Corbu According to Hervé
It is said that when they met for the first time in 1949, an astonished Le Corbusier asked the former painter Lucien Hervé, how he had gotten into photography. “With scissors,” responded the artist tersely. The laws of architecture photography carried no weight for him anyway: In the pictures by Hervé, who was born in Hungary in 1910 as László Elkán and died in Paris in 2007, the buildings appear to be tumbling down onto the images, and extreme contrasts and perspectives dominate in such a way that without exact knowledge of the building in question it would seem impossible to attribute it. But most notably he cropped his photos again and again until they – as he explained – “no longer contained any meaningless elements.”
At times abstract in their effect, photographic works by Hervé, who scraped through in Paris firstly as a designer for Jean Patou and then as a journalist and painter, must have met with Corbusier’s approval. For Hervé spent 16 years accompanying the architect to construction sites, photographing finished building complexes and, on occasion at least, the master himself during his business meetings with construction workers, some of which he even held in his own apartment. Hervé thought little of the equipment commonly used in architecture photography such as distortion-free objectives and tripods. He mostly opted for a manageable Rolleiflex 6 x 6, which enabled him to capture spontaneous images.
An opulent photobook will now document the collaborative work of the two self-taught experts. And that is not all. The book provides insights into the creative process behind the photographer’s works who was visibly impressed by Soviet constructivists and whose works shape our notions of buildings and interiors by the late Corbusier even today. From time to time, the ruthless edits and cuts, which preceded the photographs to be published, can even be reconstructed. The book can be considered a workshop report.
For each project – for Unité d’habitation in Marseille for example, or the government buildings in Chandigarh – Hervé produced hundreds of images. He then attached a selection of them to brightly-colored cardboards – mostly 21 x 30 centimeters in size. 184 of these work boards can now be seen in this elaborately designed book; reproduced in their original format on full pages from cover to cover. At first glance, they look like contact sheets. Upon closer inspection it becomes clear that these images on the cardboard are in fact down-scaled and had already been subject to Hervé’s radical edits. Corbusier was then able to use the boards, 1200 in total, for making his selections; and Hervé for further proofing. Reduced to details and contrast, arranged and cut like collages – in Hervé’s photos Corbusier’s buildings are virtually reborn and this was something for which the master thanked his maverick exponent. “He called me Dr. Caligari,” recalled Hervé long after Corbusier’s death, “because I was able to show him what he had not yet seen himself.”
Le Corbusier / Lucien Hervé (Ed.)
Le Corbusier & Lucien Hervé: A Dialogue Between Architect and Photographer
Getty, Los Angeles