For a man who worked professionally for barely more than ten years, Sergio Larrain, who died in 2012, had a disproportionately large impact on photography. The author of four books, he is widely considered Chile’s finest lensman, though he became something of a recluse later in life.
Born in Santiago into a well-to-do family, he ditched a possible career in forestry for a life behind the camera, and saved up for his first Leica by working in a cafe. The son of an architect father, his love of photography grew when he later traveled the Middle East and Europe, lens in tow. His real break came in 1958, though, when he bagged a British Council bursary that allowed him photograph cities throughout the U.K.
The images that emerged – chiefly of London – were captivating shots of the everyday, and caught the eye of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Frenchman later invited Larrian to Paris and the Chilean soon joined Cartier-Bresson’s Magnum agency as an associate in 1959 (and became a full member in 1961).
His was a career filled with disparate subject matters, tied together with his famous compassion for those he photographed. Larrain’s style is immediately recognizable: he made use of vertical frames, was a fan of low angle shots and was wholly unafraid of experimentation. Much of his work was concerned with street children, and his some of his earliest pictures – those from a 1957 series in Chile, for example – are certainly his most powerful. Though he was no stranger to architectural photography, having shot fellow countryman and diplomat Pablo Neruda’s house.
Indeed, his portraiture is as humanistic as it is environmental. One of his most captivating images, taken as part of the later Valparaiso series in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, perfectly combines both. The piece shows two young girls going down a staircase, their delicate frames contrasting with the solid, modernist-seeming gray concrete surrounding them. It is a picture as much about its subjects as it is about the context in which see them; and with their backs turned to us, is as much about what we see as what we don’t.
“He is very different, very intense,” says Agnès Sire, director of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, and curator of an upcoming retrospective of Larrain’s work at Les Rencontres d’Arles, “for me, he is [often] interested in what you don’t see.”
Larrain stopped taking pictures professionally in the 1970s and retreated to the Chilean countryside for a life of calm meditation (though he continued to take some pieces in the 1980s, they were photographs of objects, usually in his house, which he would send to friends in the mail). It is said that he withdrew because he, ever the humanitarian, became disillusioned with the often harsh world he was photographing, and felt powerless to help.
“He stopped his career. It was not bringing him what he [thought] it would bring to him,” explains Sire. “[He felt] the fact he photographed those kids will not change the fact that there will always be kids abandoned. Photography will not help save the planet.”
Sire adds that Larrain even rejected the idea of retrospectives for most of his later life, because they might force him out of his self-imposed retreat, and that his career was meteoric for a reason: he was a man who would only, and could only, follow his instincts. “He was unique,” she says, “he was really a free man.”
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Martine Franck, an esteemed documentary and portrait photographer and second wife of Henri Cartier-Bresson, died of cancer in Paris on Aug. 16 at the age of 74. A member of Magnum Photos for more 32 years, Franck was a co-founder and president of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation.
“Martine was one classic Magnum photographer we could all agree with,” said photographer Elliott Erwitt. “Talented, charming, wise, modest and generous, she set a standard of class not often found in our profession. She will be profoundly missed.”
Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1938, Franck studied art history at the University of Madrid and at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. In 1963, she began her photographic career at Time-Life in Paris, assisting photographers Eliot Elisofan and Gjon Mili. Although somewhat reserved with her camera at first, she quickly blossomed photographing the refined world of Parisian theater and fashion. A friend, stage director Ariane Mnouchkine, helped establish Franck as the official photographer of the Théâtre du Soleil in 1964—a position she held for the next 48 years.
As her career grew, Franck pursued a wide range of photographic stories, from documentary reportage in Nepal and Tibet to gentle and evocative portraits of Paris’s creative class. Her portfolio of the cultural elite includes photographic peers Bill Brandt and Sarah Moon as well as artist Diego Giacometti and philosopher Michel Foucault, among others. In 1983, she became a full member of Magnum Photos, one of a small number of female members at the legendary photographic agency. Balancing her time between a variety of stories, her work reflects an innate sensitivity to stories of humanity.
In a piece published in the Guardian in 2006 about her time photographing a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, Franck chose to highlight a photo (slide #2 above) of an elder monk sitting with a young apprentice.
“I was there for an hour, just sitting quietly in a corner, observing,” she explained. “The picture is somehow a symbol of peace, and of young people getting on with old people. Although I didn’t think that at the time—in the moment, it’s just instinctive. Afterwards, maybe, you realize what the photograph means.”
Her humanitarian work paired her with numerous social humanitarian organizations and was heralded for the truths it revealed. But her name was also often associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In an interview on Charlie Rose, Franck recalled her first time meeting her future husband in 1965.
“His opening line was ‘Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets,’” she recalled. They married in 1970.
Throughout her career, Franck served as a powerful advocate, both for Magnum and for the continued legacy of her husband. Serving as the president and co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, Franck ensured that the spirit of his work survived.
Franck continued to work on her own photography, participating in group projects with Magnum, including “Georgian Spring.” As recently as this April, Franck’s expansive collection of portraits were exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Claude Bernard.
Magnum photographer and President Alex Majoli described Franck as a dear friend and a steady foundation within the photo agency. “Magnum has lost a point of reference, a lighthouse, and one our most influential and beloved members with her death,” he said in a statement released by Magnum over the weekend.
She is survived by her daughter, Melanie.
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