A book that immerses us in the profession of war correspondent at the beginning of photojournalism.
Renowed novelist at the time of the Belle Epoque, Gaston Chérau (1872-1937) was commissioned by Le Matin – one of the largest Parisian dailies – to follow the Italo-Turkish conflict in Libya (1911-1912). This war involving “the sick man of Europe” mobilized major media outlets who sensed its consequences on the European balance. The writer-reporter, for whom this experience is new, carries in his luggage a camera loaned by a friend. In addition to his telegrams, the war correspondent sends his editors his photographs. They will be widely valued by Le Matin, even more than the articles, however, written by a famous pen still in the running for the Goncourt prize whenhe was sent to Tripoli “Lybia”.
The book Reawaken the archive of a colonial war brings together all the written documentation and photographic report produced by Gaston Chérau: more than 200 clichés, his articles in the newspaper Le Matin, his private correspondence and a reminiscent text published in 1926 in a collection gathering the greatest reportage writers (Albert London, Gaston Leroux…).
By immersing ourselves in the work and everyday life of a reporter in the early days of photojournalism, this unpublished documentary and its historical perspective reveal how this neophyte confronts a war in a colonial context, in “new horizons” were he confronts death and the others, and is torn between his mission to report events and the manipulations of belligerents and newspapers. The book reveals how this experiment condenses multiple issues – mainly economic, political and ethical – related to the making of news. By restoring the part that belongs to each of the protagonists in the construction of the journalistic narrative, it becomes possible to measure the way in which the war correspondent, a singular witness generally little questioned in the historiography of the war, engages his responsibility.
The attention given to the working conditions of the reporter and to the methods of producing and editing his photographs in the daily and illustrated press of Paris and the provinces, makes it possible to “make the images speak”, that is to say to make them intelligible. By linking them to a context, by considering the plurality of possible readings as well as the importance of their circulation in many media organizations, Pierre Schill shows the complexity of the system of war correspondence and the making of news. The book is an invitation to reflect on the contemporary issues of this news making, in a context of instantaneous circulation of informations and images, too often beyond any understandable framework.
Pierre Schill, Awakening the archive of a colonial war
Photographs and writings of Gaston Chérau, war correspondent during the Italo-Turkish conflict in Libya (1911-1912), Créaphis, 2018.
With contributions from Caroline Recher, Smaranda Olcese, Mathieu Larnaudie and Quentin Deluermoz.