Lucien Hervé at the Maison de Robert Doisneau, Gentilly
From February 10th to April 30th, the Maison Robert Doisneau, in collaboration with Camera Obscura Gallery, will present a collection of humanist photographs by Lucien Hervé (1910 – 2007).
Extra Time until 7th may 2011.
This exhibition, which highlights a lesser-known aspect of Hervé’s work, borrowed its title from Hervé himself, who used to place labels with the word “Living” on all the binders containing his humanist photographs. Not only does the term appropriately designate his subjects, but it also avoids evoking superfluous emotion, and unveils Hervé’s dry, intelligent, witty sense of humor.
While acclaimed as one of the great architectural photographers of the 20th century, Hervé equally considered himself to be a humanist photographer, evidenced by his political and social involvement. Nevertheless, his very personal and innovative artistic methods, as well as his tendency toward abstraction, distinguish him from other post-war humanist photographers. He shows a certain element of restraint in his photographs, carefully avoiding pathos or narration. What he seeks to capture is not a miserable individual, but rather misery, not a child, but rather childhood.
L'accusateur, Delhi India, 1955©Lucien Hervé
Mankind is central to Hervé’s photography. He portrays the individual in the same way he does architecture, guided by architect Mies van der Rohe’s fundamental principle: less is more.
In the way that an architect constructs buildings using bricks and tiles, Hervé constructs his images with a contrasting interplay of light and dark shadows. Not only do they genuinely depict a subject, but they are also composed in a thorough, precise manner. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hervé entitled one of his first exhibitions “Image de l’architecture, l’architecture de l’image.” (The image of architecture, architecture of the image).
Unité d'habitation, Le Corbusier 1949©Lucien Hervé
Accordingly, composition is a key aspect in Hervé’s body of work. His photographs are rigorously constructed to achieve geometric perfection, in which the individual and his banal surroundings are transformed into a structured abstraction through the use of light and dark shadows. Consequently, this resulting piece of work interprets and reinterprets what one considers to be reality.
Unité d'habitation Le Corbusier, Marseille 1949©Lucien Hervé
To amplify this essential theme, Hervé employs alternative, unconventional methods of photography, such as plunging or oblique framing views, and high or low angle shots. Furthermore, he may reduce an individual to a shadow, a miniscule detail, a single body part, or to the dimension of a comma.
Haute Cour, Chandighar Inde, 1955©Lucien Hervé
Hervé was especially fond of photographing hands and feet, which he believed could fully convey an individual’s personality. We see this manifested in a particular work featured in the exposition, whereby the hands of Le Corbusier are, in fact, much more expressive than his face. Similarly, a photograph from Hervé’s India series depicts a man’s foot extended on a dirty street, perfectly capturing his desperate situation.
Les mains, Le Corbusier, Cap Martin 1952©Lucien Hervé
Also known for cutting his photographs with scissors to render them more exact, Hervé clipped away all that he deemed superfluous in an image. By cropping and reframing his images, he rendered them more exact to his intended vision. He noted, “In my eyes, a photograph cannot have a single, definitive form.” The exhibition subsequently displays two different framed versions of the same photograph juxtaposed against one another, from Hervé’s 1949 Series entitled Gare.
It was toward the end of the 40s that Hervé also commenced his photography series PSQF (Paris Sans Quitter Ma Fenêtre), taken from the balcony of his apartment on avenue Paul Adam. Using an unconventional angle perspective, he created a robust collection of images inspired by random events that took place in the street.
PSQF, Paris 1947©Lucien Hervé
The following glimpses of the exhibit’s scenography underscore Hervé’s humor, namely the portrait of Mimi and Vonette near the image of the two priests. The two young womens’ hats create an interesting, and somewhat humorous, dialogue with those of the priests.
This exhibition, by virtue of a diverse sampling of Hervé’s work, highlights his humanist sensibility and promises to touch visitors. The humanistic photos on display, never anecdotal but still profoundly expressive, indeed illustrate Hervé’s indispensability to the history of photography.
Orsolya Sandly – Shilpa Guha
For another lighting on the work of Lucien Hervé, you can visit too:
Pompidou Center: Donation Lucien Hervé
Paris, permanent collections, 5th floor, salle 40. Until Avril 24th, 2011
Lucien Hervé 100
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (Hungary) until Avril 30th, 2011
To read :
Lucien Hervé : Amis inconnus, Ed. Filigranes, 2002, 16 €