The “Zuber Studio” was both eloquent testimony to the between-wars photographic revival in France and an intensely moving human adventure. It was not a legal or business entity, but rather a hub, a meeting place in the form of the laboratory at the Damour Agency in Paris, where René Zuber ran the photography department and worked on his own pictures. The group that took shape there in 1931 was made up of people with marked professional and personal affinities. The Zuber Studio became a kind of collective where members shared a photographic vision without ever sacrificing their individual sensibilities or independence. A subtle alchemy linked those members, who were from very different backgrounds: Art and design graduate Pierre Boucher explored the relationships between graphics and photography; electrician/lighting man/printer at the Deberny-Peignot studio. Emeric Feher took his first pictures in 1931 and joined Zuber’s staff in 1933: Denise Bellon and Pierre Verger, who learnt their craft from Pierre Boucher, turned out to be dazzlingly talented.
As well as sharing the same photographic agenda, the members were firm friends. Lovers of sport and camping, these young photographers spent their leisure time together; alternately models and artists, they swapped approaches and their lives – as well as those of their families and friends – became an ongoing experiment in photography. The resultant images were not kept under wraps, however, quickly appearing in the weeklies Vu, Voilà, Regards and Paris Magazine. Pierre Boucher even used his photos of their friend Robert Pontabry in advertisements. This collective approach was one of Zuber Studio’s most unconventional features.
Brimming with creative energy, the Studio concentrated on advertising and reportage. The advertising provided a vital economic foundation and gave the members the chance to implement their aesthetic concepts and extend their formal explorations. On numerous occasions the magazine Arts et métiers graphiques paid tribute to the innovative character of their work for such leading firms as Hotchkiss, Peugeot and Maison de Blanc. One major client, the Debat pharmaceutical laboratories, commissioned both photographs in praise of their products and reportages to illustrate their deluxe magazine Art et médecine: In just a few years over three hundred of the group’s pictures were featured.
Their work was also abundantly used by the illustrated press, a highly popular media field in the 30s and one that brought them further outlets. In 1934 the need to increase their audience reach – without impinging on their independence – led Studio members to join with Maria Eisner in setting up Alliance Photo, the first cooperative photo agency and the model for Magnum after the War. The freedom thus acquired allowed them to travel the world while working on their personal agendas.
Also in 1934, René Zuber and Roger Leenhardt founded the Films du Compas company, which brought out Zuber’s first documentary On Crete without the Gods. While shooting his films, Zuber kept up his photoreportages. Emeric Feher opened his own advertising photography studio in 1936 and his contributions to numerous exhibitions in Paris and abroad were testimony to his growing reputation. Pierre Boucher continued his experiments in graphics, delving deep into the medium’s potential. Denise Bellon’s travels in Albania, Finland and Africa gave rise to striking reportages published in Match. Pierre Verger crisscrossed Africa, Asia and Oceania, establishing himself in the process as one of the great masters of ethnographic photography.
Curators: Hervé Degand & Isabelle Cécile Le Mée.