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Fiammetta Horvat : Photographer’s Daughter


Daughter of ………! , wife of ……! grandson of ……….!. :

The heirs are not often popular in the world of photography: Fiammetta Horvat is the daughter of Frank Horvat, she is omnipresent in all the events linked to her father. We wanted to know more about this task of being in charge of.

This report by Fiammetta of the symposium on the rights holders of photography which took place a few weeks ago is the first part of a chronicle that she will keep regularly.


Photographer’s Daughter
Round table on the situation of rights holders.

In the elegant Colbert gallery in Paris, the INHA (Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art) welcomes the small world of French photography. A day of studies is dedicated to the future of photographers’ works. The room is full. Many rights holders and actors involved in the destiny of the archives are gathered: representatives of the Ministry, public institutions, private institutions, experts, historians, curators, lawyers, galleries, auction houses, printers, agencies, photographers’ assistants and photographers. Interesting subject.

‘If we can exclude the family from a foundation, that’s the best…’ Agnès Sire ventures to say when she is surrounded by beneficiaries. The death of a photographer, at Magnum, she had to experience it many times. This fear of the paralyzed child, of the possessive widow, of the distant nephew, incapable of managing a work, is probably justified by the multiple stories of conflicts and misunderstandings that paralyze a work.

Yet society decided that they would be best placed to carry the voice of the deceased.

‘The king is dead, long live the king’ reminds Mr Benjamin Dauchez esquire who evokes the term embodiment about the beneficiary. Is familiarity or complicity with the artist enough to give legitimacy to represent him?

A photographer dies. His family remains. His work remains. Whether small or big, grand or unknown, messy or organized, it exists, and it belongs somewhere.

Michel Poivert, Anne Lacoste and Léa Miranda had the great initiative of bringing together the professions of conservation and distribution to take stock of the French situation and the conditions in which a photographer leaves a life work.

It should be remembered that often the beneficiary inherits this privileged – or cursed, position, depending on the case – at an age when his career and his life may have taken him away from the artistic daily life of their father, mother or uncle. A blood or love relationship with the artist does not necessarily imply admiration, respect or understanding. The term embodiment resonates with mission. The long pilgrimage of a rights holder can become painful if the relationship with the artist was not tender.

Yet the testimony of relatives is valuable to understand the deceased artist, the sensitivity of a person can be difficult to understand thru academic research. In our time when the psychology of artists is scrutinized to better understand their work, the family can have an important role in interpreting it. Well advised, can they ensure the future of the works?

Fannie Escoulen, Head of the Department of Photography at the Ministry of Culture, takes the time to describe the rich network of existing institutions likely to house photographers’ collections. With sincerity, she recognizes the difficulties encountered with certain funds in the years 2000s and the concerns that followed. I myself grew up in this distrust of institutions. My father said he would rather destroy his work than have it go forgotten in the state cellars. Fannie rightly speaks of reassuring rights holders. It is the ignorance of the system that generates the worst mythologies about its incapacities. We appreciate this urgency to communicate better. You still have to be in this room. I know more than one (beneficiary) who, due to shyness, lack of time or reactivity, was neither aware of this meeting, nor even of the existence of most of the people present.

The quantity and the specialization of the institutions is impressive: BNF, Pompidou, regional media libraries, Niepce, many others and especially the MPP (an example of the slowness of the internal workings was the time necessary to rename the obsolete name of ‘Médiathèque de l’ ‘Architecture and Heritage’ in ‘Heritage and Photography Media Library’ which will certainly facilitate communication on its role). Ronis, Lartigue, Kertész are historically the first residents. Followed by Bouret, Kenna, Caron and many others. Curators, restorers and historians oversee the arrival of funds in their new home.

Sorting, organizing exhibitions, distribution (with the partner agency RMN), publications, research, inalienability rhymes with eternity… It makes you dream. A network is woven to cocoon the funds. A canvas that inserts and guarantees a place for the work in the great fresco of the history of photography. Or cobwebs that frames the beautiful works in the sleeping forest?

However, it is better to be a French photographer. This finding comes up often. France, accomplice and protagonist of Photography since its first steps, feels responsible for the destiny of photographers. A round-table meeting like this seems unexpected in many other countries which are no less rich in excellent photographers. When my father, on his return from India in 1956, hesitated to settle in London, Paris or New York where magazines flourished (he himself no longer had a nationality since his lands in Istria had been divided) he chose Paris: Magnum announced a reflection on the role and identity of the photographer, which is still a reference.

All the families of photographers, whether they are journalists or directors like Varda, all deserve a drawer in the many French fitted bureaus. Some see these drawers as sad closets  The phrase ‘first class burial’ comes up often. It’s still better than a disappearance.

This fear of being forgotten , I often heard it from my father: you had to leave traces.

His Jewish origins probably accentuated this obsession with defying the void that follows death. His tireless determination to classify and explain seemed to me, during his lifetime, obsessive. Then he left. Today I thank him every day for each written note, each recorded indication that guides me with his work and revives his presence.

The subject of the state in which a fund becomes orphan seems trivial, but it comes up regularly during this day of study. A work cannot be preserved if it is not catalogued. An orderly, annotated and sorted collection like my father’s is more reassuring than thousands of undeveloped reels: a romantic but titanic vision for a curator who saves a collection. Digitization immensely facilitates research and dissemination. But this has a cost. And when done too early, as was done by my father, who started it in the 90s, the files can suffer from reading incompatibility: an inevitable digital fate that haunts our conservation conversations.

