A far cry from documentary photography, the photo exhibition presented by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France entitled “Rose, c’est Paris,” by Bettina Rheims and Serge Bramly, is an erotic black and white surrealist fantasy. Taking place across the patchwork landscape of Paris – Montmartre, Palais de Justice, the Observatory – one follows the fictional search of “B.” a blond bombshell trying to uncover the wherabouts of her twin sister Rose.

"Rose, c’est Paris. Joyau de l’art gothique." © Bettina Rheims. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

Bramly’s narrative is spun throughout four short intriguing movie segments which present a series of small enigmatic theories regarding what happened to Rose – kidnapping, victim of a conspiracy, an affair gone wrong – each providing a context for the mysterious and often haunted photos of Ms. Rheims. B. encounters the likes of a volutoptous Monica Belucci, a stoic and almost frumpy Charlotte Rampling, a haughty Valerie Lemercier and an Ines Sastre as hindu dancer…characters that also represent the intimate circle of friends of Rheims and Bramly.

B. and the ghost of Rose appear more often naked than clothed,  and a provocative nudity abounds in these edgy photos…enough to redden the cheeks. Yet despite its weird and blatant display of female sexuality, there is a certain  preservation of the classical beauty of the naked female form. The body seems to always remain the center focus of the photos, drawing the viewer in with its milky white contrast to the gray and black shadows of Paris.

"Rose, c’est Paris. Joyau de l’art gothique." © Bettina Rheims. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

There is also an unmistakable harkening to Marcel Duchamp, a French Dadaist of the early 1900’s, with it’s title “Rose, c’est Paris,” and Duchamp’s fictive character Rrose Selavy (Rose c’est la vie). One photo exclusively mentions the artist in its title while displaying the ghost of Rose or B. languidly lying amonst the most banal utillitarian objects found in a warehouse such as lightbulbs, electric cords, and planks of wood.

However more subtly is Rheims photograph of a nude woman stopping the timer as she wins a chess game against a man looking suspiciously a lot like Mr. Duchamp in a photo he posed in for photographer Julian Wasser.

Photograph of Marcel Duchamp and Eve Babitz posing for the photographer Julian Wasser during the Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art, 1963

The mystery, the audacity, the creativity, and the intrigue  of Rheims and Bramly’s photography trump the daily grind and bustle of Paris and revive the capital as a place full of questions and curiosities that have no answers, a sensual city that is not without its cruelness, and moreover a place that nourishes and inspires the artist’s soul.

Practical Information:

Rose, c’est Paris

Richelieu (Metro Bourse)

Tuesday-Saturday from 10h to 19h

Sunday from 12h-19h

Adult 7 euros

Under 26, 5 euros