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Photography and Memory

The Commemoration of Photography in France, 1880–1940
Eléonore Challine
Cet article est une traduction de :
La mémoire photographique

Résumé

The period 1880–1940 saw the world of French photography struggling against state procrastination in its efforts to obtain an institutional policy favorable to the medium. What tactics were deployed in this dialogue with the powers that be? And what were the results? Commemoration – building the future through a rereading of the past – was adopted as one of the avenues to recognition, notably by the Société Française de Photographie, numerically and financially the most powerful of the professional bodies in the field. Statues dedicated to the fathers of photography in France were the first manifestation of this stratagem, which was maintained throughout the period in the form of anniversaries – the half-century celebration of 1889, the centenaries of 1925 and 1939 – complete with banquets, official speeches and retrospective exhibitions. By the eve of the Second World War, however, the balance sheet was unimpressive: officialdom was at last paying some attention, but the direct, material benefits were negligible.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Georges Potonniée, ‘Nécrologie de Gabriel Cromer,’ Bulletin de la Société française de photographie(...)

1Photography does not have, as the saying goes, the ear of those in power. It is viewed unfavorably by the art world, and advocates for a photo­graphy museum do not receive a sympathetic hearing.’1 Such was the medium’s relationship with the French state as summed up by the photography historian Georges Potonniée in his obituary of Gabriel Cromer (1873–1934). Despite more than half a century of ongoing efforts to interest the responsible ministries, acquisition of Cromer’s remarkable collection continued to meet with official obduracy. In 1879, Alphonse Davanne (1824–1912), then chairman of the board of directors of the Société Française de Photographie (SFP) and a trained chemist, delivered a lecture on photography to a packed house at the Sorbonne. Three years later, vitrines devoted to the discipline were installed at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris under the aegis of its director, General Aimé Laussédat. And so it was that during the early years of the Third Republic, from academia to museum, the Société Française de Photographie was engaged in an ongoing battle against state procrastination. But how, exactly? Paradoxically, in an age dominated by the ideology of progress, the chosen gambit was the republican ritual of commemoration. A kind of museum without walls took shape, structured around places and moments in time that sounded repeated appeals to officialdom.

  • 2 Sculptor Eugène Guillaume enjoyed a brilliant career: elected to the Institut de France in 1863, a (...)
  • 3 Paul-Louis Roubert, ‘Les fonds de la distinction, Le financement des sociétés photographiques du xi (...)

2 Three statues became photography’s first commemorative sites. A single decade saw the appearance of a full-length statue of Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône (1885) and busts of Alphonse Poitevin in Saint-Calais in the Sarthe département (1885) and Louis Daguerre in Bry-sur-Marne (1897). All were standard republican portraits, executed by official or otherwise approved sculptors and closely reflecting the artistic tastes of the time. The SFP’s choice of Eugène Guillaume (1822–1905)2 for the Niépce statue is perhaps the most emblematic. Winner of the Prix de Rome in 1845, Guillaume owed the commission to his connections with other members of the Institut de France, who were also SFP members. Based as it was on a network of notables,3 this appointment system may explain the fact that in this case Guillaume took no fee for his services. And even if commemorative statues were very much the in thing, actually getting them made was no easy matter. Twenty years earlier the sculptor and, later, photographer Adam-Salomon (1818–81) had tried raising a subscription for busts of Niépce and Daguerre, but the project never came to fruition. Although statues of these fathers of photography would finally see the light of day in the 1880s, it was only because circumstances, both inside and outside the photography scene, had evolved.

  • 4 Regarding the formation of the Société Française de Photographie and the institutional frameworks s (...)

3The key factor was a change of political regime, propitious – necessary, even – to the success of such projects. The SFP4 only agreed to back the Niépce, Daguerre, and Poitevin subscriptions because the requests came from municipalities, which meant that the underlying principle had been accepted by the state. As a sign of the times, the proposal by the municipality of Chalon-sur-Saône, first put forward in 1852, only received the approval of the Ministry of Education and the Arts in 1878, with the advent of the Third Republic. Here the quest for local promotion coincided with a still-fragile regime’s need for self-glorification, as demonstrated by the speeches delivered at the statues’ unveilings. The representatives of the state portrayed the inventors in question as models of virtue, worthy of emulation by republican generations to come. Behind all the fine words, however, lurked a persistent imprecision. Which ministry was actually responsible for photography? It was constantly shunted back and forth between the ministries of trade, industry, post and telegraphs, and education and the arts. These oscillations have a history of their own, one reinforced and partially explained by the SFP’s commemorative strategy, which sought to put into play the republic’s two great emblems: the school and the museum. The outcome of this strategy was somewhat unexpected, for on these occasions it was its own history that photography was recalling.

