Lucien Clergue: Early Work
Clergue took his first photographs in 1944 and began the serious
work of an artist in the early 1950s. While in Arles Clergue became
acquainted with Picasso; it was through that acquaintance that
Clergue also met Cocteau. Both artists encouraged Clergue in his
work; a 1960 edition of poems by Paul Eluard included an introduction
by Cocteau, photographs by Clergue and cover by Picasso.
Clergue's first important body of work, the Saltimbanques,
rendered the traveling circus and theatre performers who had passed
through Arles for centuries. Over a nine-month period in 1955,
Clergue created full costume stagings of standard characters from
this theatrical tradition, often photographing them in the ruins of
Arles' bombed out building.
Marianne Fulton, in her introduction to Lucien Clergue: Eros and Thanatos, notes that "As circus or
commedia figures, they do not act, do not laugh, do not dance. They
are wanderers in a devastated world; performers without an audience."
Fulton relates these photographs to Clergue's subsequent photographs
of mannequins and the hundreds of photographs of dead animals Clergue
took from 1955 through 1956.
Fulton concludes that "The early work, as
a whole, is an exploration of death-in-life: the ruins of an ancient
and vital city; the homeless performers finding their childhood and
society destroyed. Places of death appear eerily alive: ghostly
figures rise from graves."
Next: Clergue's Nudes