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16 May 2017

Lady Liberty, Rencontres d’Arles 2016


The Statue of Liberty—an emblem of America, symbol of freedom and democracy, and colossal challenge sealing the union between art and technology—is one of the world’s most photographed landmarks. The Frenchman who designed it, Auguste Bartholdi, was himself a photographer.

When the medium was just 10 years old and the young Bartholdi 20, he travelled to Egypt with a black-box camera and a friend, the painter Gérôme. His appreciation of monumental architecture already comes across in the calotypes he brought back from his adventure on the other side of the Mediterranean. Yet later on, Bartholdi took very few pictures of his own work. Trained as a photographer, he quickly gave it up for painting and, especially, sculpture, relying on professionals’ skills to record the progress of his creations, especially the Statue of Liberty. Bartholdi painted over a photograph of a sweeping panoramic view of New York to help him picture what it would look like in the harbour. He sketched on the images, touched them up and made photomontages. This method also allowed him to anticipate the spectacular display of Liberty’s head at the gateway to the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition.

Photographs were not just a working tool, but also and above all an outstanding communication tool: funding for the project, a gift from France to America, had run into trouble that only trailblazing publicity to promote it and raise money could overcome. Images, especially photographs, played an unprecedented role here. Beyond that purpose, they waver between reality and fi ction, documenting 20 years of an outsized, utopian project intersecting with and marked by the greatest political, social, architectural, and aesthetic issues of their time.Luce Lebart

Exhibition realized in collaboration with the Musée Bartholdi, Colmar.
Special thanks to Jean-Marie Donat and Christian Kempf.
Publication: Lady Liberty, Seuil, 2016.
The exhibition is essentially composed of vintage prints. Modern prints by Picto, Paris.
Framing by Circad, Paris.
Exhibition venue: Musée départemental Arles Antique.