Lucien Clergue, French (1934 - )

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.

Over the decades Clergue has enjoyed world-wide success with exhibitions across Europe and North America. Clergue received his doctorate at the University of Provence, Marseilles under the direction of Roland Barthes in 1979. He has taught at such institutions as the New School of Social Research; conducted countless workshops on photographic technique, particularly dealing with the nude; published a number of art volumes and been the subject of many museum catalogs.

His books include:

  • Corps mémorable, Pierre Seghers editions, Paris, 1957. Poems by Paul Éluard, cover by Pablo Picasso, introductory poem by Jean Cocteau.
    - Re-edited in 1960 without Cocteau’s poem, then in 1963 in a German version where censors impose changes to one of the dozen photos; then in 1965 with all the text in black.
    - In 1969, a remake edition with added photos and new marquetry is published.
    - In 1996, on the occasion of the poet’s centenary, another edition is published with new photos and a marquette designed by Massin. ISBN 978-2-221-08423-6
    - In 2003 this last edition is re-published. An exposition organized by the Carré d'Art of Nîmes at the end of 2006 celebrates 50 years of this legendary work.
  • Turck, Eva-Monika, ed. (November 2003). Poésie Photographique (Hardcover). (Photographic Poetry). Clergue, Lucien (Photographer); Heiting, Manfred (Foreword); Kranzfelder, Ivo (Contributor) (English, French and German ed.). Prestel Publishing. Retrieved 2010-11-13. ISBN 3-7913-2850-6
  • Langage des Sables, Agep, Marseilles, 1980, ISBN 2-902634-08-0
  • Portraits, Actes Sud, Arles, 2005, ISBN 2-7427-5423-7
  • Toros Muertos (1966) published in the United States by Brussel & Brussel. This was a 48 page collection of images from the Spanish bullfights.
  • Brasilia. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, Germany 2013, English language text: ISBN 978-3-7757-3313-7

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.

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