Writing with light: nocturnal photography by Léon Gimpel. Paris, December 1921. Christmas Eve, an elephant takes up water from a waterfall and sprays a crowd of monkeys hidden in some palm trees. The scene is in Paris, rue de Rivoli. Made from coloured neon lighting, it was the work of the Florentine engineer, Jacopozzi. He helped transform the Paris of the twenties into “the city of light”, and gained renown with his lighting project to create the “False Paris” ordered by the French military high command during the First World War. The lighting experiments performed by this “light magician” fascinated the French photographer Léon Gimpel.
Mesmerised by illumination, Gimpel used the autochrome technique, the first colour process marketed by the Lumière Brothers. His technique consisted in overlaying two shots, one taken at dusk, and the other after nightfall, in order to capture the scene and night lighting to a maximum.
From coloured signs to decorative advertising, the lighting entertainment industry was the result of research carried out by the French chemist Georges Claude, who invented the high voltage luminescent tube (neon) in 1910.
Léon Gimpel also illustrated the impressive advertising marketing operation started by Jacopozzi. At the request of the industrialist Citroën, he transformed the Eiffel Tower, «a plain and inert dark pinnacle» into «the most wonderful magical electric theatre ever created anywhere in the world». This exceptional project was followed by the lighting of the big department stores in Paris, like the Grands Magasins du Louvre, Galeries Lafayette, Samaritaine, Bazar de l’Hôtel
de Ville, Bon Marché and even the replicas of the Angkor temples for Paris Colonial Exposition of la Porte Dorée: an amazing display of new luminous written signs for the Paris by night.
An exhibition proposed by: La Société française de photographie
Curator: Luce Lebart
by Léon Gimpel, Paris, France
From October 3rd to November 1st, 2015
Museo di Palazzo Poggi
Via Zamboni, 33