New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 2 January 24 to February 1, 2012

A la Recherche de Cocteau
Lucien Clergue
Jean Cocteau: Testament of Orpheus, Photographs from 1959
Ed Barnas
 by Lucien Clergue. Source:
Lucien Clergue

Modern film production still photographers would envy the instructions Jean Cocteau gave to the 25-year-old Lucien Clergue who documented the Testament of Orpheus, his last film: “You are free to do as you please, I look forward to being surprised by your photos. They will reveal something different from my film.” But then again, Cocteau was not a typical director and this film explores the relationship between an artist and his creations with a cast full of friends and collaborators.

The images on display are a mix of scenes drawn from both the film itself and behind the scene activity. Although printed at various times over the last three decades, they consistently exhibit the full tonal range and depth of the classic silver gelatin process with its deep blacks (a double profile portrait of Yul Brynner and Cocteau) and detailed, blinding whites (Cocteau and the Sphinx).

Unfortunately, in this post-Mapplethorpe age, some of the costuming (Minerva in black bodysuit, the man-horses and dog-men) may call to mind fetish wear rather than the mythological figures symbolized. And some of the “on set” photos of people who do not appear in the film may puzzle viewers of the film.

I don’t know if Clergue’s photographs surprised Cocteau or revealed something different to him, but I found them a nice complement to the film and was intrigued enough to locate a copy of Clergue’s book Jean Cocteau and The Testament of Orpheus on Amazon.


For those interested in seeing more of Lucian’s Clergue’s work, Clergue in America is on view at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise uptown through December 21st.

Jean Cocteau and the Sphinx, 1959 by Lucien Clergue. Source:
Lucien Clergue, "Jean Cocteau and the Sphinx, 1959" 1959

Lucien Clergue
Jean Cocteau: Testament of Orpheus, Photographs from 1959
Curator: James Cavello

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Friday, November 18 to
Saturday, January 28, 2012
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