The Fiftieth Anniversary: The ‘Jubilee of the First Devotees’

  • 5 ‘Liste des membres de la Société française de photographie au 1er janvier 1885,’ BSFP, 1885, 5–14. (...)
  • 6 Speech by Jules Janssen at the ceremony for the fiftieth anniversary of photography, BSFP 5, no. 10 (...)

4A half-century after the official revelation of photography, on August 19, 1889 – the anniversary of François Arago’s historic lecture to the Academy of Science – the elite of the French photography world gathered in the prestigious Hôtel Continental in Paris for the closing speech of the International Photography Exhibition and Congress. This world was much the same as in the 1850s, except that its internal balance had shifted. There were now at least as many representatives of the photography industry and trades, together with famous scientists, as there were senior civil servants and members of the upper middle classes. There were fewer artists, while engineers and the military had made their appearance.5 The event, marked by the sincere jubilation of the earliest enthusiasts, also revealed the participants’ burgeoning awareness that they were taking part in a historic event – creating history, even, with themselves as the leading players. This may account for the fervor, rising to near-epic heights of rhetoric, to be found in the speeches. Jules Janssen, renowned astronomer, member of the Institut de France and director of the Meudon Observatory, declared, ‘This celebration will be, if you are willing to make it so, the jubilee of the first devotees, the apostles, those who underwent the first initiation and fought to spread the word.’6

  • 7 The SFP held seventeen of the twenty-five seats on the organizing committee, the remainder being sh (...)
  • 8 Figure provided by Florence Pinot de Villechenon, Les Expositions universelles, Paris, PUF, ‘Que sa (...)
  • 9 Anne Rasmussen and Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus, Les Fastes du progrès, le guide des Expositions univ (...)

5The point of the ‘jubilee of the first devotees’ was not, however, merely to enhance sociability within the photographic societies. Under the aegis of the SFP, which did most of the organizing,7 the photography world was now associated with a major event – the Universal Exposition of 1889 – and was thus able to profit from its highly favorable dynamics: an audience of some thirty million people, assembled in a single place at a single time.8 In the course of the year the SFP was proud to receive a flood of congratulatory telegrams from all over the world, among them messages from Moscow, New York, and Florence. The numerous foreign guests at the official banquet’s head table included Frank La Manna from New York, Gylden from Norway, and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph. The cosmopolitan character of the celebration, however, did not prevent the occasion from being, in essence, a chauvinistic attempt to promote French photography. On the contrary, this aim was exacerbated in the context of a Universal Exposition, where the stated goal was to ‘present the nation’s industrial exploits, but also to issue a reminder of the reasons for the pride she may feel in her history and her culture.’9 Perhaps the most striking proof of this nationalism was the medal struck for the occasion. The work of the sculptor Émile Soldi, it bore Niépce’s profile partially overlaid on that of Daguerre, along with a legend that was explicit, to say the least: ‘The Invention of photography *Nicéphore Niépce* L.J. Daguerre.’ The total absence of any reference to Henry Fox Talbot made the message crystal clear – photography was a French invention.

  • 10 Alain Corbin, Noëlle Gérôme, and Danielle Tartakowsky, eds., Les Usages politiques des fêtes aux xi (...)
  • 11 Pierre Vaisse, La Troisième République et les peintres (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), 44.
  • 12 émile Combes (1835–1921) was one of the leaders of the Radical Party. A doctor of theology who had (...)

