The frivolous nightlife of Paris of the 1950s (and other decades) always attracted brilliant photographers. Frank Horvat was one of them. In 1956, he photographed prostitutes, strippers, and visitors to a nightclub in the Pigalle square area.
“Robert Doisneau and other humanist photographers greatly romanticized 1950s Paris. But the city did not look like their pictures, – Horvat recalls. – It was poor and dilapidated. Pigalle square was in the center of all poems and songs, but this place didn’t look very pleasant. It was shabby and dirty. Although you can take excellent photos.”
Oldics has published some peculiar photos of the cities of the 1950s. Some bright pictures of the post-war New York. The Soviet lifestyle in the 1950s Moscow, or the noteworthy Vancouver photos (1950s-1960s). You may have seen even some bizarre photographs of the Dior models in Moscow in 1959. Time has come to shed light on the Paris of the 1950s.
Who was Frank Horvat
Frank Horvat was born in 1928 in Opatija (then Italy, nowadays – the territory of Croatia). At the age of fifteen, he traded his collection of postage stamps for a 35mm Retinamat camera. In Horvat moved to Lugano, Switzerland. Then, in the late 1940s, he lived in Milan, studied at the Brera Academy of Arts.
He first visited the French capital in 1950. During the short business trip (taking some advertising photoshoots), Frank Horvat met well-known photographers Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. His prompt meeting with those prominent cameramen meant a lot for a young Horvat. He switched to the Leica camera and traveled to Pakistan and India, taking photos and looking for a unique shooting style.
Moving to Paris in the 1950s
In 1956 Horvat moved to Paris. He was 28 years old, and his reportage photographs hit the Italian magazine Epoca pages in 1951, Paris Match, Life and Picture Post. Soon after his moval to Paris, a New York-based agency commissioned him to photograph a “sexy” story about the ill-famed Parisian nightlife. The photographer happily accepted the task because he needed money.
Horvat went to Pigalle Square, on the border of the 9th and 18th districts. This place was a kind of red-light district in Paris. It was famous for sex shops and frivolous adult entertainment venues, including the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret. Here, at the Pigalle, there was once the studio of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It was a place where Vincent Van Gogh, Andre Breton, and Pablo Picasso lived.
The difficulties of the entrance
Horvat, unsurprisingly, couldn’t enter any of the nightlife locations with his camera. The only place he could infiltrate to was the Le Sphinx club. It wasn’t the largest and not the most prestigious strip club, named after the legendary Parisian brothel. Nonetheless, this place was well-known. Brassai and Man Ray had their brilliant photoshoots here in the 1930s, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart visited it, and Marlene Dietrich met Madeleine Solange.
The doorman of the Le Sphinx let Frank Horvat into the club for 5,000 francs. The photographer had fifteen minutes only, as his presence provoked a protest from the girls. However, Horvat turned out to be a quick photographer and, by that time, had managed to shoot five films. One of the most famous photographs taken that night (below) took the Vogue magazine’s whole spread.
The photographer stayed in France and documented life in the capital, but this is a completely different story. And in this collection, “Paris for tourists” or “Paris at night” 1950s through the lens of Frank Horvat. Most of the pictures are from the Le Sphinx club, but there are also a few pictures from the rue Saint-Denis.
Read more: 50 amazing and bizarre photos
“I don’t know if he is a businessman or a tourist, but the main thing is that he is alone and drinks champagne,” Horvat said about that photo. – It doesn’t look like the character is having a great time, but he “made” this shot. The eerie painting on the wall behind the visitor contributes to the magic of the stilled moment. When the stripper walked by, her naked body looked like a marble sculpture in the light of the lamps. It was not I who made it, but it was given to me. I can never repeat it again, even if someone pays me a million pounds. “