Tag Archives: Magnum

PICTO Paris

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Some time ago I received an email from Jean-Pierre Favreau, a gentleman from Paris who reads the blog, enquiring if I might put him in contact with George Fèvre, a man I knew from my days in Paris. George had been the master printer at PICTO, the venerable Parisian photo lab that handled Magnum’s film output. If you’ve seen a Cartier-Bresson or Koudelka print on exhibit somewhere, George probably printed it. In addition to being an amazing darkroom printer, George was a wonderful man. It turns out that Mr. Favreau had worked at PICTO with George many years ago. Unfortunately, I had to inform Mr. Favreau that George had died a few years ago. I asked Mr. Favreau if he would tell me of his time at PICTO and he kindly sent back a reply (and also a piece he wrote about first visiting NYC as a photographer in 1981 which I’ll someday get around to publishing as a separate piece). I’ve translated his reply from the French and have included it here below.

For some context: In January 1950, Pierre Gassmann opened PICTORIAL SERVICE in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, six enlargers arranged around a long tank tray.  Lucky him – his first clients were the founding members of Magnum Photos – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Chim, William Klein, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Edouard Boubat. The Magnum guys soon dubbed Gassmann’s lab “PICTO,” and Gassmann eventually embraced the name himself.

PICTO thereafter grew with the rapid development of press, fashion and advertising photography in the 50’s. In 1963 Edy Gassmann, son of Pierre, opened PICTO Montparnasse dedicated to color photography. With the help of Paulette Gassmann, his wife, he ultimately created multiple PICTO sites dedicated to specific services. PICTO Front de Seine opened in 1969 followed in 1984 by a high-end print workshop in Rue de Rennes. In 1985, Edy opened  PICTO Defense, one of the first European labs handling digital technology. in 1989, PICTO Bastille opened, dedicated to black and white and Fine Art photography.

041-petersphotoalbum2Pierre Gassmann and Peter Turnley at PICTO, 1983

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By Jean-Pierre Favreau

At the time I started working at PICTO I didn’t know that it was one of the most prestigious labs in the world. I was young and ignorant.  I had first arrived there in the mid-60’s, via Vavin Metro station, then onto the Boulevard Montparnasse, past the Dome and into Rue Delambre. A few steps later I arrived in front of a beautiful building where PICTO had recently moved.

I was met by George Smith. Mr. Smith was a charming man, smiling and polite. Very intimidated, I explained to him my situation – I’d like to work in his photo lab. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to do an internship in one of the labs to learn a bit and to see how I’d do, and then I would take a test the following week to see if I was skilled enough to work there. That day I met Cartier Bresson, Brassai, Boubat, Koudelka and Lartigue.  When I think back on it now I’m astonished that I worked with greats like them.

Luckily, I passed my test. George then introduced me to Pierre Gassmann, founder of PICTO , himself a great photographer. Mr. Gassmann hired me; I suspect it was actually a favor because he did not really need anyone else.

It was then that I met George Fèvre. George was the great PICTO printer. It was the golden age of PICTO, daily servicing 15-20 Magnum and other Black and White shooters,  without counting the night service. We worked like crazy. Often Mr. Gassmann, after periods of great activity, especially the fashion shows which lasted a week, would take us all out to dinner at La Rotonde or La Coupole. Those were fun times.

A famous negative. Those are George Fevre’s fingers.

PICTO eventually launched three other labs in Paris, and I eventually moved on to different things. Today, after the invasion of digital, it only has one lab dedicated to traditional silver halide processing and printing.

I ran across George Fèvre again only a few years ago. George always had this kindness and a warm smile in his eyes. He told me he was thinking of opening his own lab and seeing my satisfaction, offered me a job, which astonished me – his typical generosity . But travelling as frequently as I was at the time, we never again met up and I heard no more about George. On learning of his death, I was seized with a great sadness and blamed myself for not visiting him more often.  We often forget that the people who’ve helped us the most, and have been influential in our lives, may one day disappear. I would have loved to see him again, to talk about those good years and the famous negatives that passed through his hands, from which he created iconic prints with his incredible skill. I will miss him.

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How to Become a Photographer

Following is a letter written by Magnum photographer Sergio Larrain in 1982 to his nephew, who had asked Larrain for advice on how to become a photographer:

First and foremost, find a camera that fits you well, one that you like, because it’s about feeling comfortable with what you have in your hands: the equipment is key to any profession, and it should have nothing more than the strictly necessary features.

Act like you’re going on an adventure, like a sailing a boat: drop the sails. Go to Valparaiso or Chiloè, be in the street all day long, wander and wander in unknown places, sit under a tree when you’re tired, buy a banana or some bread and get on the first train, go wherever you like, and look, draw a bit,  look. Get away from the things you know, get closer to those you don’t know, go from one place to the other, places you like. Then, you’ll start finding things, images will be forming into your head, consider them as apparitions.

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\When you get back home, develop, print and start looking at what you’ve done, all of  the fish you’ve caught. Print your photos and tape them to a wall. Look at them. Play around with the L, cropping and framing, and you will learn about composition and geometry. Enlarge what you frame and leave it on the wall. By looking, you will learn to see. When you agree that a photograph is not good, throw it out. Tape the best ones higher on the wall, and eventually look at those only (keeping the not-so-good one gets you used to not-so-goodness). Save the good ones, but throw everything else away, because the psyche retains everything you keep.

Then use your time to do other things, and don’t worry about it. Start studying the work of others and looking for something good in whatever comes into your hands: books, magazines, etc. and keep the best ones, and cut them out if you can, keep the good things and tape them to the wall next to yours, and if you can’t cut them out, open the book or magazine at the good pages and leave it open. Leave it there for weeks, months, until it speaks to you: it takes time to see, but the secret will slowly reveal itself, and eventually you will see what is good and the essence of everything.

Go on with your life, draw a bit, take a walk, but don’t force yourself to take photographs: this kills the poetry, the life in it gets sick. It would be like forcing love or a friendship: you can’t do it. Take a new journey: go to Porto Aguire, ride down the Baker to the storms in Aysén; Valparaiso is always beautiful, get lost in the magic, get lost for days up and down its slopes and streets, sleep in a sleeping bag, soak in reality – like a swimmer in the water – and let nothing conventional distract you.

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Let your feet guide you, slowly, as if you were cured by the pleasure of looking, humming, and what you will see you will start photographing more carefully, and you will learn about composition and framing, you will do it with your camera, and your net will be filled with fish when you arrive home. Learn about focus, aperture, close-ups, saturation, shutter speed. Learn how to play with your camera and its possibilities. Collect poetry (yours and that of others), keep everything good you can find, even that done by others. Make a collection of good things: like a small museum in a folder.

Photograph the way you like it. Don’t believe in anything but your taste, you are life and it’s life that chooses… You are the only criterion. Keep learning. When you have some good photos, enlarge them, make a small exhibition or put them in a book and have it bound. Showing your photographs will make you realize what they are, but you will understand only when you will see them in front of others. Making an exhibition is giving something, like giving food, it’s good that others are shown something done with seriousness and joy. It’s not bragging, it’s good for you because it gives you feedback.

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That’s enough to start. It’s about vagabonding, sitting down under a tree anywhere. It’s about wandering in the universe by yourself: you will start looking again. The conventional world puts a veil over your eyes, it’s a matter of taking it off during your time as a photographer.

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