Testament of Orpheus, 1959
Curated by James Cavello
In 1959 Clergue captured historic and artistic photographs on the set of Jean Cocteau's last film Testament of Orpheus (Le testament d'Orphée). The images evoke the creative personality of one of France's foremost 20th century intellectuals, Jean Cocteau, writer, artist and filmmaker. Clergue documented the atmosphere on the set of the landmark, seminal film. Among Cocteau's collaborators represented are Pablo Picasso, Yul Brynner and Jean Marais. Photographer Lucien Clergue, a close friend of Cocteau, was only 25 at the time; he documented the making of the film. In the words of Cocteau, "You are free to do as you please, I look forward to being surprised by your photos. They will reveal something different from my film."
Testament of Orpheus (Le testament d'Orphée), directed and starring Jean Cocteau, represents the third part of his Orphic Trilogy and is Cocteau's last film, following The Blood of a Poet (1930) and Orphée (1950). The black-and-white film includes a few seconds of color, and portrays the quest for divine wisdom of an 18th century poet, played by Mr. Cocteau himself. In a mysterious wasteland, The Poet meets several symbolic characters that bring about his death and resurrection. Testament of Orpheus brings full circle the exploration of the complex relationship between the artist and his creations. With an eclectic cast, including Jean Marais, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Serge Lifar, Françoise Sagan as well as cameo appearances by Yul Brynner and Pablo Picasso, the film represents a retrospective of Cocteau's life and work as examined by the artist himself, and is, in Cocteau's own words, "simply a machine for creating meanings".
About the Photographer
For over fifty years, Lucien Clergue has been an independent photographer, known for his thirty year association with Picasso, as well as other creators,including Edward Steichen, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Salvador Dali, Jean Renoir, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, André Kertész, Marcel Breuer, Roman Polanski, Umberto Eco, Robert Rauschenberg, and many other artistic individuals. Lucien Clergue's talent also extended to music -- as a child violinist he was inspired by the rhythm, melodic quality and sometimes haunting effect of music. In the early 1950s in Arles, France, where Clergue was born, he photographed gypsy families and met Jose Reyes of The Gipsy Kings and his cousin, flamenco guitarist, Manitas de Plata. For many years Clergue teamed with the singer and guitarist and traveled the duo around the world with performances at landmarks such as Carnegie Hall. Clergue also directed a film, Delta de sel with music by Manitas de Plata, which was nominated for an academy award and went on to create and direct numerous art-related films (Picasso, War, Love and Peace, 1968, produced by Universal Pictures). The subjects of Clergue's photographs have spanned the decades capturing extraordinary images of Saltimbanques, undulating nudes, intimate portraits of Picasso, Cocteau, Hockney, reflective images, the bullfight, death-related concepts, and experimental fine art photographs. Clergue's photographs are in the collection of over 60 well-known museums and private collectors. His photographs have been exhibited in over 100 solo exhibitions worldwide, with noted exhibitions such as Museum of Modern Art New York.