To celebrate the 80th birthday of the photographer, the gallery is happy to show a retrospective of his work.
With a passion for photography from an early age, Léon Herschtritt studied at the Ecole Nationale de la Photographie. Sent to Algeria to teach photography, Leon Herschtritt spent his days in idleness, but met Nicole, who became his wife, and photographed children in the streets of Algiers. With Les Gosses d’Algérie, his first series published in the magazine Réalités, he received in 1960 – at the age of 24! – the famous Prix Niépce from the Association Gens d’images. Back in Paris, he worked as a freelance photographer and Parisian correspondent for Camera Press Agency. He published his reportages and portraits of celebrities in magazines and joined the famous club of photography 30×40.
Through random friendships, meetings or commissions, the young Léon had breakfast with Jacques Prévert and his friends every Sunday, photographed Gainsbourg, Sartre or Jane Fonda, witnessed May 68 or documented the prostitution. With a deeply humanistic approach, an innate sense of composition and a true ethic, Léon Herschtritt photographed France of the sixties. The world was changing, between the market of the Halles and the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, between the mini-skirts and the Café de Flore, between the slums in La Courneuve and the Jardin du Luxembourg. In 1961, he went to Berlin to photograph the first Christmas of the Wall, a tragedy between illuminated Christmas trees and a snowman. In Africa, he went to document the end of the colonies for the photo library of the Ministry of Cooperation. In Paris, he took pictures in the streets and cafes, of children or celebrities …
At the beginning of the seventies, Léon and Nicole gave up the reportage and opened a cafe-restaurant which quickly became a meeting place for the photography community, with discussions, public slide shows, exhibitions … This bistrot, happily located near the sales room of Drouot, led them towards the collection of ancient photo equipment and old photographs. In 1993, pioneers of the photographic antiquity market, they opened a gallery at the flea market, then at the Paul Bert market and finally at Saint- Germain des Près, with their son Laurent.
Now retired, Léon Herschtritt came back to his treasure of negatives and contact sheets. Recently, thanks to exhibitions at the Rencontres d’Arles, at the BnF or at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône, we rediscovered his photographic work of a great sensibility, a gentle and straight glance in black and white on the sixties. [Text : Florence Pillet]
About Léon Herschtritt
Born in Paris in 1936, Léon Herschtritt became a photographer at the age of 20, after classical studies and a brief time at the Ecole nationale de photographie. In 1960, he was the youngest winner of the Prix Niépce, awarded by the association Gens d’images, for his story Les Gosses d’Algérie, made during his military service. He worked as a photojournalist for the press and became an independent reporter in 1962. He photographed his subjects all over the world with a humanistic and social approach. In 1963, he brought back several thousand images from a commissioned trip to Africa, exhibited at the Musée de l’Homme and integrated in the photographic library of the Ministry of Cooperation. In 1967, his work was included in the exhibition Tendance de la jeune photographie française at the Bibliothèque Nationale. In the late 60s, he worked as a filmmaker, and directed several documentaries for the cinema and television, and progressively abandoned his work as a photographer. From 1976 to 1993, he became an antiques dealer, expert in photography and old cameras and opened the first gallery devoted to photography in the Saint-Ouen flea market, which was then transferred in 1998 to the Saint Germain des Près district. In recent years, the photographer has been rediscovering his archives. His black and white documentaries, celebrity portraits and testimonies of the Paris in the 60s, the war in Algeria or the first Christmas of the Berlin Wall, have been the subject of numerous exhibitions, especially at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2009.