July 16, 2017

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
front cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

I recently had the great fortune to be given a book of photographs by someone I had never heard of before. The photographer was Michelle Vignes. The book of her photos titled, The Blues; is about a subject (music) I am deeply in love with and photography of jazz artists, locations, etc. which is just as high on my list. The book was given to me by Lon Clark III, the son of artist, Lon Clark, Jr. (link below), the art director of the book who was Dean of the San Francisco Studio School and the son of Lon Clark, Sr.,  a New York City actor of stage and radio (link below). Got it?    

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
front cover
photo by Styrous®

Vignes was born in 1926, in Reims, France, which she left during the Nazi occupation. She settled in Paris, France, and worked for Magnum as director of photography from 1953. She worked in close collaboration with Henri Cartier-Bresson and the other founders, Robert Capa and Chim (David Seymour) during the golden years of the agency. Cartier-Bresson thought so highly of her that er he entrusted her with checking his prints.

She left Magnum to work as a photo editor at UNESCO in Paris before moving to the U.S. Her photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, including Time, LifeVogue, and Newsweek.    

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
back cover
photo by Styrous®

She moved to San Francisco in 1966 and spent the last decades documenting some of the most influential social movements in North America. She became a witness of the initiatives carried on by the American Indians in order to assert their rights and preserve their identity.          

Her interest in minorities led her to direct a report on the American Indian Movement, and to cover the occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969-1972). Adopted by the community, she was initiated to Indian culture and ritual ceremonies. Michelle Vignes’s gaze on American Indians was always intimist, rather than ethnological. For over thirty years, she stood by the AIM, from the rebellion in Wounded Knee to the release of Dennis Banks (co-founder of the movement). 

Michelle Vignes ~ Dennis Banks

Vignes had an all-consuming passion for social documentary photography, which she used both to create her own works and to support other rising and established photographers, through two organizations she co-founded:  the International Fund for Photography and Fotovision.

She was the recipient of the Chevalier des Arts des Lettres by France's Minister of Culture and the Oakland Museum of California Dorothea Lange Award for distinguished work by a woman photographer.         

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

She explored the rich blues culture of Oakland, documenting the music scene throughout the 1980s at numerous clubs around the city, including Eli’s Mile High Club (owned by J.J. Malone), Shalimar, and the Deluxe.  

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
Title Page
detail photo by Styrous®

Her aim in the project was, as she put it, “to take pictures not of the musicians, but of the music.” In a description of her method for the blues series, she adds: “I ended up using a flash consistently; the strobe of the flash and the music syncopated with the blues rhythm.”

Beverly playing the blues
Eli Mile High Club, Oakland - 1982
Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
front cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Michelle Vignes died on the 5th of October in 2012. She was 84 years old. Many of her photographs, including some of the Oakland blues clubs, are in the collection of the OMCA.     

Michelle Vignes ~ The Blues
info page detail
detail photo by Styrous®


Viewfinder links:        
Michelle Vignes articles/mentions          
Lon Clark, Jr. articles/mentions        
Net links:        
The Oakland Standard - 
Bancroft Library ~ photo archives of Michelle Vignes        
The Summer Of Love ~ Michelle Vignes Photography     
Jean - Baptiste Carhaix ~    
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag ~  
     Michelle Vignes: Indiens d’Amérique       
Magnum News - Goodbye Michelle Vignes       
Art Matters - Adieu Michelle Vignes
The project Room ~ Remembering Michelle Vignes           
Art Media Agency (AMA) ~ obit
Art Seed ~ obit    

“to take pictures not of the musicians, but of the music.”
                              ~ Michelle Vignes

Styrous® ~ Sunday, July 16, 2017     

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