6Like all official celebrations,10 photography’s fiftieth anniversary took on a marked political character. The presence of Gustave Larroumet, state director of fine arts in 1889–91, drove the speakers to heights of eloquence. Larroumet, who was trained as a teacher of French but had no special grasp of art and even less of photography, was the start of a trend toward appointment of state heads who were effectively sub-ministers, adept at public appearances but possessing no specialist knowledge.11 All eyes were on him, nonetheless, for every major institutional decision affecting photography’s relations with the powers-that-be was in his hands. Availing himself of what émile Combes12 termed the ‘communicative warmth of banquets,’ Léon Vidal (1833–1906), editor in chief of the Moniteur de la photographie and a member of the Photography Guild, addressed Larroumet bluntly in a speech that sounded very much like a formal request:

‘Today, just as in 1878, we are entitled, and with even more justification, to ask that our needs and interests be taken into account …

‘Our point, Gentlemen, is this: we have spoken the word teaching – and yes, what we want is a form of photographic teaching that does not run counter to the teaching of the principles of art in general and of drawing in particular; rather, let it be said at once, one complementary to the teaching of drawing …

  • 13 Ceremony for the fiftieth anniversary of photography, speech by Léon Vidal, BSFP 5, no. 10, 2nd ser (...)

‘We do not know the opinion in this regard of the eminent State Director of Fine Arts, who has done us the great honor of being present at this important event; but without going so far as to make demands on him, we should like to inform him that this matter is perhaps among those which seem to call for his enlightened concern.’13

  • 14 Gustave Larroumet, ‘There is sometimes a misunderstanding between artists and yourselves; I am not (...)

7Convinced of the legitimate need for the teaching of photography, Vidal – a tireless advocate for recognition of the medium – stressed the new, exponential economic weight of the industry, then estimated at sixty million francs. He backed his economic argument with two others. First, photography, like drawing and engraving, was a reproduction process; and since the latter skills were taught, shouldn’t the former also be? Second, the democratic nature of photography was the source of its questionable reputation, not to say its discredit. This also, in his opinion, justified the creation of a teaching system, one that should take its inspiration from the Austro-German model. His plea was in vain. The event’s proceedings make no mention of a reaction from Larroumet, whose speech combined the generalized, the vague, and the clichéd. He did allude to resolving the misunderstanding between photography and art,14 but offered no promise of support, much less any concrete proposals.

  • 15 Exposition universelle de 1889. Catalogue général officiel. Exposition rétrospective du travail et (...)

8Finally, the fiftieth anniversary was above all the opportunity for a historical stock-taking. The Universal Expositions, intended as a summary of accomplishments toward the advancement of knowledge, were fertile ground for this exercise in retrospection. As early as 1873, the SFP had presented a history of photography at the Universal Exposition in Vienna, but the 1889 exhibition was the first of any magnitude on French soil. More understated than the later one of 1900, and given little attention by historiographers, it was part of the Retrospective Exhibition of Anthropological Theory and Practice, in the third section devoted to Arts and Crafts. The Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, the exhibition’s organizing body, wanted to provide visitors with an ‘outline of civilization’ in which photography and telegraphy, increasingly a part of everyday life, deserved to be represented.15

  • 16 With regard to these historiographical issues, see Marta Braun, ‘A History of the History of Photog (...)

9The one hundred and twenty entries in the catalogue led the visitor through the successive phases of photography’s technical and scientific advances. The emphasis being educational, a practical approach was adopted, with the most detailed section devoted to the early period: Niépce, Talbot, and Daguerre. The actual exhibition mode was binary. A lower vitrine displayed equipment and processes, while an upper one illustrated the results, of varying quality, obtained by the techniques in question. Like the speeches at the anniversary celebration, the exhibition stressed the notion of successive breakthroughs; rigorously chronological, hagiographically technicist, and determinedly progressive, its narrative was the same one that had been developed in the 1860s and that, despite a few tremors in the 1930s,16 would hold sway until the Second World War.

  • 17 Michel Poivert, ‘La photographie française en 1900: l’échec du pictorialisme,’ Vingtième siècle, re (...)

10This clear, enduring consensus also functioned as a generator of identity. Yet the agreed-upon ‘history in which technique was central and whose interpretation was soberly undertaken under the authority of Progress’17 also met with some resistance. The pictorialists, for instance, undermined the established consensus when, for their ‘First exhibition of photography and the related arts’ in 1892, they chose Hippolyte Bayard – until that point relegated to obscurity – for photography on paper and Poitevin for his discovery of oil process. In doing so they broke with the monotony of a history dominated by a handful of tutelary figures and a repetitive, positivist narrative based on the ‘invention  improvement  imperfections/limitations  new invention’ model.

