Guy Le Querrec (born 1941 in Paris, France) is a French photographer and filmmaker, noted for his documentary images of jazz musicians. He is a member of Magnum Photos
. Le Querrec took his first photographs as a teenager using a basic Fex/Indo Ultra-Fex, buying second hand soon after another and more sophisticated bakelite 6 x 9 cm Photax camera, in 1955. He shot his first pictures of jazz musicians in London in the late 1950s. After having served in the army, he became a professional in 1967, and then worked as a picture editor and photographer for Jeune Afrique magazine, working in francophone Africa, including Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and the Central African Republic. In 1971 he gave his archives to Agence Vu
, founded by Pierre de Fenoyl and then co-founded Viva (photo agency). In 1976, he left Viva and joined Magnum Photos.
In the late 1970s he began directing films, working with Robert Bober. In 1983 at the Rencontres d'Arles
he experimented with projecting images while a jazz quartet played. Besides having photographed numerous jazz festivals and African subjects, Le Querrec has traveled to China and documented American Indians. He has documented Villejuif, a suburb of Paris, as well as the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. He has also taught many photography workshops in France.
Le Querrec underlines the necessity of “being able to forget oneself,”
to capture the magic instant, the unusual attitude of a subject, or the singular light of a moment. “I search every cranny, as did the Italian footballer Pippo Inzaghi,”
he says, comparing himself to the legendary Juventus and AC Milan striker who scored 317 goals in his career. “He was an expert in the art of placement, a cunning ‘fox in the box’.”
This approach is perhaps best illustrated by his iconic image of Miles Davis on stage in Pleyel on November 3, 1969. “I strove to anticipate his movements, which is how I found myself at the right place and time when he froze in a beam of light radiating from the floor, which illuminated him at low-angle and projected his shadow onto the curtains. That’s how Miles passed fluidly from the harsh and flat stage light to a sophisticated sculptural illumination, which accentuated his peculiar and fascinating beauty and highlighted the depth of his gaze – qualities that also describe his musicianship.”
A jazz fan since his teens, Le Querrec, being the jocular wordsmith that he is, likes to recall that his passion for what he describes as “the most popular of erudite music”
came to him in the discotheque of accordion-player Gus Viseur’s father – viseur being the French word for viewfinder… As the Italian saying goes, se non è vero è ben trovato!
The fact is, he stays tuned into the music as he works. “I don’t cut out sound.”
For that reason it has been said that his eye listens. “His indisputable success in the attempt to reveal the true intimacy of jazz is owed to his inordinate passion that borders on empathy,”
points out Stéphane Ollivier in the preface to Jazz Comme Une Image, 10 Ans de Banlieues Bleues (Jazz as Image, 10 Years of Blue Banlieues)
, Scandéditions, 1993.
Consulting the work that Guy Le Querrec produced over a decade during that major festival means finding the entire history of contemporary jazz, in action, on stage, in this part of the Seine Saint-Denis department. But it is also – and most importantly – like breaking into the backstage, the wings or the green rooms of the musicians, of Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone, Henri Texier, Michel Portal…. It’s not about voyeurism, but rather about witnessing the complicity and bond that generated the spontaneous expression we call jazz. Le Querrec explains, “What impels me to shoot is my curiosity for their idiosyncrasies, their ways of being, their behaviors, their stories: their dialogue with life.”
Deeply concentrated with his trusty and silent Leica, he tenaciously takes “a fragment of reality from the passage of time.”
He acknowledges that “photography is like fishing: it’s usually when you are about to take off that the fish takes the bait.”
That’s when it becomes necessary to seize chances. “We try so much to look for chance that it escapes us.”
In this sense, Le Querrec considers his work in the world of jazz as presenting similarities to much of the work he has created at Magnum, since joining in 1976: in his work with Breton families, indigenous communities in North America or even his photographs of François Mitterrand posing for a sculpture in the Elysée Palace in Paris.
“I have never tried to separate subjects when I move amongst them, and I ask my eye to do the same. I want my photography to carry a scent – the scent of people.”
This is an attitude, or rather, a philosophy that brings the musician Louis Sclavis, a clarinetist, saxophonist, and long-time friend to define Le Querrec as follows: “He is not a photographer of jazz, he is a jazz photographer.”
Source: Magnum Photos