PARIS, FRANCE.- For its first photographic exhibition, the Musée du quai Branly pays tribute to the photographer-explorer, Désiré Charnay. Following his maiden voyage to Mexico (1857-1860), Désiré Charnay sets off for Mexico again, going on expeditions to Madagascar (1863), Java and Australia (1878). These missions gave him the material for his photographic work, which was to mark the archaeology and the photography of his time.
The Charnay collection at the Musée du quai Branly represents most of this artists photographic work, with nearly 500 negatives using different techniques and a thousand original prints. The exhibition presents a selection from this collection, giving us an idea of the techniques, wealth and quality of Charnays work.
In the steps of Désiré Charnay - Acquiring a taste for travelling at a very young age, Claude-Joseph Le Désiré Charnay, known as Désiré Charnay and born on 2 May 1828 in Fleurieux-sur-lArbresle in the Rhône region, decided to travel around the world to collect a photographic and topographic album of the most famous and interesting places to be seen. After having taught French at the age of 23 in New Orleans, he went on his first expedition to Mexico, via the United States, between 1857 and 1860. This mission made him the first to photograph the Mitla, Izamal and Chichen-Izamal sites. Following this journey, he gained a certain amount of recognition by publishing in 1862 the photographic album Cités et ruines américaines [American Cities and Ruins].
However, he also went further a-field to Madagascar in 1863 and on to Java and Australia in 1878. Throughout his life, he organised missions to photograph new places and returned to Mexico in 1880-1882 and in 1886. Always accompanied by photographic equipment, he never hesitated to revisit his beginnings with large format negatives.
Yucatán is elsewhere - Taken from an account, written by the artist Robert Smithson, of a project he carried out in 1969 in the same places photographed by Charnay, the phrase Yucatán is elsewhere constitutes the ideal title for this exhibition. Indeed Smithsons text offers a large number of paths for reinterpreting Charnays work, and this simple sentence represents the photographers entire journey. Leaving to travel round the world but always returning to Mexico either physically or metaphorically he took the same type of photographs over and over again in other parts of the world he visited.
A three-part exhibition - The exhibition combines old, original prints as well as a large number of negatives resulting from different techniques. Organised in 3 transversal and not strictly chronological parts, this exhibition highlights Charnays modus operandi: his choice of subjects, his dismissals and his methods. The first sequence Landscapes with ruins focuses on the pictures taken during Charnays first journey: views of Quebec and the Niagara falls for the oldest images, then scenes of the Mexican sites of Mitla, Izamal, Chichen-Itza and Uxmal. He was already offering in these photographs a personal vision of abundant vegetation, blending in with the archaeological ruins. The second sequence The archaeological sites beneath the landscape mainly exhibits photographs taken during his second journey to Mexico between 1800 and 1882. The third sequence Monumental trees highlights what perhaps represented Charnays true interest as a photographer: the representation of plants. Throughout all of his travels and the different countries he has photographed, a permanent feature can be seen in the sheer number and quality of photographed trees or ruins, completely hidden in the undergrowth. He created true portraits of trees, sometimes give them the monumentality of an ancient pyramid.
Exhibition curator: Christine Barthe, scientific director for the heritage collections unit Photographs.