New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 30 July 16 to 22, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Architectural Wonders
Lucien Hervé
Le Corbusier in India
Christopher Stromee

Photo by Photographer Unknown . Source:
Photographer Unknown, "Le Corbusier and Lucien Hervé at the High Court, Chandigarh, India, " 1955.

The black and white Lucien Hervé photographs exhibited at agnès b. galarie were taken during two trips to India in 1955 and 1961. Hervé’s primary purpose was to document construction of three monumental legislative structures in the new Northern regional capital of Chandigarh, commissioned by the Government of India and designed by the master architect, Le Corbusier. Reborn as an independent nation less than a decade earlier, India wished to demonstrate its capacity to undertake huge civic projects under the guidance of a cutting-edge architect by creating this Punjab state capital. The Hervé images are not conventional overviews. Instead, they focus on the abstract sculptural qualities of the subject.

Born in Hungary, Laszlò Elkán (1910-2007) moved to Paris in 1929 to immerse himself in the arts. Adopting his pseudonym, Lucien Hervé, when joining the French Resistance movement in 1941, he kept the name when resuming his photography work after the war. While also known as a photographer in the fashion industry and other milieus, he is primarily remembered as a leading photographer of architecture. When he met Le Corbusier in 1949 his career took a decisive turn and he remained Le Corbusier’s preferred photographer until the architect’s death in 1965. Besides Le Corbusier, he also worked with such premier architects as Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer and Oscar Niemeyer.

The photos exhibited, almost all from 1955, are a mix of vintage and newly printed silver emulsion images. Compositionally, you notice the modernist vocabulary of side-angled views, emphatic diagonals and strong contrasts of light and dark. Additionally, Hervé frequently crops the selected interior or exterior sections closely, heightening the tension of colliding architectural forms. The innovative use of reinforced concrete, which Hervé features, is particularly notable.

Photo by Lucien HervŽ . Source:
Lucien Hervé, "High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, India" 1955.

High Court of Justice, Chandigarh is perhaps the most striking image in the show. An angled view through a cross-section of this partially completed structure reveals a deep space where intense sunlight filters through layers of raw overlapping elements. The juxtaposition of lighted and shaded columns and structural slabs leads the eye from foreground to background. A small triangle of sky opens up the composition at the top while a figure walking away from the camera provides scale. Small triangles of light hedge in the image laterally, further energizing the picture.

Mill Owners Association in Ahmedabad is a very unusual composition, showing a private Le Corbusier commission in the western part of India. Looking up at intersecting perpendicular concrete sections in a tightly cropped exterior view, the style is reminiscent of Malevich’s Russian Suprematism–– all forceful thrusting diagonal forms. The contrast of the dark triangular undersides versus the highlighted areas reinforces the impression of volume and depth.

Photo by Lucien HervŽ . Source:
Lucien Hervé, "High Court, Chadigarh" 1955.

A less complicated photograph, Secretariat, Chandigarh, is an exterior shot composed in a tightly framed modernist mode. You see a vertical slice of the façade with a prominent roofline, wide divisions between floors, and a continuous band of windows. These elements are viewed from an angle so they seem to converge like receding perspective lines to one side of the image.

Several images focus on laborers during the early stages of building construction. Aside from aesthetic merits, these are interesting as descriptions of local working methods of the time. For example, Secretariat, Chandigarh, taken from above, shows the construction site in front of a barren landscape. Amidst a thicket of steel rods, workers stream along a walkway at a diagonal to the frame. Standing with perfect posture, each balances a basket of wet concrete on his or her head.

The Hervé photographs at agnès b. galerie are significant aesthetically, and as a record of the construction of buildings famous as forerunners of the Brutalist style in architecture Le Corbusier considered to be his greatest work.

Lucien Hervé
Le Corbusier in India

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