Martine Franck: Photographer with Magnum hailed for her documentary and portrait work


Martine Franck was an esteemed Belgian documentary and portrait photographer with a world-wide following. The second wife of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered by many to be the father of photojournalism, Franck was determined not to bask in his reflection nor disappear in his shadow. Shooting predominantly in black and white, Franck created and developed a distinctive style, documenting daily life and the intimacies and interactions in the lives of poor, marginalised and elderly people.

She was described as gracious, humble and friendly, her work rooted in the tradition of French humanist documentary photography. She never adhered to the opinion of her fellow Magnum photographer, Eve Arnold, that all photographers are obliged to be intrusive. As the Director-General of the Royal Photographic Society Michael Pritchard observed: "Martine was able to work with her subjects and bring out their emotions and record their expressions on film, helping the viewer understand what she had seen in person. Her images were always empathetic with her subject."

A member of Magnum Photos for over 30 years, in 2002 Franck became the co-founder and president of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation (2002), established to promote the photojournalist's work and preserve his legacy and values.

Born in Antwerp in April 1928, Martine Franck was the daughter of Belgian banker, Louis Franck, and his British wife Evelyn. With the outbreak of the Second World War her father, who made his career in London, joined the British army. The rest of the family was evacuated to the US and spent the war on Long Island and in Arizona before returning to England. Post-war, Martine studied history of art at Madrid University and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

Modest and self-deprecating, Franck admitted she "didn't have an instant rapport with the camera"; she was a shy young woman who "never really dared to go up to people and talk to them. I started by taking wedding photographs. Then, when I went to parties, I would take my camera with me, just to give myself a sense of composure, or a necessity to be there."

Franck's photography took off in 1963 following trips to the Far East where she took hundreds of pictures with her cousin's Leica camera. On returning to France in 1964, with her own Leica, she landed a job at Time-Life's photographic laboratory working as an assistant to the American photojournalists Eliot Elisofon and Gjon Mili. She met and shot Ariane Mnouchkine, co-founder of the Paris-based troupe Théâtre du Soleil (1964), and became their official photographer, photographing every production until her death. She also began working with the International Federation of the Little Brothers of the Poor, helping the elderly and vulnerable.

In 1966, she went freelance, selling her work, portraits of women in public life, including her fellow photographer Sarah Moon, to a range of publications including Life, Fortune and Vogue magazines, before joining the Vu Photo Agency four years later.

In 1972, Franck co-founded the Viva Agency, while continuing as a photographer, taking many portraits of artists and writers, including a noteworthy series of women for Vogue. She later undertook more far-reaching work for the French Ministry of Women's Rights in 1983. That same year she became a full member of Magnum Photos, three years after joining as a nominee.

In 1965, Franck met Cartier-Bresson, co-founder of Magnum, and was immediately smitten. She also became a devotee of the company's ethos, described by Cartier-Bresson as "a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually." Franck recalled her first meeting with her future husband. "His opening line was 'Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets.'" They married in 1970.

In an interview Franck recalled, "Henri was both critical and inspirational as well as warmly supportive of me as a photographer. He taught me to say 'no.' He taught me to be selective, never to show photographs one did not want to see published. I believe he learned this himself from Alexey Brodovitch at Harper's Bazaar."

Despite her association with Cartier-Bresson, Franck continued to work on her own photography, participating in group projects with Magnum, including "Georgian Spring." Over the years she photographed a number of foreign artists, including Miquel Barcelo, Marc Chagall, Leonor Fini, Zao Wou Ki and Fernando Botero, in their Parisian studios, adding that she enjoyed working with fellow foreigners and knew how to get their best portrait.

In 1976, Franck produced one of her most enduring photographs, arguably her single most perfect image, that of the bathers at the poolside at Le Brusc, Provence. She explained that she saw the scene from a distance and ran to photograph it while changing a roll of film, quickly closing down the lens as the sunlight was so intense. A moment later the positions of all five figures and their shadows on the white tiles would have irrevocably altered.

Franck continued to work after her diagnosis with bone cancer in 2010, with exhibitions last October; at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie she had 62 portraits of artists "coming from somewhere else" from 1965-2010; this year there was a collection of portraits at New York's Howard Greenberg Gallery and at the Claude Bernard Gallery in Paris. She produced a number of books, including Des Femmes et la Création and a small book of portraits of her husband, a similarly shy and elusive character, with a shot from behind showing the back of his head as he looks into a mirror sketching a self-portrait.

Martine Franck, photographer: born Antwerp 3 April 1928; married 1970 Henri Cartier-Bresson (died 2004; one daughter); Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur 2005; died Paris 16 August 2012.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam