The name of this man endures in time and in principle for a few centuries through his works which carry his generation beyond his death. Charles Nègre, a discreet man, but already essential during his life, left many works including many photographs that have come down to us. A safeguard due to the intrinsic qualities of the documents and to the respect of his family who did not organize one of these purifying fires with all these papers and these films which invaded cellar or attic. The disaster of archive discharges having already destroyed far too many heritage treasures on this planet.
Charles Nègre’s photographs are quite exceptional in more than one way. The very perfectionist author has focused on qualitative achievements that are perfect for the time. The creator knew how to give all his images the right balance of meaningful compositions, sometimes with second or third degree messages like all good artists. The curious left us snapshots of all aspects of shooting ranging from portraiture to town planning, from reportage to events, from industry to landscape, from the official to the bucolic. Imagine in front of all these photographs taken in incredible technical conditions. The snapshot did not exist, posing was required, the stopwatch always at hand. The shooting equipment was heavy and cumbersome to make films that sometimes measured 60 cm by 80 cm. The characters sometimes had to stop in their action for long pauses. Essentially natural light required a mastery of light densities and their hazards. For the same photograph today, the conditions would be like a sprint for Charles with a ball and chain while for us our current shoes are an integral part of our speed.
And yet, let’s spend a few moments in front of his images where nothing is missing, in each photograph the composition tells the story and its rhythm, stirs our emotion. The balance of lights accentuates the atmosphere, speeds up or slows down our reading, draws us into the imagination behind unclosed deep shadows or questions us in lights with unburned details. The sets are never innocent, they are part of the story, from the sheet stretched to the casually pleated curtains, from the mountainous background to the corner of a Parisian street, nothing is left to chance. Finally, I insist on taking you inside his frames which are perfectly adapted and intimately linked for each of his photographs. This remarkable characteristic is obligatory and unavoidable in pictorial art; but, infinitely more complicated with the photography of the time which required the obligation of framing from the moment of the shooting.
This exceptional number of the Eye of Photography offers you the opportunity to spend time in front of pure masterpieces of Photographic Art produced by one of the greatest creators (his posthumous modesty even suffered from it) – said to be primitive. -. Enjoy it ! Some of these works are legitimately present in the collections of major museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay Orangerie, which should offer us a very nice exhibition in a few months.
Charles Nègre’s photographs are to be experienced without moderation and they remain much more instructive for Photography than a dozen “masterclasses” or other “workshops”.