Edition 2006

AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FRENCH COLLECTIONS

Influences

I don’t recall what year it was when I saw my first Walker Evans photograph, but it was late on - I must have been close to thirty. Once, then twice, each time the same picture: a subdued wooden house, white and grey - the handsome grey you get in large format. Was it in Alabama, that southern American state of farm workers, small farmhouses with bare rooms, women and men in denim overalls? Young girls with dark hair, an almost biblical air about them? I looked at their parents, imagining them with soft voices and sharp, precise gestures. Those photographs of debt-ridden tenant farmers still bother me today. And how could I forget the magnificent text by James Agee, a poet and mystic eternally incensed by the Deep South? No exodus here, no exoticism, no nostalgia. These are photographs of the here and now. Churches, garages, sweet stores, T-model Fords dating from before my memory of things.Evans had come to Paris when he was twenty-three, living in a family pension on the Rue de la Santé and reading those great modernists Baudelaire and Flaubert. Then he went back to New York city and started on his first subject: the city. Photographing buildings and store windows, always front-on.Later he would liberate Robert Frank, that Swiss exile in America. Opposed to Stieglitz’s fine art approach, he talked documentary. A discreet man, with a handsome face like his Alabama sharecroppers.Evans was the same age as my father Antoine Depardon, both of them born in 1903. He died in 1975 and my father followed a few months later, in the spring of 1976.Then came Paul Strand and his film Native Land: this was an offbeat, politically committed photographer, little appreciated for his La France de Profil and his obsession with a new world and pristine soil. There was Edward Weston too, with his Mexican diary and his leftwing Italian mistress. A patient photographer, gifted for scenes of women amid sand dunes. Ansel Adams and his pictures: I would really like to have owned his “making of” polaroids, sometimes more interesting than his landscapes. Lewis Hine, a committed humanist. Arthur Rothstein who went back to Walker Evans’s Alabama. And that legendary paparazzo Weegee (Arthur Fellig), whose obsessive news pictures left a powerful mark on all my generation. Maybe the closest of them all to Walker Evans is Mike Meyer Disfarmer, a local photographer with a great eye for his fellow townspeople. Thanks to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, we had the opportunity to show some work by Diane Arbus, who had made the prints herself. Today, after her major retrospective, she worries the Leica-loving realists with the sheer force of her Rolleiflash. As do Robert Frank’s American wanderings: this tender Swiss is absolutely volcanic inside.
Other contemporaries were Lucien Aigner and Louis Faurer, then came the photos of Brooklyn by William Klein, that Parisian American. And for my own personal pleasure Sergio Larrain, the Chilean from Ovalle, locked away in his Andes and those dense, potent settings. I almost overlooked Harry Callahan and Morris Wright, with their gentle objectivity, before moving on to Lee Friedlander and his hotel rooms, self-portraits and statue-packed crossroads. Plus his alter ego, Garry Winogrand and those sublime tracking shots. And not forgetting William Eggleston and his own deep south: always so elegant in his faultless dark suit, a new hero for today’s photographers. Nor am I going to omit Helen Lewitt and her street kids, and Lewis Baltz who produces intelligent landscapes, as does Robert Adams, a committed figure on the new American landscape scene: a “Romantic” who writes well, his Essay on the Beautiful is one of the most important texts on the aesthetics/content relationship written by a photographer in the last ten years.  A pity this man from Colorado doesn’t like flying: we would have liked to pay tribute to him in person: thanks to France’s national collection of contemporary art we’re putting on the exhibition Our Lives and Our Children, over seventy overtly committed photographs by Robert Adams on the nuclear industry. And here are at last the photographers of my own generation: Charles Harbutt, Burk Uzzle and Mary-Ellen Mark. I know all three of them: Magnum dissidents, but above all virtuosi of framing and composition. In closing I’d like to salute John Sternfeld and his humour and Richard Misrach and his deserts: two real artists of the big view camera. So it’s back to square one: a tripod, a lens, a view camera. There’s still everything to do, everything to dream about. No mention here of Dorothea Lange, Nicholas Nixon and plenty of others: I’ll come to them next time.
 Raymond Depardon

Exhibition featuring the Collections of: Bibliothèque nationale de France; the National Collection of Contemporary Art - Ministry of Culture and Communication; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée National d’Art Moderne - Centre de Création Industrielle; the Musée Réattu and the Collection Sandra Alvarez de Toledo, Paris; Collection Sergio Larrain/Courtesy Magnum Photos.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture