Reporters Without Borders

Pierre & Alexandra Boulat

Pierre & Alexandra Boulat

Published on Wednesday 1 September 2010. Updated on Wednesday 30 November 2011.
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Pierre & Alexandra Boulat, 100 photos for press freedom

In the course of their careers, Pierre Boulat and his daughter Alexandra took many unforgettable photos for magazines such as Paris Match. Pierre Boulat (1924-1998) worked for years for the legendary US magazine Life, photographing the greatest stars, political leaders and the world of fashion, above all Yves Saint Laurent. Alexandra Boulat (1962-2007) chose to cover wars and dangerous places, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Palestine. Their work was very different in terms of subject matter but very similar in its common humanistic approach.

Florence Aubenas

There is one situation that a woman journalist can scarcely avoid – especially if she is a news reporter: she is instantly expected to talk about her gender before anything else. Indeed, year after year, decade after decade, the same eternal question keeps resurfacing, asked with unflagging naivety: how does she manage to be a woman and a journalist? Isn’t it too demanding? As it happens, Alexandra Boulat was not content to just be a woman. She was also someone’s daughter – in this case, Pierre Boulat’s – who was both a photographer and a renowned reporter. And her mother is none other than Annie, founder and director of the Cosmos Photo Agency. The Boulat family’s production is part of what one might call the highest “classic” tradition of photojournalism reminiscent of the works of Robert Capa or Lee Miller. Following in each other’s footsteps, this father and daughter passed through front lines and fashion shows, taking portraits of the celebrated and obscure alike, covering the remarkable as well as the ordinary. Journalism is no longer an academy for promoting heroism or excellence, but the exact opposite: a learning experience in humility and trial-and-error. The line between information and communication, between rumblings and rumours, between the great story that sells (or hopefully will) and the real story that compels readers to think, is sometimes blurred. On the other hand, we reporters know how easy it is to cross those lines out of haste, or inadvertently because of fatigue or fear. In this infernal machine, we too are both victims and culprits.

Annie Boulat

Pierre’s best work was done in the post-war years and in the subsequent glorious years which followed. His photos tell us stories about a world recovering its joie de vivre and rebuilding itself. Of course, they cover the occasional natural disaster and political crisis, but above all else they show us the lives of ordinary people and the gestures of the famous. They reflect the tenderness and enthusiasm with which he observed how they lived, while conveying detail as only a keen-eyed journalist endowed with humour and imagination could do. When Alexandra was ready, he passed her the “torch,” but the era in which she lived was quite different from his. Alexandra’s career unfolded in an anguished world. Her talent evolved on the darkest side of humanity, in which she tried to find some glimpse of light. Intolerant of violence, but with great lucidity and uncompromising honesty, she reveals to us the pain of people who have endured immense hardship, lost everything, and yet remain unbowed. Her photos – moving and full of compassion – also reflect her convictions, her fine intellect and her keen sense of justice. These two artists were driven by the same passion for their work, the same respect for life, the same curiosity about the world. They were equally determined to track down, surround, surprise, and contemplate their subject from every possible angle in order to capture “the photo” – the one that would convey its essence and thrust the viewer into the heart of the action. Never unwilling to question themselves, to hesitate, or to experience the anguish that sets true creators apart, Pierre and Alexandra perceived their subjects in ways that ultimately intersected and merged into the self-same desire to see and to share.

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  • Pierre Boulat
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