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Jeu de Paume Opens Paris City of Photography 1920-1940 from the Christian Bougueret Collection
Emmanuel Sougez, Repoz, 1935. BNF

PARIS.- A collection raises many questions about the whys and wherefores of its contents and its history, but also about the personality, sensibility, aspirations and ambitions of the person who created it […] Christian Bouqueret is at once a collector of photographs (original prints, but also books and magazines, etc.), a historian of photography, an exhibition organiser, a publisher and a dealer. Like the famous collection of André Jammes, who was a precursor in the study of nineteenth-century photography, that of Christian Bouqueret – who admits that he is motivated more by an urge for comparative study than by a deep desire to possess – can be described as a “study collection.” It is sustained both by a passion for the medium – its aesthetic, techniques and history – and by the felt need to “make photography talk” through continuous research which bears fruit in thematic and monograph publications.

Christian Bouqueret “entered into” photography in the mid-1970s when he was in Berlin studying literature and contemporary art. There he became interested in the avant-gardes of the 1920s and 30s, and started focusing on photography in Paris between the wars – a period and an aesthetic that then were still largely ignored. During those interwar years Paris was home to great numbers of artists from abroad – some voluntary residents and others forced into exile – and the practice of photography there was greatly enriched by this extraordinary mixing of influences.

Fascinated by the formal aspects, recurring themes and historical realities of the period, Christian Bouqueret spent more than thirty years building up a fabulous set of images reflecting his tastes and affinities, not only with the better known photographers, but also with many artists who had been forgotten or neglected, such as Laure Albin Guillot, Pierre Boucher, Jean Moral and Roger Parry, whose reputation he helped to revive. (…) »

This exhibition is articulated around four themes that stimulated Christian Bouqueret’s curiosity and investigations: Paris (as a crossroads of new European photography); the object (the photogram and New Objectivity); the strangeness and the manipulation of reality (the Surrealists and avant-garde experiments such as photomontage and photocollage), and the human figure (the portrait and the representation of the body).

With a selection of 120 vintage prints, plus magazines and books from the period, this exhibition offers a learned and enthusiastic panorama of the formal riches of the “new photographic vision in France.”

From the early 1920s onwards, Paris became a nexus for the cultural avant-garde. The city’s status as the centre of new European photography was undisputed. Photographers from all sorts of countries and backgrounds came to Paris, attracted by the city’s reputation for modernity and economic prosperity. Many foreign artists facing exile saw Paris as a refuge and a haven of freedom.

Photography in France thus came to enjoy a period of great creative energy, both individual and collective. French photographers including Jacques-André Boiffard, Florence Henri, Maurice Tabard, Roger Schall, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Emmanuel Sougez, Pierre Boucher, and René Zuber rubbed shoulders with foreign photographers who had come to live in Paris, either by choice or because events had forced them to flee their homelands. They included the Germans Germaine Krull, Erwin Blumenfeld, Marianne Breslauer, Gisèle Freund, and Ilse Bing, the Hungarians Ergy Landau, André Kertész, Rogi-André, André Steiner, François Kollar, and Brassaï, the Russians Hoyningen-Huene and Rudomine, the Americans Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, the Belgian Raoul Ubac, and the Lithuanian Moses Vorobeichic, better known as Moï Ver, to name but a few. Many of these photographers were doubly outsiders: not only were they expatriates living far from their home countries, they were also young, avant-garde artists breaking with cultural tradition.

This cultural melting-pot led to particularly rich encounters between certain photographers, crossing the boundaries of nationality, such as Man Ray and his French assistant Jacques-André Boiffard and Germaine Krull and her Romanian-born assistant Eli Lotar. Lotar also later worked for Jean Painlevé, Raoul Ubac, and Erwin Blumenfeld.

Paris was a great source of inspiration for these artists, as attested by the numerous books of photographs of the city published during the period. These include Germaine Krull’s 100 x Paris (1929), Moï Ver’s Paris, with an introduction by Fernand Léger (1931), Emmanuel Sougez’s Paris ville d'art (1931), Brassaï’s Paris de nuit, with accompanying text by Paul Morand, and Volupté de Paris (1933 and 1934), Ilia Ehrenbourg’s Moi Parij (My Paris) (1933), Paris vu par Kertész with accompanying text by Mac Orlan (1934), Roger Schall’s Paris de jour, with a preface by Jean Cocteau (1937), and Francis Carco’s Envoûtement de Paris, illustrated by René-Jacques (1938), to name but a few. While certain photographers were required to sideline their own aesthetic vision in favour of a purely “pretty” vision of Paris – in most instances, the publishers’ brief was to celebrate a traditional vision of the city – such books did provide work and income, and were thus difficult to turn down.

