Posts Tagged ‘France’
One million people marched in Paris on July 14 1936, to celebrate the Bastille holiday and celebrate the victory of Front Populaire in the general election months earlier. Willy Ronis (who took the photo above) called that “It was a party like it had never known before”; soon-to-be a famed photographer, Ronis was just 26 and the above photo was one of his first photos to be sold to a Parisian newspaper.
The photo became the symbol of Front Populaire in that summer of great hopes for social change. The Front, a coalition of Communists, trade unionists, and socialists had won the general election in May and the Socialist leader Léon Blum became the first Socialist — and the first Jewish — Prime Minister of France. He formed a government which included three women ministers at a time when women hadn’t yet gained suffrage. (Women’s suffrage was granted in France only in 1944).
With vigor, Blum’s government set about reforming the French state — many of the measures, good or ill, that we associate today with France where first implemented during his short premiership. He granted the right to strike and collective bargaining, two weeks of paid annual leave (which led to a boom in tourism), and reduced the working week to 40 hours. It was to begin a series of economic intervention that set precedents for the Vichy and postwar governments to consolidate France into a statist nation.
Blum himself was forced out of office in June 1937, as his government divided itself over whether to choose a side in Spanish Civil War. Blum was briefly Prime Minister again twice (for four weeks in 1938 and five weeks in 1946), but his legacy was made during his first ministry. Despite its bravura reforms and widespread popular support, the Popular Front is now judged as inadequate leaders while Europe darkened into war: “Disappointment and failure,” says Julian Jackson in his seminal Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938.
Centre-left Le Nouvel Observateur was a little more enthusiastic: in 2006, for 70th anniversary of the Popular Front, it called Blum’s first months in office, 100 Days That Changed Our Life. On the cover of that issue was Ronis’ photo taken on that Bastille Day brimming with expectations and excitements.
Perhaps such a state visit would be unthinkable today: When Queen Elizabeth paid France her first state visit in 1957, the manifestly Republican country welcomed her lavishly. Ceremonial parades lined up; the Royal Standard flew from the Elysees Palace. The choir of Notre Dame sang to her from the banks of the Seine as she sailed down it. Abandoning all diplomatic protocol, President Rene Coty planted a kiss on the Queen, Paris March reported. The Queen was feted in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles and in the Louvre.
Her enthusiastic host at the latter occasion was the French prime minister, Guy Mollet, who the previous year had suggested to his British counterpart, Anthony Eden, that Britain and France should considered a “union” with the Queen as its head. When Eden rejected the idea, Mollet broached the possibility of the French joining the Commonwealth when Eden visited Paris a fortnight later.
After telling her hosts, “You were the cradle of our kings,” the Queen (it wasn’t clear whether she was informed of Mr. Mollet’s royalist bent, but the appalled Cabinet definitely was) went to the Paris Opera for the ballet Le Chevalier et la Demoiselle, where 5,000 Parisians cheered, “Long Live the Queen.” In Bert Hardy: My Life, the photographer then working for Picture Post remembers how difficult it was to cover this occasion:
“Paris Match was very much our competition, and there was a rota system in effect. Only two Frenchmen and two of us were allowed to go in; but the French newsmen were above the rules. They had twenty, we would have two, and the French police were making sure that’s all we had.
The Queen was due to visit the Paris Opera, and I wanted to be there to take some pictures, although officially I wasn’t supposed to be. The French Press had been cheating like mad (on the rota system), I knew. I decided that it was about time the British Press did a bit of cheating.
I had my usual difficulty getting hold of a dinner jacket. The only one I was able to borrow was several sizes too big, but that suited me: I was able to hide my Leica inside it. As for my brown shoes, I just hoped that no one would look down that far. The next little difficulty was getting into the Opera. I didn’t have a permit, so I waited outside on the pavement until a group of French dignitaries wearing grand plumed hats, who had got out of various cars, came towards the entrance. I sidled up and joined them. I was appearing to get on fairly well with my few words of French, when they all moved to go inside. I moved with them. The police saluted, and everybody bowed (I hoped they didn’t notice my shoes), and I was in.
