Busy among a throng of machines, workers’ hands keep moving, making, and weaving even as they are being captured unawares and magnified by the attentive eye of André Kertész. Throughout the 1940s, the photographer made a series of images in the Firestone plant in Arkon, Ohio. It shows workers toying with enormous machines, giant tires the size of a man, women watching threads running through weaving looms. The third edition of the Usimages festival devotes a major exhibition to the Hungarian photographer born in 1894 who executed a series of commercial commissions for large American companies. His photographic narrative is on display in the Espace Matisse in the city of Creil. The exhibition includes, among others, Kertész’s contact sheets which allow us to view the whole project at a glance and to make our own choices, when we’re not trying to guess which photographs the artist himself selected.
The fences around Square Philippe Decourtray in Nogent-sur-Oise feature front pages of La Vie Ouvrière, a weekly publication of the CGT workers’ union between 1960 and 1980. They show the journal’s highly politicized choices of strong images meant to stir the public, for example black-faced workers and a headline announcing that not everyone can take a vacation… Or a line of cars rolling off an assembly line, with the following caption in bold: “On the production line humanity is absent.” Those were the golden days of La Vie Ouvrière, when it did not hesitate to visit the slums and show human misery, like those coalminers about to be interviewed by the journalists. This touching exhibition showcases the memory of a publication to show how it supported the struggle for equality among different members of society.
A theater of shadows
A contemporary photographer, Huang Sheng-Min, spotlights the lives of blue-collar workers. This Taiwanese artist began his photography series in 1992 in an effort to portray those working on immense scaffoldings. All his photographs are backlit, which makes the images more dramatic. The workers look like ants scampering around colossal ephemeral structures: the photographer captures a theater of shadows in his elegant black-and-white images. His work is exhibited at the Halle Perret, the cultural center in Montataire.
The must-see exhibition of the biennale is installed at the Maison de Pierre du Sud de l’Oise in Saint-Maximin. It is devoted to the work of Jean-Pierre Sudre, whose daughter has agreed to open her father’s archives of industrial photography. Between 1956 and 1967 Jean-Pierre Sudre created photo essays for the magazine Réalités and carried out commissions for major companies such as Saint-Gobain and Électricité de France (EDF). He also documented the construction of the Saclay laboratories—a nuclear research center. Sudre’s photos show physicists at work, dressed in protective suits and wearing oversize gloves. This captivating reportage reveals the delicate operation of handling radioactive material and the dangers it represents. Jean-Pierre Sudre presents a magnificent record of the life of large industries. A stunning film by Alain Resnais, narrated by Raymond Queneau, culminates the exhibition, making it a key event of the festival.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Usimages, 3rd edition. Photography exhibitions
April 27 to June 15, 2019
The Creil–Sud–Oise commune