Solange Brand, directrice artistique du Monde diplomatique de 1980 à 2004

A lire sur le site de Marine Cabos consacré à la photographie

Solange Brandt, © Solange Brand.

“Ces images ne sont pas des reportages journalistiques sur la Révolution Culturelle. Je les ai prises lorsque j’avais dix-neuf ans et que je travaillais en tant que secrétaire à l’ambassade Française entre 1965 et 1968. Je découvrais alors la Chine.” Cette phrase déclarée par Solange Brand (né à Paris en 1946) résume l’approche des photographies ci-dessus. Dénuées de tout commentaire critique, les photographies de Brand relèvent davantage du registre du “mémento personnel d’un moment”. Elle saisit les visages inspirés des personnes, les rassemblements de foule, ainsi que la production culturelle liée à ce mouvement qui a marqué l’histoire de la Chine. Dissimulées pendant plus de quarante ans dans des boîtes, ces images offrent aujourd’hui un rare témoignage en couleur de la Révolution Culturelle. Ses impressions Agfacolor dénotent avec l’imagerie noir et blanc dominante dans la presse de l’époque.

© Solange Brand.

© Solange Brand.

What’s left of photographic archives depicting important events in Chinese history? Many voices would agree: not much. China experienced a dramatic loss of artefacts because of over a hundred years of political and social turmoil. The successive wars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – cumulated with the decade of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) – forced people to destroy family records, and led to the dispersion of many images abroad when they were the property of expatriates.

The photographs taken in the late 1960s by the French Solange Brand (born in 1946 in Paris) provide rare informal views of the Cultural Revolution, which was a period of political upheaval launched by Mao Zedong to encourage a return to revolutionary attitudes. ­One of the reasons why Brand’s snapshots are particularly significant is because eye-witness accounts of this period are rare. Most of the materials have disappeared and those left to us remain mostly black and white photographs produced by Western photojournalists or color propaganda pictures made by Chinese official photographers. Brand took these images when she was only nineteen, working as a secretary at the French Embassy, and discovering China after being recruited in high school. During her stay in Beijing between 1965 and 1968, she had the opportunity to visit Datong, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. Back to France, Brand pursued her interest in images by working as an art director at the French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique between 1980 and 2004.

Today she has preserved several hundreds of photographs (diafilms) – including four hundred that she has digitized – sound recordings, personal notes and letters. In addition to her personal archive, Brand has been also collecting films and photographs that belonged to close friends. In that sense, accumulating and transmitting as much as possible a variety of memories of a bygone China has been central to her endeavours.

Her unique coloured photographs have already gained international recognition. Her photographs have been shown around the world, including at the Pingyao International Photography Festival (2002), the Beijing Danshanzi International Art Festival (2006), the Etnografiska Museum in Stockholm (2008), the 6th Promenades Photographiques in Vendôme (2010), the Robert Klein Gallery@Ars Libri in Bostonand, and the French Cultural Center in Hamburg (2016) amongst other venues. Her book Pékin 1966: Petites Histoires De La Révolution Culturelle (published in 2005) received a special mention from the jury of the 2005 Nadar Prize, and has been translated in Japanese and Chinese (2015). The book was also described in Martin Parr’s authoritative The Chinese Photobook as one of the key photo-books that chronicle the historical episode of the Cultural Revolution. Through her exceptional personality, Brand invites us to rethink our vision of Chinese history through a variety of visual stories.

Read more on Photography of China

See also : Photography Friday: Interview, Solange Brand, former Art Director at ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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