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8 July 2013

Pierre Jamet, 1936, Dina, Pierre, Sacha…

In 1936, after the Popular Front’s victory, the youth hostel movement in France underwent huge expansion, spurred on by the then youth minister Léo Lagrange. This movement gave young people the possibility of taking advantage of paid leave, newly implemented by the government, to travel cheaply and stay in economical, ecological and socially mixed hostels.

A former Scout, then head of a holiday camp in Belle-Île-en-Mer, and an enthusiast of the camaraderie of outdoor life, it was only natural that Pierre Jamet joined the Centre laïque des auberges de jeunesse (Secular Youth Hostel Centre) in 1937. His path was all mapped out, for here he played a role training young people, with whom he felt a great affinity. Within the hostels, he established a small ensemble of singers and dancers, the Groupe 18 ans (18 Year Group), which met with some success with youth up until the Second World War.

Dina Vierny, already the model of sculptor Aristide Maillol, was among these young people. Vierny and Jamet met in 1935 in the choir of the Revolutionary Artists and Writers Association. Together they then became involved in the youth hostel adventure, sharing jaunts with backpack, on foot or by hitchhiking, and a collective, playful and fraternal life. The many photographs Pierre Jamet took of these young people, so thrilled to experience this social progress, constitute a major account of life in youth hostels during the historic Popular Front period. While testifying to the privileged and affectionate tie that united Jamet and Vierny, the photographs specifically focused on Dina Vierny also reveal the young woman’s charm and vital force which inspired Maillol.

This collection of images, imbued with deep humanism, exudes an irresistible joie de vivre and perfectly sums up the spirit of the period. The shadow of the historic disaster which was to follow renders the euphoria so evident in these photos all the more fragile.

Corinne Jamet.

Exhibition venue : Atelier de Formation, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2013.