15th Sep 2018
In 1944, the eight-year-old Lucien Clergue returned to Arles to find his apartment destroyed by an Allied bombardment. Arles was in ruins, and remained so for years to come. 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. The 1950s are those in which he produced some of his most raw and potent work. 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. He made the costumes himself, and arranged them in the ruins of Arles. Surreal, and overtly sad, 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.