Robert Capa, [Eiffel Tower, Paris], July 1952
On March 31, 1889, twenty-one cannon shots sounded the inauguration of the Old Lady of Paris. Gustave Eiffel realized a technical feat by constructing his eponymous tower in only two years, two months, and five days for the World’s Fair held for the centenary of the French Revolution. One thousand sixty-three feet high, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made building for forty-one years until the 1930 achievement of the Chrysler Building.
Ilse Bing, Eiffel Tower with Thermometer, 1934
However, the popularity of the Iron Lady has not always been as high as it is today. Parisians were more than reluctant with the idea of such an imposing metallic structure disfiguring the capital’s landscape. In fact, even artists, writers, and musicians protested. In February 1887, they wrote a petition against the “useless and monstrous” tower. Guy de Maupassant even claimed that he would often have lunch at the tower restaurant because “it’s the only place in Paris where I don’t have to see it.” The tower was actually not supposed to remain indefinitely in the Champs de Mars but to be dismantled twenty years after its creation. Gustave Eiffel justified the scientific purpose of the tower with the installation of laboratories and observation stations and the use of the tower as a radio diffusion antenna, which saved the Iron Lady from its tragic fate.
Weegee, [Eiffel Tower], 1957
Nowadays, the ultimate symbol of Paris is one of the most visited buildings in the world. It is also duplicated on various types of objects and materials. Roland Barthes once described the tower as “an inimitable and endlessly reproduced object.” This notion of reproducibility obviously suggests the medium of photography, which was also trying to win its spurs at the late 1880s.
Robert Doisneau, Paris, ca. 1944