THE NEW LIFE
The beginning of the story.
How did this Frenchman, born in Montmartre in 1933, arrive in the United States? In 1945 Dauman found himself alone at the end of the Second World War. Rejoining the only surviving member of his family, which had been decimated in the camps, he disembarked in New York City on December 14, 1950.
The swarming energy of the city gave him enthusiasm and inspiration. One cannot miss in his pictures the astonished, sometimes even mocking gaze of the foreigner torn between the seductive “American Dream” and all the excesses of this society.
“Looking Up” - it is by looking upwards that Dauman developed a series of images on American Architecture, a series recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
A young Frenchman lusting after a golden future, he scrutinized the sky, framed by imposing skyscrapers of which the grandeur frightened as much as fascinated him.
He captured the restructuring of the city at the time of the great construction boom of 1963.
The 60's & 70's : THE SOCIAL MUTATION
The portrait that Henri Dauman paints of America makes it appear as a bicephalous monster. Established in the comfort of the postwar era, the denizens of New York society took their vacations in Miami, where improbable hairstyles came to crown bodies cooked and re-cooked by the sun’s rays.
At the same time the offhandedness of a youth free of hangups appears in the streets of the “Big Apple.”
America sees the birth of its “teens.” A new fringe of the population, lively and contrarian, the teenagers carved out a space between childhood and adulthood. They defined their own codes, invented their own language and their modes of consumption.
Later, for Life, Dauman would draw the portrait of another youth, “The Savage Nomads Gang.” Far from Protestant Puritanism, they enforced their own counterculture, rejecting the treacly clichés of West Side Story. Those who had been excluded from the American model made themselves heard.
Segregation and the demonstrations for Civil Rights, the first feminist movements—photography could not but bear witness to these profound societal mutations.
The dark face
During the decade of the ‘60s Henri Dauman made the celebrity portrait one of his trademarks.
Protecting his models by putting them in soothing surroundings, he nonetheless made them vulnerable, eliciting from them nothing but unique moments of intimacy.
During these privileged tête-à-têtes, he often drew from these living fantasy creatures a dark side, revealed through a strong vision. In a maximally narrow frame, the model was shot straight on; thus the subject opened up, and his true expression was unveiled.
It’s all a matter of balance between abandon and self-discipline. In his long career, Dauman would collect several hundred portraits, an impressive gallery, from Paris to Hollywood.
He shifted deftly between Brigitte Bardot's back, Alain Delon's young face, and Godard's amazingly tender gaze.
The eyes: therein lies the entire science of photography.
Dauman makes people see what one would expect of these personalities, or the extreme opposite, their most profound self, the complimentary sides of truth and seeming.
THE ICON MAKER
The golden age of magazines, from LIFE to the New York Times
The Dauman archive immerses us in a historical moment several decades ago, during the golden age of the great American magazines. In the ‘60s the circulation of Life Magazine exploded to 8.5 million copies. As a regular contributor, Henri Dauman covered all the political and media events of the era.
It was the era of the fabrication of the beautiful image. The image supplanted the word and became the heart of the information conveyed. But how could one not take a great photograph of Marylin Monroe or Elvis Presley?
In the race for the scoop and the snapshot, the greatest feat was to distinguish oneself.
Clever framings, novel angles, creative approaches-- the photographic technique was everything. For dozens of photojournalists, in a state of permanent rivalry, the successful shot was rarely found in the subject, but rather in the approach.
The epitome of creativity was restraint, and freedom was strictly limited.
The entire interest of the Henri Dauman collection resides in this performance. Assuredly, the photojournalist, always alert, possessed a vision that allowed him to transform a seemingly banal shot. As a maker of “icons,” he lost the status of “photojournalist” and gained that of “photographer.”
The Moving Images
His priority is to tell stories. Sequences, series of images, are the ideal compromise between still photos and cinema.
Intended for publication, photography in motion becomes meaningful thanks to its form and achieves its full effect through the page layout. It is constructed as a timed combination of shots or a clever montage, born from a desire to produce sensations. One trembles, one sympathizes, one can even hear sounds, a few musical notes. The idea is to be as close as possible to reality, to report the fact in the most precise fashion possible.
The technical possibilities allowed by the camera never scared off Henri Dauman. At JFK’s funeral, he made the shift to color in an immediate realization of the added value that it would bring to his images - as well as of its pitfalls. The funeral procession through the streets of Washington, with its areas of tinted color, take on the epic qualities of a history painting.
He envisioned the page layout as soon as he took the shots. Visual effects, masterfully arranged forms, the play of shadows-- photography opened for him an infinite field of experiments.
Clearly influenced by Pop art, his treatment of color is typical of the era. The simplicity and minimalism of the construction of the image produced astonishingly efficient shots.