I lived in France from 1976 to 1980. While there I had been covering the Socialist Party and when François Mitterrand decided to be a candidate again for the presidential elections I wrote him a letter with a project to document his campaign from the inside, with total access to his private and political activities.
I appealed to his sense of his place in history and the importance of preserving those moments for future generations. To my surprise ( why would he accept such an idea from an Argentinian photographer ? ), he said yes and so began an intense period of daily contact during the one month long campaign that culminated in his election as the first socialist president of France.
That also resulted in other stories I covered with him: his first year in power, several trips to different countries and finally his last week in power before ending his 14 year period as French president. When he died I wrote an article for Clarin, an argentine newspaper, in which I tried to convey part of that experience and express my feelings towards him and my photography. This is that text.
Regarding François Mitterrand’s death
Seeing it at a distance I should have expected it. He had allowed me to accompany him during the campaign that led him to the French presidency. And then he trapped me in the spider’s web of his machinations and I became a prisoner of his generosity.
He let me approach him when he wanted and other times he accepted my presence but not the photographic act. In a dialogue that went from 1977 to 1995 the intermediary had always been the lens of my camera. He gave me incredible moments, small intimate gestures and situations of political combat.
Above all he was always the choreographer and I could only dance to the sound of the image he had of himself. His brain seemed to function on two parallel pathways: one was occupied on the daily trifles and the other on bending France’s destiny according to the road he had chosen. In reality he flew above us simple mortals while he was handling invisible levers that nobody could perceive.
He was a solitary man, a great charmer that hid his born timidity in the curlicues of language. When I encountered him again in May 1995 to photograph his last days as President his first words where “thank you” and immediately “ have pity of my face”, sick as he was already then.
In his last trip to Moscow to celebrate with other heads of state 50 years of the end of WWII I saw him trying to build up strength from nothingness. Photographers cherish all their images. Those that François Mitterrand gave me as presents are among my favorites. And that’s why I also say to him: thank you !
About Diego Goldberg
Photojournalist since 1974 his work is represented by Corbis. He has lived in Paris and New York for several years and is presently living in Buenos Aires. As a photojournalist he has travelled all over the world, covering stories as diverse as the Pope’s trips, the Nicaraguan revolution, President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel, the Malvinas war or the research on the artificial heart. He was President Mitterrand’s personal photographer during the 1980 presidential campaign. He photographed, in exclusive sessions, Presidents Reagan, De la Madrid, Mitterrand, Collor de Mello, Menem
His work has appeared regularly on all major publications: Time, Newsweek, Life, New York Times Magazine, Paris-Match, L’Express, Figaro Magazine, Le Point, Stern, Bunte, Epoca, Panorama, Gente, Cambio 16, London Sunday Times, The Observer, among many others. [Official Website]
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