History Repeats Itself

Old photos always seem just that. Old. But these photos of Paris in 1914, just before WWI broke out, are strikingly current. They seem normal because they are colorful. And because they seem normal and familiar, they don't seem old. Last week on Twitter, Clotilde Dusoulier, the French blogger and cookbook author behind Chocolate and Zucchini, posted a link to the photos, which she had actually seen in person at an exhibit, writing "Goosebumps guaranteed!" and was she ever right.

These photos were taken as a part of The Archives of the Planet, an effort to capture all seven continents on Autochrome Lumiere, or color film, which was the height of technology at the time. Is it just me, or is it true that when we look at old photos, we separate ourselves from them because we don't live in a grainy black and white world such as that? Because when I look at these photos, all I can think is how real they look. How very much the same everything is, aside from the clothes and lack of cars and smart phones. The gleaming statues, the sun bouncing off of the roofs, the vibrant green grass, the fluffy clouds against the blue sky. It all looks so real.

And then it occurred to me that this detachment is how history repeats itself. In French, the word histoire means story. And in many ways, we are guilty of treating history as a series of stories. Although we see history replicated in movies and film in bright vivid color, it feels like a story because it is. We recognize the actors and we employ our temporary suspension of disbelief like all good audience members do. Then, when it's over, we go back to real life.

But history is real life, and when we see these colorful, bright as day, actual photos of Paris over 100 years ago, they look like scenes we could walk right into. The differences between life then and life now are reduced greatly seeing it in full color. Sure, we have technology and globalism and advances in medicine, but in the grandest sense, the most concrete sense, it seems more or less the same. History is not a collection of stories about some other world we can't relate to or connect with, but this world. This life. The same. It's pretty jarring, really. I definitely have goosebumps.

See all of the photos here. Which is your favorite?

PS - Our Paris vacation photos.