On our post on The Mirror of Venus back in December someone suggested a post on the book Née de la Vague (Born of the Wave) by French photographer Lucien Clergue, who died last month at the age of 80. Coincidentally, Triple P was watching an episode of one of his favourite TV programmes, Great Contenental Railway Journeys, a few days after this comment was left and presenter Michael Portillo visited Arles and actually interviewed an obviously ailing Clergue in his final months. This was too much of a coincidence to ignore so in this post we will look at pictures from Clergue's 1968 book Née de la Vague.
The book has nearly 100 pages and is made up of photographs of female nudes photographed on the coast of the Camargue in the South of France. There is no text at all. It opens with a series of pictures of waves crashing on the shore with no figures in sight.
The first figure is almost invisible behind the flying sea foam; literally emerging from the water and the page as a shadowy shape. Shape is absolutely what this book and, indeed Clergue's photography of women generally, is about.
Although the book was published in 1968, many of the pictures were taken four years earlier than that, when the attitudes to nudity, even in France, were very different.
These are some of several shots in the book of a girl with unshaven armpits. Some giels, if you look carefully, have unshaven legs too. It is difficult to know how many different models Clergue employed for the photographs in the book. Probably today they would have been named but again, these girls were likely amateurs not professionals.
Although there are some particularly outstanding busts on display Clergue doesn't ignore the contours of his models' bottoms either. His models are all remarkably curvy; their ripe forms emphasised by the way the sunlight strikes their wet bodies.
Clergue was born in Arles in 1934 and after his parents divorced worked at his mother's grocery shop where one of his jobs was making deliveries, including to the local brothels. It was these visits, he later said, that opened his eyes to the allure of women.
Clergue was a keen violinist but he couldn't afford to continue his studies and took up photography instead. As a nineteen year old he was taking pictures at a local bullfight when he ran into Pablo Picasso, who lived nearby. Picasso saw something in his work and asked to see more, encouraging Clegue to devote the next year and a half to his photography so as to be able to present a strong portfolio to the artist.
Clergue remained friends with Picasso for twenty years until the artist's death in 1973. Picasso also introduced him to Max Ernst and Jean Cocteau. His early work featured the characters who inhabited that part of Provence, bullfighters, acrobats and gypsies. His portraits of gypsy flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata helped contribute to his fame in the sixties.
Clergue consciously modelled the approach to his nudes on that of Edward Weston but developed his own distinctive, easily recognisable style. He carried on photographing nudes on the beach in the Camargue until the end of his life.
After their brief time on shore it is as if, like mermaids, the women must return to their element. Having fully revealed their bodies to us they must disappear once more until they emerge to be re-born again in the future. We anticipate their return with relish.
At the end of the book the bodies, mirroring the opening gradually, disappear in a show of light, shade and texture. The final shot of a woman is just her shadow, a memory of a corporeal presence to be replaced by just the waves on the sand.
More aquatic Venuses by Clergue another time.