Walking through the streets of today’s beautiful Paris, it’s hard to believe that it was once a war-torn city occupied by Nazi forces. Here, though, French photographer Julien Knez opens a door to the past by overlaying old photos onto modern-day backdrops to recreate the Liberation of Paris during World War II.
Knez’s technique was simply yet effective. He merely gathered photos of Paris during the war and found the exact location of where they were taken. He then took a new photo from the same angle, holding the old photo in front of the camera to create a unique juxtaposition between past and present.
Knez also recreated other key moments in Paris’ history, including Hitler’s tour of the city in 1940 and the Great Flood of 1910, in which the city’s sewers and subways were deluged. But it’s his 50-photo series commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris that really gives pause.
Indeed, his work gives us an idea of what it was like to be witness to the exceptional events of the time. “It was very intense to imagine the fights in the streets I know as a Parisian,” Knez told The Washington Post.
That these photos make us think is what makes them so powerful: we are reminded that Paris is not just a beautiful city, but one rich with history.
“The overlay of historical photos on contemporary views opened amazing windows to the past,” Knez wrote on his website. “Thus, the event that did not necessarily leave physical evidence, recovers a genuine existence and the city today is seen literally inhabited by its history.”
Knez created the time-capsule photos over a two-month period and posted them on his blog, Golem 13. We see captured soldiers being marched past the Louvre, sandbags piled high before Notre-Dame, and civilians taking cover in the Place de la République.
Indeed, iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe all make appearances. And the black-and-white images remind us that there was a time when no one – Parisians nor tourists – could enjoy these landmarks.
In fact, German forces invaded Paris in August 1940, announcing their arrival early in the morning via loudspeaker. Two million Parisians had already fled the city, but the remaining citizens faced life under Nazi rule.
The occupiers inhabited the city quickly. Tanks rolled down the boulevards and a giant swastika flag was hung beneath the Arc de Triomphe; the Gestapo began making arrests and interrogations without haste.
The images of Paris under siege are certainly shocking on their own. In one, tree-lined paths are framed in barbed wire; in another, armed men stand hunched behind corner cafés.
Buildings in the city were barricaded. Mounds of sandbags throughout the streets, meanwhile, helped protect civilians and resistance fighters alike from enemy fire.
And, to be sure, French Resistance fighters and Allied Forces fought hard against the occupation until 1944. And when Paris was finally liberated, the French President Charles de Gaulle waved to crowds from the Hôtel De Ville.
This was on August 25, 1944, when German General Dietrich von Choltitz at last surrendered the city. The same day, French Resistance and Allied forces took over the senate. Indeed, one of Knez’s photos shows French President de Gaulle marching down the Champs-Élysées following Paris’s liberation.
Of course, Parisians took to the streets to celebrate. They climbed over tanks in the road as the triumphant Allied and French Resistance troops marched through the city.
And a victory celebration was held the next day at Place de la Concorde. Shots fired from nearby rooftops put a brief halt to the street party, but the merriment soon continued.
The festive crowd continued on, making its way down the Champs-Élysées, which today is one of Paris’ must-visit destinations. There was even a second victory parade three days later.
These significant moments, and more, that were captured during the liberation are now reborn in Knez’s work. And, in fact, Knez created them in 2014 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Paris’ freedom.
After Knez published his unique photos on his website, he was approached by a publishing company to collate them in a book. The result, Paris: Fenêtres sur l’Histoire, is out now.
In addition to these arresting images, Knez has also expressed his creativity in more light-hearted ways: in one highly reposted blog, for example, he reimagines modern DVD covers as old-school VHS tapes. The results were often hilarious.