PARIS.- Colour appeared in Raymond Depardon's first photographs from the very start. He was only sixteen. Since then, colour has been part of the highlights of his career: the years discovering photography, the first trips to Africa, the great reportages, then recently this "sweet time" which gives the exhibition its title. The exhibition presents about 160 colour photographs, most unpublished. Taking colour as a guideline, it explores the artist's work and life from the late 1950s to the present day.
I did not realise I was a colour photographer. And yet it was there. From the very first pictures. Raymond Depardon.
For Raymond Depardon, colour is linked to childhood. His first pictures were of his mother, the animals on his parents' farm, the red tractor, the kitchen tablecloth. He was not yet twenty when he "went up" to Paris and moved into the back room of a photographer's shop on Saint Louis Island, where he took a snap of himself on his scooter. He became a photo reporter, he photographed Edith Piaf, he was sent to Africa, he saw the world. Since then, colour has been part of his way of looking at things.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Raymond Depardon worked for big agencies: Dalmas, Gamma, Magnum. He took colour photos, thought in colour, questioning human beings and the right distance from reality. In Chile in 1971, in Beirut in 1978, in Glasgow in 1980 he focused not on events but what was happening around them. These are fundamental reportages.
In 1971, two years before Salvador Allende died, he took photos of Mapuche Indians fighting to live on the lands of their ancestors. He watched men labouring in the fields and thought about his father. He was 28, wondering about his relationship to the world and to the subject. Looking for a new path.
In 1978, in Beirut on an assignment for the German magazine Stern, he turned away from reportage.
He did not photograph the civil war but its consequences. Raymond Depardon stayed there for a month, photographing passionately in colour. His reportage went round the world.
In 1980 the Sunday Times asked him to go to Glasgow. To a photographer of the south and the desert, Glasgow seemed to be at the antipodes of his photography. And yet he discovered the northern light, and remembered it later when he photographed the north of France. In Glasgow he functioned like an anthropologist: how could he avoid the trap of exoticism? What distance should he take? In large cities, Raymond Depardon feels like an inner exile, as a young man he found it hard to find his foothold in Paris. The photos taken in Glasgow were never published but they heralded the work on the big cities that he showed at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2004.
Such a sweet time
In the 2000s colour reappeared and took over. It was no longer related to reportage, the press and news stories, but to a quest for personal truth, the search for happiness, a place to live in, a beginning. Depardon rediscovered the light and colour of Ethiopia, South America and the palm groves of Chad. This year, he specially returned in five country (Ethiopia, Chad, Bolivia, Hawaii and United States) in order to realise new photographies for the exhibition. "Such a sweet time" reveals a quieter, more inward, more intellectual approach. Raymond Depardon is now, to quote Clément Rosset, looking for the "sweetness of reality".