The Death of De Gaulle's Photographer
Jean-Marie Marcel le jour de la photographie officiel de De Gaulle 1958 © Jean Mainbourg / Rapho
The photographer Jean-Marie Marcel (b. 1917) has passed away in Paris at the age of 94. He was known for his official portrait of French president Charles de Gaulle, wearing civilian clothes and the Ordre de la Libération medal around his neck.
Marcel had already taken an early photograph of General de Gaulle during his 1946 referendum campaign. In that photograph he appeared in uniform, jutting out his martial chin, smoking a Player’s cigarette.
Jean Marie Marcel, the adopted son of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, participated at the beginning of World War II in a strange mission for which he toured France in a car, promoting Marshal Petain’s National Aid program. Jean-Marie was joined by writers and journalists like Jean Thévenot, Jean Delevèze, Pierre Meunier and Georges Charensol. In reality, at the beginning of a war, men hesitate to choose sides and end up working for both camps. This was especially the case for Marshal Petain’s photo department.
Jean-Marie Marcel had a studio on the Place Vendôme in Paris. He only retired from his craft in 2002, when he spoke to Michel Guerrin of Le Monde newspaper about his portrait of de Gaulle. “You don’t refuse a customer like that!” he said.
Marcel’s friend and assistant from the Rapho photo agency, Jean Mainbourg, elaborated:
“We were contacted by a member of his team. De Gaulle had to travel to America for a meeting and his chief of staff told us that the General didn’t have a passport. So we had to make an ID photo out of the picture from 1946! I told Jean-Marie, ‘We can’t ask him for money!’ So we had him come down. Jean-Marie had collaborated on the book Les maisons fugitives with Francois Mauriac in 1939. It didn’t sell that well and we had some lying around. We slipped in one of our business cards and gave it all to one of his assistants. Another time we had to take the first color shot of the General in his office for the magazine Jours de France.”
Jean-Marie Marcel took several portraits of international literary celebrities like André Gide, Colette, and of course his adoptive father.
He left photography to work in cinema and television. Apparently, no agency currently represents his photographs, although his wife conserves them with care.
La Lettre offers its condolences to Madame Marcel and her family.