Charles Baudelaire, in his poem “The Eyes of the Poor” reveals the mixing of classes that occurred with Haussmannization in Paris. In the poem, a lower-class family walks down a new boulevard and looks in the cafes at the bourgeois patrons. The narrator seems to have an anthropologist’s detached interest in the family. He is content to watch their reactions to the spectacles on the new boulevard, however his female companion disapproves of the longing way that the poor family looks at the café and its patrons.
From the 1880s until the turn of the century, the spectacle of the new boulevard was an enticement of its own. The wide sidewalks attracted pedestrians and provided additional space for cafes to spill out of doors and into the street. Flânerie became a pastime of the idle rich, and perhaps Parisians became more aware of looking and being looked at in return. The “theater of the street” provided endless entertainment – the poor had the opportunity to see how the bourgeoisie spent their leisure hours, while the bourgeois could either take advantage of the amusements, or simply disappear into the crowd and watch.
Although Brassai’s photograph was made more than seventy years after Baudelaire wrote “The Eyes of the Poor,” I think that it is indicative of the type of interaction that would have happened on the streets of Second Empire Paris. The photograph shows a Montmartre woman sitting alone at a café table dressed in unfashionable clothing that appears to be almost a parodic attempt at bourgeois style. She is looking at something that is outside of the frame of the photograph, but she appears to be looking intently. This could be a scene that a Parisian flâneur would have observed, an anonymous encounter that may have gone unnoticed by one of the parties involved.