Martine Franck Was More Than Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Wife

From daguerreotypes to digital.
Aug. 21 2012 6:33 PM

An Introvert’s Photographer

Martine Franck deserved to be remembered as more than her famous husband’s wife.

Martine Franck
Martine Franck, 1975.

Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.

When a much-admired but slightly out of the spotlight figure passes away, you often hear them described as a “writer’s writer” or a  “photographer’s photographer.” And when one is married to one of the most famous photographers in history (Henri Cartier-Bresson), she risks being pigeonholed as her “husband’s wife.” Belgian photographer Martine Franck, who died last week at 74, was an unusual artist, deserving of recognition for her own unique visual and personal strengths.

For me personally, Martine was an introvert’s photographer—a role model for those of us who find strength in quiet observation. A couple of days before her death, I read a quote by Martine that hit home for me: “I was very ill at ease with people in social situations, and I realized that if I photographed I wouldn’t have to chat.” I’ve heard many photographers describe the act of photographing as their way of interacting with the world, but there’s something about this blunt confession that stands out.

MFd_568
The Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans. Ariane Mnouchkine (back turned), director of the Theatre du Soleil. 1968.

Martine Franck/Magnum Photos.

However, Martine didn’t see photography as an isolating endeavor. Instead she used it as a platform to work with other artists: Creativity should build upon creativity and artists should support one another. Throughout her career of more than 50 years, she photographed artists, writers, curators, and professors. She rarely made formal portraits but rather images of character. The list of thinkers—Willem de Kooning, Agnes Varda, Paul Strand, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, among them—who appear in her vast portfolio reads like the guest list for my ideal dinner party. Many of them relay a certain casual intimacy, as if everyone has just shared wine and homemade chocolate mousse.

MFb_568
Montjustin, France. Melon plantation. 1976.

Martine Franck/Magnum Photos.

Advertisement

Martine joined Magnum Photos in 1980, serving in various leadership positions within the organization until her death.  She never fit the traditional paradigm of the “documentary photographer,” however. She didn’t photograph war or famine. Her greatest work took as its subject the intellectual landscape of humanity. Her photographs evoke a sense of serenity and an eye for design in the world around her. Martine found architecture in the landscape, both built and natural.

Over the past week, it’s been maddening to see that so much of the writing in her memory has positioned her in relationship to her husband. Headlines announce the passing of the legend’s wife, and quotes de-emphasize the importance of her own photography. Looking through her work, her project on aging and Buddhism, her documentation of the performance company Theatre du Soleil, it’s clear that her career was extraordinary, quiet, and purposeful. Their marriage was a meeting of rare minds, and I have little doubt that they learned from each other.

Within Magnum, Martine’s presence was one of stability and calm. Magnum’s current president, Alex Majoli, described her as “a lighthouse, a point of reference.”

Martine was incredibly kind to me—a member of Magnum’s staff, on the quiet side, interested perhaps more in the calm, cerebral human landscape than the blast of the battlefields. I wanted to do her proud with a comprehensive edit of her work and my initial attempt at a slide show yielded 468 “finalists” that I wish I could share. Instead, I’m giving you a hint of that creativity-filled dinner party and hope that you’ll raise a glass in Martine’s memory.

Martine Launcher

.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.