La Commune de Paris, 1871 - 6 May until 20 June 2015

A retrospect on ‘Le Temps des Cerises’.

During the French-Prussian war of 1870-71, the French Army under the command of Napoleon III capitulated at the battle of Sedan. After the following German occupation of Paris, the new French government permitted a German garrison to station within the perimeters of the city. Due to a grudge towards the French government, the workers and national guards in Paris revolted on the 18th of March 1871 and exclaimed the “La Commune”.

The revolutionaries installed their own government and could count on the participation of anarchists, socialists, blanquists as well as republican liberals. Democratic elections were held and the decrees concerned protection of workers against exploitation, a righteous justice system and equality between man and woman. Nevertheless the uprising was struck down by the French Army under the command of marshal Mac Mahon, during the “Semaine Sanglante” (the Bloody Week) from the 21th until the 28th of May 1871. Between the 3rd of April and the 28th of May, 20 000 people were killed or shot and 38 000 arrests took place.
The “Commune” is the first revolution that has been extensively photographed: ruins caused by the bombings of the German and French armies, the actions of the rebels (such as taking down the “Colonne Vendôme”, with the statue of Napoleon on top), portraits of artists such as the painter Gustave Courbet (who was president of the Cultural Board during the Commune) and also group portraits of the rebels at the city hall and on top of the barricades. These events were photographed in a monumental way and in some cases even staged. Photos were sometimes edited for propaganda purposes, to enlarge the actions of the Commune’s responsibles. These pictures were also spread out among the foreign tourists, who afterwards came to visit the ruined city. They could return home with a souvenir of this “rage”.

There were approximately 300 working photographers in Paris, which was a large number for an era in which photography just left it’s experimental phase. They came to a point where they could capture professional portraits and other forms of photography. By using the “wet collodion-process” consisting of a glass plate on which a sensitive emulsion was applied, they could develop their pictures faster and spread their material more frequently.
These photos belong to the first photojournalism in history.

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