French President’s Photo Portrait by Raymond Depardon Stirs Controversy/Mockery
posted Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 2:18 PM EDT
The official photograph of François Hollande, France’s new president, was unveiled on June 4th. The photo (at right) taken by photographer Raymond Depardon shows Hollande in the garden behind the Elysée Palace, France’s White House. It reflects Hollande’s campaign promise to have a “normal” presidency and it will hang in thousands of town halls, post offices, and government buildings across the Fifth Republic, from St. Tropez to St.Barth in the Caribbean.
Within minutes of its release though, it was parodied on the web and caused a minor stir among the French.
Raymond Depardon is one of France’s best loved, living photographers. His career began in the 1950s when, at 17, he became famous for his photographs of a young Bridgette Bardot. Using the money he earned from those photos he bought himself a Rolleiflex and a Leica and set off to document the horrific war in Algeria for French newspapers.
Working as a photojournalist, he covered wars in Vietnam and Biafra and Chad. In 1966, he started his own photojournalism agency, called Gamma, and moved on from there to Magnum in 1978. He was also a moviemaker and made many prize-winning documentaries and feature films in the 1980s and 1990s.
His most recent project, a book entitled Ma France (2008), endeared him even more with the French people. It documents the rapidly disappearing landscape of traditional small towns in France and was a best seller. This made him the perfect choice to photograph the new Socialist president who’s campaign focused on a return to a "normal," less elite-run France.
Depardon’s selection was also in stark contrast to former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s bizarre choice of Philippe Warin, the official photographer of Star Academy, a French reality TV show that is a blend of Big Brother and American Idol.
Depardon’s newest movie, Journal de France, made in collaboration with Claudine Nougaret, documents his six years on the road, travelling with his large format camera, recording rural French life. It opens today. (See a trailer, in French, at the end of this story.)
Like the photos in Ma France, Depardon’s presidential image is very quiet. Little is happening and there is no dramatic lighting or setting. A humble looking man with glasses who appears, like a bank manger or a shoe salesman, he stands alone in the shade of a tree. Off in the distance are the symbols of power, the presidential palace, and the draped national flags.
Hollande has promised a return to a more subdued and dignified presidency and some commentators say that Sarkozy lost his re-election bid because people disliked his aggressive, American-style presidency; complete with jogging, photo ops and movie stars.
This official photo is meant to reflect the new normalcy. However, whether it succeeds or not depends upon the eye of the beholder. Check out the Photoshopped spoof image below and the critical comments by ordinary people writing to their local newspapers (a selection is below the image).
“This is not the picture of a President, this is a picture of a guy in a garden.”
“The garden is empty and helpless.”
“The Elyseé seems made of paste-board, the buildings pale and far, the flags of France and Europe overexposed, and faint.”
“Nobody recognizes the Elyseé, this photo could have been taken anywhere.”
“Hollande seems far, far away, as if lost in this garden.”
“I fall into the great void that surrounds our President, as he turns his back resolutely and nonchalantly on the minuscule flags.”
“Why the devil have one arm longer than 'other? And the right longer? (Is it) to ward off evil or just stress that, in life, having a long arm is a guarantee of success? What a joker this photographer is!”
“Presidential portrait? Ridiculous suit, looks pinched, drab colors, without grandeur.”
“I would have preferred a picture of a "normal" President in his library.”
This is the downside of a nation that loves photography: everyone’s a critic.