. Since 2011, the district has undergone construction aimed to improve the movement of traffic, the organization of the metro system, and the creation of the Nelson Mandela garden (“Redevelopment of Les Halles”). This place has undergone so much change that it is hard to think that anything has stayed the same. However, when analyzing closely one can see that it remains a very commercial center, even if the stores are not the same that existed a century ago. The commercial spirit of the area is also obvious due to the number of advertisements in the square. When Atget photographed this scene, the wall on the right was covered in ads. When Rauschenberg photographed this spot, the wall had a single billboard on it. When Griffin photographed the wall it had a single poster and it was not an advertisement, it was an announcement about an event. Instead of putting ads on walls, a new spinning billboard case has been added to the side of the entrance to the metro, where ads can be displayed in a more orderly fashion.
There are two key characteristics in the images that show how industrialization revolutionized the city. The first feature is the metro station. In 1907, rapid transit and the metro had not become widely popularized, thus, there was not a need for a metro station. As the industrial revolution gained speed and modernized the city, a metro station was conveniently added, as captured by Rauschenberg. Nowadays, the metro station is still there, however, it has been renovated and it now includes a giant glass roof, with a sign in the front that reads, “Metropolitan.” Additionally, Rauschenberg captured bikes resting alongside the railing of the stairs that lead to the metro; this continues to be a trend as many bikes are still perched up against the railing, as shown in Griffin’s photograph. This shows that despite the fact that the city has become more modern and there are alternative transportation options, biking continues to be a widespread trend because it allows for greater mobility in tight spaces, especially non-Haussmanized streets. Additionally, it also speaks to the fact that there are certain Parisian customs that endure the test of time. Another detail that shows how the city has become more modernized is the number of lamps in the area. In Atget’s photograph, there is a single streetlight that was perhaps fueled with gas. In Rauschenberg’s photograph, three more lamps can be appreciated sticking out from the wall on the right. In Griffin’s photograph, one can see that a lamp has been added between “L’Excuse” and “Bio Bella.” Similarly, a lamp has been added to the building on the left of the photograph. Details like this one demonstrate Paris’ journey towards improving lighting in the city and the shift from gas lamps to electric lighting.
Place Sainte-Opportune is the prime example of the old meeting the new. The square still retains some of its old characteristics, like the cobblestoned floors and the structure of the buildings, but it also incorporates some of the new like the metro and electricity. The square has also retained its commercial spirit, but now it incorporates more global businesses like the “Kookai” store on the left. It is exciting to think that in a few years this place will not look the same, but it will preserve the same commercial atmosphere that Atget originally captured. It is interesting how three different photographers can tell a different story through their images, even if they are photographing the same place.

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Roll with the Changes
Elizabeth Camerota

A strip of shops in the Marais abuts the Place Sainte-Opportune in the first arrondissement, where Atget and Rauschenberg captured what was once a quiet and empty corner of Paris. Today, the Place Sainte-Opportune could not be described as quiet nor empty. The Chatelet metro stop sits in the center of the square, which causes crowds of people to constantly be moving in and out of the square. Compared to Atget’s photograph from 1907, the Place Sainte-Opportune was nearly unrecognizable. The square in many ways is similar to Edgar Degas's painting, Place de la Concorde. In the painting, Ludovic Lepic, a bonapartist and French artist at the time, is depicted with his two daughters moving throughout the square along with a few other Parisians. The painting portrays Place de la Concorde as a place of movement and not leisure. There is a dullness and emptiness to the painting that is rarely found in Paris.
Although Place Sainte-Opportune does not have this same dullness, there was certainly a feeling of movement. It was a place no one stopped to appreciate. In Atget’s and Rauschenberg photographs, there were very few people depicted. The square certainly could have been described as boring. Today, there are people zipping out of the metro and others power walking after a long day of shopping in the Marais - certainly not boring.
The Place Sainte-Opportune has a narrow street between two buildings, one of the few aspects of Haussmannization still evident in the square today. The cobblestone is gone, and some of the buildings appear to have been redone, although the foundation seems to have stayed the same. There is a clear modernization the square went through that is evident when comparing the three photographs.
In Atget’s photograph from 1907, there is a hotel and a liquor store directly in front of the camera. The ground is paved with cobblestones, and there is a well in the center of the square. There are also people walking around in the back of the photograph by the liquor store. On the rightmost building of the photograph there are posters all over the walls. This was quite typical of Parisian buildings during this time and was very evident in other photographers pictures that captured the daily life of Parisians, such as Andre Kertesz.
The scene is quite different in the Rauschenberg photo. In his 1997 photograph of the Place Sainte-Opportune, the liquor store and hotel were replaced by a Japanese restaurant and a cafe of some sort. The buildings all seem to be newly done and the cobblestone pavement and well are gone. There are also a few people wondering in this photograph, including a woman with a large shopping bag. This perfectly describes the transformation of the neighborhood to a commercialized area. The right corner of the photograph shows a staircase leading to the metro, which was one of the biggest changes from Atget’s photograph. What both of these images capture is a largeness to the square that has to do with the lack of people moving throughout it.
Looking at the square today, it is very evident that it is a place of passage. The cobblestones are gone and the buildings look much newer. There is now a clothing store, bar and burger restaurant where once stood a liquor store and hotel. The metro stop overpowers the image with its large and intricate design, which has grown since Rauschenberg captured it in 1997. The square has commercialized and modernized from what Atget and Rauschenberg saw. Not only does the entrance for the metro overwhelm the square, but so do the amount of people coming in and out of the train stop. The people come out of metro with determined looks on their faces. They do not window shop, but they all appear to be on a mission to get to a particular destination.
According to Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris, Atget worked to take pictures of empty spaces, which has stayed consistent but also changed with time. The square is full of people, but is certainly not a place one would leisurely spend a day. It remains empty in the sense that no one plans to inhabit there - it is a place of movement. At first glance, the square would be nearly unrecognizable to both Atget and Rauschenberg. As they looked further, they could identify the buildings and the effects of Haussmannization. Rauschenberg would notice the two trees, that are still standing, which he captured in his photograph. The trees show a sort of consistency throughout the city, despite the slight changes in the trees appearance. Although the square has become commercialized and altered greatly over time, these two trees stand there as a symbol of the city and how some things always stay the same despite time.

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