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6 July 2013

Raynal Pellicer, À Fonds Perdus* collection

This collection brings together more than a hundred press photos published between 1910 and 1970 by American dailies such as The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Herald, The Denver Post, The Detroit News…

Gelatin-silver prints retouched with gouache and ink, by brush and airbrush, bearing reframing marks, handwritten technical notes and marks in soft lead pencil. Proofs that were corrected or sometimes altered by illustrators and traditional retouchers before publication.

More than the events they document, these images testify to a craft and photographic process that have now disappeared. They also show that, contrary to a generally received idea, the retouching of press photographs was neither rare nor exclusive to the propaganda of totalitarian countries at the beginning of the 20th century, nor linked to the arrival of digital technology or software like Photoshop. Press photos have always been retouched before publication, if only for simple reframing purposes or to balance contrasts.

Typical newspaper style guides imposed a layout in which photographs took up one or two columns. Most of the time, the photos’ background was blurred or removed to lighten the layout, covered over with a monochrome plane made of a thick layer of grey or black gouache.

Sometimes undesirable characters were effaced and elements recreated. Humphrey Bogart’s cigarette disappeared, the gangster Jim Morton was given a jacket and tie, Marcel Marceau lost an arm (the height of paradox for a mime performer!) Beyond being a mere correction linked to technical constraints, it was a matter of editors appropriating and modifying original images not made by them. When retouching escapes the photographer’s gaze, it raises the question of the intangibility of press photography and the taboo of retouching.

Raynal Pellicer, curator of the exhibition.

*Faded Out

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