Journal of Romance Studies

Photography as cultural memory: imag(in)ing France in the 1950s

Journal of Romance Studies (2005), 5, (2), 75–90.

Abstract

This article explores how memory, whether construed as personal, collective or cultural, may be mobilized in and through mass-disseminated ‘documentary’ photography. Drawing on Halbwachs’s models for the production of memory and informed by Georges Perec’s concept of ‘fictive memory’, it argues that the work of so-called humanist photographers like Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis can be said to have structured visual cultural memory in and of France in the postwar period. Philippe Delerm’s novel Les Amoureux de l’Hôtel de Ville (1993) is enlisted as a symptom of the extent to which an image like Doisneau’s Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville has provided a public site of convergence for the personal memories of many, while the text written by Didier Daeninckx for Ronis’s book Belleville-Ménilmontant (1999), is brought to bear on the importance of revision, narrative and imagination in the construction of a photographic work of memory.

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Vestberg, Nina Lager