John Beasly Greene : Early photography in Algeria


John Beasly Greene, The El-Kantara bridge in Constantine, 1856 © James Hyman Fine Art and Photographs

This 1856 view of the El-Kantara bridge in the algerian city of Constantine is one of the earliest photographs existing. It is also a historical document of great value, as the old bridge collapsed in 1857, and a new bridge was built in 1864. The photograph was taken by a young man who’s work is mostly related to egyptian archaeology.

John B. Greene (1832-1856) was born in Le Havre in Normandy a son of an american family. His father worked as a banker. The joung men came to live in Paris where he learned photography from Gustave le Gray. Greene was in 1854 one of the founding members of the Société Française de Photographie, which still exists. John Greene died in Cairo, probably of tuberculosis, at only 24. His negatives went to his friend and fellow photographer Théodule Devéria. Short biographical notes on him are published (in French) by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (his birthdate is an erroneous 1822), and by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Moreover photography, John Greene had a keen interest in archaeology. In autumn 1853, at barely twenty, he decided to depart for Egypt at his own expenses, being too young to have an official appointment. But authorization for his planned archaelogical excavations was refused, and so Green spent the year 1854 taking photographs of the Nile and sourrounding egyptian monuments.

At his return to Paris in 1855, a set of 94 photographs under the title Le Nil – Monuments, Paysages, Explorations photographiques, were published by Blanquart-Evrard. Green’s work shows a strong influence of the landscape photography by his master Le Gray, and many images are more complexe than pure documentary and scientific photography. The album helped Greene to obtain his excavation authorization for Thebes in Egypt, and a year later for Algeria, where he went accompagnied by Louis-Adrien Berbrugger (1801-1869), the future founder of the museum and library of Algiers.

At the international fine art fair Paris Photo in november 2013, the James Hyman gallery of London showed several photographs of Greene. Three salt prints were taken in Algeria : one in Constantine (above) in the east, and two near Tipaza, showing the « tombeau de la Chrétienne ».

John Beasly Greene,

John Beasly Greene, Le  » tombeau de la Chrétienne », 1856 © James Hyman Fine Art and Photographs

These images of an antique funeral monument attributed erroneously to a christian woman, available at James Hyman gallery, are part of a set. A complete version of Green’s photographs, the « Album du tombeau de la Chrétienne » dated 1855 or 1856, which contains fourteen plates numbered, annotated and signed by the photographer, is kept in the library of the Institut de France in Paris. This album was donated by Louis-Adrien Berbrugger to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in october 1856 and can be seen online on the Arago database.

Une Libération sans images


© Libération

Voici un journal sans images aucunes : un monde sans couleur, sans rythme et sans visuel, qui fait pourtant parti de la perception humaine et donne à un titre de presse son identité. Le journal Libération du 14 novembre 2013 devient un Libération sans images. Il y a longtemps que les métiers de l’image – photographes, iconographes, rédacteurs photo, agences – alertent sur la dégradation des conditions de leur travail. Coupes budgétaires régulières, utilisation de photos gratuites – comme ces jolies photos de vacances et  autres photomaton qui fleurissent sur les pages – disparition des reportages et des commandes photo, transfert des compétences des services photo vers la maquette ou les rédacteurs, éditeurs et secrétaires de rédaction, la liste est très longue. Il était donc temps de pousser cette logique perverse à son paroxysme et suivre son développement logique : la disparition de l’image et des métiers de l’image dans la presse. Aujourd’hui, Libération a eu le courage de le faire. Le journal place ainsi les métiers de l’image dans la longe liste des savoir-faire qui meurent dans une indifférence générale. La récente annonce de la fermeture du fabricant de pianos Pleyel et le malaise des métiers d’art sont d’autant d’alertes dans un pays ou la réforme, le dialogue et l’audace sont des mots qui font peur. Mais la peur n’a encore jamais résolu de problème, au contraire; elle renferme, rend avare et méfiant. Tant que l’avidité sans créativité et sans vision règnera en maîtresse, tant que la lâcheté et la soumission priment, tant que l’indécision et la peur bloquent tout, on aura bientôt d’autres journaux sans images – ou tout simplement plus de journaux. Nous aurons alors un monde coupé en deux : sur le papier, le texte sans images, et sur le net, des images sans texte. Bienvenu dans un monde incompréhensible.