Two books published during this period did, however, mark a new departure for photography in France. In late 1927, Germaine Krull published Métal, which was to become one of the key works of the New Vision movement. The book, whose publication was met both with wild enthusiasm and uncomprehending rejection, proved effective as a tool for introducing new visual concepts and played an important part in the longevity of the New Vision movement. (…)

Brassaï’s Paris de nuit, published in 1933, is very different from Germaine Krull’s Métal, but it is nonetheless a manifesto of modernist photography in its own right. Brassaï used his mechanical camera to capture a form of reality that only his lens could see. In his photographs, the city night becomes a living, sensual being, revealing the “social fantastic” beloved of the French author Mac Orlan. (…)

The “soul” of the object: the photogram The photogram was one of the most original and significant photographic techniques to emerge in the inter-war period. It was both a new discovery and a return to the roots of photography. The technique involved placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper. The object then left a silhouette on the paper by blocking the action of light on the paper. Objects such as pieces of paper could also be placed in the enlarger’s film-carrier to project shadows onto the paper. The relative opacity or transparency and the shape of the objects allowed photographers to play with variations of grey and blurring, structuring and arranging them into skilful compositions.

The technique, which opened up a whole range of new artistic possibilities, was reinvented in around 1916 by the German Christian Schad, who named it schadography. The technique was reinvented independently in 1922 by Man Ray, who named it rayography. He used the technique to produce twelve rayograms for Les Champs délicieux, published in collaboration with Tristan Tzara. At the same time, Moholy-Nagy, then living in Berlin, produced remarkable series of photograms, without, however, giving the technique a name. (…)

The object in its purest form
Strictly speaking, the New Objectivity movement (die Neue Sachlichkeit), characterised by a return to a rather aggressive form of realism as a reaction against Expressionism and attempts at abstraction, was a specifically German school with little or nothing to do with France. The term covers the entire range of New Photography, which produced cold, objective images of objects for commissioned photojournalism, advertising, and the sort of experiments carried out by photographers like Willy Zielke. The term New Objectivity was somewhat unjustifiably extended to a considerable proportion of French photography of the day, most notably photography for advertising purposes.

René Zuber and, above all, Emmanuel Sougez – a keen disciple of New Objectivity, which he introduced to France – are the most typical representatives of the school. Zuber (who studied at the Leipzig College of Graphic and Book Art for a few months), Sougez, Boucher, Kollar, Henri, and their German and North American counterparts generally worked with the sort of small objects that are easily overlooked. Photography magnified such familiar, banal, ordinary objects by means of enlargement, choice of angle, lighting, and repetition. Experiments were made to push the representation of the material object to the limit so that the ordinary and insignificant took on a new aesthetic dimension. This use of the camera as an instrument and the choice of subjects regardless of their documentary value were the result of a quest for the unusual and hitherto unseen.
In general terms, New Objectivity is considered the polar opposite of Surrealism and is a practical term used to refer to a very demanding type of experimental photography in which the supposed neutrality of the object is a key feature.

Strange reality
The limit between photography and painting was particularly blurred by Pictorialism. Avant-garde photography turned towards other domains. Science and technology appeared to be the key elements of modernity; scientists and engineers were considered to be creators in their own right, on a par with artists. However, only a handful of the major photographers of the day received any scientific training. Hans Bellmer gave up his engineering studies to study drawing with George Grosz, Heartfield and Otto Dix. André Steiner was a graduate of the Vienna Polytechnic Institute, having studied photographic processes there.

Jacques-André Boiffard read medicine before encountering the Surrealists. Gisèle Freund was a trained sociologist. On the other hand, many photographers received a traditional or more modern grounding in art: Pierre Boucher studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris, as did Roger Parry, who was also a student at the School of Fine Arts. Roger Schall attended the Germain Pilon Art School; Brassaï studied Fine Art in Budapest then Charlottenburg (Berlin). Florence Henri started out studying music with Busoni in Berlin, then began visiting André Lhote’s studio in Paris, as did Hoyningen-Huene, Dora Maar, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Claude Tolmer. Man Ray studied painting in the United States. Emmanuel Sougez studied Fine Art in Bordeaux. And so on.

In the early years of the century, Laure Albin-Guillot worked alongside her husband, a scientific researcher, to produce astonishing microscopic specimens which she then photographed and used later in her own artwork. She developed the abstract images on special paper with metallic reflections which heightened the artificial and technical aesthetic quality of her images. Similarly, the remarkable Jean Painlevé, son of the famous politician and mathematician, used his work observing tiny creatures to produce astonishing images of rare beauty and great poetry. (…)

Intervening in reality
While photography was a new form of expression, most of its practitioners had already received some form of artistic training – at the very least, they had learned how to draw. In fact, many of them, including some of the greatest and most influential, were also artists in their own right, enthusiastically innovating in a number of artistic fields and encouraging the mixing of genres in photomontage, photo-collage, photo-drawing, photo-typography, and a whole host of other lab-based creative processes.

