Paris Museum Shifts Its Gaze to San Francisco

One of America's favorite cities is the focus of a new exhibition of historic panorama photographs as France's Carnavalet Museum kicks off a new series of shows

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PARISIANS, who consider their city second to none, have opened their hearts to another city: San Francisco. The first non-Paris exhibit at the Carnavalet Museum features historic-panorama photographs of the California city.

The Carnavalet, an exquisite museum in the medieval Marais district that treats the history of Paris, is now welcoming others of the world's great cities into its gilt doors through occasional exhibitions.

This is not only to better acquaint Parisians with the development and history of other cities, but also to allow the many tourists who visit the Carnavalet to develop a broader perspective on the City of Light.

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``This is our first exhibit focusing on a city other than Paris, and it's not by chance that our first is an American city,'' says the Carnavalet's chief curator, Jean-Marc Leri.

``We are particularly interested in the city of the 19th century, and here we have in San Francisco a settlement that grew into a city in an absolutely spectacular manner over 20 years of the last century.''

The Carnavalet's exhibit, which runs through April 3, presents the 360-degree photographic panorama of San Francisco taken by photographer Eadweard Muybridge in July 1878.

THE exhibit includes both earlier and later documentation of San Francisco's phenomenal development from a village of 400 in 1847 to a booming city of 240,000 at the time of Muybridge's project. It was first shown in Montreal at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), which owns the panorama, and in San Francisco.

``San Francisco was the subject of more photographic panoramas in the 19th century than any other city,'' says David Harris, photographic curator of the CCA and the exhibit's coordinator.

``The first panorama of New York was not even made until 1876.''

The genius of the Carnavalet exhibit is a second panorama, also taken from San Francisco's Nob Hill but in 1990 by American photographer Mark Klett.

The exhibit ends with apocalyptic scenes of San Francisco just after the earthquake and fire of April 1906.

Despite the images of total destruction - of ``paradise lost,'' says Mr. Leri - the Klett panorama is there to testify to a second rise of the city by the bay, a rise as spectacular as the first.

The Carnavalet will look at ``Changing New York: The 1930s'' in 1996, before treating St. Petersburg and other world-class cities.

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