Alain Genestar et la société d’aujourd’hui

 » Quand la société n’est plus pensée, quand les valeurs humaines et morales ne sont plus brandies en étendard, quand elles sont foulées au pied par ceux-là mêmes qui devraient les incarner, quand le pouvoir est globalement défaillant, quand les présidents, dont l’actuel, ne renvoient pas d’eux-mêmes une image valorisante, courageuse, quand un doute s’installe dans leur capacité à nous représenter, à décider, à présider, alors un besoin d’ordre se fait sentir, avec, comme premières victimes, les faibles, les pauvres, d’autant plus accablés, traqués, que leur nombre ne cesse de croître. »

Alain Genestar, dans POLKA magazine no. 24, novembre 2013 – janvier 2014, p. 69.


Les surprises de la cathédrale de Chartres, No. 2

Un monstre. Entrée Nord, transept de la cathédrale de Chartres © A.B.

Une grenouille monstre. Entrée Nord, transept de la cathédrale de Chartres © A.B.

Les surprises de la cathédrale de Chartres, No. 1

Le sommeil du prophète. Cathédrale de Chartres © A.B.

Le sommeil du prophète. Entrée Nord, transept de la cathédrale de Chartres © A.B.

Park of Chantilly, leaves and branches separating

leave poetry

Leaves and branches in the park of Chantilly © A.B.

La Pagode de Chanteloup, folie du duc de Choiseul (1775)

La pagode de Chanteloup © A.B.

Vue depuis la pagode de Chanteloup, folie du duc de Choiseul © A.B.

« Shortcuts to greatness » ? Photojournalism festival Visa pour l’image

On august 31 started the 25th festival Visa pour l’image in french city of Perpignan. I was wary what would be coming when I went through the article in TIME magazine’s september 9 issue, written by french journalist and critic Anne-Céline Jaeger. The good news : it’s mostly images (what a surprise), seven Visa winning photos, three of them taken by photographers from the agency VII. Stephanie Sinclair‘s image of two 8-year-old girls married to much older men, taken in Yemen in 2010, occupies the largest space of the three double page article, along with a full page black and white portrait of Jean-François Leroy, founder of the Perpignan festival in 1989. The Yemen photography of Sinclair, who is a member of VII, has been chosen by the United Nations Population Fund for the campaign Too young to wed. The UNFPA tries to rise awareness for the practice of child marriage; the joint campaign with VII started in october 2012. Her Yemen photo shows that Sinclair has not only the technical skills of a great photographer, but also a « regard compassionnel« , a compassionate view on human beings. This is also the case of british born photographer Don McCullin who is given an important retrospective in Perpignan this year.

The bad news – and I knew there would be – are these : « When we started Visa pour l’image, I knew a few hundred photojournalists who were living decently from their job. Now I know about 20. » And that’s not all. Leroy continues his analysis of things : « I think young photographers are very talented, but they don’t know anything about the history of photography. » Now this is interesting. For once, the decline of photojournalism is not only the publishers fault, the lack of money’s or the economic crisis’. It reveals something equally important : the lack of knowledge, of intellectual curiosity, of good education and the awareness that there have been others before. This is certainly not meant to criticise youth, and I don’t think that was Leroy’s intention either. Anne-Céline Jaeger says it in other words : « Technology (…) has helped convince a new generation that there might be shortcuts to the greatness the likes of McCullin and Duncan earned over decades. »

Here we are back again to some not very new but very true fact : time. There is no time for anything and anyone any more, not for publishers, not for picture researchers, not for photographers, chosen or suffered – and not for readers either. But time can’t be ignored or compressed, and there is no technical shortcut to greatness. So what do we do ? Can we – do we want to – stop this insane race to more productivity, more advertising, to more bad magazines, more stupid articles, more silly pictures ? Do we want our readers to pick an article or two ? Do we want to cut magazines and newspapers into small bits, as Jeff Bezos might want to do with the Washington Post ?

This year’s Visa pour l’image will certainly host more visitors than last year – more than 3000 accredited professionals from all over the world came to Perpignan in 2012. There are many people who like photojournalism, but it can’t be given for free. Quality needs time – and money. Anyone can shoot a good picture from time to time – by accident. It’s the « always quality » we should aim for, in every single photography. Good technical skills and material are needed, but they won’t make pictures that make us shiver. Technical skills might quickly impress, but won’t have any lasting impact on us. It’s that lasting impact only time and the photographers personality can do, what makes greatness.