Photographies à l’œuvre / Photographers and Buildings The reconstruction of French towns after the war (1945-1958)

Paul Harlé, Pierre Mourier, Henri Salesse

Guillemette Lorin; circulationexpos@jeudepaume.org

from 09/2012

Didier Mouchel, Daniel Coutelier, David Benassayag

Exhibition organised by Jeu de Paume in collaboration with the City of Tours and in partnership with Pôle Image Haute-Normandie, Le Point du Jour - Centre d'Art Éditeur and the Ministry of the Environment, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing

The photography unit organised within the Ministry for Reconstruction and Urban Development (MRU) as early as 1945 worked for the information department to document the ministry’s activities. Taken between 1945 and 1958 – that is, from beginning to end of the Fourth Republic –, this unit took over 33,000 photographs reflecting the political and strategic concerns of this administration in charge of rebuilding the country after the Second World War. The recent rediscovery of the MRU collection by historians of photography has made it possible to sketch out the history of the photography service and its agents. As a result, simple “technical verifiers of construction” such as Henri Salesse are gradually emerging from their anonymity as the salaried photographers of a public administration.


This exhibition gives pride of place to two particular ensembles: the experimental workshops run by the ministry in Orléans and Noisy-le-Sec as of 1945, and the photographic surveys carried out between 1951 and 1953 by Henri Salesse at the behest of the MRU office concerned with insalubrious housing. Conducted in Rouen, Petit-Quevilly, Le Chambon-Feugerolles and Montreuil, these reports considered not only the degraded habitat, as agents of the MRU photography unit usually did, but also looked in a new way at the interiors of the buildings and the living conditions of their inhabitants. This unusual feature is due to the fact that these reports were produced alongside investigations sponsored by the MRU and conducted by researchers in what, for France, was the new discipline of urban sociology.


This selection brings out the qualities often overlooked in this body of photography commissioned by the state and considered as “grey” because of its essentially documentary function. The photographers of the MRU who did not lay claim to author status or seek to break free of the administration’s guidelines reflect a historical aspect of the use of photography that has long been neglected. We are now in a position to be able to appreciate their photographs without having to distinguish between visual quality and information content.