Gérard Uféras “A Day in the Museum”
A Portrait by Anna Blume
“A Day in the Museum” was first shown this spring in the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow as part of the XI Moscow International Biennale “Fashion and Style in Photography”. The exhibition was curated by Olga Sviblova – the founder and director of MAMM – and was a great success with audiences and the press: over 80,000 visitors to the museum saw these photographs. Immediately after the opening of the exhibition, Gérard Uféras held a masterclass in the museum.
Gérard Uféras is one of the most important photographers in France today. He has been working with the newspaper Libération since 1984. His photographs, which are almost exclusively in black and white, are regularly published in renowned newspapers and magazines such as Le Monde, Time Magazine, The New York Times, L’Express, Beaux Arts Magazine, Madame Figaro, Paris Match, Corriere della Sera and The Independent Magazine. His pictures are represented in the most important collections including the National Gallery in London, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne and the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow. Gérard Uféras has been honored with the World Press Photo Award.
A Feeling for The Decisive Moment
Gérard Uféras possesses, to the most extraordinary degree, a feeling for the decisive moment, that instinct which prompted Cartier-Bresson to conjure up the expression “saisir l’instant décisif”.
Right at the beginning of his career he was given the opportunity to take photographs backstage in major fashion houses like Dior and Givenchy, documenting everyday life on an ongoing basis. It was here that he learned to capture dramatic scenes under conditions of extreme lighting.
Soon Gérard Uféras was given Carte Blanche to photograph behind the scenes in the Paris Opera, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. He accompanied the ballet company at La Scala for a whole year. The results of this intense work will soon appear as a volume of photographs.
Gérard Uféras started taking pictures when he was 8 years old, using his father’s cameras. At the age of 11 Gérard Uféras began to visit the museums of Paris regularly – and he has never stopped. Later he fulfilled his childhood dream and travelled to the most important museums in the world.
However, his career began – alongside photojournalism – with fashion photography, which quickly secured him international acclaim. Just like Hoyningen-Huene, Horst and Munkácsi, who worked for the most significant fashion magazines of the day, such as the French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. They all photographed the modern woman in austere elegance, of infinite grace, sensual and confident… yet enigmatic and mysterious.
Gérard Uféras’s photographs can be seen in exhibitions all around the globe: his books are published by renowned publishing houses such as Flammarion, Terre Bleue and Rizzoli Publications.
Uféras works within the tradition of the great French photographers and yet manages to remain unmistakably unique. He succeeds in captivating the observer while constantly coming up with surprises. Cartier-Bresson once remarked: “We are thieves, but we steal in order to give.” On top of this, the special feature of Uféras’s work is that his photographs are frequently full of humor and the comic aspect of the situation.
Willy Ronis, his mentor and friend, describes Uféras’s work with the words: « On voudrait employer un mot très fort, mais on n’ose pas, alors on dit qu’on est devant le grand mystère qui se nomme la Grâce. » (“You are tempted to use a very strong word, but you don’t dare to – so you say you are faced with the great mystery which is called grace.”)
Securing Evidence in Museums
Just as Eugène Atget created a detailed record of Paris during his strolls around the city at the dawn of the 20th century, Gérard Uféras secures evidence for his documentary account in museums. In this environment he renders himself virtually invisible. Thus he manages to create, from a great distance, astonishing observations with immense intimacy, capturing insights into the souls of the museum visitors which are at the same time deeply personal, humorous and striking. He possesses a very special instinct for the open gaze of children at great works of art – though he also shows them unimpressed, sometimes exhausted, playing with soft toys on the floor or a bench at a museum, or falling asleep. Here his images are of almost tender attentiveness. The museum becomes the stage of the human, the all too human. Gérard Uféras captures these moments to perfection, reclaiming the museum – which too often becomes a mausoleum – for the living present.
As a boy he used to think a photographer was only really a photographer when he took pictures of old ladies with their dogs. During the course of his career he has moved far away from this touching, naive impression – although his photographs make it easy to believe that the next moment an old lady and her dog will come round the corner of the museum.
Above: © Gérard Uféras, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2017