I quickly looked for the best vantage point to get a good picture of the Queen coming in. I went up the magnificent staircase, and found a little box by the side where the occupants made room for me, thinking I was an official Press man. It was a fabulous panorama, and I began to realise that the scene was just too large for a standard lens to take in. The only thing to do was make a massive ‘join-up.’ Before the Queen actually entered, I started taking shots of the vast entrance hall, working slowly from left to right, and from top to bottom, and making sure that the edges of each shot coincided as far as possible with some feature like the edge of a balcony or pillar. In all I took about twenty separate shots, and the last shot of all showed the Queen climbing the stairs. After I sent the film back, I telephoned Sheila (his soon-to-be-wife) to explain to her what I had done, so she could tell the make-up man how to piece the jigsaw together. The finished picture was the most ambitious example ever of the technique I had learned from William Davis, and was published on 20 April 1957.
Fifteen of Hardy’s photos were painstakingly joined, by hand in those days before easy photoshop, to compose the one of the largest montages (or ‘join-up’ as they called it back then). The only clue that the image is a montage is in the guards’ unrisen swords to Her Majesty’s left. Picture Post’s special April 20 souvenir edition was a last hurrah for the magazine; six weeks later, it closed down.
Ironically, the photo was also published in Paris Match issue of the same date; the French magazine actually devoted 27 spreads to the Queen’s visit.
Political connections are often controversial — don’t look further than Bullingdon — and in France, a selected elite governs and they may be partisan, but old school ties often bind them.
Every country has its elite colleges and institutions, but the grandest and the most elite of them all is perhaps the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), whose graduates are called énarques. Seven of France’s last twelve prime ministers were énarques, and 46% of 600-plus senior private and public sector leaders in the country came from one of three grandes écoles, which include ENA.
Even by these gilded standards, ENA’s Class of 1980 is above and beyond; even from the earliest days, their collective ambition was clear in the name they chose and considered for their class. (French graduating classes from grandes écoles have to choose a class name based on a famous person or concept). They chose Promotion Voltaire, and other proposed names included Rousseau, Louise Michel, Jean Monnet and Droits de l’homme.
If their collective name sounds grandiose, they have their reasons to be; it was one of the most politically active classes in ENA’s recent memory. Some thirty of them formed a short-lived student group called CARENA (le Comité d’action pour une réforme démocratique de l’ENA), and extraordinarily for a group that only comprises of 80 people, the class eventually went on to produce so many famous names: one prime minister (Dominique de Villepin), several cabinet ministers (Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Jean-Maurice Ripert, Michel Sapin, Pierre Duquesne, Frederique Bredin, Brigitte Joseph-Jeanneney, Patrick Delage) who went on to become senior ambassadors and regulators, countless representatives to the National Assembly, and industry titans (Nicolas Duhamel at Havas, Benard Cottin at Canel+ and Numéricable, Henri de Castries of AXA; Pierre Mongin of the Paris metro).
But perhaps the most well-known of ’80ers are two socialist party presidential candidates, Ségolène Royal and Francois Hollande, who began their courtship in the grand halls of ENA. M. Hollande who will probably win the French Presidency in May is further surrounded by other golden boys and girls from 1980. His manifesto “Contract of the Generation” was written by the famous tax lawyer Dominique Villemot ’80. His campaign finance manager is Jean-Jacques Augier ’80, the mighty investor behind many Parisian bookstores and taxi company G7. M. Jouyet, now the head of the financial-markets regulator and Mdm. Bredin, a socialist party doyenne and now the Inspector General of Finances are both tipped for senior posts in a Hollande presidency. (See full list of Promotion Voltaire here).
