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Charlotte Perriand Photography

The Photography of Charlotte Perriand: A Glimpse into the Images of an Iconic Designer

Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) was a French architect and designer who was known for her contributions to modernism and her collaborations with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. While she is primarily known for her furniture designs, Perriand was also an accomplished photographer whose work has been gaining recognition in recent years. I am a bit late to the party, but better late than never!

Perriand’s photographic collection, which is controlled by her daughter Pernette Perriand-Barsac and her son-in-law Jacques Barsac, includes 20,000 images that she took throughout her life. That’s a LOT. These photographs provide a unique insight into Perriand’s creative process and her personal life, as well as the cultural and social context of the time period. In 2019, a selection of 48 photographs from this collection was exhibited at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, marking the first time that Perriand’s photographs had been shown to the public in such a large-scale exhibition.

Perriand’s photographs reveal her interest in the relationship between architecture, design, and everyday life. Many of her photographs depict the interiors of her own homes and those of her friends and collaborators, showcasing the modernist aesthetic that she helped to define. Other photographs capture the landscapes and people of the places where she traveled, including Japan, Africa, and the French Alps. Through her photographs, Perriand demonstrated her belief that design should be functional and accessible to all, and that it should contribute to the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.

Charlotte Perriand and collaborators
From left, painter Fernand Leger, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, his brother Albert Jeanneret, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, and novelist Matila Ghyka. Athens 1933. Source: Archives Charlotte Perriand

The Early Years of Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand was born on October 24, 1903, in Paris, France. Her mother was a seamstress and her father, a tailor. Perriand studied at the École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. During her studies, Perriand became interested in photography and began to experiment with the medium.

In the early 1920s, Perriand was introduced to Le Corbusier, who would become one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century. Le Corbusier was impressed by Perriand’s work and invited her to join his studio. Perriand worked with Le Corbusier from 1927 to 1937, during which time she helped to design some of the most iconic pieces of furniture of the 20th century.

Perriand’s early work as a photographer had a significant influence on her later design work. She was fascinated by the way that objects could be transformed through photography, and she used this approach to create furniture that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Perriand’s work was characterized by a focus on simplicity and functionality, and she was known for her use of materials such as steel, glass, and aluminum. Later on, she would go on to use more organic materials, like wood and straw (jute). 

In the early years of her career, Perriand was also heavily influenced by the work of the Russian Constructivists, who sought to create art and design that was both functional and socially useful. Perriand shared this belief, and her work was often inspired by the idea that design could be used to improve people’s lives. Just check out what she did at Les Arcs

Charlotte Perriand - Les Arcs
Charlotte Perriand - Les Arcs Resort

Pioneering Work in Photography

Charlotte Perriand was not primarily known as a photographer, but her photography work was just as pioneering as her furniture design. She used her camera to capture ideas, shapes, and materials that would later influence her designs. I think her work is absolutely brilliant and evocative. 

Perriand’s photography was not limited to documenting her travels and explorations of the natural world. She also took photographs of her own designs, which she used to promote her work and showcase her ideas to potential clients. Smart marketing. 

One of my personal favorite Perriand photographs is a shot of a block of ice in the forest of Fontainebleau (see below), taken around 1935. The print captures the beauty of the natural world and the power of the elements. The photograph is a testament to Perriand’s ability to find inspiration in unexpected places.

Perriand’s photography work also reflects her interest in the avant-garde and her desire to experiment with new techniques. She was known for her use of unusual angles and perspectives, as well as her willingness to blur the lines between photography and other art forms.

Overall, Perriand’s photography work was just as innovative and groundbreaking as her furniture designs. It reflects her unique perspective and her desire to push the boundaries of what was possible in the world of design.

Block of ice in the forest of Fontainbleau
Block of ice in the forest of Fontainbleau. 1935. Charlotte Perriand. Source: FL Vuitton

Notable Photographic Works By Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand was quite prolific.  Her many photographs often captured the beauty of everyday objects, textures, landscapes, and people. Here are some photos by Charlotte Perriand:

Low-income housing on the boulevard Marechaux
Low-income housing on the boulevard Marechaux, 1936. Charlotte Perriand. Source: ADAGP 2021
It's Harvest Time
It's Harvest Time! Charlotte Perriand 1930. Source: Charlotte Perriand Archives
Jumping Girl
Untitled. Charlotte Perriand. (* Side note: I LOVE this image. Just WOW!)Source: AChP Collection
Fishing Nets Bakarac Croatia
Fishing Nets, Bakarac, Croatia. 1929. Source: AChP Collection
Transport Bins
Benne pour transporter du sable. ca 1934. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP Collection
Merry Go Round Croatia
Merry Go Round, Croatia. 1937. Charlotte Perriand. Source: Charlotte Perriand Archives (Paris)
Bout de tole
Bout de tole. 1933. Charlotte Perriand. Source: Charlotte Perriand Archives (Paris)
La Face Est du Grepon et La Piste Cyclable
La Face Est du Grepon et " La Piste Cyclable" Chamonix. 1930. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP
Mexico, Another Profile, Rock Found in Maurienne
Mexico, Another Profile, Rock Found in Maurienne. 1933. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP
Fish bone
Fish bone. 1933. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP
Accumulation of disordered metal brackets
Accumulation of disordered metal brackets. 1933. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP
Toles compressees III
Toles compressees III. 1935. Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret. Source: AChP
Bome de voiler
Bome de voiler. 1937. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP Collection
Man sitting on low wall
Man sitting on a low wall. 1936. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP Collection
Travelers in Vercors Massif
Travelers in Vercors Massif. 1936. Source: AChP Collection
Charlotte Perriand Photography
Un ami sur un mur. 1936. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP Collection
Charlotte Perriand Photography
Passenger d'un bateau. 1937. Charlotte Perriand. Source: AChP Collection

Influence on Modern Photography

Charlotte Perriand’s influence on modern photography is undeniable. Her designs and use of materials inspired many photographers to experiment with new techniques and styles.

