Throughout his life, the French photographer Jean-Claude Gautrand (1932-2019) has used his photographs and texts to document what is no longer there, what is destined to disappear. Born in 1932 in the North of France, he seldom travelled. He photographed mostly Paris and its changes, and he became interested in places that bear the stamp of History: the sacrificed village Oradour sur Glane, the Struthof concentration camp, the end of the mining district, the blockhouses on the Atlantic coast…
‘Baltard’s Murder’ immortalised the destruction of the architect Baltard’s immense les Halles marketplace in the heart of the capital whose glass and iron structures disappeared in the dust and light of the summer. Gautrand is the only photographer who followed the entire process of destruction. Can you imagine the Prefect of Paris authorising the demolition of the Grand Palais?! And yet a similar drama unfolded in the heat of August 1971. Despite many protests and demonstrations by Paris’ inhabitants. Twelve halls, designed by the architect Victor Baltard in 1856, made up of iron structures topped by glass canopies, were set to be razed. Those treasures of 19th century industrial architecture housed a gigantic wholesale market in the centre of Paris. The famous les Halles lent their name to the neighbourhood that Emile Zola called ‘The Belly of Paris’. The market was subsequently moved to la Villette and Rungis. Jean-Claude Gautrand followed the entire procedure, from the demolition of the first halls to the reconstruction of Pavillon Baltard in Nogent-sur-Marne. Using a Rolleiflex and black and white film, he showed up every day, bypassing the no-access signs, climbing on rooftops to document what he called ‘Baltard’s Murder’.
His photographic documentation became a book published by Éditions Formule 13 in 1972, winning the city of Arles’ Grand Prix du Livre the same year. In the early noughties, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger included it in the volume devoted to Protest books in the series Le Livre de photographies : une histoire [The Book of Photographs – A History], which has become a sort of Bible for fans of photography books.
Sylvie Hugues, curator
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