Their success is probably because France’s very flimsy divide between civil service, private sector and government, and because there are énarques are on both sides of the political spectrum…. and The Economist, from whose article the idea for this post came, has this to say:
Enarques, who tend to be fiercely clever and answer questions with the phrase “There are three points,” shrug off accusations of elitism. The college selects its students on merit in a competitive exam, and tuition is free. ENA was set up in 1945 as a meritocratic institution meant to produce a post-war administrative elite. Yet since about 1980, fewer people from poorer backgrounds have got in. The share of working-class students at the top four grandes écoles, including ENA, fell from 29% in the 1950s to 9% in the mid-1990s, finds one study.
(Since this article was written, Francois Hollande had indeed won the Presidency. His cabinet will be headed by two members of the Class of 1980: Sylvie Hubac as Director and Pierre-René Lemas as Secrétaire Général (Chief of Staff). See here for details.)
This photo of love-struck teenagers in a cruise ship on the Seine, with a faint Eiffel Tower in the twilight distance, appeared in July 1989 issue of National Geographic. It may be less historically important, or iconic than many other photos featured on this blog, but it speaks to me on a more personal level — perhaps because I feel that sort of carefreeness slowly slipping away from me , perhaps because one of my close friends’ favorite photos, who knows?
It is just one of those photos that really encapsulate the best practices and ideals of photojournalism. To get this photo, David Alan Harvey spent weeks living among a group of French teenagers. He went to school with, ate with, travelled with and slept in their homes. He recalls his days in France:
About 90 percent of the time, it was really boring. They were just doing homework or taking exams. But they got used to me and I became a mascot, so that they wouldn’t pay too much attention to me, and I was both a part of their lives yet detached enough to take the photographs.
This picture is the most representative of the culture because it’s just after graduation, and you have the water and the Eiffel Tower in the background. I took more intimate photos too, but this one worked really well for the story.
This picture also has a special meaning for me personally, because it’s taken very near where the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson lived. The French photographers were my heroes when I got started, and I spent time trying to emulate the street photography of Cartier-Bresson. But eventually I moved away from that and also away from black-and-white toward color photography. Cartier-Bresson wanted to be invisible, but I don’t. I want to be an integrated member of the group, and I think I achieved that with the photos in France.”
“Is photography art?” These days, we don’t normally question photography’s status as art, but back in the middle of the 19th century, photography has many detractors. Opponents, like the famous French poet Charles Baudelaire, saw photography as a mechanical process that should be regarded only as a “servant of the arts and sciences.” Photography was closer to “shorthand or printing” than to a fine art, they argued. In one of the most famous essays in photography’s short history, Charles Baudelaire would denounced daguerrotypy as a negative, mechanistic medium, devoid of sentiments and natural beauty. Baudelaire’s review of “The Salon of 1859” included a section that denounced not only Daguerre — the ‘Messiah’ of this new industry — but also painters and the bourgeoise general public, which was all to eager to accept this ‘contrived’ medium:
“If photography is allowed to supplement art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it altogether….its true duty..is to be the servant of the sciences and arts – but the very humble servant, like printing or shorthand, which have neither created nor supplemented literature….
Let it rescue from oblivion those tumbling ruins, those books, prints and manuscripts which time is devouring, precious things whose form is dissolving and which demand a place in the archives of our memory – it will be thanked and applauded.
But if it is allowed to encroach upon the domain of the… imaginary, upon anything whose value depends solely upon the addition of something of a man’s soul, then it will be so much the worse for us.”
Baudelaire was not alone in thinking photography should not encroach upon the realm of arts — “the domain of the impalpable and the imaginary”. Although he himself used photography to assist painting, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres led many French intellectuals in forming the League of Artists Against Photography. But they were fighting a losing battle; in 1855, photography was included in the Paris World’s Fair exhibition. In 1859, the French Academy admitted photographs into the prestigious Salon — the very Salon of 1859 that Baudelaire reviewed.
