Lucien Hervé:
Building Images
Olivier Beer
Sharon Grevet,

(Getty Publications)
László Elkán was born in Hungary in 1900. His photographic works began to appear in French magazines in 1938, but he was captured in 1940, spent time in German prisons, escaped in 1941, and spent three years in the resistance where he took the name Lucien Hervé.

In 1944, he returned to Paris and was hired on as photographer by France Illustration. In 1949 he joined with Le Corbusier and collaborated with him until the architect died in 1965.

In this sumptuous volume, we find more than 200 of Hervé's works. Like Le Corbusier, Hervé is a member of The Bleak School of Art and Architecture. He specializes in black and white shots: flaking arches, solemn, heavy bodies, solitary figures appearing on or in soulless structures.

The shadowy stairs are all a-tilt, there are doors and windows without end, sullen faces appear against bleak prospects, and shadows of burdened men are caught on concrete walls.

What could be scenes of life and joy turn to strained shades etched against cobblestone streets or brick or concrete walls. Children play alone. In the famous shot of a solitary Indian lad --- titled "The Accuser" --- a shadow consumes the subject's head and shoulders. Even Henri Matisse, a painter of color and light and dance, is rendered solemn, solitary, smileless.

Windows are preferably barred, doors open to nowhere, columns are bathed in shadows, pictures are taken at acute or uncomfortable angles. By contrast, the views of Le Corbusier's buildings are, if nothing else, honest.

The architect prided himself on the starkness of his structures, and it is no accident that his followers created the style now known as New Brutalism, the words being a perfect description of its spirit. These merciless structures adorn the downtown areas of all too many cities in the United States and abroad, where planners and builders --- those who had fallen under the spell of "Le Corbu" --- had opportunity to tear down the decorative architecture of the past and construct faceless buildings and artless parking garages in their place.

It is, I suppose, all a matter of taste, but it is passing strange to this critic that the Getty would deliver to the world such a heartless tome, pretending that it is art when it is nothing but a degradation of the human spirit. Over the years, Hervé was well rewarded for his unpleasant renderings. He published ten books and every work on Le Corbusier included his photographs. Between 1966 and 1999, fifteen exhibitions of his works were mounted, each more dismal than the last.

Maybe it was the times and the fact that he (barely) survived World Wars I and II and the worst economic depression of the century. Or maybe it is the fault of being born in dreary Hungary, in a town whose name no one could possibly know or pronounce: Hódmezovásárhely. Hell, maybe he was just a natural born Middle European sourpuss.

Whatever it is, between the two of them, Le Corbusier and Hervé managed to cast a pall over mid-twentieth century life and cities --- a pall that, unfortunately, some still think of as high art.

--- Emerson Caldwell, PhD
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