Claude Nori. Contrejour, A French Assertion
This exhibition is dedicated to the adventure of Contrejour, which drastically changed the French publishing landscape of the 1970s. It was an adventure carried along by the movement of a new spontaneous, nonconformist and committed kind of photography that proposed to lay the foundations of a genuine autonomous language. The exhibition also pays homage to Contrejour’s founder, Claude Nori, himself a photographer, who for almost fifteen years and through more than 150 publications, allowed a number of – until then – unknown authors to publish books and monographs, thus contributing to the shaping of photography as art, the way we conceive it today.
In 1975, he writes, just after his psychedelic period, that he’d made the dummy of Lunettes, a book prefaced by Agnès Varda. Finding no publisher in the barren publishing landscape of the time, he decided to publish it himself, like Ralph Gibson and Leslie Krims had done, or like Jean Dieuzaide, who’d just published, at his own expense, his book Mon aventure avec le Brai (My Adventure with Brai). He was then contacted by many photographers and reporters of his generation, who wanted to express themselves by showing their photographs. Driven by their energy and enthusiasm, an idea took shape for a nonconformist review, followed by a publishing house that would hand the word and images over to all those artists who’d decided to make photography a genuine philosophy of life and a new way of making art. Contrejour grew from this desire that was stronger than everything else, from all these talents that only asked to be revealed.
No critical tradition existed at the time. In this almost institutional desert, a generation of photographers searching for an identity tossed around current ideas, burned bridges with film and literature, turned their backs on traditional photo-journalism and in a spontaneous momentum produced a liberating art that was closer to people, which found, thanks to books, an original creative space and a means of mass distribution. Influenced by the dynamism of American photography, this new photography (which would be called ‘creative’) established itself in France and then throughout Europe as a movement fully determined to amaze by startling images revealing a reality and the fantasies sown by the ideals of May 68.
Set up in Montparnasse, Contrejour rapidly became a hub and assured the dissemination of ideas and discussions centred on art photography before institutions and the photography market got themselves organised. Contrejour review, a provocative underground journal, with its vital ‘Dégrafez vos paupières’ (Unzip your eyelids) column, welcomed in its pages the writing of critics and historians such as Arnaud Claass, Annie Walther, Jacques Marchois, Carole Naggar, André Laude and Jean-Claude Gautrand. It was soon followed by Caméra International, created with Gabriel Bauret, and Les Cahiers de la Photographie with Gilles Mora.
Surrounded by a team of professionals, Claude Nori indefatigably exerted himself to assure artists maximum visibility. He organised exhibitions and events to accompany his books, and played an indisputable role of cultural agitator to impose this new, constantly evolving photography. Contrejour’s renown culminated with Photographie Actuelle en France (Contemporary Photography in France), a collective work by 80 photographers, most of whom had never been published before,Photographie française des origines à nos jours (French Photography from the Beginnings Until Today) the first of a kind released in 1979 and translated into several languages, Le Voyage Mexicain (Mexican Journey) by Bernard Plossu and lastly Trois secondes d’éternité (Three Seconds of Eternity) by Robert Doisneau, conceived by Maurice Coriat, who put humanist photographers back to the forefront of the scene.
The exhibition recreates the particular atmosphere of this period of creativity and discovery when everything seemed allowed and possible. It situates the context of the creation of Contrejour, highlights the main publications over almost twenty years and presents the photographs of the artists that count in Contrejour’s history: Plossu, Le Querrec, Giacomelli, Ghirri, Petersen, Sieff, Peress, Doisneau, Boubat, Ronis, Garanger and Salgado, to mention just a few.
Exhibition venue: couvent Saint-Césaire, Rencontres d’Arles 2012.