Gisèle Freund(Gisela Freund)

Photograph: Gisèle Freund, Photographer
Portrait photograph of Gisèle Freund, taken by Adrienne Monnier, 1936
© bpk | IMEC, Fonds MCC | Adrienne Monnier

Gisèle Freund(Gisela Freund)

Die Ereignisse überschlugen sich. Am 10. Juni 1940 verließ die Regierung Paris. Drei Tage später fuhr ich am Tage vor dem Eintreffen der deutschen Truppen im Morgengrauen mit dem Fahrrad ab. Auf dem Gepäckträger hatte ich meinen kleinen Koffer festgebunden, den selben, mit dem ich sieben Jahre vorher in Paris angekommen war.

[Everything came thick and fast. On 10 June 1940, the government left Paris. Three days later and one day before the German troops arrived, I left at dawn by bicycle. I had tied my small suitcase to the luggage rack, the same suitcase that I had with me when I arrived in Paris seven years earlier. (ed. trans.)]

Gisèle Freund, Memoiren des Auges, 1977

Bornon 19 December 1908 in Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany
Diedon 31 March 2000 in Paris, France
ExileFrance, Argentina

Growing up in the home of an art collector, Gisèle Freund began to take an interest in photography early on. She received her first camera from her father at the age of 15, thus laying the foundations for a career as a famous photographer. She first, however, began her studies in sociology in 1931, under, among others, Theodor W. Adorno. On the advice of her mentor Norbert Elias, she began writing a photohistoric doctoral thesis (French original 1935, English Photography and Bourgeois Society, 1968). She also became interested in photojournalism during her studies.

As a Jew, an anti-fascist and member of the Socialist Student Union, Freund faced threats from several fronts after the Nazis came into power in Germany. She fled to Paris at the end of May 1933. In exile in Paris she became friends with the bookseller and publisher Adrienne Monnier, whose bookstore was a meeting place of the literary avant-garde of those years. Freund met many writers through her. This was the environment in which she created a large number of those portraits that made her well-known, for example of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, James Joyce and André Malraux among others. It was characteristic of her work that she made series of portraits over several years.

The German army’s invasion of in France in 1940 forced her to flee to the French department Lot. She emigrated from here to Argentina in 1942. In South America she lived and worked in Argentina, Chile and Mexico and worked on photo-reportages. The influential photo agency Magnum helped her to publish these. It was not until 1953 that she moved back to Paris for good. She never returned to Germany on a permanent basis. Gisèle Freund's fame is based both on her photographic work, which has been recognized internationally in major exhibitions, and her work on the history and theory of photography. 

Further reading:
Frecot, Janos / Kostas, Gabriele (Hg.): Gisèle Freund. Fotografische Szenen und Porträts. Ausstellungskatalog Berlin. Berlin: Nicolai 2014
Braun-Ruiter, Marita (Hg.): Gisèle Freund. Berlin – Frankfurt – Paris. Fotografien 1929 – 1962. Ausstellungskatalog Berlin. Berlin: Jovis 1996
Neyer-Schoop, Irene (Hg.): Gisèle Freund: Gesichter der Sprache. Schriftsteller um Adrienne Monnier. Fotografien zwischen 1935 und 1940. Ausstellungskatalog Hannover. Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz 1996
Freund, Gisèle. Photographien. Mit autobiographischen Texten. München: Schirmer/Mosel 1985
Freund, Gisèle. Memoiren des Auges. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer 1977