The birth and development of photography coincided historically with the progressive abandonment of figuration in painting, and the rise of this technique and its invasion of the visual arts is often attributed to the decline of a pictorial tradition that went back at least to the Renaissance. To judge by the discoveries of art history and museography, however, the rivalry between painting and photography is perhaps more ambiguous than this chronology might suggest. It has been found, for example, that Ingres, the first painter to express public disdain for the new technical invention, made use of it with notable results.
Picasso, as his friend Man Ray had already written in the journal Cahiers d’Art in 1937, had an even more fruitful and complex relationship with the camera whose analysis became possible after 1992, when the artist’s heirs donated part of his photographic archive to the French State. It has taken years to organise and study the vast amount of material in this legacy since Anne Baldassari, conservator of the Musée national Picasso-Paris, first started in the mid-1990s to conduct in-depth research on the black and white images making up the museum’s holdings. They include not only pictures by renowned photographers who immortalised the painter (like Brassaï, René Burri, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, David Douglas Duncan, Herbert List, Dora Maar, Man Ray, Arnold Newman and Edward Quinn, among others), but also a large number taken by Picasso himself, sometimes to record his pictorial motifs or document the creative process, other times to portray himself as the indisputable sovereign of his kingdom, the studio, and to consolidate the ideal of the modern artist, and yet others to leave a record of his intimate life, his friends and acquaintances, and his human dimension. Although the purpose and authorship of some photographs remains to be clarified, the collection of nearly eighteen thousand pictures has revealed the different uses made of them by the artist from his first stay in Paris in 1901 until his death in 1973.
The Photographer’s Gaze presents a selection of the photographic materials in the collection of the Musée national Picasso-Paris with a view to illustrating the artist’s complex relationship with photographic representation. Together with this outstanding set of exhibits, we also present a compilation of the best photos in our archives, taken by Lucien Clergue, Michel Sima and David Douglas Duncan, among others, together with two lesser-known series by Nick de Morgoli and Leopoldo Pomés, on loan from private collections, which record their encounters with the artist in his studios on Rue des Grands-Augustins and La Californie.