Gervais-Courtellemont Jules

1863 – 1931

Photographer and editor, friend of Pierre Loti, by Auguste Rodin, d’Albert Kahn. He devoted most of his life to traveling the world, and more especially the Orient. From his many trips, he gathered a large collection of photographs, mostly autochromes. It's in the years 1880, in Algeria, that he acquired the practice of photography, seeing in the medium the most suitable tool to "faithfully reproduce the splendours of the past and the picturesque of the present". Thereby, he will also launch into the publication of a journal from 1889, "Artistic and picturesque Algeria". The first discovery of the Orient for Jules Gervais-Courtellemont took place a few years later, in 1893. From Paris to Jerusalem via Constantinople, he crossed the countries with the sole regret that he could only bring back black and white photos. So, from the demonstration of the autochrome process by the Lumière brothers in 1907, he immediately undertook the same journey with his wife, this time bringing back the first colored "Visions d'Orient". Faced with the success of his photographic testimonials in color, he and his wife set out to travel the world, in order to build a large collection of autochromes. Algeria (1911, 1912), Tunisia (1911), Morocco (1921), Spain (1911, 1914), Italy, Inde (1913), Japan, Tibet. Convert to Islam, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont brought back unpublished photographs of Mecca in 1896, published in L’Illustration in 1897. Jules Gervais-Courtellemont also photographed the First World War with reconstructed scenes in the post-war trenches, as well as pictures of colonial troops. Most of Jules Gervais-Courtellemont's photographic work is kept at the Robert-Lynen Cinémathèque in the city of Paris.
Orient Visions : upon his return to France, following his second trip to the Orient in 1907, Jules-Gervais -Courtellemont wanted to transmit to the public his first autochrome images. Under the title of "Visions d'Orient", he organized his first color "projection-conference" at the Hôtel de l'Université des Annales in 1908. Of 1908 at 1909, his Visions d'Orient were screened every evening, Charras room in Paris. The advertising brochure for this event reflects the public's enthusiasm for this photographer and his first color images.

"Thanks to him.", we will see from our chair, scroll through the prestigious landscapes filled with warm light, that the immortal pages of Loti celebrated, succession of pictures which recorded the enchantment of these strange and fleeting colors, so new to us in the West, followed by color sensitive plates until after the sun disappears behind the horizon.

Faced with this success, he undertook with his wife to put together a larger collection of autochromes on the same subject. More than 1 500 glass plates were collected on their return and feed these Visions of the Orient.

The friendship between the writer Pierre Loti and the photographer Jules Gervais-Courtellemont is clearly expressed through these autochromes. They shared the same love for the East and for Islam , the same admiration for Constantinople, source of their inspiration. One expressed it by the evocative force of those words, the other by the magic of autochromes. These two modes of expression merged from time to time at the conferences, Loti's words seeming to be made for Courtellemont's autochromes :

The sentences I had "cut" from your works applied so exactly, so mathematically to the documentary truth of my little images that the enthusiastic audience underlined with their applause the "startling" truth of your descriptions.

The autochromes of Jules Gervais-Courtellemont did not only have his lectures as a dissemination medium. The 26 November 1910, the magazine L’Illustration published its first color photographs, accompanied by his comments. For the first time, the public saw in the press the very first color photographs. From the first lines of Jules Gervais-Courtellemont's article, we feel the gaze of a man borrowed from exoticism but also very attached to offering realistic testimonies about the countries he crosses :

The somewhat confused memories of the tales that rocked our childhood or charmed our adolescence, vague reminiscences of novels or legends, have populated our minds with "Visions of the Orient" whose images become clearer in sumptuous palaces, white domes and thin minarets, fiery horsemen wielding the scimitar, slender palm trees silhouetted against a very blue sky. The Orient of the Arabian Nights and the Crusades. On the east of today, infinitely more prosaic and day by day more modernized, we are little or badly informed. The most contradictory things are told to us daily about these countries and peoples of Islam whose civilization is totally different from ours, whose philosophical and social conceptions, even economical, are poles apart from what we consider to be truths. They deserve to be better known.
Jules Gervais-Courtellemont was called a "master artist" by critics of the time. The images looked at by today's man seem emblematic of a certain idea of ​​the Orient, exoticism but also from the gaze of a man sincerely attached to describing the social evolution of the countries crossed.