French photographer and cinematographer of Romanian origin, Eli Lotar (Eliazar Lotar Teodorescu, Paris, 1905 - 1969) arrived in France in 1924 and rapidly became one of the first avant-garde photographers in Paris. Close to Germaine Krull —Lotar worked as her apprentice for a time —and later to the Surrealists, his work was published in many of the avant-garde publications of the day, and featured in several major international photography exhibitions, including Fotographie der Gegenwart, Film und Foto, Documents de la vie sociale, etc.

The Eli Lotar Retrospective (1905 – 1969) allows visitors to discover the scope of Lotar’s work from a new light and reveals the role of this important figure in modern photography. The exhibition is organized around key themes ranging from the New Vision Movement to documentary film, as well as Lotar’s urban, industrial and maritime landscapes. A selection of portraits taken by the photographer can also be seen, revealing his interest in having his models adopt various poses for the camera. They also demonstrate the close ties he had to many of the leading artists of his day.

Eli Lotar’s social and political interests and his penchant for collective projects can be revealed in his numerous collaborations with avant-garde writers (Jacques Prévert, Georges Bataille, and the magazine, Documents), as well as figures from the world of theatre (Antonin Artaud and Roger Vitrac), and well-known film directors (Joris Ivens, Alberto Cavalcanti and Luis Buñuel), all of whom were affected by the troubled socio-political climate of the 1930s.

The exhibition brings together over one hundred vintage prints taken from approximately fifteen different collections and international institutions, as well as a selection of a hundred or so documents (books, magazines, letters, negatives, films) illustr ating the diversity and scope of Eli Lotar’s work. The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections. The work however, is not necessarily presented in chronological order.

The first two sections of the exhibition—“Nouvelle Vision” and “Déambulations urbaines”—are devoted to Eli Lotar’s documentary photography, primarily for the illustrated press. The public is plunged into the universe of the photographer, who had become known f or the singularity of his work since the late 1920s. Reproductions of period magazines (VU, L’Art Vivant, Arts et métiers graphiques, Jazz, Bifur) show a selection of some of Lotar’s numerous publications from the period. The vintage prints and photographs reproduced from negatives, as well as the documents on show in these two sections illustrate Lotar’s talent and reputation amongst European avant-garde photographers.

Drawn to the world of cinema, from 1929 onward, Lotar participated in the production of a number of documentary films, working alongside film-makers like Joris Ivens and Luis Buñuel. The third section of the exhibition is devoted to Lotar’s socio-political work through a selection of photographs and films that capture the social and political complexity of the interwar period, as may be seen, for example, in the crude realism of his series on Abattoirs (1929) or through his collaboration on Terre sans pain (1933)—the only documentary produced by Luis Buñuel. The film showed the deplorable living conditions of the inhabitants of the remote and arid region of Las Hurdes in Spain. Lotar’s involvement with film-makers working in the emerging documentary genre would have a strong impact on his own car eer. After the war, he would produce Aubervilliers (1945), a poetic documentary on the life of those living in the slums of this par ticular area of the French capital.

The last two sections of the exhibition focus on Lotar’s rewarding artistic and literary friendships throughout his life. Viewers can see rare images from his travels, as well as a series of images depicting various figures from Antonin Artaud‘s Théâtre d’Alfred Jarry playfully posing for the camera. In his collaborations with numerous artists, playwrights and poets, Lotar put his artistic and technical know-how to use (particularly in terms of lighting and framing), both in his travels around the Mediterranean region with Jacques-Bernard Brunius and Roger Vitrac, and his photomontages for Antonin Artaud’s Théâtre Alfred Jarry. Here, we can also see images from Lotar’s close friendship with Alberto Giacometti (Lotar would be the sculptor ’s last male model).

Eli Lotar’s contribution to Modernism has benefited from a belated recognition however. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that a first retrospective was devoted to the artist’s work at the Centre Pompidou. Since then, greater research into the fields of Surrealism and interwar photography, as well as cinema, has allowed experts and the public alike to consider Lotar’s work in a new light and to appreciate the singularity of his career and visual universe. This retrospective exhibition was co-produced by the Jeu de Paume and the Centre Pompidou Paris and includes work from the photographic archives of the Centre Pompidou, as well as vintage prints from a variety of international institutions and collections.