One of the most notable examples of Perriand’s influence on photography can be seen in the work of Lucien Hervé. Hervé was a French photographer who worked closely with Le Corbusier, and his images of Le Corbusier’s buildings are some of the most iconic architectural photographs of the 20th century. Hervé’s use of light and shadow, as well as his emphasis on the geometric forms of the buildings, can be traced back to Perriand’s designs and vision. He took an amazing series of a Perriand designed cabin, Chalet de Méribel. You can see how this design style was implemented in her iconic Les Arcs resort work

Chalet de Meribel
Chalet de Meribel (Charlotte Perriand's Home). 1961. Lucien Herve.

Another photographer who was influenced by Perriand is Hiroshi Sugimoto. Sugimoto is a Japanese photographer/architect known for his minimalist, black-and-white images of seascapes, movie theaters (I am admittedly a bit obsessed with this series of images), and other subjects. Sugimoto has cited Perriand as a major influence on his work, particularly her use of simple, natural materials like wood and stone.

Hiroshi Sugimoto Abandoned Theater
Everett Square Theater, Boston. 2015. Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Perriand’s influence on photography can also be seen in the work of contemporary photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans and Todd Hido. Tillmans, a German photographer, is known for his experimental approach to photography, and his use of color and texture is reminiscent of Perriand’s designs. Hido, an American photographer, is known for his moody, atmospheric images of suburban landscapes, and his use of light and shadow is similar to Perriand’s. Check out their Instagram feeds and see if you agree. 

Wolfgang Tillmans photo
Wolfgang Tillmans
Todd Hido Photo
Todd Hido

Legacy and Impact

Charlotte Perriand’s legacy in photography is a testament to her creative and innovative spirit. Her photographs have been, more and more,  widely exhibited and celebrated –  showcasing her unique perspective and artistic vision.

Perriand’s photography has had a significant impact on the world of design, particularly in the areas of architecture and furniture. Her photographs of Le Corbusier’s buildings and furniture designs helped to popularize his work and cement his place in architectural history.

In addition to her impact on the world of design, Perriand’s photography has also had a broader cultural impact. Her photographs of everyday life in Japan, taken during her time living there, offer a fascinating glimpse into Japanese culture and society in the mid-twentieth century.

Overall, Perriand’s photography is a testament to her creative and innovative spirit, and her legacy continues to inspire and influence artists and designers around the world. A true auteur! 

Frequently Asked Questions

What inspired Charlotte Perriand's photography?

Charlotte Perriand’s photography was inspired by her travels, nature, and everyday life. She believed that photography was a way to capture the essence of a moment and to express her ideas visually. Her photographs often featured natural landscapes, architecture, and people. She was particularly interested in capturing the beauty of simple, everyday objects and scenes.

How did Charlotte Perriand's photography influence her design work?

Charlotte Perriand’s photography influenced her design work in many ways. She often used her photographs as inspiration for her furniture designs, drawing on the shapes, colors, and textures she captured in her images. Her photographs also informed her approach to space and composition, helping her to create harmonious and balanced interiors.

What was Charlotte Perriand's approach to photography?

Charlotte Perriand’s approach to photography was rooted in her belief that photography was a way to capture the essence of a moment. She often used her camera to document her travels, capturing the natural beauty of landscapes and the character of the people she encountered. Her approach was intuitive and spontaneous, and she often experimented with different techniques and angles to create unique and interesting images.

What themes did Charlotte Perriand explore in her photography?

Charlotte Perriand explored a wide range of themes in her photography, including nature, architecture, and everyday life. She was particularly interested in the beauty of simple, everyday objects and scenes, and often captured images of everyday life in rural and urban settings. Her photographs also often featured natural landscapes and architectural details.

How did Charlotte Perriand's photography reflect her worldview?

Charlotte Perriand’s photography reflected her worldview in many ways. She was deeply interested in the relationship between humans and nature, and her photographs often featured natural landscapes and the beauty of the natural world. She was also interested in the ways in which design could improve people’s lives, and her photographs often captured the essence of simple, functional objects.

What was the significance of Charlotte Perriand's photography in her time?

Charlotte Perriand’s photography was significant in her time because it helped to shape the way people thought about design and the natural world. Her photographs captured the beauty of everyday life and the natural world, inspiring others to appreciate the simple things in life. Her approach to photography also influenced her approach to design, helping her to create functional, beautiful spaces that improved people’s lives.

Books on Charlotte Perriand and Her Work:

McLeod, V. (2003). Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Barsac, J. (2015). Charlotte Perriand: Complete Works. Volume 1, 1903-1940. Zurich: Scheidegger and Spiess.

Perriand, C., & Barsac, J. (2005). Charlotte Perriand: Photography: A Wide-Angle Eye. Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou.

Articles and Journals

“Charlotte Perriand and the Art of Photography.” (2020). Photography Quarterly, (105), 29-45.

Silver, K. (2001). “At Home with Charlotte Perriand.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, 25, 8-23.

Exhibition Catalogs and Related Works

Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World (2019). Paris: Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Champs, E. L. (2014). Charlotte Perriand and the Japanese Influence. Tokyo: Japan Foundation.

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