Lucien Clergue: Early Work

Photograph by Lucien Clergue Photograph by Lucien Clergue

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.

Photograph by Lucien Clergue

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