  • 18 Henry Lapauze, Max de Nansouty, et al., Le Guide de l’Exposition de 1900, Paris, Flammarion, 1900, (...)

11What, finally, was the effect of this anniversary exercise in self-congratulation? Despite all the passion and commitment, the impact on officialdom was minimal, and even in 1900 the handbook for the Universal Exposition underscored the limited scope of the photography retrospective: ‘It is not very significant, photography being a modern art.’18 Vidal’s speech had no repercussions whatsoever. With the state still circumspect, even the very real mobilization within photographic circles produced no conclusive results. Photography was, in fact, a victim of its equivocal reputation and lack of a substantial history. Shot through with contradictory intentions, it was seeking symbolic and aesthetic acceptance by emphasizing its marginality – a recycling of avant-garde art discourse – while at the same time striving for the institutional legitimacy needed to obtain moral and financial backing from the state. The upshot was internal splits and tensions. Initially underwritten by an entire generation, mobilization declined along with that generation in the early twentieth century. Consigned to oblivion for twenty years, the commemorative strategies that had made the SFP a pressure group would later resurface through the efforts of new personalities whose influence became more marked after the First World War.

Two Centenaries for Photography (1925–1939)

12The between-the-wars years brought a flare-up of commemoration. From 1925 to 1939 no fewer than eight events were organized, including – to mention only the most important – the centenary of photography in 1925, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the autochrome plate in 1932, the centenary of Niépce’s death in 1933, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Daguerre’s birth in 1937, and the centenary of photography in 1939. This watershed period was thus punctuated by large-scale celebrations that brought the history of the medium to the attention of all. With the first generation of disciples and observers dead and buried, was the intention to reconnect with the past via endless indulgence in recollection? The sheer frequency of the commemorations can be taken as indicating a straightforward struggle against oblivion, but the issue of the two centenaries remains – unless we opt for the hypothesis that the strategies behind them were not so much commemorative as, in the broad sense, political.

  • 19 Minutes of the meeting of November 20, 1913, BSFP 4, no. 12, 3rd series (December 1913): 105−7.
  • 20 Georges Potonniée, ‘Note sur la date de l’invention de la photographie,’ BSFP 8, no. 11, 3rd series (...)

13The celebration of the first centenary in 1925 can, of course, be put down to the desire for the historical rehabilitation of Niépce, of which Georges Potonniée (1862–1949) was the principal architect. Little is known of the first fifty years of this historian of photography. After joining the SFP in 1912, Potonniée took charge of its archives and library and was appointed to the board of directors in 1915. Aware of the richness of a collection described as ‘a veritable mountain,’19 he provided it with a classification system and was soon the medium’s most scholarly historian. In 1921 he published his ‘Note on the Date of the Invention of Photography,’20 in which he identified the year as 1822 and offered to do belated justice to Niépce’s memory by organizing the centenary.

  • 21 Helmut Gernsheim, ‘The 150th Anniversary of Photography,’ in History of Photography, January 1977. (...)
  • 22 Written (in English) by Francis Bauer on the back of the photograph found by Gernsheim. Quoted in H (...)

14Crucial in terms of the history of the medium, this date has long been a subject of dispute. Still accepted in France in 1972, when its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary was celebrated, in 1977 it was designated as 1826 in an article by Helmut Gernsheim that only appeared in English. In 1982, however, Gernsheim concurred with Pierre-Georges Harmant and Paul Marillier’s21 suggestion of 1827 for ‘Monsieur Niépce’s first successful experiment of fixing permanently the image from nature,’22 a date generally accepted today. Potonniée might have been a few years off, but in Gernsheim’s view he was right in seeking to reinstate Niépce as the inventor of photography.

