photo book review: Love on the Left Bank

Love on the Left Bank

photographs by
Ed van der Elsken

Artists, hipsters, bohemians, actors, dancers, jazz musicians, writers and poets in 1950s Paris lived a wildly romanticized life — much as their contemporaries in America, the Beatniks, were finding a wild new way to live after the second world war.

Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken was part of the scene in Paris at the time, and in 1956, he published a ground-breaking photobook called Love on the Left Bank. His gritty, sexy, black-and-white photos of bohemian life in Paris captured a reckless, carefree, decadent and hedonistic love for life. A fictional text and captions (corny, for sure), accompanied the photos in the book.

Here is an excerpt from the dust-jacket of the original 1956 English-language edition of the book:

“A story in photographs about Paris – the Paris of the young men and girls who haunt the Left Bank. They dine on half a loaf, smoke hashish, sleep in parked cars or on benches under the plane trees, sometimes borrowing a hotel room from a luckier friend to shelter their love. Some of them write,or paint, or dance. Ed van der Elsken, a young Dutch photographer, stalked his prey for many months along the boulevards, in the cafés and under the shadow of prison walls. Whatever may happen in real life to Ann and her Mexican lover, their strange youth will be preserved ‘alive’ in this book for many years.”

The original book, long out-of-print, and avidly sought by collectors and photographers, has been re-published in a stunningly beautiful facsimile edition by UK photobook publishers Dewi Lewis.

Highly recommended.

— Jim Casper


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