This weeks inspiration is the 1910 born, Hungarian architectural photographer Lucien Hervé. He is most known for being the official photographer of swiss architect Le Corbusier, but often overlooked when talking about the greats of the 20th century.
Unlike other architectural photographers, Hervé only rarely showed buildings as a whole. Instead he often cropped in on small details and focussed on form, strong shadows and anonymous silhouettes in his compositions.
A troubled life
Lucien Hervé, actually named László Elkán, had a rather troubled early life. He moved to Paris in 1930 where he initially worked as a fashion designer and photographer for the Mairanne Magazine. After becoming a French citizen in 1937, he was drafted to serve in the French army ini 1939. He ultimately was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans until his escape in 1941. Once free, László Elkán immediately joined the French resistance and assumed his pseudonym Lucien Hervé, as who he is known today.
In 1946 he made a trip to Marseille to photograph Le Corbusier’s building “Unité d’Habitation de Marseille”. He sent 650 images to the architect who immediately asked him to become his official photographer. Hervé’s and Le Corbusier’s partnership lasted for 12 years in which Hervé photographed for numerous other renowned architects such as Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto and Richard Neutra. Various architecture related contracts and assignments allowed him to travel to India, Syria, Iran, Japan, the US, Mexico and many places more.
In 1965 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which inhibited his ability to photograph. As a result he focussed on creating collages of his images and writing books. He eventually also returned to his camera in order to study abstraction in photography. In his late years, Lucien Hervé was still active in the world of architecture and received an oeuvre award from the Association of Hungarian Photographers as well as several other awards. He died in 2007 in Paris at an age of 97 years.
I stumbled across Lucien Hervé’s images about 4 years ago when I passed an exhibition about his work. His clever use of shadows and unique compositions fascinated me right away. Architectural photography from the 20th century is often rather neutral and tries to document objectively instead of being creative or trying to tell a story. Hervé however documented through sequences of small narratives and personal interpretations. He often also included people and silhouettes into his work.
Similar to Fan Ho, these people provide the image with a story and allow space for the viewer to project himself into what is shown. But unlike Fan Ho, Hervé doesn’t give any concrete context or sense of time to his images. They only concentrate on the immediate relationship between humans and his subjective perception of the built environment. His way of photographing oriented itself towards the “Neues Sehen” movement of the 1920s. In this movement photographers explored new and abstract ways of composing images. They used unusual angles, unusual lighting and unusual compositions to make mundane objects appear as something else – something abstract. Hervé did the same with architecture.
The lesson for street photography
I think Hervé’s approach can be an essential aspect for street photography. Basically everything we photograph takes places within the built environment. The understanding of what about a building has influence on its surroundings and how it does so, is something we should always put effort in to explore further. Hervé shows us numerous ways to use shadows for creating new shapes or layers. Reforming our environment to how we subjectively see it, is something that can give a unique character to our images.
Despite the immediacy and fast pace of street photography, we should always pay attention to what surrounds our subjects and how we can use it to give more meaning to an image. Lucien Hervé does it the other way around but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lesson to be learned from him.
If you took a liking into his work shown here, please visit his website where most of his images are viewable.
All images used in this post belong to © Lucien Hervé. No copyright violation intendet