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“Écrits sur l'image”: Convergence of Writing and Photography

“Écrits sur l’image”: Convergence of Writing and Photography

The first collection of texts on photography by Alain Bergala (former editor-in-chief of Cahiers du Cinéma and still image connoisseur), entitled Écrits sur l’image [Writings on the Image], is published in the TXT collection edited by Agnès Sire (director of the Cartier-Bresson Foundation) at Éditions Xavier Barral. On the occasion of its release, Blind looks back at five books from the historic collection “Écrit sur l’image” [“Written on/about the Image”] founded in 1981. The books, which included publications by Raymond Depardon, Claude Nori, Patrick Zachmann, Fouad Elkoury, Xavier Lambours, and a début by Sophie Calle, followed the simple principle of bringing together texts and images.

Raymond Depardon. Correspondance new-yorkaise. Alain Bergala, Les absences du photographe.

Summer 1981. Between July 2 and August 7, Raymond Depardon was commissioned by the daily Libération to take one image of New York a day, and caption it. Swept by the general enthusiasm, the magazine Les Cahiers du cinéma, then directed by Serge Toubiana, decided to develop Alain Bergala’s project of accompanying Raymond Depardon’s captioned photos with insightful texts. With the support of Serge July, then editor-in-chief of Libération, the book Raymond Depardon – Correspondance new-yorkaise. Alain Bergala – Les absences du photographe as published jointly in late 1981. It was the first in the collection “Écrit sur l’image.” “What this ‘New York correspondence,’ photos and notes are telling us,’ wrote Alain Bergala, ‘is that reporters can also be absentminded, right when, by definition, we would think them focused on what’s in front of them, on the here and now.” More often than one might suspect, reporters are like those painters who plant their easel in front of a landscape and paint an odalisque.

Sophie Calle. Suite vénitienne. Jean Baudrillard. Please follow me.

Before Sophie Calle was Sophie Calle, and was unable to find a publisher, Alain Bergala offered to publish her first book, Suite vénitienne, in which the photographer follows a man whom she first loses in the crowd then finds later as he is about to leave for Venice. The result is a hot pursuit, combining photographs and writings, and adopting a modus operandi that would become her mark. In an interview she gave to Alain Bergala and Jean-Pierre Limosin for the Cahiers du cinéma, she said: “I don’t consider myself a photographer. In the street, I am rather on the lookout for ideas, I am not always ready to photograph. The photos serve as evidence and the text as a report. It’s a kind of a precipitate.”

Gilles Mora. Claude Nori. L’été dernier. Manifeste photobiographique

Like Alain Bergala, Claude Nori is also a long-time photography editor at Contrejour, and his fascinating book about the experience, entitled Contrejour: une aventure éditoriale was published by Éditions de l’œil. As a photographer, Claude Nori’s work appeared in the collection “Écrit sur l’image” alongside Gilles Mora. In the summer of 1982, Gilles Mora traveled to the southern United States while Claude Nori visited his beloved Italy, Naples and Rimini, both photographers having exhilarating “photographic epiphanies.” “Le manifeste autobiographique,” which serves as the introduction to the book, is a landmark text that proclaims that “for every truly beautiful or touching photograph, there is a trace of autobiographical investment or necessity in the very act of photographing.”

Xavier Lambours. Ciné-monde. Michel Cresole. Qu’est-ce qu’ils ont de plus que nous?

This book features a succession of portraits taken over the course of a year by Xavier Lambours on the occasion of great rituals where the film industry is putting on a show: Festival de Deauville (September 1982), Cannes (May 1983), and Venice (September 1983). Xavier Lambours was more than a simple portraitist: he rendezvoused with actors and directors, getting them to enact whatever scene he had envisioned. He photographed Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert De Niro, Jeanne Moreau, Ingmar Bergman, to name just a few. Michel Cressole, journalist-reporter at Libération, spent an entire month with the portraits of these “monstres sacrés,” the giants of cinema, hung on the walls of his bedroom and wrote an essay entitled, “But what do they have that we don’t?”

Fouad Elkoury. Beyrouth aller-retour.

The first book by the Lebanese photographer and writer Fouad Elkoury, published in 1984, Beirut aller-retour is an account in texts and images of the first years of the Lebanese civil war which went on for fifteen years. Divided into three parts: before, during, and after the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, the book documents the daily life of in the city and of a people coping in wartime. Fouad Elkoury writes: “I would walk the streets early in the morning, usually with no clear idea of what I wanted to photograph. Beirut is unpredictable. What mattered was the idea that I was simply there. … Aside from the news photographs I made for the Agency, I took pictures without thinking, when it seemed they could bear witness to situations or scenes that had touched me.”

By Sabyl Ghoussoub

Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.

Alain Bergala, Écrits sur l’image (in French), Atelier EXB / Éditions Xavier Barral, 304 pages, €24.

Bernard Plossu, Villa Giulia, Rome,1980. Extract from Écrits sur l’image by Alain Bergala (Atelier EXB, 2021) © Bernard Plossu

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