DÉCOUVREZ LES 14 MUSÉES DE LA VILLE DE PARIS
Hugo… and photography
In the early years of exile, photography became a family affair. Hugo paid very close attention to this fledgling art. He perceived its use as a political tool to broadcast his image as an exile in France. He also saw editorial promise. His sons Charles and, to a lesser degree, François-Victor, therefore organised together a proper photographic studio at Marine Terrace with Auguste Vacquerie. The “Jersey workshop” was a unique adventure. It was both a look at the landscape which sometimes inspired drawings by Victor Hugo and a testimony to outlaws in exile.
A few daguerreotypes show the interest of the poet in photography in the late 1840s, but it was his exile that marked the start of the writer’s real dabbling in the art. Through Edmond Bacot, a photographer from Caen who came to Jersey to support the cause of the outlaws, Hugo set up the “Jersey Workshop” between 1852 and 1855, a photographic studio in the greenhouse of Marine Terrace. A joint project for a book about the Channel Islands which was illustrated with photographs kept the group busy. While the book was never finished, it did produce an intense production of prints on salted paper which were the highlights of a fruitful and creative period, of which the museum holds one of the main collections.
Victor Hugo quickly understood the artistic and popular interest of the medium. He drew inspiration from certain photos for his drawings and was involved in the composition and staging that fixed the image of the banished poet watching France from the rocks of Jersey. The purpose of the workshop was also to preserve the memory of exiles whose portraits featured in many scrapbooks (Album des Proscrits, Album Allix, Album Philip Asplet...) which were sometimes decorated with paintings or collages by Charles Hugo.
This activity continued at Hauteville House in Guernsey in 1855, where a small laboratory was installed between the tapestry lounge and the workshop. The friendship and esteem between Hugo and Edmond Bacot was undeniable and it was to Bacot that the honour of photographing the house fell in 1862. This first report marked the start of the attraction that this house would always hold for photographers.
The poet's interest in photography can also be seen in the many photos he kept for their documentary or artistic value. He became friends with other photographers like Etienne Carjat or Nadar, who ensured that the image of Victor Hugo as patriarch, with beard and white hair, remained forever fixed in our collective memory. Julia Margaret Cameron, the famous English photographer from the Pre-Raphaelite period sent him thirty pictures in gratitude and admiration. The value of photography as a tribute is also evident in portrait pictures which were sent as a souvenir accompanying letters from his writer friends such as Alexandre Dumas and George Sand.