Raymond Depardon: A Tender Moment

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Around the World and
Down on the Farm

Paris Update Depardon Grand Palais

“Harar, Ethiopia, 2013.” © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

For someone who grew up on an isolated farm deep in the heart of France, Raymond Depardon has probably seen more of the world than most of us ever will. The heart of the photographer, who has made three documentary films about rural life in France, still has deep roots on that farm, however, as is evident in the fine exhibition of his color photographs, “Raymond Depardon: Un Moment si Doux,” now on show at the Grand Palais.

Curated by Hervé Chanvès, director of the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the exhibition, with 160 photos taken from the 1950s to the present, many of them never exhibited before, proves what a truly sensitive colorist Depardon is and how far he has traveled since leaving the farm at the age of 19. The pictures are organized by theme – landscapes, portraits, etc. – and take us to such disparate places as Africa, Chile, Argentina, Beirut, Glasgow – and back to the family farm.

Depardon’s talent is evident even in the earliest photos, taken around 1960, when he was still learning his trade. He has the rare ability to combine a humanist’s sensibility and a reporter’s perceptiveness with an artist’s eye for light and color. In grim, gray, stony Glasgow, he captures the beauty of the light that manages to penetrate the city’s glowering skies while finding a welcome touch of color here and there – in a little girl’s pink dress or a boy’s pink chewing-gum bubble. Another example is an image of three street people in gray and black flanked by orange flames on one side and yellow plastic on the other.

Depardon says that color only became important to him in 1984, when he was photographing France and went back to the family farm. As in many of his photos, there are no people in the images of the farm shown here – their recent presence is only suggested. We see an empty kitchen, for example, with a ray of sunlight from the window falling across the soft yellows and greens of its humble furnishings. After the farm series in 1984, he used color intermittently until he was invited to present his work at the Fondation Cartier in 2003.

“When I work in black-and-white,” he says, “I’m part of the great European tradition

Paris Update Depardon Grand Palais 2

“Salon du Camping, Porte de Vincennes, 1960.” © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

of dense, deep blacks. Color, in contrast, I see as light, luminous and, most of all, cheerful.”

In these images, however, color is not always used to cheerful effect. In Beirut during the Civil War, instead of showing bodies strewn in the streets, he photographed the aftermath – a bullet-riddled silver car in front of a blue and yellow building – or merely suggested its intrusion into daily life: a rifle hanging on the wall of a barbershop, for example.

A founder of the Gamma Photo agency, Depardon is now represented by Magnum. He has recently taken to making large-format color photos, which he takes not on assignment but for his own pleasure. Examples are a shot of the back of a turquoise car, its half-open trunk filled with bright-red boxes, against a sandy backdrop, taken in Harar, Ethiopia, in 2013 (pictured above), and another image from the same series showing a nattily dressed man in a white suit with touches of pale green and pink striding past fiery red food stalls. More subtle is a beautiful photo of Criel Beach in France, with its white sand and amazing variety of shades of blue and green in sea and sky.

Depardon is a well-loved figure in the world of French photography, and this wide-ranging homage to his lesser-known work in color will indeed provide a tender moment, as the title promises, to anyone who visits it.

Heidi Ellison

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais: 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Tel.: 01 44 13 17 17. Open Wednesday-Monday, 10am-8pm, until 10pm on Wednesday; Sunday-Monday, 10am-8pm (exceptions: Dec. 21-Jan.4, open 9am-10pm daily except Tuesday). Closed Tuesday and December 25. Admission: €11. Through February 10, 2014. www.grandpalais.fr

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