By 1850 the water system in Paris was failing. Wastewater was being discharged directly into the Seine, the city’s primary source of drinking water. When Napoleon III took power in 1852 he had ambitious plans to modernize the city. In 1853 he appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann to advance his plans and in 1855 Haussmann enlisted Eugène Belgrand as Director of Water and Sewers. Under Belgrand’s direction, Paris’s waterworks became one of the celebrated icons of 19th century technical advancement and modernization. Belgrand considered it his national duty to document the accomplishment.
In five parts, Les Travaux Souterrains de Paris documents Belgrand’s massive project. It is also an incunabula of photogravure in mid to late 19th century France. Over the twelve year period of its publication, Les Travaux printed examples of photogravures by Drivet, Goupil and Dujardin. Taking advantage of not only hydro engineering cutting edge technology, Haussmann tapped the cutting edge technical advancements in photography and printing – namely the photogravure – to promote the project internationally.
Peter J. Holliday, The Fascination with the Past, John Henry Parker’s Photographs of Rome, California State University Art Gallery, San Bernadino, 1991, no. 24