Self-portraits of Gisèle Freund

Self portrait of Gisèle Freund with Horst Shade in double exposure Paris 1929 © Gisèle Freund
Self-portrait of Gisèle Freund, with Horst Shade, in double exposure, Paris 1929
Black-and-white photograph; Fiber Base Silver Gelatine Print; white outline border


Self-portrait of Gisèle Freund in a mirror Paris 1935 © Gisèle Freund
Self-portrait of Gisèle Freund, in a mirror, Paris, 1935
Black-and-white photograph; Fiber Base Silver Gelatine Print; white outline border


Self-portrait, with camera, Mexico City, 1950 © Gisèle Freund
Self-portrait, with camera, Mexico City, 1950
Black-and-white photograph; Fiber Base Silver Gelatine Print; white outline border
Since the beginning of my career as a photographer, I have been enthusiastic about taking portraits. The enormous series of faces which paraded before me, and which I will never see again, has shown me that no two physiognomies are exactly alike.

I would have liked to devote myself to this inexhaustible panorama of the human face, but I would never have been able to earn my living at it without accepting the conventions of the period (which, incidentally, still apply today) – I mean the need for retouching, to beautify the model.

If you were able to make your clients resemble movie stars, the type of beauty that was in vogue, success was assured. Photographers who were reluctant to comply had no other choice but to photograph either their friends or else artists and writers, who are always open to new experiences.

But since these portraits didn’t pay anything, one had to turn to some other branch of the profession, such as photo reportage, to earn one’s living. That is what I did, while taking portraits for my own enjoyment.

For a writer, his portrait is the only link he can establish with his readers. When we read a book whose content moves us, we are interested to look at the author’s face, which is generally printed on the jacket since the publisher is aware of our wish to see if these features correspond to the idea we have formed of the author.

This image is thus very important to the man of letters. He prefers a photographer in whom he can have confidence. As a child, I grew up surrounded by artists, because my father was a great collector and invited many talented painters to our home.

But as an adult, it was literature that attracted me most, and naturally I gravitated toward writers. Many of them had confidence in me, becoming my friends and the favourite subject for my lens.

By Gisèle Freund, 1985

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