Baudelaire had been already reviewing the Salon for fifteen years and in 1859 — the last year he was to review it — he may not even have gone personally to the Salon and see the photographs. For Baudelaire, his review was a work on the philosophy of art and its greatness. Although he viewed photography as obviously inferior, and wrote to his mother, “photography can produce only hideous results,” he counted many photographers among his closest friends. He sat for photographic portraits with Etienne Carjat, Charles Neyt and Nadar, and wrote a poem (Le Reniement de Saint Pierre) about clients who visited Nadar’s studio. To his last days, Baudelaire remained close friends with Nadar, who wrote Baudelaire’s obituary for Le Figaro. By Baudelaire’s death in 1867, the last cause he championed had already been lost — in 1862, after a high profile Mayer and Pierson trial, the French government legally recognized photography as an art under French copyright law despite a lengthy ‘Protest by great artists against any assimilation of photography to art’.
Many world leaders claimed credit for tearing down the Berlin Wall metaphorically and thus ending the Cold War. Last year, President Nicholas Sarkozy of France went a step further by suggesting that he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Mauerspechte (Wall peckers) East German citizens in bringing the Wall down literally. On his facebook, the French President posted a photograph of him, then 34, chipping away the hated symbol of Communism. The caption claimed that he, along with two other prominent French politicians, dashed to Berlin and crossed through Checkpoint Charlie as the first tremors of the earthquake that would topple the entire Communist system were felt in that divided city on November 9, 1989.
The story seemed too good to be true — and so it was. Journalists and former French officials immediately began questioning his story. The events of that November night were so unforeseen that many politicians on the both sides of the Iron Curtain were caught unaware. Nobody even in Berlin knew the wall was about to fall; President George H.W. Bush saw the wall coming down on television while Chairman Gorbachev — like many Germans and Eastern Europeans — slept through it. While Sarkozy was clearly there in the early days of the Wall’s demise, it was certain that he wasn’t there on that fateful night. Two politicians whom Sarkozy claimed were with him, Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon, the former and current prime ministers respectively, both admitted that they were unsure about the date on which they went to Berlin. (Alain Juppé – who was to Sarkozy’s left in the Facebook photograph above – did not go to Berlin until 16 November. On 9 November he was at the annual memorial service for General de Gaulle in France.)
Although Sarkozy stood by his story, and hoped it would die down, it accelerated into internet meme. His former opponent, Ségolène Royal joked that it is equally likely that he was at the Bastille in 1789. Actively encouraged by the French media, the French netizens subsequently photoshopped Sarkozy into every important event in history from the Crucifixion to the D-Day landings. See the NYTimes article here.
Yet, Sarkozy is nothing if not a political survivor: in 1995, he was cast aside by the Gaullist right because he backed a rival candidate to Jacques Chirac for the French presidency. Four years later, he again disappointed his party for securing a mere 13% of the vote in elections to the European Parliament. But he punched his way back into the government in 2002 and secured the presidency in 2007. Now, saddled with extremely low poll ratings, Sarkozy would definitely lose the election if it were to be held today. The comeback kid will probably surprise us once more.
No other issue divided France and other European countries more intensely in the last years of the 19th century than the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain, was banished for allegedly spying for the Germans. Gradually, however, it became increasingly clear that his superiors tampered with his dossier, and the military command covered the scandal up.
Possible rehabilitation was discussed intensely but it was Emile Zola who opened the public debate with his fiery article in L’Aurore, titled ‘J’Accuse!’. What is more important, he asked, the rights of individuals or the prestige of the state? This was a question that will reverberate time and again throughout the 20th century and beyond, and in 1898, when Zola first asked it, it was no less divisive. Friends, family members and literary salons were ripped apart by their differing stances; there were fights, divorces, and libel lawsuits.
A retrial was commissioned. During it (above), Marcel Proust sat in the public gallery each day with coffee and sandwiches, so as not to miss a moment. Proust and his brother Robert helped to circulate a petition for Dreyfus – an act that angered their father intensely. The petition, ‘The Manifesto of the Intellectuals’ was signed by 3,000 notables, including Anatole France, Andre Gide and Claude Monet. Anti-Dreyfusards also included equally eminent artisans, such as Renoir, Cezanne and Degas. Degas stopped speaking to Monet, Cassatt and Pissarro and disparaged his former friends’ art.
