Looking Inside and Out

by William Meyers


The Wall Street Journal


When Pierre Yves Petit (1886-1969) was 12, he bought a camera with 100 francs he “borrowed” from his father without his permission. Pierre was reprimanded, but allowed to keep the camera. In the period after World War I, there was a big increase in French tourism and a corresponding increase in the demand for postcards to memorialize one’s visits. Mr. Petit, using the pseudonym Yvon, took exquisite postcard photographs of Paris that he had run off in England on a gravure press in lots of 10,000. Editions d’Art Yvon was a one-man operation, with Mr. Petit taking pictures, ordering postcards and selling them to souvenir shops and newsstands.

Petit’s city is a place of civility and romantic beauty; of booksellers by the Seine and flower sellers outside the parks and on the bridges; of river barges, palaces, churches, fountains, monuments and cathedrals. He photographed at sunrise and sunset when there would be dramatic shadows, or when clouds and mist gave the city a sense of atmosphere.

He shot from atop Notre Dame with gargoyles in the foreground and Paris’s rooftops fading away in the distance. He juxtaposed silhouetted statues with the Eiffel Tower. He took pictures of women in broad-brimmed hats boating in the Bois de Boulogne. It is every cliche of Paris, but real, the way you want it to be.


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