Many of them were close to the Surrealist movement, such as Maurice Tabard, Roger Parry, Claude Cahun, Raoul Ubac, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pierre Boucher, Erwin Blumenfeld, and Lucien Lorelle, who once said, “I was a thoroughgoing para-Surrealist back then, which explains the oddity of my images”. He even used bizarre Surrealist imagery in his advertising work. One of Lorelle’s photo-collages acted as a manifesto, demanding that the artist be allowed to be the sole judge of his subjects, techniques, and media. The photographers who adopted Surrealist practices made their rallying cry “The artist is free to choose his œuvre”. (…)

The most creative photographers rapidly attracted attention, in part thanks to art revues like Jazz and L’Art vivant. They were in frequent demand by advertisers drawn by the quality and modernity of their work. For example, Charles Peignot hired Maurice Tabard to head up the studio he opened in March 1930. The first special issue of the revue Arts et Métiers graphiques, on photography, was a fabulous opportunity for the artists working in the advertising studio at the famous type foundry Deberny & Peignot. The studio became a regular meeting place for photographers and other creative types working in the media, advertising, and fashion. Customers and friends who would drop in included Max Ernst, Robert Bresson, and Marc Allégret. Trainees at the studio included Pierre Boucher, the German Victor Borel, the Swiss Herbert Matter, and the Hungarian Emeric Feher, who joined the studio as a lighting technician. They rubbed shoulder with well-known professionals such as Maurice Cloche and Maximilien Vox, who was in charge of “typographical entertainments”.

It would be quite unfair not to mention Deberny & Peignot’s great rival, the Atelier Tolmer. Although much less well known today, it played an equally important role in the emergence of the New Vision movement. The company originally specialised in packaging for luxury goods such as perfumes, cosmetics, chocolates, and so on. It began diversifying into other printed matter and advertising in the early 1920s. It had a graphic design studio on Quai de Bourbon in Paris, and soon opened up an adjoining photographic studio, producing advertising work for the luxury goods and fashion sectors, with clients including Piguet, Lelong, Molyneux, Heim, Patou, and Rochas, among others. Like the Deberny & Peignot studio, it, too, quickly became a favourite meeting place. Alexey Brodovitch worked there in 1926-1927. Lucien Caillaud was employed as a draughtsman and photographer from 1919 to 1933. Pierre Boucher, Jean Moral, and Lucien Mazenod were all graphic designers and photographers there at one time or another.

An exhibition of advertising photography was held as early as 1931, featuring Surrealists including Boiffard and Man Ray, alongside works by Kertész, Tabard, Sougez, Landau, Vigneau, Zuber, and so on. Advertising photography was acknowledged as a new art form, giving the photographers both public recognition and a source of income. In fact, photography could never be divided into pure artistic experimentation on one side and commercial work on the other. The former was always unashamedly in the service of the latter, even if certain photographers chose one or the other in the long run. One such example was Maurice Tabard, who left Deberny & Peignot because of the commercial pressures that arose from the studio’s great success.

The New Vision was a positivist movement that put its faith in mankind, claimed to produce “real images”, and took pains to produce an exact, almost sculptural rendering of the face. The frame became a vital component of the showcasing and originality of the portrait. The most striking feature remained the fetishisation of stark sharpness, with no detail allowed to escape the eye of the lens
Photographs by Roger Parry or Jean Moral, for example, capture the intensity of the sitter’s expression by using extreme close-ups and pitiless framing, such as in Parry’s 1929 half-face portrait of the actress Agnès Capri. What set this trend apart from very early twentieth-century photography above all, however, was the specific quality of the light. In the 1930s, artificial light began to replace the more diffuse, delicate, chiaroscuro light preferred by the Pictorialists. Daniel Masclet, for example, took a radically different direction from his master, Baron de Meyer, and developed a strikingly drastic style of portraiture. New Vision portraits, whether full- or half-length or just showing the face, strove to bring out the sitter’s personality by use of dramatic contrasts, framing only part of the body, deliberately leaving part of it in shadow, and generally obeying the aesthetic precept of the day that “less is more”. (…)

