A native of Arles, France, Lucien Clergue is a fine-art photographer, author, educator and filmmaker. His work has been associated with some of France's most significant artists, intellectuals, and musicians including Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Roland Barthes, and the Gypsy Kings. Clergue's work has been published in numerous books and exhibitions.
Lucien Clergue was born in Arles. From the age of 7, he learned to play the violin. Several years later, his teacher revealed to him that he had nothing more to teach him. From a family of shopkeepers, he could not pursue further studies in a conservatory. In 1949, he learned the rudiments of photography. Four years later, at a corrida in Arles, he showed his photographs to Pablo Picasso who, though subdued, demanded to see others. Within a year and a half, young Clergue worked with the goal of sending photos to Picasso. During this period, he worked on a series of photographs of traveling entertainers, acrobats and harlequins, the « Saltimbanques ». He also worked on a series whose subject was carrion.
Lucien Clergue first discovered the power of the camera in his difficult adolescence. He witnessed the destruction of his family's house by WWII bombs, and suffered the prolonged illness and death of his mother. He has spent much of his career taking photos that express loss, death and decay. He is known for his female nude torsos from the mid '50s - '70s and bullfight images from the Arles arena, where he met Pablo Picasso, a strong supporter of his early work. His later work turned to organic abstractions of sand, lace, etc. His work has been influenced by mythology, adventure and what he calls "the mentality of the Mediterranean man." In 1969 he established the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie at Arles.This event has continued to grow and is considered on of the most important art festivals in the world. His wife established the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, a museum of contemporary art in homage to Van Gogh, in Arles.
Clergue is the founder of the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie, Europe's major photography conference and showcase, in his native Arles, France. While Clergue's work has been exhibited worldwide and included in the collections of many major museums, UCR/California Museum of Photography's exhibition Signs of Gods and Goddesses will be his premiere West Coast retrospective exhibition.
His books include:
He is named knight of the Légion d'honneur in 2003 and elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France on 31 May 2006, on the creation of a new section dedicated to photography. Clergue is the first photographer to enter the Academy to a seat devoted to photography.
In 2007, the city of Arles honored Lucien Clergue and dedicated a retrospective collection of 360 his photographs dating from 1953 to 2007. He also received the 2007 Lucie Award.
He is Chairman of the Academy of Fine Arts for 2013.
He was Chairman of the Academy of Fine Arts, Paris for 2013.