It’s never a good time to die. Never. But there are months that are worst than others. August is one of them, especially if you live in Western Europe. August is when everyone leaves on vacation and tunes off. Everyone and from everything. So if you pass away during August, there is a good chance no one will notice, as they are all at the beach collecting as much sun rays as their skins will allow so they can proudly compare it with each other once they all return, mostly on the same day. The more tan is a sure proof of an expensive and fun vacation, making the owner a cool person everyone would want to hang out with, until the tan wears off. but then, there is always another vacation coming…
But if you pass away, especially in between those massive traffic jams that mark the beginning and the end of the Augustan vacation break, no one notices. Unless if you are a Hollywood celebrity or part of other thousands dying alongside you in some far away war, epidemic or natural disaster. Those will get you a magazine cover or two, TV coverage, intense social media sharing because vacations will always seem far better if others are suffering miserably somewhere else. But if you are a personality who changed the way the world sees photography…nothing. Maybe some newspaper summer intern will write a short uneducated paragraph to fill empty space illustrated with an irrelevant image et voila. Nothing else. Only the horrible silence of ignorance. The pathetic fanfare of self-interest. The incessant flow of indigest opinions mixed with Lo-fi selfies and high rotation news items.
So let me jump in and fix a grandiose injustice. On August 3, 2014, a great man passed away. Of the ripe age of 94 years, it wasn’t drugs, alcohol, guns, wars, or an epidemic but rather, it seems, the supreme satisfaction of having lived a fascinating life. At one point, the brain, in accordance with the heart must say to the rest of the body parts:’ “hey guys, this was a fantastic life well lived. Time to shut down”. And so it ends.
Melchior Louis Marie Dalmas, marquis de Polignac, was born the first of June 1920 in Paris. Follows an extraordinary life that took him from the Nazi resistance to being the first to interview Tito, the creator of Yugoslavia. But what probably defines him the best is when created the first news photo agency in 1958 under his name. This is decades before the Gamma’s, Sygma, Sipa’s and other more famous and legendary photo agencies. At the time, photojournalists were individuals fighting with each others for daily scoops with little or no care for copyright and even less thoughts on working for they same organisation. Sure there was Magnum, but that was a cooperative. A group of individuals pooling some of their resources together. With Dalmas, things were different. The idea was that by being organized like a publication, each photographer could cover his own assigned story, multiplying publications and revenue potential. Sales people could go visit the magazines – instead of the photographers themselves- getting the best prices while freeing the shooters to cover another event. Decisions were made about what – or what not- to cover. The first news photo agency was born. Great names, like Raymond Depardon, later to found Gamma or Daniel Angeli, legendary paparazzi, came out of Dalmas, amongst many others like Philippe Letellier, Jean Paul Pradier, Michel Serbie, Ray Wilson, François Raoul Duval, Alain Dejean, Georges Martin, Russel Melcher, Kriss Kindall, Gil Delamare, Manuel Bidermanas. Most, those who didn’t die from their labor, went on to not only have great careers in photojournalisms but greatly influence the way it is today. Louis Dalmas was also responsible for making Paris the world center of photojournalism.
This profession is cruel to those who work behind the curtains: The wizards of Oz that pull the essential levers of organisation, the talent sniffers that gamble on the 20 years old with cameras and dreams, the intuition filled masters of scoops, the eagle-eyed editors that spot the jewel photograph in a river of stills, the never sleeping news hungry hunters who turn a snippet of information into a world event. They are hardly acknowledged and never remembered. A photo, a great photo is never the work of one person. Behind all the great images of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s , there is always a group of people that have worked with gut, intuition, knowledge, expertise, compassion, and most of all beyond any job description to make it happen. They have juggled phones, telexes, labs, airline companies, photo editors, border officers, package handlers, beepers,modems, text messages, satellites, laptops, banks, hotels, printers, deadlines to make sure that not only the photographer could be at the right place at the right time but that the photo itself could be seen by as many people as possible. A never-ending Sisyphean task, repeated day after day, week after week, months after months, always against all odds. Louis Dalmas is the father of them all. The man that made it possible for some of us to follow in its path.
There was no delimitation between news, sports, celebrity at the time. Photographers would cover one after the other with the same expertise and passion. No one was a specialist and no one thought otherwise. To be a photographer was to report on anything that was news, be it a royal wedding, an olympic competition or an earthquake. A photo needed to be taken and they would take it. It was not cool to be a photographer and most were considered barely higher than homeless beggars. But the print media was exploding and it was hungry for pictures. Very hungry. Louis Dalmas understood that sooner and better than anyone else and for this, the whole photo industry should be thankful for his existence. And respectful of his memory. A great man – and a friendly one- has passed away and photojournalism has lost one of its key figure. The world of photo agencies lost its father. Every photo agency in the world should have a minute of silence in his honor as they are all orphans, once again. RIP