Between the two world wars, Paris had a plethora of portrait studios, from small neighbourhood businesses to the largest traditional studios like the one owned by the Manuel brothers or the legendary Harcourt Studios. Laure Albin-Guillot and Florence Henri never gave up lucrative portrait photography. Man Ray, always a pragmatic man, charged high prices for commissions, although the resulting photographs were often rather uninspired.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, portrait photography was clearly split into two camps – the old guard, who were lavish in their use of soft focus, and the avant-garde, who preferred harsh lighting and unusual framing. As customer tastes changed, traditional studios became more “modern”, without, however, adopting the most outrageous avant-garde techniques. Fashionable and artistically minded customers carried on going to independent studios. From 1935 onwards, the most cutting-edge independent studios began to espouse modernist photography, using carefully thought out poses and lighting to produce expressive, if not demonstrative, portraits. Laure Albin-Guillot was an early precursor of this trend, with her superb portraits, at once modern and mistily haloed, that play with depth of field and the softness of the light. Florence Henri, although naturally inclined to be avant-gardist, had no choice but to accept commissions for large-scale portraits taken using a studio camera and then touched up. Most of her income came from such work. Yvonne Chevalier, who gave up painting for photography, was one of the leading representatives of this new style of portraiture. Her sitters included leading writers and musicians such as Mauriac, Claudel, Valéry, Saint-Exupéry, Honneger, Milhaud, and Poulenc. (…)

Images of the body
The relationship between the body and bodily images evolved as sport and open-air leisure pursuits became more popular in the 1920s and 1930s. However, images of nudes still remained taboo, even if intended as a celebration of the human form. The reason for this was that while it was becoming more acceptable to photograph the human body, such works ran the risk of comparison with the sort of risqué photographs sold under plain cover. Censors generally did not make subtle distinctions between experimental nudes and outright pornography, and continued to insist that prints displayed or published be touched up to meet the ideal of classical beauty – the only form in which the human body could be shown in public. New Vision photography showed a new sort of body, subjecting it to objective, almost scientific study.

Three main trends in nude photography thus emerged between the two world wars. The first depicted subverted and subversive bodies as fantastical, nervous, transfigured objects of flesh, blood, and desire. This was the Surrealist body. The second, the closest to New Objectivity, was a reified, deconstructed body, fragmented and rendered unreal by means of framing and lighting. The third trend was for Apollo-like beauty, suffused with the Greek ideal of pure sculptural quality and the myth of triumphant youth, admired by ideologies of the left and right alike. This was the Neo-Classical body.

The Surrealist body
(…) Nearly all the photographers in and on the fringes of the Surrealist movement demonstrated a predatory, violent approach to the female form. It is hard to tell desire apart from fear in such works. The photographs strive to reproduce the multiplicity and confusing simultaneity of such emotions, to the point where they themselves become a form of erotic play through the degree of voyeurism inherent in the process of setting up the shot.

New Objectivity and the body
Once again, it would be inappropriate to make a clear distinction between Surrealism and New Objectivity. While some photographers unambiguously and definitively chose one over the other, others were unaware of the apparent need for such a choice; they simply defined themselves as modernists and were open to influences from the various schools of the day, while at the same time striving to develop their own voice. Many of them saw nude photography as a form of distantiation and clearly stated their intention to consider the human form as an object with a rich sculptural potential that should be expressed to the utmost. Here, the body is more reified than submissive and lends itself to numerous variations in terms of form and lighting. Marcel Natkin, who wrote numerous photography manuals, summed up New Objectivity’s approach to the body as follows: “These days, many artists are attracted by pure shapes, such as torsos, arms, and legs, and pay less attention to the head. They deliberately cut it out of their picture, which only features the fragment they are interested in. This deliberate omission enables them to focus the viewer’s attention, spontaneously drawn to facial expressions, on the sculptural qualities of the body, thereby regenerating the idea of the nude”.

The Neo-Classical Body
In the final analysis, the Apollonian nude inspired by Greek sculpture, photographed in a studio or in a natural setting, best reflects the general approach of the day, becoming particularly widespread from 1933-1934 onwards.
Such photographs generally used relatively regular lighting to give the skin the milky sheen of marble. Laure Albin-Guillot, for example, frequently worked on her lighting to create the impression that it blended into the paper. Her pupil Rémy Duval specialised in almost white photographs; his 1935 portrait of Assia showed a superb, truncated nude, hip jutted out, opalescent and drenched in light. It is a work of unparalleled subtlety. (…)

It proved much harder to find suitable models for male nudes, other than close friends and family. The models were generally young sportsmen or more often dancers, who were proud of their bodies, but did not necessarily agree to pose fully nude. Full male nudity was rare; it caused gossip and the works were difficult to publish, other than in sporting magazines. One honourable exception were the images by the American Platt-Lynes and the German Herbert List published in the Arts et Métiers graphiques annual review, in which the homoerotic dimension was explicit. Photography featuring male nudes remains taboo to this day. (…)

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