19 March 2012

An amateur art: the photographs of Emile Zola




EMILE ZOLA. A Restaurant, Taken from the First Floor
or Staircase of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1900.













Emile Zola (1840-1902) learned the rudiments of photography in 1888 from Victor Billaud, a newspaper editor in Royan during a vacation period at the sea side locality, in the Atlantic coast of France. After the completion of his cycle of novels titled The Rougon-Macquart in 1894, Zola dedicated himself fully to photography as a devoted amateur with a quasi-professional zeal and knowledge of photographic technique. He developed his own negatives and made enlargements as well as duly recorded experiments with materials and methods. His photographs document the artist’s private environment, his travels, family life, friends and his interest in all things modern as a witness to a changing world and to the developments of modern culture and of modern life.

Photography is not a central subject in his literary works, and yet his late dedication to photography can be seen as an integral part of the artistic vision and sensibility of the great master of French literature in the early developments of modernity. Zola, the acute observer of the world and of human condition, the master of literary description (a central element to his literary style and method) was also an original, confident and committed photographer who produced around seven thousand plates (of which only a few hundred have survived): images of the man and the artist, at the same time reflecting and being reflected by the times.

Marcelo Guimaraes Lima

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