Tribute to Martine Franck: Lucien Clergue
A Great Woman Has Left Us
This is a tribute to a great woman, not just in photography but in life.
Martine was 74 when she left us. Only the illness that had weakened her in recent years had reminded us of her age, so young she was at heart, seeing the world with eyes wide open. She lived in the illustrious shadow of Henri Cartier-Bresson without being ever forgotten. She was always on the go! She was absent from Henri’s 85th birthday in Cereste, where they had taken refuge years before—she was on assignment taking pictures in Tibet, I think, and I had to ask their daughter Mélanie’s permission to take a souvenir photo of Henry blowing out the candles. ‘Yes, but only one!’ I took two just in case.
I had met her in Lubéron, a region she had celebrated with a book, and we had exhibited together in Reillanne, where we sometimes met at the Sunday market. I would see her behind the scenes at the Festival d’Avignon at the plays put on by her dear friend Ariane Mnouchkine, and at the Rencontres d’Arles where HCB refused to attend a conference on photographer’s rights—a conference that Henri himself had asked me to organize. She was pulling on his sleeve, saying, ‘Henri, let’s stay, we’ll find somewhere to sleep.”
That was in 1973, and I was taking my driver’s license test at the same time. I failed it but both of them were present for a memorable conference.
That was already forty years ago!
When I was elected to the Academy I dreamed (and still dream) of creating to extra chairs for photography. I thought of Martine, of course, but she was Belgian, born in Antwerp on April 2, 1938, and French nationality was required! She was a citizen of the world. She had seen it all, photographing the rich and poor.
One name bound us together: Gjon Mili. Martine was working as his assistant when I asked Mili to help me when I was starting out. Such is the world of photography, where we rub shoulders with our elders. But there was something timeless about Martine with her haunting, soothing, protective voice; her sincere way of looking at others and the landscape, a purity like dewdrops on the petals of her rose garden. Those dewdrops have become tears upon our orphaned cheeks, tears for the Great Woman that Death has dared take away from us.
Vice President of the Académie des Beaux Arts
Text written for Huffington Post