François Kollar was born in Szenc, Hungary in 1904 (now the Slovakian town of Senec) and died in Créteil, France in 1979. He was first employed on the railways in his native country and then worked as a lathe operator at Renault’s Boulogne-Billancourt factory, before becoming a professional photographer at the age of 24 after gaining solid experience as a studio manager at the Parisian printer’s, Draeger. His in-depth knowledge of the world of work, in sectors as diverse as advertising, fashion, industry, handicrafts and agriculture, allowed him to portray tools, materials and gestures with exceptional professional expertise.
This retrospective features an ensemble of 130 vintage prints, some of which are previously unseen, as well as others from the photographer’s family’s bequest to the state. It puts Kollar’s work in the spotlight and shows how he managed to lift the veil on the working world in the 20th century.
As visitors discover the documentary, artistic and historical qualities of the material on show, they will be able to observe how individuals found their place in society by the means of their occupation and realise the profound changes that took place in industry between the 1930s and the 1960s.
In 1930 Kollar got married and set up his own studio in Paris. His wife, who was his first model, worked faithfully by his side throughout his life. He worked for advertising agencies and famous luxury brands and excelled in showcasing the qualities of his models, forms and fabrics thanks to his feeling for light and texture.
François Kollar worked with several fashion magazines, notably Harper‘s Bazaar for which, over the course of more than fifteen years, he produced many photographic series, particularly images shot on location. Whether he was photographing the period’s fashion celebrities (Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Pierre Balmain) or models and adverts for the major fashion houses (Hermès, Molyneux, Oméga, Christofle and Worth et Coty perfumes...), he experimented with a wide variety of modern photographic techniques, freely creating original compositions using backlighting, double exposures, overprinting and solarisation...
In 1930, after exhibiting at "Das Lichtbild", an international photography exhibition in Munich alongside Florence Henri, André Kertész, Germaine Krull and Ergy Landau, François Kollar received a major commission from a publishing company, Horizons de France entitled La France travail (1931-1934) that would establish his reputation as one of the period’s greatest industrial reporters.
During the war he refused to collaborate with the powers that be during the German occupation and left the public eye, moving with his wife and three children to the Poitou-Charentes region and only returning to photography in 1945 on his return to Paris. In the 1950s and 1960s, Kollar covered numerous industrial subjects in France and abroad.
The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume represents a contemporary take on François Kollar’s body of work, both in the light of historical context and through the analysis of the type of commissions he received his whole life long.
The first part of the exhibition features Kollar’s experimental period including self-portraits taken in his Parisian studio, as well as his work for advertising firms and the fashion industry. This section is made up of photos that reflect the spirit of the modern world he lived in and bear witness to Kollar’s desire to develop an experimental and expressive style of photography through an almost playful approach to his models, objects, lighting and composition. Detailed documentary resources enable visitors to understand the context of his advertising work and the photos for the blossoming illustrated magazine sector, which were published in L'Illustration, Vu, Voilà, Art et Médecine and Plaisir de France, amongst others.
The central part of the exhibition, devoted to La France travail (1931-1934), features vintage prints and slideshows, as well as archives and publications. This photographic commission constitutes a unique record of the world of work in the 1930s. Kollar photographed every sector of activity: industry, agriculture, aviation, handicrafts, as well as the automobile, maritime and railway industries. Men and women and their functions and roles in the production process are recurrent elements in François Kollar’s images. Published in the form of fifteen themed booklets, printed in photogravure by Editions Horizons de France, Kollar’s photographs were used to illustrate texts by popular authors from the period (Paul Valéry, Pierre Hamp, Lucien Favre...) dealing with the main professions in French industry.
The third part of the exhibition presents works by Kollar from the period following on from La France travail, notably fashion photography and commissions for industrial reporting assignments. Thanks to his reputation as a talented advertising photographer, François Kollar was much in demand for portrait work and he notably photographed Coco Chanel, Elisa Schiaparelli and the Duchess of Windsor. Although his collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar came to an end in 1955, Kollar continued to enjoy a successful career in industrial photography. Amongst his numerous photographic series, the Jeu de Paume has chosen to show in particular the 1951 commission from the French State for a report on French West Africa (now Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal), as well as a series of photos showing the workshops of the Union Aéromaritime de Transport. In this way, the exhibition highlights the transformations in the world of work during the 20th century and the place occupied by men and women at a time when the world was in a state of upheaval because of global conflicts, as well as in the midst of rebuilding itself.
Curators: Matthieu Rivallin, collections officer, Médiathèque de l‘architecture et du patrimoine, Paris; Pia Viewing, curator - researcher at the Jeu de Paume, Paris.
Exhibition produced by the Jeu de Paume,