15Despite its post-war opting for 1822, the SFP chose 1924 for the celebration of the invention in order to associate itself with the Olympic Games and the Exhibition of Applied Arts. Ultimately, however, the event took place in 1925, owing to the postponement of the exhibition. The choice of 1822 was above all symbolic, intended to make a deep impression by amending a historical account which had long neglected Niépce in favor of Daguerre. According to Potonniée, the choice of 1889 for the fiftieth anniversary was astute in terms of scheduling but prejudicial to the history of photography. Moreover, the organizers had taken the trouble to specify that the subject of the celebration was the official revelation – and not the actual discovery – of the medium. Thus the choice was also patriotic, not to say nationalistic, in its stressing of the French character of the invention.

  • 23 ‘La célébration du centenaire de la photographie,’ BSFP 9, no. 1, 3rd series (January 1922): 1–3.

16In 1925 the SFP was feeling ambitious: ‘The planned event will be on a large scale, principally comprising a historical, artistic and industrial exhibition in which, naturally, cinematography will play a considerable part, together with a congress, public lectures and excursions.’23 The retrospective mode of the 1889 and 1900 exhibitions was revived, with a view to presenting an inventory of the progress made by photography over the preceding hundred years. More innovative was the organization of excursions and walks and, especially, the prominence given to the cinema, whose popularity was increasing in leaps and bounds. In 1933 the centenary of Niépce’s death was celebrated with a veritable pilgrimage to Chalon-sur-Saône to view the statue unveiled there in 1885 and to place a number of commemorative plaques in locations associated with the inventor.

  • 24 Georges Potonniée, ‘Célébration internationale du Centenaire de l’année 1839, qui marque le début p (...)

17Is it, however, really paradoxical that Potonniée, one of the moving forces behind the 1925 centenary, should also be among the champions of the centenary of 1939, which he himself announced at the Ninth International Congress of Scientific and Applied Photography in 1935? According to him, 1839 marked the public debut of a medium he now emphasized – in contrast with 1925 – as international: ‘It is thanks to the contributions of the intelligent elites from among all peoples that, during a century of ongoing efforts, we have seen photography become the marvel that renders so many services to our modern world.’24

  • 25 Quentin Bajac, ‘Nouvelle vision, ancienne photographie,’ 48-14, La revue du musée d’Orsay, no. 16, (...)

18These clashing dates are revelatory of a history in the process of being written,25 but the double centenary also points up, in an ongoing, more developed form, the powerful desire for recognition already being shown by photography in the late nineteenth century. The medium wanted to be seen, to find its place in the public arena and obtain due consideration from the republic’s authorities. The distance it had traveled in the previous fifty years was far from negligible, judging by the political figures who were present at the second centenary. In 1889, photography had been entitled to a single delegate from the Ministry of Education and the Arts; in 1939, a lecture organized by the SFP at the Sorbonne was attended by France’s president Albert Lebrun and the minister of education Jean Zay, who made a visionary speech.

  • 26 Françoise Denoyelle, ‘Une étape du déclin, la Société française de photographie pendant la Seconde (...)

19On the other hand, competition on the international scene meant more celebrations of the centenary of photography in 1939: exhibitions were held at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum in London, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. France had to be seen to keep up, especially as the SFP seemed to be at the height of its power – even if, in reality, its health was failing,26 and the 1939 centenary would be the last major official and international event it would organize. Decline had set in during the late 1920s, for while membership continued to grow, its character was changing. The Société Française de Photographie et de Cinématographie no longer included everybody who was anybody in the world of photography, and its artistic choices were drawing critical fire. The success of 1939, then, was more a façade than evidence of a true groundswell of recognition from the authorities. The road is long from expressions of support by politicians to actually getting things done, as witnessed by the affair of the photography museum, which generated so much fervency in the 1930s.

The Great Museum Issue

  • 27 François Cheval, ‘L’épreuve du musée,’ études photographiques, no. 11 (May 2002): 5–43.

20Despite all its efforts, as Georges Potonniée said in his obituary for Gabriel Cromer in 1934, ‘photography does not have the ear of those in power.’ The question of the museum, with its implications for memory and recognition, was clear proof of this. Getting a museum for photography would have been an institutional victory. In the nineteenth century a museum would have signified recognition and dignity for the medium, and in the twentieth century the situation remained fundamentally unchanged.27 If the commemorative strategies deployed by the French photography world had worked as planned, the medium should by then have been endowed with its own museum; yet the issue, which resurfaced a number of times in the period between the wars, evoked little response in official quarters.

