The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Hallyday, Queen… these are just some of the giants featured on the walls of the Durev Gallery in Paris. The exhibition « Rock by Leloir » explores the archives of Jean-Pierre Leloir (1931–2010), a photographer who is too often remembered for just one image: that of Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Léo Ferré posing together at a Parisian salon one day in 1969. However, the man had captivated the imagination of generations of music lovers with his pictures, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when one could not rely on the Internet to get a feel for a concert one was unable to attend.
Philippe Manœuvre, formerly of Rock & Folk, and a sponsor of the exhibition, notes that Leloir is “a name that makes music lovers dream.” In fact, Jean-Pierre Leloir was instrumental in launching the legend of the magazine founded in 1966 by Philippe Koechlin. Both Leloir and Koechlin had already worked together at the French quarterly Jazz Hot. A great jazz fan, Jean-Pierre Leloir had built a relationship of trust with the greatest musicians. His portraits of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, showcased at the Durev Gallery, testify to this.
“Musicians accepted him because he didn’t get in their way,” says Marion Leloir, the photographer’s daughter. “He was an artist who looked at other artists, there was mutual respect.” A music lover with eclectic tastes, Jean-Pierre Leloir was as comfortable in the hushed atmosphere of classical music concerts as he was in the bustle of rock shows. “He would do up to five reports a day, recording every moment of a musician’s life except for private life. He was not a paparazzi,” says Marion. “We have preserved his diaries, some pages are insane: in one day, he could be photographing Maria Callas and Lionel Hampton!”
When he was not in the field, Jean-Pierre Leloir received musicians at his studio. These shots were often used for cover art. But one should not think that the music world was his only inspiration. “It was the story my father specialized in. He described himself as a ‘peripatetic photographer.’ He didn’t photograph just music!” In the photographer’s archives, curated by Marion Leloir and Eric Facon, his former printer, lie dormant nearly 30,000 contact sheets with 25 views each. There are street photos, cocktail parties, landscapes… There are images of France but also those taken during his travels, especially to the United States where he went regularly with his wife. “He was made an honorary citizen of New Orleans because he photographed a lot of Sidney Bechet,” recalls Marion Leloir. It must be said that Jean-Pierre Leloir lived through the glorious years of jazz, as well as rock. “Many of the photos he took would be impossible today when artists are always surrounded by a crowd of people.”
In the 1970s, record labels tightened their control over photography. The constraints multiplied: no more access to the backstage and even less to the stage; authorization to shoot only during the first three titles… Jean-Pierre Leloir could no longer work the way he wanted. For, what fascinates the most when you discover the exhibition is his proximity to the musicians, the way he was able to capture in a still image the energy, charisma, and intensity of the musicians on stage. He didn’t just photograph the artists, he managed to capture their very music. Philippe Manœuvre got this right: “All these fabulous documents, witnesses to a bygone era, continue to live, breathe, pulsate with incandescent electricity.”
By Laure Etienne
Laure Etienne is a Paris-based journalist and former member of the editorial team at Polka and ARTE.
« Rock by Leloir », exhibition, Galerie Durev, Paris, 7th Arr. Until December 8, 2021.