Laszlo Elkan aka Lucien Hervé
Hungary 1910 – Paris 2007
After a chequered and highly colourful early life as champion sportsman (Greco-Roman wrestling, French volley ball team in 1934); fashion designer for Patou, Chanel, Lanvin; painter; reporter- photographer; resistance fighter under the alias that he kept after the war… in 1947 Lucien Hervé poured all his energy into photography.
Resolute in his stand for modernity, from the outset his work was affiliated with the avant-gardes of the between-war period: Germaine Krull, Moholy-Nagy and other disciples of the Bauhaus.
He drew inspiration from Expressionist and Constructivist painting, early Russian films, especially those of Eisenstein, and the German Expressionist cinema of Fritz Lang and Georg Wilhelm Pabst.
In December ‘49, on his own initiative, he went down to Marseilles to photograph the worksite of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation.
‘Monsieur, you have an architect’s soul’, said Corb, after he had looked over some 650 shots of his work-in-progress. Thus began their intense collaboration – the architect hiring the photographer to do reports of all his productions.
In parallel Hervé also worked for many other world famous architects: Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Georges Candilis, Michel Ecochard, Richard Neutra, Oscar Niemeyer, Henri Pingusson, Kenzo Tange, Bernard Zehrfuss … and for his personal friends Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret at Chandigarh.
In the difficult years of reconstruction in Europe, this tireless globe trotter worked with the means at hand, using nothing more than a single Rolleiflex 6×6 that did not even have a cell. Hervé is on record as saying ‘My camera naturally drove me to invent a new way of looking at architecture (…) I often used oblique framing, high- and low-angle shots to escape the laws of optics. Photographed from the front, without any foreshortening, a building may look life-like, but is that really the role of photography? Truth doesn’t lie in accuracy. Sometimes you have to use roundabout ways to express the essence.’
In 1965 he was diagnosed with the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Increasingly compelled to restrict his movements, with a quasi-obsessional passion he continued to re-cut his prints.
Hervé declared: ‘I don’t accept the film and the eye of the camera as definitive. I think that a photo is put together as much as a building is, as much as any work of art for that matter….’
When Le Corbusier asked him: ‘How did you get started in photography?’ , Hervé replied: ‘With a pair of scissors!’