When photography speaks of women’s liberation

Women pushing carts from a mine in Bruay-en-Artois (Pas-de-Calais), circa 1910. Others towing a fishing boat to Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée) at the same time. Or even a woman washing clothes by the water in Moulins (Allier) in 1900. From the beginning of the 20th century, many poor women in France had to earn a living even before the first war. drag them to the places where the men called to the front work: munitions factories, postal services, public transport, machine shops and even chimneys that need to be swept.

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The exhibition, which runs until March 25 at the Roger-Viollet gallery, begins with these black-and-white images that bear witness to a time both distant and familiar. There we meet the Catherinettes – these young fashionistas who have reached the age of 25, if they have not yet found a husband, should wear an original hat! – and activists gathered in 1914 as part of the women’s suffrage committee. In 1936, women demonstrated in a Popular Front march and others marched with the CGT domestic workers union. Another scene at the end of the Second World War: the sight of women being shaved in Liberty for frequenting the Nazi occupiers, being judged and condemned by men.

Consumer society and feminist movements

With the advent of color photography, the rise of the consumer society, and the return home of pronatalist policies that would result in a baby boom even if women eventually achieved it, the saga of the Glorious Thirties began. the right to vote demanded for decades. As summed up by this gorgeous photograph by Laure Albin Guillot, domestic arts preserve living rooms and bring modernity to homes. A woman going through an upright vacuum cleaner (1950s). The ad was also ubiquitous and promoted the car, which was necessarily accompanied by an elegant, slender woman dressed in a Newlook dress in the style introduced by a young couturier named Christian Dior from 1947.

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The chronicle in pictures of the 1960s with bikinis, beaches, cafe terraces or jukeboxes, then chronicles the 1970s with feminist movements, especially the pictures of two female photographers, Catherine Deudon and Janine. Niepce. Demonstrations for free abortion, images of the French Family Planning Movement and the court of Bobigny, where lawyer Gisèle Halimi will preside over the “Choose” movement. The pantheonization of this figure of women’s liberation, who died in 2020, is still controversial today.

“Photo history of women in the 20th century” exhibition at the Roger-Viollet gallery. On the right wall, part of the archive. Credit: Anne-Marie Rocco

Without more emphasis than the anonymous people who appear in these images, there are symbolic women whose commitment has accompanied and sometimes led to the liberation of women during these decades: Colette, Sagan, Beauvoir, Simone Veil, but also Coco Chanel, Marguerite Yourcenar, Duras, Barbara and or Juliette Greco. And Bardot, of course.

The exhibition is presented in the historic building of the former Roger-Viollet agency, founded in 1938 by Hélène Roger-Viollet from a collection of photographs collected by her father. At the head of an archive of about 6 million photographs, this place, known to all Paris lovers, was taken over by the city of Paris in 1994 and turned into a gallery. “This is an exhibition for the younger generations,” explains Gilles Taquet, director of the gallery. Some of the 300 photographs selected for the beautiful book, published last November, are signed by journalist Agnes Grossman. A photographic history of women in the 20th century.

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