Jean Dieuzaide

Photographer in the French mystical tradition

Monday 23 September 2013 04:43

Jean Dieuzaide, photographer: born Grenade-sur-Garonne, France 20 June 1921; married 1950 Jacqueline Manuquet (one son, one daughter); died Toulouse, France 18 September 2003.

"People often think that it is necessary to go to the far end of the world to act as a photographer," remarked Jean Dieuzaide:

But photography is not synonymous with being removed from one's usual surroundings; it also has to do with rediscovering the common things of everyday life that we can no longer see, things we do not take the time to see. The thousands of objects that share our intimacy have something to tell us, but our eye does not listen to them: they play with light to draw our attention, and they are surely sorry for our indifference, as they feel they are a part of ourselves.

Dieuzaide, who dominated the photographic culture of the city of Toulouse in south-west France for over two decades, was a photographer in the classic French style. He saw photography as a mystical practice, surrounded by rhetoric, and represented a European tradition which by turns was exclusive, disapproving, energetic and innovative:

Photography helped me to discover the leaf of a tree, then the tree itself, then the landscape of which it is a part and the man who comes to speak with it, or rest in its shadow.

His photographs, made both in the countryside around Toulouse and throughout southern Europe, epitomise the work of the photographers who gravitated to the South of France in the 1960s and 1970s. Fascinated by light, by natural form, by a traditional beauty, they created an image of the South that, even today, informs our northern consciousness.

In the gallery which Dieuzaide founded and directed in Toulouse, next to the River Garonne in a disused, circular water plant, this vision was continued. Elegiac exhibitions of small, wonderfully crafted black-and-white prints were hung among collections of cameras and equipment, long after contemporary photography had moved on to large-scale colour prints and took its place in the modern art world.

Jean Dieuzaide was born in the area that he loved to photograph, the gentle countryside around the River Garonne. After a brief period at military school, he became a photographer, supporting himself by producing news photographs in Toulouse. His 1944 photograph of General Charles de Gaulle on a visit to Toulouse was among many which established his reputation as a documentarist.

But Dieuzaide distinguished himself not as a photojournalist, but as a photographer of rural and traditional southern Europe. His travel and architecture photographs appeared in many books from the 1950s onwards, beginning with L'Espagne du sud ("The South of Spain", by Jean Sermet, 1953), and including Les Chemins de Saint-Jacques ("The Ways to Santiago", by Yves Bottineau, 1961), Toulouse: cité du destin ("Toulouse: city of fate", by René Mauriès, 1974), and Voyages en Ibérie ("Journeys in Spain", 1983).

His poetic vision did not prevent him from being an enthusiastic follower (and sometimes director) of new advances in technique. In 1949, he devised a complex underwater camera; he was fascinated by aerial photography, entranced by photography's singular position between art and science, vision and technique. But most of all, he was bewitched by the idea of light, which, for him, was a mystical force:

My inward joy . . . is to look at the interplays of light and photograph them: light gives richness to the swaying of a solid, a form, a boy, a tool, a trifle. It makes all my being vibrate intensely . . . Without light, nothing exists, and there is no more liberty. With it everything is present, simple, precise and matter to think about, be it a grain of flesh or flesh of stone: it is a marvellous present offered us to gather the pictures and sensations which help us to understand better others and ourselves.

In the late 1960s, France saw a revival in independent photography. Though, unlike in the UK, the medium had always gained respect from the art and museum worlds, photographers felt themselves to be isolated and on the far margins of debate. The establishment of a "meeting of minds" for photographers in the Provençal city of Arles, the Rencontres de la Photographie, where photographers could meet, exchange ideas and look at each other's work in the idyllic surroundings of a tree-lined square, was immediately attractive to Dieuzaide, who led workshops at the festival for many years. The festival attracted curators and exhibition organisers from across Europe and the United States, giving Dieuzaide exposure and exhibitions as far afield as Tel Aviv, Antwerp and Geneva.

But his roots remained in Toulouse, where he founded the Château d'Eau gallery in 1974, perhaps in an attempt to bring the friendly spirit of Arles to this larger and more anonymous city. He showed his photographs often in Toulouse (though never at his own gallery) and the South of France, and participated in the 1982 Photokina in Cologne, and in a large group show at the Museum Ludwig there in 1984. But photographic styles were changing radically. The French way of seeing life through the lens, romantic, passionate, poetic, was overtaken by a cooler, more questioning, more political northern European vision.

Dieuzaide despaired sometimes of the "megalomania and pride" of the modern world, but still believed in the power of photography to

wash humanity clean of this sin of pride, to learn again how to look at things humbly and without hate, respecting man and everything that surrounds him, even far beyond our unreliable eyes.

Val Williams

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