  • 28 Gabriel Cromer, ‘Il faut créer un musée de la Photographie,’ BSFP 12, no. 1, 3rd series (January 19 (...)

21Gabriel Cromer (1873–1934) was one of the first to call for the creation of a museum specifically for photography, in the mid-1920s. Born in the Ardennes, he received his baccalaureate in 1892, but quickly gave up his subsequent law studies in favor of his passion, photography. Working as a professional photographer in Clamart, near Paris, he began collecting cameras and other historic material, probably around 1900. Published in January 1925, just a few months before the official centenary celebrations, his manifesto ‘Il faut créer un musée de la photographie’ (We Must Have a Photography Museum)28 set forth a detailed project for a venue to be used not only for exhibitions and historical presentations, but also for research and teaching. Cromer intended to exploit the events of the centenary year to back up his demands regarding an issue that, as a collector, he felt especially involved in.

  • 29 François Cheval, ‘L’épreuve du musée’ (note 27).

22The article put forward a plan based on four main points: where the museum should be, what it should be, what it should contain, and why the SFP should be in charge of the project. The state, Cromer said, should provide an appropriate building in which the museum would present a historical itinerary: a first room devoted to the forerunners, a second to the work of Niépce and Daguerre, and so on. There would also be a library and a catalogue. The proposal advocated a straightforward chronological approach based on the ‘progress’ made by photography, a classic model later described as ‘traditionally empirical, classificatory and evolutionist.’29 In Cromer’s view the museum itself would constitute the commemorative monument he wished to raise ‘to all those brave children who devoted themselves to helping this discovery grow and blossom’ – a stance very much in the tradition of republican speech making. Yet all this ardor was not directed solely toward the common good. Cromer declared himself ready to bequeath his entire collection of cameras and images to the future museum in return for the post of curator.

23During his lifetime, however, this sagacious collector would only see the opening of the new photography rooms at the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, for which he provided the chronology and the notes on the exhibits. The official opening took place on March 11, 1927, in the presence of French president Gaston Doumergue and minister for education édouard Herriot. This first step seemed to point to increased official awareness of photography, but it was a meager victory.

  • 30 Georges Potonniée, ‘Nécrologie de Gabriel Cromer’ (note 1), 249.

24The museum issue remained dormant for several years, then reemerged on Cromer’s death in 1934, when numerous figures from the world of photography began asking about the fate of his vast collection: some three thousand images, including five hundred daguerreotypes, as well as a host of cameras – more than in the SFP collection, it was said30 – and lenses. What was to become of a collection unique not only in France, but in the world?

  • 31 Pierre Liercourt, ‘Le futur musée de la photographie,’ Photo-Illustration, 1934, no. 5: 9–10.
  • 32 Louis Chéronnet, ‘Pour un musée de la photographie,’ Arts et métiers graphiques, 1933, no. 37 (Sept (...)

25A number of articles were devoted to the matter in 1934 by, among others, Pierre Liercourt in Photo-Illustration31 and Louis Chéronnet in Arts et métiers graphiques.32 Both writers proposed a version of the ideal museum. Liercourt saw it as reflecting the new spirit of the times, an educational venue looking both to the past and the future with less emphasis on chronology. Chéronnet suggested a modular design allowing for classification by genres – the portrait, landscape, reportage, science, and so on – which would leave room for breaks with tradition.

  • 33 Raymond Lécuyer, Histoire de la photographie (Paris, Baschet et Cie, 1945).

26Neither Cromer’s death nor the articles written at the time shook the authorities out of their inertia. The state put in appearances at the commemorative events organized by the SFP in 1925, 1933, and 1939 but remained so circumspect on the museum question that after making an unacceptably low offer to Cromer’s widow, it allowed the collection to sail away across the Atlantic, a decision that was all too symptomatic of the official attitude to photography. Some years later regrets about the acquisition of the collection by the George Eastman House museum were voiced in print by Raymond Lécuyer. In the conclusion to his history of photo­graphy33 Lécuyer deplored ‘the indifference to archival material and relics of an invention born and developed in France’ and called in vain for the founding of a museum and the teaching of photography.

