French photographer and cinematographer of Romanian origin, Eli Lotar (Eliazar Lotar Teodorescu) arrived in France in 1924. Close to Germaine Krull —Lotar worked as her apprentice for a time,— his work was published in most of the avant-garde publications of the time, and featured in several major international photography exhibitions (Fotographie der Gegenwart, Fifo, Salon de l’Araignée, etc.).
His famous series on the abattoirs of La Villette (Paris) captivated the Surrealists, particularly the iconic Georges Bataille who would publish the series in the review, Documents. An associate of Jacques André Boiffard, a collaborator of Roger Vitrac, Antonin Artaud and the Prévert brothers, a friend of Alberto Giacometti, and head of the photographic service of the Association des écrivains et artistes révolutionnaires (Association of Revolutionary Artists and Writers), Eli Lotar has left behind an impressive body of work, characterized by its audacity, inventiveness and his political activism during the interwar period.
The Eli Lotar Retrospective at the Jeu de Paume allows visitors to discover the scope of his work, from his contribution to Modernism to his social and political activism, as well as his connections to the Surrealist Movement.
The first part of the exhibition is devoted to Eli Lotar’s early career and features a selection of images that demonstrate his contribution to the Modernist vocabulary. These images, emblematic of the time and representative of the New Vision Movement that developed in Europe towards the late 1920s, illustrate a fascination for the aesthetics of the machine, where the radical style of framing can be seen to transform real objects into graphic abstractions.
The exhibition continues with an exploration of the connections between Eli Lotar’s work and the Surrealist Movement, although he was never an official member of the group. His oneiric vision of the city, and his collages made up of images of fantastical urban landscapes demonstrate his affinity for this famous avant-garde movement.
The socio-political consciousness that underlay Eli Lotar’s work throughout his career is the focus of the third part of the exhibition. From his photographs of workers in the Zuydersee, shot during the making of the eponymously-titled film by Joris Ivens, to his bleak vision of the depressed Las Hurdes region produced in the company of Luis Buñuel, to his last film on the slums of Aubervilliers, Eli Lotar is a photographer and cinematographer for whom the conditions of the underprivileged were an important, albeit unfortunate feature of the European socio-political landscape of the 1930s. This section is devoted to the socio-political film and photographic work undertaken by the artist, and culminates in the presentation of his photographs of the Spanish Frente Popolare (1936).
Finally, the exhibition positions the photographer in his intellectual and artistic milieu, with notably the accounts of his travels, for example to Greece, in the company of Roger Vitrac, as well as his portraits of the Surrealists, and figures from the world of cinema and theatre. Some of his most memorable collaborations include his photography and collages for the brochure for Roger Vitrac and Antonin Artaud’s Théâtre Alfred Jarry in 1930. An ensemble of photographs of Alberto Giacometti’s studio, as well as a late bust of Eli Lotar created by the sculptor, attest to their friendship and numerous collaborations between 1940 and 1965.
This retrospective attempts to present in a thematic exhibition, the role of this key actor in Modernist photography. Publications from the time (L’Art Vivant, Arts et métiers graphiques, Jazz, Bifur) featuring Lotar’s work are on display, in addition to some 120 vintage prints taken from fifteen or so international collections. Visitors can appreciate the various facets of an œuvre by an artist who was not only a key player in the photographic avant-garde but a politically-engaged documentary-maker.
With this exhibition, the Jeu de Paume continues its presentation of the key players from this unusual period of European history. Eli Lotar’s contribution to Modernism has benefited from a belated recognition. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that a first retrospective was devoted to the artist’s work at the Centre Pompidou. Since then, greater research into the fields of Surrealism and interwar photography, as well as cinema, has allowed experts and the public alike to consider Lotar’s work in a new light.
This exhibition was produced by the Jeu de Paume and the Centre Pompidou/MNAM and includes work from the photographic archives of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, as well as vintage prints from international institutions and collections.