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Happy Birthday Lucien


I am delighted to send this message of congratulations to Lucien Clergue on his 80th birthday. And in doing so through the medium of L’Oeil de la Photographie, I am also delighted to share the moment with a substantial international readership. Some of you will already be familiar with Lucien’s career; others may be encouraged by this tribute to take a closer look at the images he has been making for well over half a century. Mostly in black and white, these have been conceived within a classic tradition that today may seem a little old-fashioned to some; but they speak of timeless emotions, and situate Lucien Clergue as a photographer of great integrity whose work reveals a lyrical sensibility and a deep commitment to the human values that define his view of the world.

Lucien explains that it was a serendipitous encounter with Picasso, who sensed his potential talent and encouraged him to follow his inspiration, that galvanised his determination to become a photographer. Picasso then gave the young Lucien a privileged access to his world and became the subject of a remarkable rolling reportage in which we enjoy a unique insight into the artist’s life, at work and at play.

A native of the town of Arles, much of Lucien’s work reflects his close relationship with the people, traditions, and landscape of Provence. It is very much thanks to Lucien that Arles has become a global centre for the appreciation and celebration of photography through the annual Rencontres, as well as through other local educational initiatives.

At the heart of Lucien’s oeuvre are the combined themes of the elements and the female figure. His first and most celebrated publications presented a vivid and distinctive iconography of the nude, seen as a mythological, immortal subject. His Venus or Aphrodite figures are as one with the primordial elements at the meeting point of sea and land, and are dramatised by the strong Mediterranean light of which he has proved himself so skilled a master. Lucien has never followed fashions, nor wished to dictate them. His strength is evidenced in his fidelity to his own muse. He has had the confidence of his unique, personal perspective.

Still active, still engaged at ‘eight score years plus ten’, Lucien is an inspiration to us all. I propose a birthday toast to a very fine photographer and a very fine human being.

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