April 21, 2008 / 5:39 PM / in 11 years

Color photos of Paris under Nazis kick up storm

PARIS (Reuters) - An exhibition of rare color photographs of occupied Paris in World War Two has sparked a controversy in France, with some politicians saying it paints too rosy a picture of life under the Nazis.

An undated handout of a poster advertising an exhibition of photographs by Andre Zucca called "Parisians under the Occupation." REUTERS/Mairie de Paris/Handout

Paris deputy mayor Christophe Girard, who heads the city’s culture department, has even suggested shutting down the show of work by French photographer Andre Zucca unless the organizers seek to counterbalance the cheery vision on display.

“It doesn’t explain enough that this was Nazi propaganda, and this makes me vomit... As it stands, we’re looking at revisionist history,” Girard told Reuters on Monday.

Called “Parisians under the Occupation”, the 270 color photos depict a wartime Paris with more emphasis on joy than the jackboot — which Girard says is inappropriate for an occupation still painful in French collective memory.

“We plan to discuss the matter with historians and see if we can modify things to save the exhibition. But if we can’t, I’d like to see it closed,” Girard said.

Photography was forbidden in occupied Paris, but Zucca, a Frenchman who died in 1973, obtained permits and supplies from his employer — the Nazi propaganda magazine Signal.

The happy-go-lucky shots include a grande dame on a shopping promenade, sunbathers lounging along the river Seine, chic youths flirting and families spending a day at the races — life going on as normal in a city prized by the Nazis.

Many consider Zucca a collaborator for working where he did, but that didn’t keep throngs of Parisians from packing the municipal historical library housing the photos last weekend.

At the entrance, curators distributed notices explaining how the never-before displayed photos of an easy-going wartime Paris were the fruit of Zucca’s connection with the Nazis.

“He owed this ‘privilege’ to his employment by Signal, the German organ of Nazi propaganda,” it said, adding that requirements of 1940s-era color film meant photos had to be taken in bright, sunny conditions.

German troops make scant appearance in the exhibition, but some grim realities do surface, if rarely: Jews appear wearing the Star of David, and official notices explain that resistance members would be summarily shot as illegal combatants.

To organizers the photos, purchased from Zucca’s family, offer a valuable if biased snapshot of a dark period of history.

“To me, Andre Zucca is a great photographer,” exhibition commissioner Jean Baronet told the newspaper Liberation.

“When he photographed Paris and the Parisians from 1940 onwards, it was also great art, and with an extraordinary mastery of composition,” he said.

For more information about the exhibition (in French), click on the following link: here

Editing by Jon Boyle

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