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To Heaven.

Photographs by François Gabriel.
INNOCENCES, 2020. 200 pp., 7¾x8¾".

Publisher's Description

Unique, limited edition — 200 numbered copies.

The early 20th century saw the development of the profession of the strolling or itinerant photographer, in cities, seaside and spa resorts, and tourist sites. Although these pictures, sometimes ‘while you wait’ jobs made to satisfy demand as quickly as possible, might betray awkward framing and technical flaws, that didn’t prevent clients from buying them; the pictures still testified to their subjects’ presence and a moment of lived experience. Thus they are essential to the history of photographic practice and the constitution of what came to be called vernacular photography, allowing photographs of oneself to be distributed in contemporary society.

What made François Gabriel unique was the protocol he established on the stairs of the rue Muller. For some thirty years, he operated only a few metres from his studio and home. For this strolling photographer did not stroll far. He chose a set territory, a place that he appropriated over time. That is the secret of his work’s originality: his obsession for the space just outside his door.

His photographic arrangements would not change; his darkroom remained absolutely the same throughout his professional life. He positioned himself at the bottom of the stairs in order to take group photographs of tourists who had come to visit the Butte and were coming back down from it.

Nonetheless, François Gabriel is a representative of his generation, an emblematic figure of the itinerant photography of the era. The rigour of his work leaves a unique testimony to the importance of street photography and the souvenir card in the first through the middle years of the 20th century. He addresses better than any other the question of seriality in photography and the documentary image. And his obsessive practice establishes him as a profoundly singular character in the history of photography.

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