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Martine Franck, a time to talk

27/09/2020 in Portraits
“A photo is a fragment of time which is lost forever”, according to photographer and anthropologist Martine Franck. One of her most famous images is the photo of a resident at the hospice in Ivry Sur Seine. Here, the old lady imitates the photographer, peering through a finger and thumb curled round to form a lens. This photo is from the collection titled Le Temps de Vieillir, published by Filipacchi-Denoël in 1980, in which she captures subjects from all social classes as their lives slowly wind down. Before she released this book, the artist had spent some twenty years travelling the world to meet and shoot its various peoples.

“I’ll always choose people first.” Franck’s very first Leica helped her overcome her shyness, and her world tour took precedence over finishing her studies at the Sorbonne. In Japan, she met her old friend Ariane Mnouchkine, the director and founder of the Théatre du Soleil. Together, they crossed Asia in search of other cultures, traditions and faces. It was in Nepal that Martine Franck was seized by the desire to photograph everything she saw. Indeed, it was this trip which marked the start of her journey into black and white photography. She would never tire of this country (and Tibet), to which she would return and continue to embrace its people’s causes.

Until then, the young woman returned to Paris, where she trained as a photographer and met the photo-journalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, with whom she would live until his death in 2004. Each had their own style, and each sought to capture, document and witness what’s going on in the world. These reports were often illustrated by portraits for Martine Franck. “When you’re in contact with human beings and want to capture them on film, it’s important to try and forget yourself and really listen to what they have to say... A portrait - of anyone, man or woman - always begins with a conversation.” And, while she has also been called in to immortalise celebrities, it’s her photos of the anonymous which provide richness and depth to her sensitive, forward-thinking opus.

After she published Le Temps de Vieillir, Martine Franck was called by Les Petits Frères des Pauvres to cover their work with the poor. And alongside her photo-journalism around the world for her agency clients (Vu, Viva, Magnum and more), she spent the rest of her time on social issues such as the condition of women, oppressed people and immigrants (legal and otherwise) with a sense of tact and dignity which contrasts with the voyeurism of social and other media today. “Not everything should be captured”, reflects Franck, a humanist, who passed in 2012 at the age of 74. “There are times when suffering and decline stay your hand... Photography tends to show rather than tell, and cannot explain why things are as they are”.
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard 
Photos: Phototrend Martine Franck 
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