A few weeks before the enthronement of Christian Caujolle as head of the Château d’Eau de Toulouse, Jean-Jacques Ader looks back on the history of this mythical place founded in 1974 by Jean Dieuzaide.
This narrow and steep spiral staircase leading upstairs, like an intestine climbing up the belly of the tower, guided the steps of aspiring Toulouse photographers. Stressful climb, as it was the master of the castle himself who, at the time, was waiting for them to examine their portfolios. Founder of the place in 1974, Jean Dieuzaide (1921-2003) did not have a reputation for being easy, and few young local photographers found their place on the red bricks of the building. On the other hand, his passionate commitment and his influence gave this atypical place an influence that went well beyond the regional limits, like the first Rencontres d´Arles in which Dieuzaide took part, four years before the opening of his Toulouse gallery. A unique program of what international photography was made up of will be found on its picture rails.
This real water tower, which once supplied the fountains of Toulouse with water from the nearby Garonne, has for almost forty-seven years been involved in raising to the rank of art the photographic discipline which, until then, was sorely lacking in consideration. .
As proof, the letter Dieuzaide received in 1968 inviting him to the Robert Doisneau exhibition at the National Library in Paris. Excited as he was to celebrate the work of his friend Robert, what disappointment when he discovered the installation nestled on a landing, between two floors. The prints of the one who was already on the picture rails of the museums of London or New York, were simply pinned to plywood, itself fixed by wire …
By dint of persistence, Yan – pseudonym taken by the photographer at the start of his career to sign the portrait of General De Gaule at the liberation of Toulouse in 1944 – who shared the place until then with the Musée des Augustins, succeeded in ensuring that the city definitively entrusts to him the keys of this disused building, which was used at the time only to store tools and municipal material. He then offered in April 1974 an exhibition worthy of the name to Doisneau who, scalded by his previous disappointments, only accepted in the name of the friendship that united the two men. The champion of Parisian life therefore inaugurated the opening of the first permanent gallery dedicated to photography, and at the same time it was his first major exhibition in France.
The profusion of genres and the variety of styles represented during the numerous vernissages are undoubtedly due to curiosity and to the many photographic disciplines that Dieuzaide tackled: press, architecture, portraits or artistic experiences. He covered regional rugby matches, did not hesitate to play tightrope walker on the Place du Capitole to immortalize the bride and groom themselves perched on a wire, and following the first Concorde takeoff in 69 at Toulouse-Blagnac. Materials, existing in nature, such as pitch (derived from coal) gave him the opportunity to carry out abstract and poetic formal research, monopolizing his great technical knowledge and his applied gaze. He portrayed Salvador Dalí on the beach in Cadaqués and not at his home, which is very close because, he will find out later, the Catalan artist is working on a painting inspired by a photo of the Toulouse photographer. The Gascon photographer will also campaign all his life for a traditional treatment of images, chemistry and baryta papers; the arrival of plastic papers and new products leading to a general loss of quality. What would he think of digital photography today…
From 1975, photographic exhibitions followed at the rate of one per month. From an off-center geographical location, once you have crossed the Pont Neuf, the Château d`eau continues to attract Toulouse residents to the left bank of the Garonne. This space with unique architecture will become one of the cultural emblems of the Pink City, alongside the Capitole Orchestra and the Toulouse Cinémathèque, which already has a rich collection of films and posters.
Magnum photographers, modern Americans, big names in Europe, Sarah Moon, Giacomelli, Depardon, Agnès Varda, Clergue and Lartigue, Koudelka, Japanese or Chinese photography as well as the laureates of the city’s photo school (ETPA ) and many others, are among the 547 exhibitions held to date, of which 350 will be the subject of a monographic edition.
In 1981 the association PACE (Photographie Au Château d’Eau) was created, it ensures the management of the place and, in 1982, the creation of the documentation center which opened to the public in 1984 under the leadership of Dominique Roux, prolongs the will to be educational counting to date more than 14,000 books available.
In 1995, at the turn of the gallery’s twentieth anniversary, Jean Dieuzaide decided to retire from management, and a dozen candidates threw their hats into the ring. One in particular will secretly have his preference, his son Michel. Michel Dieuzaide, photographer and documentary film maker, who will therefore take over from his father, significantly opening the doors of the gallery to regional artists, as well as to collections such as that of the contemporary art museum of Les Abattoirs, which was recently opened nearby. 2001 will see the arrival of Jean-Marc Lacabe at the helm, leading the gallery into a contemporary plurality that the current multiplicity of images induces. Yan, meanwhile, disappeared in 2003.
The gallery is still financed by the city, and, following the appearance of management difficulties in 2014 under the mandate of Pierre Cohen, a financial audit was launched in 2017 by the following municipality and current that of Jean-Luc Moudenc , which confirmed the financial fragility of the association’s accounts. The management, for its part, deplored that the support of the city became proportionally inverse to the attendance of the Chateau d’Eau. 2018 therefore sees the arrival of the city’s culture department questioning the PACE team, which has been managing the establishment since the 1980s and its director. The decision was taken, after several postponements in the city council and difficult communication between the different parties, of a transition to municipal government, the gallery actually joining the Toulouse museums, on January 1, 2020.
After a rather erratic cultural year, a new director in charge of management and general operations should take office quickly; and Christian Caujolle, recognized personality, founder of the VU agency and internationally respected exhibition curator, becomes artistic advisor from January 2021. He is on familiar ground, he the former student from Ariège who discovered his first photo exhibition in this gallery and therefore decided to devote his life to photography. In addition to his appointment, 2021 will also be the centenary of the birth of Jean Dieuzaide. These latest events, linked to the acquisition by the city of his photographic collection in 2016 (500,000 negatives, 3,000 photo books) which should find its place in the form of permanent exhibitions in a new wing of the Water Tower, will hopefully provide after this period of turbulence, a dynamic beneficial and respectful of the artistic line established by the master of the castle.