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Army Museum : Léon Herschtritt (1936-2020), photographer of the Gaullist years


Until April 7, 2024, the Army Museum offers a rediscovery of the talented career of photographer Léon Herschtritt, the youngest winner of the Niépce Prize awarded in 1960 thanks to a series entitled Les gosses d’Algérie. Through a narrow selection of reportages and around forty prints, the exhibition offers a sensitive journey through the first two decades of the Fifth Republic, between decolonization and the Cold War. Like a Capa or a Doisneau, Herschritt brought his gaze imbued with humanity and tenderness to the sidelines of History, covering subjects he liked: children, anonymous people or personalities, street scenes, events.

A humanist reporter-illustrator

The “heart in the eyes”. The formula of the poet Philippe Soupault seems as much to summarize the humanist photographic work as the polymorphous career of Léon Herschritt. Photographer of the post-war period, of a France marked by the end of the colonial wars and the economic leap of the “Trente Glorieuses”, the itinerary of Léon Herschtritt, influenced by the poetic realism of Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis , follows in the footsteps of a generation of reporter-illustrators, stimulated by an abundant press and dynamic orders from state organizations. The exhibition addresses his beginnings in Algeria in 1958 during his military service, his first reportage as an independent photographer when he went to Berlin in a city split between East and West by the construction of the Wall in 1961, his photographic assignment in Africa in 1963 for the Ministry of Cooperation and the “ trips in France” of President de Gaulle, visits emblematic of the almost personal relationship that the General wanted to maintain with each French person. His portraits, in the pure black and white tradition, are of rare psychological intensity and embody the vibrant tribute of a photographer capturing the intimate image of the 78years-old man, at the twilight of his political career and of his own existence. In a gentle wandering that explores several registers, all punctuated by a unique sense of narration, with Léon Herschritt, it is an album bringing together images of a disappeared world which unfolds again today.

A professional committed to the artistic recognition of photography

The prints, taken from the photographer’s personal archives, as well as the documents and testimonies, paint a living portrait of Léon Herschritt, of an era and a history of photography. Thus, in the 1970s, when exhibition venues were rare, apart from photographic clubs, Léon Herschtritt opened with his wife Nicole, Le Relais de Montmartre, both a bistro and a phalanstere for photographers from all walks of life, which would welcome very numerous events and professionals in the medium including Denis Brihat, Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Agathe Gaillard, Marc Garanger, Ralph Gibson, Jean-Claude Lemagny, Helmut Newton, Yvette Troispoux etc. Soon converted to antique dealers specializing in collection devices and old photographs, the Herschtritt couple took over in 2004 the photography gallery opened by their son Laurent in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, perpetuating a family business and a passion for photography which they contributed to put on the map and recognized as art.

An enrichment for the collections of the Army Museum

By acquiring part of the photographer’s collection, made up of seventy prints and three contact sheets taken from his personal archives, the Army Museum demonstrates its ambition to offer a cardinal place to the medium by promoting author photography  within its collections. Thus, Léon Herschritt’s photographs enrich periods and themes hitherto little covered in the collections, while highlighting the effects of conflicts on the daily lives of civilians, an additional aspect that the Museum wishes to present to the public as part of its major extension and transformation project called “MINERVE”.


A work entitled Never the same look twice. Léon Herschtritt (1936-2020): photographs from the collections of the Army Museum, published by Odyssée editions accompanies the exhibition:


With the support of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation, the Army Museum is launching a public subscription on the Ulule platform until December 31, 2023 in order to acquire part of Léon Herschtritt’s photographic collection:


Commission and management of the work, Army Museum
Vincent Giraudier, head of the Charles de Gaulle historial department
Carine Lachèvre, deputy head of the department of the Charles de Gaulle historial
Lucie Moriceau-Chastagner, head of the photography collection, deputy head of the fine arts and heritage department



Schedules :

Every day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., late night on the 1st Friday of the month until 10 p.m.

From Tuesday November 7, 2023

to Sunday April 7, 2024

Location of the event :

Perpignan Corridor

Access conditions :

Access with the Army Museum ticket

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