Conrad Festival 2015

Almost 150 guests, around a hundred events, busy accompanying cycles - for the seventh time, guests from Poland and abroad come to Kraków to celebrate the annual festival of literature (19-25 October).
film series

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literature and art

Gisèle Freund. Photographic Scenes and Portraits

Gisèle Freund. Photographic Scenes and Portraits

Gisèle Freund was one of the most important photographers of the past century, and her portraits of writers and intellectuals became a part of not only the history of art, but also of literature, as commonly known representations of exceptional authors. She was born into a rich Jewish family in Berlin in 1908. Her father was an entrepreneur and an art collector, and it was he who sparked Gisèle’s interest in art and creation. After her matura exam her father gave her a Leica – her first camera – as a gift, yet she decided to study sociology at the University of Frankfurt am Main, and among her teachers were Karl Mannheim and Theodor Adorno. In 1931 she left to Paris in order to undertake work on her doctoral dissertation. After Hitler’s takeover of the country, she decided to stay in France. There she met Adrienne Monnier, a publisher and owner of legendary bookstore Maison des Amis des Livres which was a centrepoint to the French literary avant-garde in the 1920s and 1930s. Thanks to this acquaintance, which later became friendship, Gisèle Freund could meet and photograph the most important writers of the past century.


In 1935 the First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture and Peace took place in Paris, in which 250 writers from 38 countries participated. The main goal of the congress was to warn the world about the dangers of fascism growing and the looming danger of war. The coverage created there contained a gallery of knowns and unknowns of the time, who later became known as exceptional, such as Andre Gide, Hanry Barbusse, Jean-Richard Bloch, Heinrich Mann, Anna Seghers, Bertold Brecht, Aldous Huxley, Ilya Erenburg or Boris Pasternak. There, Gisèle Freund took one of the most known photographs of André Malraux as a romantic revolutionary and a hero of his own times.

From 1938 the artist started to create a collection of writers’ portraits, which included – apart from the abovementioned artists – James Joyce, Walter Benjamin, Louis Aragon, André Breton, Paul Eluard, Jean Cocteau, Paul Valéry, T. S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Stefan Zweig, Colette, Bernhard Shaw, Vladimir Nabokov and many others. There are a few exceptional ones, for example the photographs of Walter Benjamin, who was her friend from the university, and whom she met again in France at Monnier’s bookstore. The majority of her portraits were created for „her own pleasure”, only a few photographs were created on commission – among them was the portrait of James Joyce, printed on the Time magazine cover when Finnegans Wake was published.


When the German army captured Paris in 1940, the artist escaped to the south, and then, thanks to help of Argentinian writer Victoria Ocampo she managed to cross the Atlantic and escape to South America. There she met and photographed exceptional poets José Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. In order to make a living, she once again returned to work as a reporter. While working, she took a series of photographs documenting the lavish lifestyle of Evita Peron for Life magazine, which caused an international scandal that forced her to leave Argentina. In Mexico, where she settled for a while, she befriended Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.


After the war, she returned to France and continued her work as a photographer of writers. New portraits of Beauvoir and Sartre, as well as Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras and Eugene Ionesco were created at the time. The first great exhibition of Freund’s works took place in 1968 at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, in 1991 the Pompidou Centre organised her retrospective, seen by over 400,000 people. The artist died in 2000 in Paris.


In her publications on photography, the artist wrote “good photographer has to read a face like a book, has to catch everything that happens between the lines, has to feel and understand the form to convey its spirit through light and shadow. Bringing people closer – that is the most valuable task of photography for me”.


The exhibition was prepared by:

Akademie der Künste, Berlin

Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur

IMEC Institut Mémoires de l’edition contemporaine, Paris


Curators :

Janos Frecot
Gabriele Kostas




21 October, at 18:00 National Museum in Krakow

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