Towards photo-reportage (1843-1933)

From October 16th, 2007 to January 06th, 2008 -
Musée d'Orsay
Esplanade Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
75007 Paris
Map & itinerary
Peter Henry Emerson-Dans l'atelier de voilerie
Peter Henry Emerson
In a Sail Loft, en 1890
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
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The theme of this temporary exhibition is social reportage and its beginnings. It shows how photographers through the 19th century viewed factory workers, artisans, farm labourers, the poor and the dispossessed, and even communities barely touched by western civilisation.

The word "reporter", used for an investigative journalist, came into the French language at the beginning of the 19th century, with the rapidly developing newspaper industry. Photographic reporting had really existed since the invention of photography on paper at the beginning of the 1840s, but it was limited to a relatively small circle. It was to develop in the 20th century with the improvement in cameras and the boom in illustrated magazines, but it had to wait until the simultaneous printing of photographs and text could finally be produced on a large scale.

It was after the events of 1848 that the "common people" attained "historic dignity", to use Professor Robert Herbert’s expression, and became a favourite theme for philosophers, writers and painters, even before politicians took an interest. Photographers naturally followed close behind.

The prints in this exhibition are from different periods and taken in very different conditions. There are artists’ exercises like the series on the fishermen of New Haven, taken in 1843 by Hill and Adamson; there are Napoleon III’s officially commissioned photographs – of the building of a hospice for construction workers who had suffered injuries at work, and of the Rhône floods – as well as genuine sociological studies like the photo-reportage on the Jewish communities in Poland, undertaken in 1919 at the request of a charitable organisation.
These photographs assert the existence of the new heroes as surely as the works of Daumier, Courbet, Millet and Doré. Although they were initially seen as representatives of a class, by the beginning of the 20th century they had acquired the status of individuals in their own right.

The exhibition is now over.

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Detailed presentation of the exhibition