Gisèle Freund

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Self-portrait, Mexico City, 1950.
Born December 19, 1908(1908-12-19)
Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany
Died March 31, 2000(2000-03-31) (aged 91)

Gisèle Freund (born Gisela Freund, 1908-2000) was a German-born French photographer, famous for her documentary photographs and portraits of writers and artists. In the 1930s, Freund's subjects nearly covered the who is who of Parisian writers, painters, philosophers.

"For a writer, his portrait is the only link he can establish with his readers. When we read a book whose content moves us, we are interested to look at the author's face, which is generally printed on the jacket since the publisher is aware of our wish to see if these features correspond to the idea we have formed of the author. This image is thus very important to the man of letters. He prefers a photographer in whom he can have confidence." (from Gisèle Freund, Photographer, 1985) [1]

She studied sociology and art history at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau in 1931, and continued her studies under Karl Mannheim, Theodor Adorno, and Norbert Elias at the Institute for Social Sciences, University of Frankfurt. During this period Freund joined the socialist student organization at the university. In 1933, when the National Socialists came to power, the family emigrated to France.

In 1936 Freund photographed the effects of the Depression in England for Life magazine. The magazine opened a new era of photojournalism. Her photographs, showing the misery of the "distressed areas" were inserted in the middle of an article of the British aristocracy. Freund's article, "Northern England", published in Life on December 14, 1936, was written under the pseudonym 'Girix' (Gi for Gisèle, Rix for Richard). Freund also worked as a freelance journalist and writer for Weekly Illustrated, Vu, Picture Post, Paris-Match, Du, etc.

Before the outbreak of the war, Freund made hundreds of portraits of artists and writers. Her subjects included among others Louis Aragon, Walter Benjamin, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Marcel Duchamp, T.S. Eliot, André Gide, James Joyce, André Malraux, Romain Rolland, Jean-Paul Sartre, Elsa Triolet, Paul Valéry, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and others.

Her best-known book is Photographie et société (1974) about the uses and abuses of the photographic medium.


Books, Albums and Catalogues
  • La Photographie en France au dix-neuvième siècle, Paris, 1936.
  • Mexique Précolombien, Neuchâtel, 1954.
  • James Joyce in Paris, New York, 1965.
  • Au pays des visages 1938-1968, Paris, 1968. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Photographie und bürgerliche Gesellschaft, Munich, 1968.
  • Le Monde et ma camera, Paris, 1970.
    • The World In My Camera, New York, 1975.
  • Photographie et société, Paris: Seuil, 1974.
    • Photographie und Gesellschaft, Munich, 1976. (German)
    • Photography & Society, trans. David R. Godine, Boston: David R. Godine, 1980, 231 pp.
  • Fotografien 1932-1977, Bonn, 1977. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Mémoires de l'œil, Paris, 1977.
    • Memoiren des Auges, Frankfurt am Main, 1977. (German)
  • Trois jours avec Joyce, Paris, 1982.
    • Drei Tage mit James Joyce, Frankfurt am Main, 1983. (German)
  • Photographien, Munich, 1985. (German)
  • Gisèle Freund, Berlin, 1988. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Porträts von Schriftstellern und Künstlern, Munich, 1989. (German)
  • Catalogue de l'œuvre photographique Gisèle Freund, Paris, 1991. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Die Frau mit der Kamera, Munich, 1992. (German)
  • Gisèle Freund Portrait. Entretiens avec Rauda Jamis, Paris, 1992.
    • Gespräche mit Rauda Jamis, Munich, 1993. (German)
  • Zwei Reportagen, Braunschweig, 1994. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Fotografien zum 1. Mai 1932, Frankfurt am Main, 1995. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Berlin-Frankfurt-Paris. Fotografien 1929-1962, Berlin, 1996. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Gesichter der Sprache. Schriftsteller um Adrienne Monnier. Fotografien zwischen 1935 und 1940, Hannover, 1996. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
  • Malraux sous le regard de Gisèle Freund, Paris, 1996. Exhibition catalogue.
  • en face. Gisèle Freund photographiert von Tom Fecht, Berlin, 2001. Exhibition catalogue. (German)
On Freund
  • Adrienne Monner, "In the Land of Faces", Verve 5-6 (1939).
  • Edward Streichen, Memorable Life Photograph, 1951.
  • En face. Gisèle Freund photographiert von Tom Fecht, Berlin, 2001.
  • Rauda Jamis, Gisèle Freund, 2002.
  • "Gisèle Freund", in Fifty Key Writers on Photography, ed. Mark Durden, Routledge, 2013.