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Walk on the Paris Side

In the Gallery

The International Center of Photography’s ‘Les Amies de Place Blanche’ exhibits the colorful ‘ladies’ of the City of Light’s more noir-ish nights.

It may be a coincidence that NYC’s ICP is showing works by Weegee, and those by the lesser-known true-grit shooter, the Swedish photographer Christer Stromholm. But the two have so much in common: sensationalism carrying gravity beyond the initial shock effects. Both show their subjects expecting the camera and waiting for their close-ups, as well as on their off-time, in oft-domestically shattering backdrops of grim reality.

Here’s what the photogr about aphy museum says Stromholm, and the gripping exhibition, which is running through September 2nd:

“Christer Strömholm (1918–2002) was one of the great photographers of the 20th century, but he is little known outside of his native Sweden.

“This exhibition presents his most powerful and acclaimed body of work: Les Amies de Place Blanche, a documentation of transsexual “ladies of the night” in Paris in the 1960s.

“Arriving in Paris in the late 1950s, Strömholm settled in Place Blanche in the heart of the city’s red-light district. There, he befriended and photographed young transsexuals struggling to live as women and to raise money for sex-change operations.

“Strömholm’s surprisingly intimate portraits and lush Brassaï-like night scenes form a magnificent, dark, and at times quite moving photo album, a vibrant tribute to these girls, the “girlfriends of Place Blanche.” The photographs were first published in Sweden in 1983, and the book quickly sold out, becoming a cult classic; it is being reissued in French and English this year. Strömholm’s photo-essay raises profound issues about sexuality and gender; as he wrote in 1983, “It was then—and still is—about obtaining the freedom to choose one’s own life and identity.”

“This exhibition, the first presentation of Strömholm’s work in an American museum, is organized by ICP Curatorial Assistant Pauline Vermare.”

Here’s what we say: Get into the grim on a rainy summer day. These aren’t your preening Vegas showgirl-type drag queens. You may get pulled in over the voyeurism of their impossible “passable-ness.” But grow up and look at them for the art that they are, and the courage the “gals” must have had to show in a time when transgenders weren’t quite so accepted and celebrated by tourists going to Broadway musicals. Indeed, dressing in drag in ‘50s-Paris was illegal and could land one in jail.

ICP is located at 1133 Sixth Avenue, at 43rd Street (aptly enough). For more information and images, go to: icp.org.

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