Was at the Photo Review‘s annual garden party near Lancaster, PA a couple weeks ago. It was a low-key affair in the country with a marvelous spread, great South African wine, informal portfolio viewings of passionate and talented artists, and accompanied by the sounds of a great jazz band. I was admiring a selection of black and white monographs printed by a publishing company on display, and was joined by a dapper man of a certain age, French in dress in accent, i.e. nattily dressed and well-spoken. I looked through about twenty monographs, more often than not, black and white photographs of predictable landscapes by famous names, and finally, i could restrain myself no longer. I looked at the man and said, “But there’s nothing really surprising in any of this is there?” And he replied, “No, you’re right, there isn’t.” It just seemed such a shame to have such beautiful reproduction and then have the same material, more or less, reproduced over and over again. And while there is certainly a place for this type of work (restaurant walls, living room walls, in the collection of any collector
with no imagination), it just seemed like complete redundancy.
So we began a conversation and it turned out that Henri Dauman was a photojournalist from back in the heyday of pj. He covered and made famous photographs of famous people for the usual suspects: Life, The New York Times, Town and Country, but the pictures which speak to me most are his everyday scenes, like Long Island teenagers or sunbathers on a deck, New Yorkers crowding on a roof top. It’s a shame that online his work represented by miniscule pictures on his website, where one cannot bask in the full glory of 11×14 fiber, but such is life.
He helped save Brassai’s collection from obscurity, befriending his fellow Parisian and helping to catalogue the work. And what struck me the most about him, was that unlike many with a few years to their back and more magazine covers under their belt, he did not feel the need to impress his superiority or achievements on us, nor did he wallow in the bitterness that confounds regarding the state of the industry – the death of photojournalism etc. etc. Henri was clearly living in the present and savoring meeting new people, appreciative that they might be familiar with his work, but more interested in conversations directed elsewhere. He was someone who I knew instantly I would enjoy spending time with, not someone who wanted to cultivate a sycophantic following, but a man interested in something besides himself and his legacy. It didn’t hurt that he was a charming flirt as well.