Young man with pitchfork, Studio Maignet, Paris, date unknown

I collect old portrait cards all over the world but it was the semiotics of this one that intrigued me.  I found this portrait in Paris at the flea market that takes place on the side of the Marché d’Aligre in the 12e and it was presented with no great ceremony in a pile of other old photographs of varying quality.  It was taken at Studio Maignet at 36, rue de Belleville at a time when that district was better known for Edith Piaf and its hardscrabble inhabitants than, say, for the gastronomy of Le Baratin.  It was common practice for photo studios to use a painted backdrop to memorialize an atmosphere of bourgeois luxury that the sitters might not often encounter in real life and here, though bleached out a bit by time, you can see on the cloth behind the figure the outline of marble steps of a grand chateau.  What was less common was to reveal the artifice of this creation, which is apparent here in the straw at his feet and the pitchfork in his hand.  This, surely, was intentional; surprising, then, that it would take France another 50 or 60 years to give us post-modernism, where this sort of drawing attention to the construct of an image serves to subvert the medium.

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