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The romance is long gone

ON VIEW

March 09, 2008|Diane Haithman

Forget Paris -- at least, forget romance, the Eiffel Tower and really good baguettes. The exhibition "Beyond the Iconic: Contemporary Photographs of Paris, 1971-2003," at the Central Library's Getty Gallery through June 1, portrays the City of Light not as a City of Darkness, exactly, but as an urban center where graffiti, homelessness and blight coexist with the fairy tale.

To the exhibition curators, Los Angeles scholars Guy Bennett and his wife, Beatrice Mousli, that Paris sounds a lot like L.A.

Bennett, who teaches literature and translation at Otis College of Art and Design, and Paris-born Mousli, USC instructor of French language and literature, have long been fascinated by the second-glance similarities between Paris and L.A. In 2006, they organized a Paris colloquium of writers, artists and academics to dissect the myth and reality of Los Angeles.

"Beyond the Iconic," Bennett says, holds the myth of Paris up to similar scrutiny. "In the colloquium on Los Angeles, it was hot dog-shaped buildings, the palm trees and the Hollywood sign; the other side gets short shrift," Bennett says. "It's the same with Paris, with the cafes and the Eiffel Tower."

Bennett and Mousli selected 140 photos, which have never traveled outside France, from the Musee Carnavalet of Paris. Although the museum features plenty of iconic images, Bennett and Mousli avoided dreamy black-and-white cafes in favor of images that go beyond the obvious -- including a series on North American cities named Paris, shot by four French students from New Jersey's Rutgers University.

-- Diane Haithman

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