The Exhibition of Lucien Hervé's photographic work is held from 18th January to 17th March 2002 at the Hôtel de Sully in Paris. With 180 photos, this is one of the most important exhibitions of Lucien Hervé's immense photographic legacy.
Lucien Hervé: Building Images
A universe in the making, capturing the light and darkness from the cosmos, infinitely expandable yet simplified to convey it's poetic essence, intimate from within yet mysterious in its powerful rhythm: such are the images that mirror the creative dialog that existed between the photographer Lucien Hervé and the greatest architects of the time. Hinting at a future that is already an irretrievable past, making human sense of the cold chaos of creation, the effort that it demanded, the calm detachment that it produced after it's completion, the photographer is the silent eye that remembers an infinity of details conveyed in the most simple way.
Hervé's work is a rare composition of dream, feeling and genius in an architectural space of which he is both the master designer and prisoner, the dreaming inhabitant and the creative thinker. Today, seeing the importance of Hervé's artistic work, the subtleties of his expression, one can hardly imagine that he was simply and humbly in the service of Le Corbusier (pseudonym of Charles Edouard Jeanneret) for the last 15 years of the great Swiss architect's life, documenting step-by-step every work and every exhibition his patron made. In fact, Le Corbusier's creation now travels the world with a large segment dedicated to Lucien Hervé's photos of his famous architecture.
Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light professed Le Corbusier, and Hervé's photos show his deep understanding of this. Yet there is much more to Hervé's photos than just volumes and light. He made subjective choices in line with Mies Van der Rohe's famous dictum "Less is more", pushing photography to the limits of abstraction. In fact, the photographer and the architect were both influenced by the revolution going on in painting at the time in Paris, and both had an instinct for architectonic expression. They met intellectually first through more than 650 photos that Lucien Hervé took in one single day in 1949 of Le Corbusier's ground-breaking residential unit then under construction in Marseilles. Having received the bulk of the photos, Le Corbusier thanked the photographer by saying: "Sir, you have the spirit of an architect". Thus began the long and close collaboration of the two men, who shared a similar viewpoint on art and architecture.
From then on, at the invitation of Le Corbusier, Lucien Hervé made photos of each and every construction built by the architect, until his death in 1965. Amongst these were: the entire city of Chandigarh (new capital of the recently split Punjab), villas and public buildings at Ahmedabad, the Convent of 'Sainte Marie de La Tourette’ at Evreux, and the pilgrimage chapel of ‘Notre Dame du Haut’ at Ronchamp.
As a result of his growing reputation thanks to this important collaboration, he was asked by a veritable who's who of modern architecture to document and capture the essence of their work with his camera. Here again we have the proof that architecture and photography are inseparable partners: never before has the richness of architectural design been communicated to so many with such speed and veracity, and no other medium can describe architecture to it's fullest from so many different points of view and under such variation of lighting.
Even in his documentary work Lucien Hervé went beyond the descriptive by creating unique atmospheres of human reflection, somewhere between earthly reality and abstract spirituality, so captivating as to suggest that an unfinished construction site is the ideal place to be.
Although known mostly through his work for famous architects, the duality of Lucien Hervé's subjects is ever present in this exhibition: man and architecture, mind and matter, eye and the object, light and form. It is the interconnection and interaction of these that produce some of the most beautiful photos of the last century (e.g. ‘the Accuser, 1955, Delhi’; 'Portrait of Le Corbusier', 'Palais Royal', 1955; 'The Cyclists' 1949 ).
Compared to the realistic or expressionistic styles of his contemporaries (Robert Doisneau, Brassai) his work is unclassifiable as it is formal without forgetting humanity, realistic without leaving out the aesthetic quality of every being. It holds deep inside the mysterious quality of art, making itself manifest gradually like a well-controlled source of light.
Lucien Hervé was the war-time Resistance code-name of László Elkán, born in 1910 in Vasarely in Hungary, who adopted French nationality in 1938.
Between 1938 and 1939 he earned a living as a reporter-photographer for the 'Marianne' magazine.
He was mobilized to the war front in 1939 where he became the speaker for the French resistance movement. Caught in Dunkerque in 1940 and later deported to oriental Prussia, he managed to escape from prison a year later. Having joined and later been expulsed from the French Communist Party once already, he then joined the clandestine party a second time after his escape to Grenoble, and was expulsed again in 1947.
From this date onwards he dedicated his time to the arts and in particular to photography. His series of photos entitled 'Paris without leaving my window' dates from 1948, and was published in the magazine 'Point de Vue - Images du Monde', 'Art Sacré' and 'Lilliput'.
In 1949 he met the reverend Father Couturier who introduced him to Matisse (Father Couturier was a key figure in building Matisse's chapel in Vence, and it was he who suggested to the photographer to study and take photos of Le Corbusier's building under construction in Marseilles).
From 1950 to 1965 he became the official photographer of Le Corbusier (after sending the architect 650 photos that he had made of the Marseilles construction site of ‘l'Unité de Construction’). In parallel with work for Le Corbusier, he made photos for other leading architects or engineers such as Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Pier Luigi Nervi, Kenzo Tange, Richard Neutra, Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Prouvé, Bernard Zehrfuss.
From 1951 onwards his artistic work was published and exhibited (personal exhibition in Domus of Milan and the publication of his photos of the 'Thoronet Abbey' called 'La Plus Grande Aventure du Monde' by publisher Arthaud. In 1959 he made a series of photos of the 'Escurial' and popular Spanish architecture.
From 1961 he visited many countries amongst which India, Cambodia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Turkey and Greece. In 1962 he was appointed to take photos of the archeological sites in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. His 1963 exhibition in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris called 'The Language of Architecture' travelled across Europe.
His next exhibition, entitled 'Countryside architecture New and Old' was held in the prestigious 'National Library' of Paris in 1964.
After the death of Le Corbusier in 1965, Lucien Hervé was struck by multiple sclerosis, but he continued his work making a series of photographic collages and furthered his research on abstraction.
From 1970, after the publication of 'Le beau court la rue', his photographic art was published and exhibited around the world, including exhibitions in 1985 and 1999 at the 'International Encounters of Photography, in Arles; a retrospective exhibition of his work at 'The Grand Hall of the Villette' in 1988; and the traveling exhibition organized by the FNAC entitled 'Paris after the war'.
Lucien Hervé was made 'Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur' in 1992 and 'Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres' in 1994, a year after receiving the First Prize in ‘The plastic arts’, the first photographer receiving the prestigious prize from the Academy of Architecture.
In 2000 he was awarded 'the Grand Prize' of the City of Paris.
He celebrated his 91st birthday on 7th August 2001.
Art Lovers' Paris
Biographical source: Patrimoine Photographique