Lucien Clergue

01

/

03

In a career lasting over 50 years, Lucien Clergue became one of France’s most respected photographers, and is regarded highly within the international art market. His life and work is intrinsically Arlesian. Much of what interested Clergue, and motivated him to take photographs, stems from his childhood experiences in that town. Moreover, the work resonates with the atmosphere of this very particular environment, and has to be understood within such a context, inspired as it is by the dry heat of the marshes, the darkness within the medieval walls, its wartime occupation, the drama of the bullfight, the culture of the gypsies, and the sparkle of the Mediterranean.

All works are available for purchase – please click on an image for further information.

Works

Nu de la Plage, Camargue, 1972

Lucien Clergue

Danseuse à la Porte, Arles, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Violoniste, Arles, 1954

Lucien Clergue

Nu de la Mer, Camargue, 2009

Lucien Clergue

‘On Forme le Cercle’, Pelerinage des Gitans, Saintes Maries de la Mer, 1955

Lucien Clergue

José Reyes et Manitas de Plata, Saintes Maries de la Mer, 1960

Lucien Clergue

La Grande Parade, Arles, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Derechaze D’el Cordobes, Nimes, 1965

Lucien Clergue

Picasso (La Main Du Créateur), Arènes De Fréjus, 1962

Lucien Clergue

Nude De La Mer, Camargue, 1962

Lucien Clergue

Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso et Luis Miguel Dominguin, Arènes d’Arles, 1959

Lucien Clergue

Rideau Enlumine, Sandepouy (Gers), 2010

Lucien Clergue

Picasso Avec la Statue des Iles Marquises, La Californie, Cannes, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Picasso in ‘Le Testement D’orphee’, by Jean Cocteau, with Miguel Dominguin, Jacqueline Picasso and Lucia Bose, Les Baux De Provence, 1959

Lucien Clergue

Les Ombres de la Mort, Lunel, 1963

Lucien Clergue

Picasso au Chapeau Chez l’Antiquaire, Arles, 1959

Lucien Clergue

Sables (Langage des Sables), Camargue, 1979

Lucien Clergue

Joncs du Marais, Arles, 1972

Lucien Clergue

Sables, Camargue, 2003

Lucien Clergue

Craquelure, Camargue, 1964

Lucien Clergue

Bestiaire de Plage, Camargue, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Joncs du Marais, Arles, 1962

Lucien Clergue

Joncs du Marais, Camargue, 1962

Lucien Clergue

Gitans aux Guitares, Saintes Maries De La Mer, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Nu de la Plage, Camargue, 1971

Lucien Clergue

Twinka, Monterey, 1975

Lucien Clergue

Nino de Capea, Nimes, 1977

Lucien Clergue

Diego Puerta, Bilbao, 1970

Lucien Clergue

Andrea aux Ongles Rouges, New York, 1987

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2012

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2012

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, March, 2012

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, April, 2012

Lucien Clergue

Nu et Tete Zebres, New York, April, 2012

Lucien Clergue

El Cordobes, Nimes, 1965

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2013 [I]

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2013 [II]

Lucien Clergue

Nu aux Poissons, Besseges, 2005

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre à la Fenetre, New York, 1998

Lucien Clergue

Habillée de Lumiere, Santa Barbara, 2002

Lucien Clergue

Picasso Chez Madoura, Vallauris, 1967

Lucien Clergue

Fontaine du Grand Palais, Paris, 1962

Lucien Clergue

Picasso a La Plage, Cannes, 1965

Lucien Clergue

Picasso et les Ceramiques, La Californie, Cannes, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2007

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2007

Lucien Clergue

Picasso et le Tableau, ‘Mystère Picasso’, La Californie, Cannes, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Arlequin à la Charrette, Arles, 1955

Lucien Clergue

Nu Zebre, New York, 2013 [III]

Lucien Clergue

Early Life and War

Lucien Clergue was born on 14 August 1934 in the coastal town of Arles, Provence. Growing up in the South of France during the Second World War Clergue was evacuated from Arles for a brief period until the war was over. In 1944, Clergue returned to Arles to find his apartment destroyed by an Allied bombardment. Clergue found that a third of his town had been destroyed, as well as his mother’s shop and apartment. This memory, and other wartime experiences, had a profound effect. Clergue left school in 1950 to care for his mother, finding a job in a factory to support them both.

Photographic Career

Arles was in ruins, and remained so for years to come. The post-war image of France, popularised by photographers such as Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Edouard Boubat is, and always was, a cliché: a romanticised fantasy world of berets and baguettes created, in part, to convince the world that France was great once again. While their work was important, influential and culturally interesting, it was far from the truth. Instead, France was in a state of near collapse, both financially and physically crippled by the war and its aftermath. Clergue’s early life, and early photography, was played out amongst the ruined buildings and poverty that were the realities for most French people at the time. As Doisneau’s models embraced on Parisian balconies, so Clergue marshalled his into bombed-out houses, teaching himself to photograph in low-light, without flash.

In 1954-55 Clergue set about photographing local children as Les Saltimbanques: travelling musicians, gypsies and acrobats, dressed in the style of the Commedia dell’Arte stereotypes such as Harlequin and Pierrot, as immortalised by Picasso in his painting of 1905. He made the costumes himself, and arranged them in the ruins of Arles. Surreal, and overtly sad, the series was symbolic of lost childhood. The pictures were originally called The Long Recess and The Ruins of War, a generation of children left joyless, and with few prospects, by the preceding 15 years. His next series similarly meditated on death, photographing the carrion that washed up on the shore of Arles’ coast in unblinking and stark detail.

