Clergue, Lucien

French (1934-)

French photographer Lucien Clergue has fought his entire life to pursue his artistic vision. A musical prodigy of sorts, he began taking violin lessons at age 7, only to have his teacher inform him a few years later that the young boy had surpassed his instructor; he had nothing left to show him. Young Clergue wanted to continue studies at the conservatory, but WWII left his family’s home and fruit stand demolished. Without income, Clergue was left to care for his invalid mother and could not go to school. Whoever loaned him a camera in 1949 probably saved him. His earliest shots displayed a level of proficiency and were – not surprisingly – images of death, decay and destruction, often taken in cemeteries.

In 1953, Clergue met Pablo Picasso, who liked his work, but challenged him to push himself further. So began a period of prolific shooting; inspired by traveling acrobats and street performers, Clergue created costumes and props and posed children in a series of tableaux vivants (his Saltimbanque photos). The images - both whimsical and eerie, surreal and shadowy – captured the transition from childhood to adulthood, a leap Clergue himself had been forced to make quicker than most. Picasso saw and praised these images in 1955, and the two began a lifelong friendship that introduced Clergue to the avant garde movement. This exposure – coupled with Clergue’s enthusiasm for Edward Weston’s “Charis” – led him to begin a series of female nudes in water, exploring the boundaries between liquids and solids. Though pursued his entire life by the likes of Vogue magazine, Clergue has not taken on commercial work, preferring to pursue his own hard-won vision. As such, he has developed a style noted for its painterly and expressionistic qualities.