From the Delpire editions to the Vu’ Gallery, Caroline Bénichou reveals with humility and elegance the most beautiful looks in photography.
During the winter of 1997-1998, while she was still a plastic arts student, Caroline Bénichou visited the exhibition at the European House of Photography dedicated to the book Americans by Robert Frank. She discovers captivated that photography is not only a document, but an emotional state, a way of being in the world and looking at it, something introspective.
” When I finished my studies, I said to myself that I wanted to make photography books and that I wanted to work with Robert Delpire [l’éditeur historique de Robert Frank, disparu en 2017]. So, I sent an unsolicited application every month for a year. He finally got me. I became his assistant. »
The Delpire years
In this very small structure, she learns on the job. “ The first week, I found myself with Sarah Moon, Henri Cartier-Bresson and William Klein on the phone. I was a little breathless! She also met Marc Riboud, legendary reporter for the Magnum agency, with whom she formed a deep friendship: I saw from my window an old gentleman crossing the yard with long white hair and a packet of cakes he was holding by a bolduc’s string. His smile was that of a young man. »
Gradually, she took over all the editorial coordination of the Delpire books and the Photopoche collection. [désormais chez Actes Sud]. ” What I have left of this period is that you have to put yourself at the service of the work of photographers. Robert Delpire said that his profession was that of an image smuggler. »
She tackles all genres, from plastic photography to documentary photography, in particular that which is exhibited or published during collaborations with Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders or the Fait & Cause gallery. ” I thus passed from Joan Fontcuberta to Stanley Greene. In social photography, I greatly admired the work of Jean-Louis Courtinat. »
From publisher to gallery owner
After eleven years of collaboration, the Delpire adventure ended in 2011. At 85, the founder was looking for a buyer, who did not want the existing team. ” The publishing of fine books was going through a deep crisis. I had to broaden the scope of my research to find salaried work. In the meantime, she works independently with the photographers in her network and feeds a site that makes her known beyond the professional world.
” hungry eyes, it was a playground for me, a huge field of possibilities. I could write about whatever I wanted, take the time to read an image and find out why that image grips us. We can also hear this title in another way, “ The empty eyes “, which would then say his constantly renewed ability to look at each photograph as if it were the first in the world.
In 2013, she took over from Étienne Hatte as gallery owner at Vu’. “ There is no training to be a gallery ownershe explains. There are as many ways of working as there are individuals, obviously with a commercial vocation since it involves representing photographers to private buyers as well as public funds. »
With the photographers
All of this makes sense in the support of photographers, which takes him far beyond his office hours. “ Photography is not just my job, it’s my daily life. By necessity, most of my friends are photographers, my companion [Gilles Roudière] is a photographer. I admired his work long before I met him! »
The passion for publishing has not left her. ” The essential question for a photographer is why do I want to make a book? Wanting to make a book at all costs is not a good thing. A failed exhibition is forgotten, a bad book stays. So sometimes, she takes the lead, like most recently with Yves Trémorin, for the book Monicawhich brings together portraits of the artist’s companion.
” All his life, he photographed women close to him, his wife, his grandmother and then his mother. He sublimated them as beings and not as objects. In his early photos, everything that was in his later work was already there. And that’s what she managed to show.
The “Zero Time” Collective
Another book of which she is particularly proud is August Song, a long immersion of Martin Bogren around summer balls in Sweden. ” We’ve been working together for eight years. When we were doing the book, we called each other several times a day. I am happy with the result, because it goes exactly where it was supposed to go. The book is closest to Martin, his work and his personality. »
And then there are the photographers that Stéphane Charpentier has brought together around the Temps Zéro collective. ” They are people who work on the margins and in the margins, with a strong personal and aesthetic ethic. There is no competition between them, which is rare. Photographer is a very solitary and very hard job, even the best known do not necessarily earn a good living. »
The members of the collective, who are a little [sa] family she already knew most of them. ” I worked with Michael Ackerman when I started at Delpire, Lorenzo Castore and Damien Daufresne came to show their work there, Clara Chichin was my intern. So from time to time, she writes a text, she gives advice on a book model, with loyalty and fidelity.
Female photographers past and present
Over time, at Vu’, she realized that she had exposed a lot of women. ” At Delpireshe remembers, the publications were almost exclusively male, it was another era of photography. It took me seven years to make a photopoche on Julia Margaret Cameron. Then there was the exhibition of Marie Robert Who’s Afraid of Female Photographers? It was the historians of photography who changed the look! »
Passionate about the Spanish-speaking world, she dreams of an exhibition and why not a book on Mexican photographers. ” They are very numerous to have been totally legitimate in their country and in their time. I have the chance to work with Pia Elizondo who works between France and Mexico. It would be a question of making a history of photography in Mexico through women. »
Twenty-five years after her first photographic shock, Caroline Bénichou has lost none of her enthusiasm: ” Photography is a way of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, not just because it takes you places you haven’t been, but because it offers ways of seeing the world that are not necessarily yours. For me, photography, poetry and literature are deeply linked. »
► On view from September 9 to 23, at the Vu’ Gallerythe photographic Mentoring collective exhibition of the Régnier fund for creation with the Agence Vu’.
For further :
► Is the world of photography particularly sexist?
► Marie Gomis-Trezise, a life at the forefront
► Christine Spengler: “Being a woman has often allowed me to go unnoticed”
Some books :
► Martin Bogren, August SongL’Artiere Editions, 2019.
► Yves Tremorin, MonicaEditions Lamaindonne, 2020.
► Julia Margaret CameronPhotopocket n°124Editions Actes Sud, 2009.