Gisèle Freund

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Dr. Gisèle Freund (born December 19th 1908 as Gisela Freund in Berlin, died March 31th 2000 in Paris) was daughter of the arts collector Julius Freund who gave her a Leica camera when she received her Abitur. She studied sociology in Freiburg and Frankfurt/Main. Professor Karl Mannheim and his assistant Norbert Elias were her mentors. Elias sent her to Paris to make sociological-aesthetical studies about early French photography. In 1933 Prof. Mannheim emigrated from Frankfurt to London because the German Nazi-government (1933-1945) had banned Jewish teachers from German universities. Freund, herself being from a Jewish family, stayed in Paris to finish her doctoral dissertation. It was translated to French and published as "La Photographie en France au dix-neuvième siecle" in 1936 at the Sorbonne with help of her friend, the bookshop-keeper Adrienne Monnier. In the same year she married Pierre Blum to become French citizen.

Already in student times at the university Freund began to work as photo journalist, remarkable a report about jobless people in Northern England for the "Weekly Illustrated" in 1935. In 1938 she made a series of electric light portraits of famous writers on Agfacolor positive film. Monnier had brought her in contact to the literary scene. Within 1½ years she got an impressive collection, having portrayed 80 writers including Walter Benjamin, James Joyce, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Virginia Woolf, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and George Bernard Shaw.

In WWII, after one year in non-occupied part of France, she got help from the rich Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo to flee from the Nazi-friendly regime to Buenos Aires. From then she worked a lot in Latin America, making ethnographical photography, a report about Evita Peron, and became a friend of the famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. She joined the Magnum photography agency of Robert Capa. Since 1952 she was back in Paris from where she worked since then. She enhanced her portrait collection with images of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and many others, switching to black and white. In 1977 ten of her old colour potraits where shown at the documenta, the important international every-five-year modern art presentation in Kassel, Germany. Thus her work belongs to the process of public recognition of photography as art.

Freund became member of the Légion d‘honneur. In 1991 a retrospective show of her works at the Centre Pompidou in Paris was visited by 400.000 people.