Collection Spotlight: Gérald Bloncourt

Gérald Bloncourt 2004 / © Louis Monier / Bridgeman Images

Bridgeman Images is proud to represent the collection of Haitian artist Gérald Bloncourt (November 4, 1926 - October 29, 2018). Bloncourt was a Haitian photographer, painter and activist born in 1926 in the small town of Bainet in the Southeast section of Haiti. Gérald began painting in his youth, and in the mid-1940s - when he was only 17 - was one of the founders of the Haiti Art Center, which offered space for exhibition and training for local artists. The Center has now been pursuing this mission for 80 years.

Live Free Or Die - revolt of the slaves in Haiti in 1804 / © Gérald Bloncourt / Bridgeman Images

Bloncourt is known around the world for his social and realistic photography. A photojournalist, he wanted to denounce injustice through his photos. He traveled France and the world, recording with passion the daily life and struggles of exploited peoples, immigrants, factory workers, miners and slum dwellers. By train or on foot he followed the route of immigrants, from French slums to the villages from which they left - in Portugal in particular. An immigrant himself, he followed other immigrants to show what they were experiencing from day to day.

Slum, 1971 (b/w photo) / © Gérald Bloncourt / Bridgeman Images

In the 1940s, Bloncourt took part in Haiti with other young artists and poets in the creation of a newspaper - La Ruche (Bee Have) which in 1946 published an editorial calling for democracy in the face of "oppression" from the post-war government of Elie Lescot. For playing a central role in the 1946 revolution in Haiti, after weeks of protests, he was expelled from his country for anti-government behavior and exiled to France in 1946.

Child of Paris / © Gérald Bloncourt / Bridgeman Images

When he arrived in Paris, he found a job in a photography shop, then became a photo reporter for the Communist Party newspaper L'Humanité. He photographed strikes, demonstrations and factories - among other subjects.
During several trips to the USSR in the 1950s and 1960s, he became interested in ordinary people showing everyday Soviet life, outside of major protests and the world of work: women farmers dragging a child in a sled, domino players and chess in a public park, and even an elderly man in Moscow riding roller skates on a busy street. In his photography, he felt the true USSR came to life - far from the clichés usually shown.

Strike in Longwy / © Gerald Bloncourt / Bridgeman Images

In May 1968, Gérald Bloncourt followed the great strike at the Renault automobile factories in Boulogne-Billancourt and lived with the workers in the occupied factory. In 1979, he photographed the major struggles that followed the collapse of the steel factories in Longwy, an industrial town on the Franco-Belgian-Luxembourg border. Bloncourt's photographs show the diversity of the striking workers, capturing their smiles and the camaraderie between them.
Over the following decades, he continued his activism, against the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, alongside workers in France and Europe, Sahrawis at war in the desert, earthquake victims in Naples, Italy -- recounting stories of struggle, pain, dignity and happiness.

Lovers in black and white / © Gérald Bloncourt / Bridgeman Images

Along with photography, he never stopped expressing his emotions through painting and poetry. In 1986, after 40 years of exile, he returned to his country Haiti, and until his death would travel back and forth between Paris and his native island. In 2013, during an exhibition of his work, he said: "I wanted to use my photos as a weapon to change the world". The little girl holding her doll in a shanty town on the outskirts of Paris - who was photographed as a child and whom he found 40 years later had become a teacher - is the focal point of one of his most unforgettable images.

Gérald Bloncourt died on October 29, 2018 at the age of 91. His legacy in the worlds of photography and painting remains a symbol of how art can be used to actively protest and push for change.

 

Click here to see our complete selection of Gérald Bloncourt images.


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