Citroën and photography, better and for Delpire

A few days ago, a very great photographer disappeared. As is customary in this situation, William Klein’s death caused an avalanche of publications of his pictures, some of which were very famous, because of him. However, a few photos have been forgotten in this deluge of tributes. And for good reason: advertising rarely has the right to quote in works of art and galleries. However, Klein, as well as Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Martin, Sarah Moon and others, worked in Citroen’s communications department, creating beautiful images that are hard to find today, as the few remaining copies are exchanged for tidy sums. among collectors.

Les gans de New York and Serge Gainsbourg, two very famous photographs by William Klein.

But why and how the men and women of print came to work on the description brochures of these photo icons, as well as in Citroen’s in-house newspaper designed for the network, the good one called L.Citroën agent ? This is because art photography and its prints are recent, sometimes reaching several hundred thousand euros. 60 years ago, galleries dedicated to the still image and amateurs trying to identify these artists were rare and broke like the photographers they were trying to protect. Robert Delpeer was one of them. In the early 1960s, he had an idea to improve his and his family’s income: work for industrialists on the condition that the artists had carte blanche.

When the communications department is called the propaganda department

But how to convince the business world? Delpire, the publisher of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s books, was one day entrusted with a mission by his favorite artist. The latter wants to report as closely as possible to the workers at the Citroën factory. Logically, Delpire opened up to the then-called communications department. “promotional service “. His director, Claude Pueche, accepts him, cautiously, the photographer is used to defending workers more than bosses, and the director is afraid of an incriminating report. He gets in touch and returns the hot potato to Citroen’s boss: Pierre Bercota. The meeting is set, but Delpire he goes there in disbelief. How could he be a small gallery owner and publisher who would allow a captain of industry photographer to capture the real life of factory chain workers and then give him carte blanche for his car catalogs? But Delpire is wrong.

The Citroen factory in Levallois was seen by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The Citroen factory in Levallois was seen by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The meeting does not go as planned. When asked how it went, the editor summarizes “Instead of talking about cars, we talked about Bach sets”. Berkot is a music lover and a friend of pianist Arthur Rubinstein. He is also a man of risk and innovation at all costs at Citroën. He would try the rotary engine and SM adventure after DS #2. He and Delpir are on the same wavelength. And not only would Cartier-Bresson photograph the Citroën factory in Levallois, but the publisher would gradually become the artistic director of the brand, overseeing all the publications that left the quai de Javel for fifteen years, until then. Chevrons were bought by Peugeot.

All the while DS, ID, 2ch and Ami 8 brochures will be signed Delpire in an avant-garde design for the time and with images from the greatest photographers of the time. After the end of his contract with Citroen, handed over by Jacques Séguéla and RSCG, Robert Delpire will return to his other activities: his gallery and publishing. In 1982, he founded the National Photography Center under the Ministry of Culture and headed it until his retirement in 1996. He died in 2017 without allowing photography to leave museums, galleries and art dealers’ vaults for a while. entering small garages as well as private individuals bringing home the famous Citroën brochures.

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