176 rue Saint-Denis falls right on the corner of Passage Basfour in the 2nd Arrondissement of Paris, in the heart of the district, Les Halles. Les Halles has been known for its incredible food, and today, contains one of the largest shopping centers in Paris. In 1907, when Eugène Atget captured 176 rue Saint-Denis through his photography, the area thoroughly represented what one would expect Les Halles to be like at the time. Passage Basfour looked rather run down, as there were wooden shutters over the windows, and the building, itself, was painted many different colors, noticeable through the black and white splotches in the picture. On the other side of the passage was a café, where you can see outdoor chairs for customers to enjoy the busyness of the Parisian streets. In front of 176 rue Saint-Denis, which seemed to be some type of restaurant or boulangerie, there was a type of wagon that could have been used for the purpose of carrying goods or products. Further, directly to the right of the location was a boucherie, which makes me additionally inquire that 176 rue Saint-Denis was some type of food store when Atget captured the photograph. There was a man standing directly in the door frame, giving the impression that he was the owner of what seemed like a one-man business. Ultimately, the location that Atget initially captured in 1907 was drastically different from the location that I observed a few days ago.
When Rauschenberg captured Passage Basfour in 1998, the location had transformed in a variety of ways. Compared to Atget’s photograph, Rauschenberg’s photograph was a little bit more defined regarding what purpose the location actually served. It is clear from the sign on the building that the location was a patisserie and boulangerie. The passage, itself, was still rather dark and eerie looking, but you can notice through comparing the two pictures that some of the paint had been redone on the building by the time that Rauschenberg captured it. Further, between 1907 and 1998, the space to the right transitioned from a boucherie to a clothing store, making me believe that more consumer shops began appearing around this time, potentially due to the fact that Les Halles began to attract more tourists. It is evident that the roads had been repaved for cars and pedestrians, and in addition to this, you can see cars on the road and individuals strolling down the sidewalks. This supports the idea that the area had started to become more up and coming by the time Rauschenberg captured his photograph, as the location in Atget’s photograph looks very deserted and somewhat featureless. Although Atget’s picture represents a less bustling area, it displays a more authentic seeming location than that of Rauschenberg’s. Rauschenberg’s photo, displaying the locked-up boulangerie and a more modernized aura, gives me the impression that the interlude between the two photos allowed the area to become a bit more corrupted by city life. Ultimately, compared to Atget’s photo, Rauschenberg’s photo demonstrates a location that began to move in sync with the modernization of the city of Paris.
When I visited 176 rue Saint-Denis last week, the area had transformed a surprising amount from 1998. I walked down rue Saint-Denis for about 25 minutes before I reached my location, taking in everything around me. The street of Les Halles was extremely busy, at some points being nearly impossible for me to take a step in front of me without stepping on another tourist’s feet. The area was full of sightseers, eating at the various street café’s, walking in and out of a number of clothing stores, many of which were American brands, and grabbing gelato to then continue on their journey. The beginning of the street had a great deal of restaurants and a very urban energy to it, aligning with the stereotype of Les Halles’ food-dominated and trendy culture, but the closer I got to 176 rue Saint-Denis, the less I felt as if I was in the bustling, creative, wholesome area that I knew. I began to notice a lot of sex shops around me, with one often directly following the other. The amount of restaurants began to dwindle and not as many people were around. The area began to feel a little dicey, which I was not expecting before I began my expedition to my location. As I was observing all of this, I kept pondering over how innocent and naïve the area seemed in Atget and Rauschenberg’s photos, with just hints of urbanization present. Before I even reached my destination, I could tell that the area had been extremely modernized, and in my opinion, somewhat to a fault.
I continued strolling down the street, and when I finally reached 176 rue Saint-Denis, I was extremely surprised with what I found. The location, itself, had turned into a pizza place with the name of Mamma Mia Pizzeria Artisante. Right next door was a barber shop that had an odd mixture of an old-fashioned, yet urbanized aesthetic. Further, across the street from Mamma Mia was a strip club with naked women printed on the windows, an observation that only added to my sentiments that the area had been faultily urbanized. The Passage Basfour looked less eerie and much brighter than it did in Atget and Rauschenberg’s photos, and in fact, several people were walking down the alleyway. Although less than on earlier areas of the street, there were still people around, and although the pizzeria was closed, it was easy to get a feel for its atmosphere by observing the surroundings. The shutters and windows of Mamma Mia were the same as they were in Rauschenberg’s picture of the location, but the paint on the building had been recently redone, which was a drastic improvement from the splotched walls present in 1907 and 1998. The architecture of the actual building has remained exactly the same from 1907 to 2018, leaving the area with a fleeting sense of authenticity. The random mixture of commercial shops, services, and restaurants deprived the location of the unique and bona fide personality that it once possessed. Ultimately, if I had not been studying the transformation between the photos, it would have been extremely difficult for me to realize that the 176 rue Saint-Denis that I observed in person was the same as that captured in the two earlier photographs.
What was once the quaint and quiet looking 176 rue Saint-Denis, next to the Passage Basfour, is now an overly urbanized, rather touristy area that is somewhat disappointing to the beauty of Les Halles. When observing the transition between the three photographs, it is evident just how prominent a role urbanization plays in the transformation of an area. If one were to look solely at photos of the location in present day, they would assume that the area was overly saturated with tourists with a few restaurants and cafés dispersed nearby, painting a false deception of Les Halles, the trendy area of Paris known largely for its food presence. While both Atget and Rauschenberg’s photos capture the quaint and creative character of Les Halles, Rauschenberg captures the location at a time in which hints of urbanization can begin to be observed. But, it is in the 20 years between Rauschenberg’s photo and present day that excessive urbanization begins to taint the area around 176 rue Saint-Denis, taking away from the authentic and hip character that the rest of Les Halles adds to Paris.