Fotograf Magazine

French History of Photography for the Twenty-First Century

The Paris-based Macula publishing house is by far not focused only on texts
associated with photography; nevertheless, we do not think it is an exaggeration
to claim that it does play quite a significant role in this field when it comes to
facilitating theoretical discourse. One example of an important publication is
Olivier Lugon’s book, which brought a new perspective regarding the aesthetics
of documentary photography (Le Style documentaire: D’August Sander à
Walker Evans, 1920–1945, 2001). Additionally, Editions Macula began to
publish the new annual journal Transbordeur – photographie histoire société
last year. Its first issue was devoted to non-artistic documentary photograph
collections, and provides an indication of how the field of the history and theory
of photography is currently developing – after a long period of time during which
it was necessary to explore the oeuvre of influential individuals from the field
(and when photography defended its position as an independent art medium),
even photography historians have found a liking for the sociological history of art
and are now interested in the “social life” of photographs.

Last year also saw the publication of a new book by Eléonore Challine,
also as a part of the Transbordeur series, which presents the dissertation
the author successfully defended at the Sorbonne in 2014. Challine looks at
the history of French photography from the perspective of its institutionalised
environment and exhibition management, and describes how the conception
of photography museums is changing. Challine presents the individual findings
from her very detailed archival research, threading them like beads onto the
narrative of the history of photography from 1839 to the mid-twentieth century.
As becomes apparent from her text, the history of photography is inseparably
linked with the concept of museums. Although the institution of museums was
already in full bloom at the time that photography first appeared on the scene,
the multi-faceted nature of the photographic medium led to a situation when it
was never fully clear what a museum of photography should present. Should
it be a museum of photography as a depictive medium? Or should it aim to
examine the specificity of photography as well as its history, technology and
aesthetics? Although (or maybe because) no national museum of photography
was ever established in France, this book provides a fascinating view of the
history of photography, documented by an uncountable quantity of historic
facts and an abundance of accompanying illustrations.

Hana Buddeus

CHALLINE, Eléonore. Une histoire contrariée: Le musée de photographie en France
(1839–1945). Paris: Éditions Macula. ISBN 978-2-86589-096-5.