27As we have seen, photography’s ambitions followed a steady upward curve. What began with the allocation of a simple vitrine in the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts became a quest not for mere artistic acceptance but for full autonomy in the form of a museum dedicated exclusively to the medium. Unfortunately aspiration outstripped realization, even if for some there were moments when the latter seemed imminent. Prewar photography did its best to convince the authorities of its worth but got little return on its efforts, continuing to suffer from an enduring shortfall in political and institutional recognition. Initially, it is true, its commemorative strategies helped forge and consolidate the medium’s identity and make it better known to the public, but they were not enough to engage attention at the political level. Institutional recognition came only very belatedly in France, after a century of scattered initiatives. The commemoration issues are no longer the same today because photography has found its place on the cultural landscape; but the period 1880–1940 can be seen as a workshop in which the links between cultural activity and political response were forged.

Notes

1 Georges Potonniée, ‘Nécrologie de Gabriel Cromer,’ Bulletin de la Société française de photographie (BSFP) 21, no. 11, 3rd series, (November 1934): 247–49.

2 Sculptor Eugène Guillaume enjoyed a brilliant career: elected to the Institut de France in 1863, a member of the Salon jury from 1863 to 1890, director of the école des Beaux-Arts in 1865, state director of fine arts in 1878–79 and head of the French Academy in Rome/Villa Medicis in 1891–1904.

3 Paul-Louis Roubert, ‘Les fonds de la distinction, Le financement des sociétés photographiques du xixe siècle’, études photographiques, no. 24 (November 2009): 18–41.

4 Regarding the formation of the Société Française de Photographie and the institutional frameworks set up for photography in France, see André Gunthert, ‘Naissance de la Société française de photographie,’ in the exhibition catalogue L’utopie photographique. Regards sur les collections de la Société française de photographie (Paris, Le Point du Jour, 2004); ‘L’institution du photographique. Le roman de la Société héliographique,’ études photographiques, no. 12 (November 2002): 37–63; and ‘L’institution d’une culture photographique. Une aristocratie de la photographie (1847–1861),’ in L’Art de la photographie, ed. André Gunthert and Michel Poivert, 65–102 (Paris, Citadelles Mazenod, 2008).

5 ‘Liste des membres de la Société française de photographie au 1er janvier 1885,’ BSFP, 1885, 5–14. In all, the SFP had 298 members at the time, of whom 85 mentioned their profession. The categories identified included 38 percent representatives of the photography trades and industry (manufacturers of cameras and chemical products, opticians, professional photographers), 23 percent scientists (engineers, teachers), 11 percent industrialists and merchants, 8 percent from the armed forces (largely military engineers), 8 percent senior civil servants, 6 percent from the legal professions (mainly lawyers).

6 Speech by Jules Janssen at the ceremony for the fiftieth anniversary of photography, BSFP 5, no. 10, 2nd series (October 1889): 266.

7 The SFP held seventeen of the twenty-five seats on the organizing committee, the remainder being shared out among four other bodies (some of whose delegates were also SFP members): the Chambre Syndicale de la Photographie (the Photography Guild), the Société d’Excursion des Amateurs de Photographie, the Photo-club de Paris, and the Société d’Etudes Photographiques.

8 Figure provided by Florence Pinot de Villechenon, Les Expositions universelles, Paris, PUF, ‘Que sais-je?’ series, 1992.

9 Anne Rasmussen and Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus, Les Fastes du progrès, le guide des Expositions universelles, 1851–1992 (Paris: Flammarion, 1992), 7.

10 Alain Corbin, Noëlle Gérôme, and Danielle Tartakowsky, eds., Les Usages politiques des fêtes aux xixe-xxe siècles (Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1994).

11 Pierre Vaisse, La Troisième République et les peintres (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), 44.

12 émile Combes (1835–1921) was one of the leaders of the Radical Party. A doctor of theology who had lost his faith, he went on to study medicine. As a politician he was an astute speaker and an intransigent anticlerical within the government that passed the 1905 law establishing the separation of church and state. (Mourre. Dictionnaire encyclopédique d’histoire, Paris, Bordas, 1996.)

13 Ceremony for the fiftieth anniversary of photography, speech by Léon Vidal, BSFP 5, no. 10, 2nd series (1889): 277–82.