As Barbara Tuchman wrote in her monumental history of Europe before the First World War, The Proud Tower, Dreyfus affair was the death struggle of the old world. Many things we now take for granted – sensationalist press, public debates, petitions, liberal bourgeoisie class – were born out of the trial, as were impetuses that would drive many important events in the following decades. Anti-Dreyfus papers ran daily columns about a conspiracy involving Jews, Freemasons, socialists and foreigners. The Viennese Neue Freie Presse‘s correspondent in Paris was so shocked at the anti-Semitism that he would write the first sentences of his Der Judenstaat, ‘the Jews had to be given a country of their own’ subsequently. His name was Theodor Herzl, and the first seeds of what will become the state of Israel were first sown at the Dreyfus trial.
Dreyfus himself was pardoned, rehabilitated and awarded the Legion of Honor when France finally realized that the affair was damaging its international image. Once free, Dreyfus proved himself to be less idealistic than those who had fought for him. Years later, when a group of intellectuals asked him to sign a petition to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti – two American victims of a political process – Dreyfus flew into a rage: he wanted nothing more to do with such affairs. As Charles Péguy, one of the most fervent Dreyfusards, lamented in Notre Jeunesse: ‘We were prepared to die for Dreyfus, but Dreyfus himself was not’.
On 13th May 1932, Radical Paul Doumer defeated the pacifist Aristide Briand in the second round of French Presidential elections. Less than a year later, Doumer would be assassinated. The president was attending the opening of a Parisian book fair (of First World War veteran writers) on 6 May 1932, when he was shot in the chest and head by Paul Gorguloff, a mentally-unstable Russian emigre, who was later sentenced to death by guillotine.
Although Doumer was a respected career public servant (he served as governor of French Indochina, senator, president of the Chamber of Deputies), as a president he was merely a figurehead. Many mourned him as genial, doddering seventy-five-year-old who lost four of his five sons in the First World War, rather than as the elder statesman he was. In fact, the assassination caused minimal governmental disruption and had few long-term repercussions.
Russian immigrants, however, were less lucky. The papers focused on Gorguloff’s cry before he shot the president: ‘To die for the Fatherland’. Since the assassination happened between two rounds of parliamentary elections, his motives and possibility of Soviet involvement were deeply questioned. Meanwhile, the above pictures of the dying president being carried out of the exhibition hall in Palais Rothschild fuelled the sensationalist press of the time, as did the assassin’s lengthy trial. In this capacity L’affaire Gorguloff contributed much to the charged anti-immigrant atmosphere of the early 1930s.
France government came close to collapse in May 1968, enveloped in what was the largest political action in a developed country to date; eleven million workers protested over a period of two weeks in a political anomaly that rejected both communism and capitalism.
Student leaders of 1968 emulated the style and icons of the earlier revolutions in France — at times to the point of caricature. At the top of their subversive icons was Marianne — an allegory of Liberty and Reason since the founding of the First French Republic. Ironically, in May ’68, it would be an English socialite, Caroline de Bendern, who came to symbolize her. In an iconic photo from that May, de Bendern was perched on the shoulders of her friend the painter Jean-Jacques Lebel, the instigator of Odeon Theatre occupation. De Bendern was a rebel, having expelled from numerous English boarding schools, modelled in Paris and New York, consorted with the likes of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, and made experimental films with the Zanzibar group. However, on May 13th, she was just an accidental celebrity — she rode upon Lebel’s shoulder because her feet were sore. She waved the flag of Vietnam, not because she herself protested Vietnam war, but because it was the flag Lebel had been brandishing. Yet, the ultimate showman, she posed as Marianne from her elevated position — a solemn mockery of Delacroix’s immortal La Liberté guidant le peuple.
