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An exhibition of selected works by Lucien Hervé will run from 27 October at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts commemorating the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Some one hundred photographs recently added to the museum’s collection as well as a large number of documents to be displayed for the public for the very first time will focus on the architectural photography of the Hungarian-born Lucien Hervé, while also providing a review of his entire oeuvre. The exhibition to run through 30 April is also a highlighted programme of the Hungarian Month of Photography 2010.
Lucien Hervé 100 will be the first exhibition in Hungary devoted entirely to the oeuvre of the photographer, who passed away three years ago. The show will presented Hervé’s art not only through known and recognised photographic pieces but also through unknown works and even some that have not been displayed before. Thanks to scholarly research visitors can now also see documents that place the artist’s activity, working method and network of relations into a wider context and through the numerous new findings will also attract the interest of those who are already well-versed in the photographer’s work.
The artist was born under the name of László Elkán in Hódmezővásárhely, Hungary in 1910. He left Hungary at the age of 18 and after residing in Vienna for a year he travelled to Paris and settled there. Until 1939 he made his living working in a bank and then started writing articles and taking photographs for a magazine. During his time as a POW and in the French resistance during World War II a way opened up to him to pursue his artistic endeavours: to draw and paint. It was at this time that he adopted the alias of Hervé, which he used later as his artist name. His career took a radical turn in 1949: he met Le Corbusier, who, seeing Hervé’s photographs of his residential blocks being built in Marseille at the time, invited him to be his full-time photographer. From this point on Hervé systematically photographed all of Le Corbusier’s outstanding architectural works, and he soon received invitations from other contemporary architects to record their work. The greater part of Hervé’s oeuvre is composed of photographs taken of modern architecture. He also received commissions in the Near East, India and America and took several thousand photographs during his travels in France and Italy.
The individuality of Hervé’s works is created by the stark, geometrical and daring cuts operating with the contrast between light and shadow, which, at the same time, are bereft of any kind of documentary approach. Le Corbusier said that these photographs helped him to better understand his own buildings.
Today Lucien Hervé is regarded as the most original and important representative of architectural photography, however, several other themes form part of his oeuvre: his eye was drawn to the tiny, seemingly insignificant details of the street and he captured the relationship between man and his environment with utmost sensitivity. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not embrace anecdotal genre photography, yet he managed to convey a profoundly humane message through his works despite their strict composition. His main artistic tool was the geometrically structured rigorous composition in the vein of Mondrian and the Constructivists.
Hervé retained an exceptional openness, vitality and creative urge even during his long period of a serious illness from 1965 to his death. He continued photography into the last years of his life and wrote numerous books, made book designs and mounted his own exhibitions.
More than 150 independent exhibitions have been staged worldwide from Lucien Hervé’s photographs. Several such shows were hosted in Hungary between 1963 and 2008 but with a few exceptions they were thematic dossier exhibitions. The themes of the earlier ones were chosen by the artist himself, while the ones in recent decades were organised around topical subjects. In contrast, the selected works displayed at Lucien Hervé 100 provide a representative section of a complete oeuvre with photographs arranged into thematic units spanning all the important themes dealt with by the artist. The three main chapters feature man, architecture and abstraction. This thematic approach partly enabled the organisers to present the oeuvre in a chronological context.
The first part of the exhibition comprises two photographic series Hervé took in Paris: The Eiffel Tower and PSQF (Paris Sans Quitter Ma Fênetre, Paris from My Window), which are among the artist’s earliest pieces. In Hervé’s oeuvre the presence of man and the representation of architecture are not necessarily indivisible. He himself believed that all his photographs were “humanist”, regardless of people actually appearing in them or not. He did not take the photographs on the theme of Paris and people on commission; some of them were taken before and some after World War II but they are all excellent examples of the minimalist composition, the search for geometry and the contrast of light and shadow so highly valued in architectural photography.
In the second chapter of the exhibition visitors can see Lucien Hervé’s architectural photographs, which form the backbone of his oeuvre. Of these pieces the ones born out of his work with Le Corbusier are especially noteworthy and are some of the best known images of the artist. His other large-scale architectural commissions are represented by photographs of the UNESCO Headquarters (Marcel Breuer-Nervi- Bernard Zehrfuss), Le Havre (Auguste Perret) and the city of Brasilia (Oscar Niemeyer). A similarly emphatic role is played in Hervé’s oeuvre by the works devoted to folk architecture and the historical architecture of different parts of the world such as Europe, Asia Minor and India, also evocative of the atmosphere of the photographer’s most important exhibitions which he mounted not only with the aim of delivering a visual experience but also to bring the spirit underlying architectural creations and the architect’s intention closer to the public. These photographs also reveal one of the pivotal ideas that preoccupied Hervé, namely that the architecture of various eras and cultures are akin to the approach of twentieth-century architecture and furnishes valid answers to the challenges faced by modern man.
The third large section contains abstract photographs or those pointing towards abstraction. Hervé’s lens infuses the landscape, the decaying wall of a house or a torn-off poster with new meaning where details lifted out of their context are transformed into abstract forms and reveal the beauty in things that are seemingly devoid of interest. Hervé devoted entire exhibitions and a book to this theme and considered it a coherent part of his oeuvre. These colour and black and white photographs can be linked to the photo-series Hervé made in the last period of his life, when his illness and old age forced him within the confines of his apartment, showing that these confines did not limit his creative genius. His eyes ceaselessly looked for the expressive details of what he saw and retained to the very end his individual signature style.
Lucien Hervé 100 is also the opening event of the Hungarian Month of Photography 2010 programme series, a biennale event which was launched by the Association of Hungarian Photographers in 2000 with the primary objective of presenting prominent photographers and their works to the public and displaying photographic material of the highest standard. The event series calls attention to international trends as well as to the work of Hungarian photographers in an attempt to promote their integration into the international photography scene. The exhibitions and related events provide an opportunity for both photography professionals and the general public to become acquainted with classical values and current trends and to explore the various genres and stylistic differences in photographic art.
The exhibition is sponsored by Le Meridien Hotel Budapest and Air France; its media sponsor is Duna TV.
The exhibition is curated by Péter Baki, the Director of the Hungarian Museum of Photography and art historian Imola Gebauer.