Drawn to Place du Tertre in 1899, Eugene Atget captured the square at a time when the neighborhood of Montmartre was flourishing with the activity of young artists that congregated in the area because of the cheap rents and active social scene. Nearly one-hundred years later in 1998, Christopher Rauschenberg revisited the same site to find a completely developed area that drew tourists to visit the place that once was a mecca for modern art. Today, Place du Tertre appears relatively similar to the site that Rauschenberg visited twenty years ago, with the only alterations being a continually growing souvenir artist community and tourist scene. The process of revisiting the same site throughout time allows for a tangible observation of the alterations and consistencies that have occurred over the past century at Place du Tertre.
Place du Tertre sits high above the city of Paris in Montmartre, only moments away from the Basilica of the Sacre Couer. At one time, Montmartre was independent from the city of Paris and an area where the city's unaccepted populations could congregate together far from the judgment of the city-dwellers. In the early 20th century, the area housed fledgling artists like Renoir and Picasso and was rampant with poverty and crime due to low housing costs and a developing community. In Atget's initial photograph, hints of this environment may be garnered from the lackluster storefronts and empty streets. Since this time, Montmartre and Place du Tertre have transformed from an area where artists flocked to explore the boundaries of modern art to an area where tourists commonly stop while visiting the most popular sites in the city of Paris. Rauschenberg's photograph perfectly embodies this shift with the appearance of the easels for street artists in the square and tables for outdoor dining along the road. Montmartre no longer houses Parisian outcasts and is now one of the city's poshest neighborhoods, drawing the wealthy to purchase homes perched high above the city center. Regardless of this change of character, Place du Tertre still exhibits traces of the artist community that once existed there.
Unlike the current bustling art market that exist in Place du Tertre today, Atget's initial photograph of the square shows a relatively peaceful scene. While the area was clearly populated, only locals appeared to visit the deserted square, which is evident through the sparse retail in the area. The most compelling object in his image is the newsstand that is partially hidden by a tree that advertises the shows currently playing in the area. While this newsstand no longer exists, these promotions symbolize the bustling nightlife that occurred in Montmartre and that continues in the area today. Beyond this newsstand, Atget's image displays a lackluster setting. The young trees in Atget's photograph overtake the setting and distract from the mundane building facades that surround them. These same trees still exist in the Place du Tertre today but are almost unnoticeable due to the overwhelming crowds that visit the square each day. No longer could one walk peacefully unobstructed through the area as they could in Atget's photograph because hundreds of artists now bargain with tourists in order to sell cliché images of Paris, caricatures, and other trinkets. The authentic artist community that thrived in the area during Atget's time has been replaced by street artists hoping to emulate the past in order to sell their works to tourists making a pilgrimage to the former neighborhood of so many influential painters.
Similarly to today, Rauschenberg's image captures the character of the Place du Tertre as one that caters to tourists above all else. He aptly shows the growing kitsch art community in the Place du Tertre and the increasing popularity of the neighborhood of Montmartre. While the physical building structures have remained the same, the appearance of restaurants and signs of human interaction with the square signal the transformations undergone in the area since the time when Atget photographed the neighborhood inhabited by fringe artists and Parisian outcasts. Over the course of the century between Atget and Rauschenberg's shots, a clear shift occured in Montmartre. Similarly to Atget, Rauschenberg captures the trees that dot the square, but these trees are no longer the focal point of the image. Due to the increasing activity in the square, the easels draw the viewer's attention, while the trees begin to fade into the background. The significance of the trees in the overall landscape of the square continues to dwindle today, as Place du Tertre has become overwhelmed with more art vendors and dining options than Rauschenberg's time. Although Rauschenberg's photograph only displays two artists' easels and a relatively calm street, the Place du Tertre has continued to develop as an area for artists to congregate to the point that walking through the square is nearly impossible.
The intensity and popularity of the area has grown since 1998 when Rauschenberg visited, and tourists and artists alike now create a chaotic scene as they overrun the small square. The atmosphere has transformed into one that focuses solely on profiting from the memory of the modern artist community that once inhabited the neighborhood. The restaurant that appears in Rauschenberg's photograph still exists today but has expanded its seating into the square and is surrounded by dozens of artists' stands selling their pieces. The additional dining space obstructs a large portion of the area and makes the square more hectic because of the lack of open space. A Starbucks neighbors this restaurant, and clearly targets Western tourists as its main clientele. While throngs of people come to visit this area, the character of the space has become relatively inauthentic, as Place du Tertre has become yet another necessary stop for tourists on their quest to see the major sites of the city.
Through the process of revisiting Place du Tertre over the last century, clear shift in the purpose of the square and character of the neighborhood becomes visible. While the physical structure of the buildings remains the same, the interaction that visitors have with the space has completely transformed. No longer does Montmartre act as a quaint community, but instead the neighborhood attracts thousands of people everyday. Rephotographing this site allows for the minutia of these alterations to be magnified.