At Place Edmond Rostand, near the Jardin de Luxembourg, Jean-Pierre Rey took the above famous photo of her which was later published in Life Magazine on May 24th. Her patrician grandfather saw the photograph and disinherited her out of 7.5 million pounds largesse *. Caroline spent the rest of her life decennial and unsuccessfully suing Rey for the rights to the photo, in ’78, ’88, and ’98.
Life was not better for Marianne herself. The tarnished icon was phased out from on the stamps, and during the 1789 Revolution’s Bicentennial, she was hardly seen. The photo, on the other hand, made numerous appearances: on the covers of Les enfants de l’aube (The Children of the Dawn) by Patrick Poivre d’Arvor and Paris-Match’s commemorative edition on 1968.
*Her grandfather Maurice Arnold Deforest (1879-1968) was adopted by banker Baron Moritz Hirsch. No one knew where Deforest came from. It was alleged he was the illegitimate son of King Edward VII or an Austrian prince. The shadowy billionaire was later a Liechtenstein count (Graf von Bendern), a French lord (Châtelain of Beauregard), an English baron (Baron deForest) and a MP (for West Ham).
“Portrait de Cherid Barkaoun” was one of Marc Garanger’s pictures of Algerian women taken during in the early 1960s. The image of Barkaoun, “mournful but proud, large eyes kohl-rimmed, hair braided, absently clutching a scarf to her chest as if to keep hold of some sliver of privacy”, as the New York Times put it, reaches across half a century and remains a poignant symbol of oppression by the French and her tribal elders alike.
During the early 1960s, the French authorities required Algerians to have identity cards and a conscript in the French Army, Marc Garanger, was ordered to shoot their portraits. He photographed some 2,000 Algerian women, many of whom had been veiled throughout their adult lives until they uncovered themselves for Granger’s camera. If taking these images was a violation to these women and their cultural beliefs, their cultural beliefs themselves were also violation of their individual rights. It turned Mr. Garanger against French rule and through the humanity of his subjects, he conveyed their anger, oppression and resistance.
“In 1960, I was doing my military service in Algeria. The French army had decided that the indigenous peoples were to have a French identity card. I was asked to photograph all the people in the surrounding villages. I took photographs of nearly two thousand persons, the majority of whom were women, at a rate of about two hundred a day. The faces of the women moved me greatly. They had no choice. They were required to unveil themselves and let themselves be photographed. They had to sit on a stool, outdoors, before a white wall. I was struck by their pointblank stares, first witness to their mute, violent protest.
To express myself with my eye, I took up my camera. To shout my disagreement. For twenty-four months I never stopped, sure that one day I would be able to testify. To tell stories with these images… all of this I did with more force than the dominant military ideology of the era that surrounded me with hatred and violence. My spirits revolt was proportionate to the horrors that I witnessed,” later recalled Garanger. Equally memorable and haunting are Garanger’s later photographs of the Algerian War collected in the 1984 album La Guerre d’Algérie vue par un appelé du contingent. Garanger viewed the publications as a riposte to France’s collective amnesia about the Occupation of North Africa.
Garanger later worked as a freelance photographer in all the republics of the Soviet Union. In 1966 he received the Prix Niepce, one of the most important photography awards in France.
In 1969, General Charles De Gaulle, the retired President of France visited Ireland. The great Anglophobe was descended from the Irish clan of McCartan on his mother’s side and had a keen interest in Irish history. He fulfilled a lifetime ambition to visit Ireland in 1969. It was on the anniversary of L’Appel du 18 Juin (Appeal of June 18), de Gaulle’s famous speech from London that the war was not yet over with the fall of France. It was de Gaulle’s first visit abroad as a simple French citizen.
On 19th June, De Gaulle invited many McCartans from County Down to a reception in Árus an Uachtaráin–the Presidential Residence at Dublin–where he also met with the Irish President Eamon De Valera. De Gaulle commented to Valera that in Ireland, he saw what he looked for right in front of him. (“J’ai trouvé ici ce que je cherchais : être en face de moi-même.”). The above photo was taken by André Lefebvre.