During his early career, Clergue supported himself as a photojournalist frequently selling his images of bullfights to local newspapers. In the sad death of the bull, the masculine triumph of the matador, the heat of the sun, the pageantry of the Picadors and the roar of the local crowd, Clergue finds his beloved Arles condensed down into one raw, brutal, beautiful event. It was through his documentation of bull fighting that he met Pablo Picasso. Clergue showed Picasso his work who invited Clergue to visit him a year later. Returning with more photographs, Picasso and Clergue became friends, swapping prints and drawings. Picasso introduced Clergue to his artistic community including the writer, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Together, the three of them collaborated on a volume of poems by Paul Eluard, Corps Mémorable, which Cocteau published in 1957, with a cover design by Picasso, an introductory poem by Cocteau and photographs by Clergue. Cocteau also invited Clergue to photograph his 1959 film, Le Testament d’Orphée, giving him free reign over the imagery.

In addition to working with Cocteau and Picasso, Clergue developed new personal projects and also made significant progress at raising his own profile. In 1959, the great American photographer and curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, Edward Steichen, bought ten of Clergue’s prints for the museum’s collection. He then asked Clergue to contribute work to a series of exhibitions there, two years later, entitled Diogenes with a Camera. Presenting his photographs alongside those by Bill Brandt and Yasuhiro Ishimoto, it provided the twenty-six year old photographer with a launch into the international art world.

From 1956, Clergue also began to photograph female nudes, and it is these for which he has subsequently become best known. The photographs that he contributed to Corps Mémorable comprised the first significant group of nudes that he published. The nudes were a turning point in his photographic subject matter, rather than focusing on the death and destruction of his early years, Clergue instead chose to celebrate life. Clergue developed a unique style of photographing nude bodies, which removed the model’s face from the picture, instead commenting on the female form in general, rather than any particular woman. Retaining the symbolism of his early work in his nudes, Clergue placed the models in the sea close to Arles, and by rendering them anonymous, he turned his nudes into symbols of life, fertility and sexuality. He published a second book of his nudes titled Aphrodite in 1963. Later, in New York, he experimented with ‘zebra’ nudes which have become some of his most successful work.

Clergue’s visit to America in 1961 enabled him to expand his connections, introducing him to several influential figures in photography at the time, including Robert Frank, Eugene Smith and, of course, Edward Steichen. A second trip, in 1962, gave him the chance to meet others, including André Kertész and Alexei Brodovitch, the influential art director of Harper’s Bazaar. However, Clergue turned dowsn the opportunity offered by Editorial Director of Condé Nast, Alexander Liberman, to work for Vogue as he did not want to commercialise his artistic practice by working for magazines.

Clergue returned frequently to American, often in his role as tour manager to the Flamenco guitarist, Manitas de Plata. He accompanied the musician on two tours of America from 1965 to 1966. These trips enabled Clergue to travel about America for the first time, meeting people, taking photographs, and enabling him to experience the landscapes found in the work of his heroes, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

While Clergue was expanding his reach and influence across the Atlantic, his photographic work remained centred on Arles and its surroundings. In 1965, he began photographing the landscape of the Camargue, a place that continues to be a source of inspiration to him today. In 1976, he published Camargue Secrète, a photo essay that combined the best of these pictures into a poetic discourse about the landscape. Taking inspiration from the abstraction of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Minor White, he reduced the landscape to shapes and shadows. Arranged in a specific order, the pictures have a strong narrative intended as a meditation on life, death and the transformative qualities of the landscape. The dry, exhausting heat, and the wet, fertile marshes produce a tension employed in much of his photography. At the same time, the pictures proved something of an escape for Clergue, who found satisfaction in simply recording the beauty of nature.

In his home town of Arles, the town’s mayor invited Clergue to develop an annual photography festival. Together with his friends, the writer Michael Tournier, and the Director of the Musée Réattu in Arles, Jean-Maurice Rouquette, they founded the Rencontres Internationale de la Photographie in 1969. The first exhibition was held in the following year, and in the first five years they exhibited work by photographers including Edward Weston, Eugène Atget, Bruce Davidson, Paul Strand, Hiro, Imogen Cunningham, Brassaï, Ansel Adams, and many more. The festival continues to be a major draw for the photography community each year, and has played a significant part in establishing France’s importance within the global photography market.

In the 1970s, Clergue enrolled as a student at the University of Provence. His photographic dissertation, that he called Langage des Sables, taken at Point Lobos in California, focused on man’s detrimental encroachment on the planet. In his last years he continued to photograph nudes, bullfights and the marshes, and worked on a series of double exposures that combine nudes with images of paintings by the old masters.

Exhibitions and Awards

Inspired by the landscape of his childhood, and the traditions and atmosphere of his beloved Arles, Clergue produced a remarkable body of work over nearly 60 years. In 2003 Clergue was given the famous Legion D’Honneur, and then in 2006 he was elected as a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts de l’Institut de France, the first photographer to be given the honour. His photographs are held in museums around the world, and he has published over 75 books. In addition to his photographic career, he has also made a number of successful films and documentaries including Delta del Sel (1967), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. He died on November 15th 2014.

Related

Notes, News and Press

Notes

‘The Ruins of War’, Lucien Clergue