In the early 1950s, a young Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken arrived in Paris to begin his career as a photographer. By day he worked for Magnum, by night—inspired by Weegee’s photographs in Picture Post—Van der Elsken documented the emerging underground youth culture of the city’s Left Bank.
In 1954, Van der Elsken compiled a volume of photographs Love on the Left Bank that followed a young Beatnik girl “Ann” through the gangs of bohemians, musicians and vagabonds who hung around the bars, clubs and flophouses of St Germain-des-Prés. Ann was in fact “played” by Vali Myers—an Australian artist, model, muse and associate of Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, who Patti Smith later recalled as:
...the supreme beatnik chick—thick red hair and big black eyes, black boatneck sweaters and trench coats.
As described on its first publication in 1956, Love on the Left Bank was “a story in photographs about Paris”—a freeform impressionistic tale of Ann and her life among the “young men and girls who haunt the Left bank”:
They dine on half a loaf, smoke hashish, sleep in parked cars or on benches under the plane trees, sometimes borrowing a hotel room from a luckier friend to shelter their love. Some of them write,or paint, or dance. Ed van der Elsken, a young Dutch photographer, stalked his prey for many months along the boulevards, in the cafés and under the shadow of prison walls. Whatever may happen in real life to Ann and her Mexican lover, their strange youth will be preserved ‘alive’ in this book for many years.
Ed Van der Elsken‘s photographs changed perceptions about youth culture and anticipated the changes a younger generation brought to culture during the 1960s. Love on the Left Bank is available again, having been republished by Dewi Lewis publishers.
Via Flashbak and American Suburb.