Exposition de l'AEAR–Documents de la vie sociale at Galerie de la Pléiade

  • The Association des écrivains et artistes révolutionnaires (Association of revolutionary writers and artists, or AEAR)—modeled on the Moscow-based International Union of Revolutionary Writers—was formed in 1932 under the auspices of the Communist Party in France. Eli Lotar was general secretary of the photographic division, in which were inscribed many prominent photographers active in Paris, including Jacques-André Boiffard, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Roger Parry, Man Ray, and, for a time, Claude Cahun, although she was listed in the division of writers. (Similarly, Jean Painlevé was a member, but in the film division). The photographic section put on the exhibition Documents de la vie sociale (Documents of social life) in Paris in June 1935, at the Galerie de la Pléiade. It served as a manifesto of sorts, pinning the association’s position squarely on social realism and socialist propaganda and spurning all traces of the New Vision movement and Surrealism.

    The exhibit had two parts: a gallery of artistic photographs treating social subjects and another space devoted to committed photojournalism, which was filled with reportages of the sort seen in the Communist papers L’Humanité and Regards. Prints by Brassaï, Parry, Kertész, and (probably) Cartier-Bresson were exhibited in the first part; each condensed an idea or a story, exemplifying the plight of the destitute or the poor worker, for instance, into a single, arresting instant. The second part consisted of photographs documenting the fight against fascism in the streets of Vienna and in Spain, Cuba, and Germany. There were several montaged displays, including one using images of Hamburg by Albert Renger-Patzsch. To underline the combative, left-wing political stance of the group, the exhibition had as a coda a display of photographs of the radical republican uprising known as the Paris Commune, which helped topple Napoleon III’s Second Empire in 1871.

    —Maria Morris Hambourg

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