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Kindergarten playground on the terrace roof, c. 1955.

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Getty Fondation, Los Angeles.

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!’

 

‘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’.

Lucien Hervé, Amis inconnus, édition Filigranes, 2002, p. 4

Hervé did not consider the technical quality of his prints to be very important – something which Le Corbusier disagreed with. Indeed, for a long time, he developed all his photographs himself. For him the essence lay elsewhere. He never threw anything away and was especially fond of over- or under-exposed shots, fascinated by strange images shot with bright white light or moody night scenes. One of the photos in our exhibition shows the terrace of the ‘Cité Radieuse de Marseille’ with mountains rising in the background, bathed in an unreal dusky light and streaked by shooting stars that are in fact dust scratches on the negative. Was this a stroke of luck or an effect created by the artist? It doesn’t matter. Hervé carefully kept this print, signed it and made a note on the back, as he did for all his pictures. He did not consider them as botched experimental pieces. On the contrary, for him they were precious testimonies of his purely artistic research.

From the start of his career, Hervé made photographs that favoured abstract art and minimalism. These images went on public display at his first exhibition Une ville, deux architectures, presented by Domus magazine in Milan in 1951; followed in 1967 by “Le beau court la rue”, which was accompanied by a fascinating catalogue, now a prized collector’s item. It shows his abstract photos of decrepit walls, torn billboards, stacks of planks and heaps of metal shavings… creating an aesthetic link with works by Mondrian, Dubuffet, Tal Coat, Kandinsky, Kupka, de Staël, Le Corbusier and Calder.

The catalogue is prefaced with quotes by famous writers from antiquity to present day (Hervé was very fond of quotations). Hervé concluded: ‘The foregoing fabric of thoughts, borrowed from very different authors, expresses my ideas on the beauty of trivia and their relationship with the birth of contemporary art.’

LE CORBUSIER, 1887 – 1965
France

Large ‘Marseilles-type’ wardrobe-partition, 1949.

Structure in deal and plywood with original grey lacquer coat. One side opens in two varnished plywood doors while the other has a niche lacquered brown/red. Tapered grips in solid oak.

This wardrobe model was purpose-designed and made solely for the 140 split-level apartments known in French as « inférieurs », meaning their entrance is on an upper floor. Most were removed and destroyed.
200 × 42,50 × 155,50 cm.

- LE CORBUSIER, 1887 – 1965
Large ‘Marseilles-type’ wardrobe-partition, 1949.

- Lucien HERVE, 1910-2007
External stairs at the Unité d’habitation, Marseilles, circa 1949.

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Getty Fondation, Los Angeles. © Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

LE CORBUSIER, 1887 – 1965
France

Small wardrobe-partition for child’s room, 1949.

Case in deal and plywood painted pale grey on sides, top and front; orange on partition side; dark-grey on baseboard.
Two asymmetrical doors mounted on hinges. Grips in natural finish solid oak are characteristic of Le Corbusier’s pieces. Interior painted off white is divided up into three modular shelves supported by dowels on the large door side, with hanging space on the small door side.

156 × 104 × 52 cm.

Lucien Hervé, 1910-2007
Cité radieuse, Marseilles, circa 1950.

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Getty Fondation, Los Angeles. © Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

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