14 Gustave Larroumet, ‘There is sometimes a misunderstanding between artists and yourselves; I am not one to become involved and in my opinion a little mutual justice and understanding would suffice to dispel it.’ BSFP 5, no. 10, 2nd series (1889): 267.

15 Exposition universelle de 1889. Catalogue général officiel. Exposition rétrospective du travail et des sciences anthropologiques. Section III Arts et Métiers (Lille, Imprimerie L. Danel, 1889), 12.

16 With regard to these historiographical issues, see Marta Braun, ‘A History of the History of Photography,’ Photo Communiqué 2, no. 4 (winter 1980–81): 21–23; Martin Gasser, ‘Histories of Photography 1839–1939,’ History of Photography 16, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 50–60; and Anne McCauley, ‘Writing Photography’s History before Newhall,’ History of Photography 21, no. 2 (1997): 87–101.

17 Michel Poivert, ‘La photographie française en 1900: l’échec du pictorialisme,’ Vingtième siècle, revue d’histoire, no. 72 (October-December 2001), 23.

18 Henry Lapauze, Max de Nansouty, et al., Le Guide de l’Exposition de 1900, Paris, Flammarion, 1900, 105–7.

19 Minutes of the meeting of November 20, 1913, BSFP 4, no. 12, 3rd series (December 1913): 105−7.

20 Georges Potonniée, ‘Note sur la date de l’invention de la photographie,’ BSFP 8, no. 11, 3rd series (November 1921): 312–18.

21 Helmut Gernsheim, ‘The 150th Anniversary of Photography,’ in History of Photography, January 1977. Published in French as ‘La première photographie au monde,’ études photographiques, no. 3 (November 1997): 6–25. Pierre-Georges Harmant and Paul Marillier, ‘Some Thoughts on the World’s First Photograph,’ The Photographic Journal 107, no. 4 (April 1967): 130–40; published in French as ‘à propos de la plus ancienne photographie du monde,’ Photo-Ciné-Revue, May 1972, 231–7.

22 Written (in English) by Francis Bauer on the back of the photograph found by Gernsheim. Quoted in Helmut Gernsheim, ‘La première photographie au monde,’ Etudes photographiques, no. 3 (November 1997).

23 ‘La célébration du centenaire de la photographie,’ BSFP 9, no. 1, 3rd series (January 1922): 1–3.

24 Georges Potonniée, ‘Célébration internationale du Centenaire de l’année 1839, qui marque le début public de la photographie,’ Bulletin de la Société française de photographie et de cinématographie 24, no. 11, 3rd series (November 1937): 195–7.

25 Quentin Bajac, ‘Nouvelle vision, ancienne photographie,’ 48-14, La revue du musée d’Orsay, no. 16, (Spring 2003): 74–83.

26 Françoise Denoyelle, ‘Une étape du déclin, la Société française de photographie pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale,’ Études photographiques, no. 4 (May 1998): 87–100.

27 François Cheval, ‘L’épreuve du musée,’ études photographiques, no. 11 (May 2002): 5–43.

28 Gabriel Cromer, ‘Il faut créer un musée de la Photographie,’ BSFP 12, no. 1, 3rd series (January 1925): 14–19.

29 François Cheval, ‘L’épreuve du musée’ (note 27).

30 Georges Potonniée, ‘Nécrologie de Gabriel Cromer’ (note 1), 249.

31 Pierre Liercourt, ‘Le futur musée de la photographie,’ Photo-Illustration, 1934, no. 5: 9–10.

32 Louis Chéronnet, ‘Pour un musée de la photographie,’ Arts et métiers graphiques, 1933, no. 37 (September15), excerpted from the album Photo 1933–34 and published as an insert.

33 Raymond Lécuyer, Histoire de la photographie (Paris, Baschet et Cie, 1945).

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Eléonore Challine, « Photography and Memory », Études photographiques, 25 | mai 2010, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 21 mai 2014. URL : http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3442. consulté le 28 mai 2017.

Auteur

Eléonore Challine

Éléonore Challine is a graduate of the École Normale Supérieure and the holder of an agrégation in history. She is currently preparing a PhD at the University of Paris I on the history of photography museums in Europe (1880–1940) in terms of utopian ideals and concrete outcomes. She is also a lecturer at the University of Paris I. John Tittensoren

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