Photography as a weapon
Documentary and social photography in the 1930s
Friday, March 25, 2016
2, rue Vivienne
Metro: Bourse (line 3)
The engagement of photographers in revolutionary political and cultural structures in the 1930s remains a gray area of the history of photography and illustrated press. It was indeed outshined by the notion of "humanist photography" created in the post-war period to describe the popular optimism characteristic of the "Trente Glorieuses". Thus social and documentary photographs of the post-war period were often considered as signs of the humanist look that will later be mature enough.
For many photographers such as Claude Cahun, Eli Lotar, Pierre Jamet, Loré Krüger, Germaine Krull, Tracol, André Papillon, René Zuber, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Willy Ronis, photography yet remained the ultimate democratic medium. These photographers worked for the communist illustrated press (Regards, L’Humanité, Ce Soir) and enlisted in the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (AEAR) created by Paul Vaillant-Couturier in 1932.
Through these structures, in different media and during different exhibitions organized by the AEAR, they defended a political vision of their work, considering photography is a "weapon of class". Some of them published calls and organized images collection and photography contests for amateur workers. Some other then created the first independent cooperative of photographers.
But when glorifying the figure of the engaged photographer, don’t we risk to fall into the biographic illusion and push the driving forceof collective structures into the background? When idealizing the communist visual culture, don’t we risk to slowly erase the aesthetic and political tensions of a movement both rich and contrasting?