This responsibility for the rights holders to sort in the absence of the artist is a delicate exercise if the artist has not left instructions. This proves the need for the involvement of the expert eye of the photo historian. The subject of posthumous selection is thorny. My father, like many, would have hated having his contact sheets looked at or having youthful selections unearthed. He liked the product thought out and intellectually finished. Photographer of the moment, revealing what surrounds the capture of the punctum would sabotage this feeling of miracle that the photo was for him. The Conservatives cite the historical context that would justify this ban. The beneficiary still lives in the present of the photographer. Hence the inflexible integrity to the desires of the artist. Showing behind the scenes of an image presupposes a museumification of the photographer and therefore an acceptance of his death. My experience was special: I told my father about the exhibition at the Jeu de Paume a few days before his death. Working on this exhibition hastened ethical decisions and accelerated mourning.

My case is not the most common. Many rights holders have not inherited a site with such well-prepared foundations. His mania made it easier for me to manage the archives, but his personality also made me inherit his excesses: since childhood spent as a refugee in Switzerland, he hated groups. Insubordinate, he refused the imposed rules of a community. His desire to experiment with all artistic or commercial genres confused the tracks all the more. His requirement isolated him. I sometimes wished my father had made more of a covenant during his lifetime that would have guided me in the days following his death.

To decide you have to understand. So my urgency was, and remains, to know how the photographic milieu works. I got closer to the children and widows of living or deceased photographers whom I could meet easily. Francine Doisneau, Katiuscia Giacomelli, Nadia Blumenfeld, Catherine Riboud and Lorène Durret, Aliette de Fenoyl and Laure Augustins under the lucky star of Sabine Weiss, to name some of them and thank them, have all confirmed the time needed to be competent. I am lucky to have this time to think about his work and enhance it before leaving it in the expert hands of institutions.

I was pleasantly surprised by the general desire to advise. As Michel Poivert also noticed, there is benevolence and listening in this small milieu far from the gigantic financial stakes of contemporary art.

However, the holders of the rights encountered or present in the room find it difficult to know how to properly preserve and at the same time distribute the inherited work. The day sometimes had the air of a meeting of alcoholics anonymous over the interventions of rights holders overwhelmed by the task. Families and photographers are not approached while they are alive. Gilles Désiré dit Gosset of the MPP specifies that he does not approach artists. This would raise expectations and even demands. I understand his reservations, but the result is that the rights holder risks not even knowing the existence of this solution, or that he does not dare to consider it. Besides, how to assess whether a fund ‘deserves’ to be preserved?

My father had recognition during his lifetime and was aware enough of his talent to communicate to me the importance of preserving it. The beneficiary will inherit the work but also the lack of confidence of the artist. When I see the difficulty I have in obtaining appointments, I imagine how discouraging it must be for smaller or less well-known work.

What is most precious is the time spent by his side, a limited time which sometimes seemed painful to me with a demanding father who knew his end was near, a time which gave me the keys to speak in his name. My ignorance of the mechanisms of the world of photography was also perhaps a strength. My immersion accelerated by his death gave me a determination that I did not think I had.

I want to continue to promote my father’s work. I am lucky that his fund generates enough resources to be independent. The money taboo hangs over these conversations. Yet it determines a lot. Some funds are more successful than others. People unfamiliar with the operation of the archives ask why I did not create a foundation! Rare are the photographers who have been able to establish such a structure financially. Also rare are those who can afford to maintain the integrity of the fund and not sell prints.

As Fannie Bourgeois of Christie’s and Audrey Bazin of the Christophe Gaillard gallery explain, galleries and auction houses support this introduction of works to the public: by facilitating acquisitions in public collections, by collaborating with institutions to celebrate the artist and above all, by working on his rating which will facilitate the development of the archives.

If institutions, curators and the art market work together, an artist’s work can survive the risks of oblivion.

The word strategy, which frightens some people, is nevertheless the right term to deal with a fund. The hasty sales of certain archives have sabotaged possibilities for the future of certain holdings.

Estimation is a chapter in itself. To decide the fate of a fund, it must be estimated. It’s not a hard science unfortunately. By definition, the reproducible nature of photography contradicts rarity.

Collectors are fond of the nuances between vintages, semi-vintages, edited or not, etc. For my father’s generation, who encountered photography as an image printed in newspapers and magazines, only the image counts and not its medium.

Times have changed, the image is worth almost nothing and proof prints have gone up in value.

The rights holder adapts but does not necessarily have permission to make posthumous prints. The person who holds the moral right, who may be other than the beneficiary, can consider it. Provided you are very well advised by market connoisseurs. Finally, photography is a recent art and its rules are still under construction.

What about everything that accompanies a work: notebooks, diaries, cameras or even the artist’s invoices? According to historians, everything is material for understanding the work. Especially when the rights holders in turn will disappear. I inherited the studio in which he worked, archived and collected. To manage well, I had to take ownership of the place. Stop there I was warned! The very order left by him, his labels, his boxes and his storage are a trace of his reflection. Once again, the expertise of others gives food for thought before acting.

So many other points were discussed, exciting for this community gathered around photography. Each speaker wanted to transmit the nuances of his specialty to the captivated ears of the many rights holders present: a more or less confident listening depending on their degree of investment. We belong to an ecosystem in which all professions work to honor photographers. This “rights holder’s food chain”, as Michel Poivert calls it, deserves to be better oiled in order to assert itself.

Fiammetta Horvat

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