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Freund, Gisèle (1908?-2000)  
 
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Though she was an accomplished and respected photojournalist who undertook assignments for Time and Life, among many other publications, Gisèle Freund is today best remembered as a chronicler of the vibrant bohemian community of artists and writers that made its home in Paris during the 1930s.

These artists included a wide variety of experimental thinkers who created innovative and influential work, from Gertrude Stein's literary "cubism" to Jean Paul Sartre's existential absurdism to Man Ray's surreal dadaism. Freund's carefully observant portraits of many of these leading figures of 1930s Paris captured the dynamic tension of a creative community poised on the edge of exhilaration and despair during the years between the two world wars.

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Many of the artists Freund photographed during those years were her friends, and many, like Freund, were gay or lesbian, living and loving with a relative openness that would not be seen again for many decades.

Freund was born into an affluent Jewish family on December 19, 1908 (some sources say 1912) in the town of Schoenberg near Berlin. Her father was an industrialist who appreciated the arts. He took his young daughter to museums and, when she was twelve years old, gave her her first camera, a compact Leica, with which she began to document life around her.

Freund attended the University of Frankfurt, studying sociology and working with leftist student groups to fight the rising tide of fascism, while continuing to take photographs. One of her most striking early photos focuses on two girls in the front of a teeming square of demonstrators at a May 1, 1932 anti-Nazi march. The picture evinces Freund's skill at creating a personal connection between her subject and the viewer.

In 1933, as German society became more and more repressive, a friend warned Freund that as a Jew and a leftist she was likely to be arrested soon. She left Germany immediately, on a train bound for France, carrying with her little more than a suitcase, some film, and a camera.

Once in Paris, Freund continued to work on her art and began studying at the Sorbonne, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1936. In June 1935, she photographed many of the writers and philosophers who had come to Paris from 35 countries to meet at the anti-fascist Congress for the Defense of Culture.

By 1935, Freund had become part of the artistic community that frequently gathered at two Left Bank bookstores, Shakespeare and Company, owned by Sylvia Beach, and La Maison des Amis des Livres, operated by Beach's lover, Adrienne Monnier. Freund and Monnier made an immediate and intimate connection, and in 1936, while Beach was on an extended trip to the U.S., Freund moved into the apartment that Beach had shared with Monnier.

As she had for many other artists and writers, Monnier supported Freund's creative career. In 1936, she helped translate and published Freund's doctoral thesis about the sociological role of photography, a daring choice for a doctoral thesis since photography was not at that time taken seriously in the academy.

With Monnier's help, Freund married a Frenchman named Pierre Blum (or Bloom) in order to obtain a visa to remain in France legally. They divorced within a few years. Armed with her new papers, Freund took a job as a photojournalist with Life magazine, which published "Northern England," her acclaimed photodocumentary of economic hardship in Britain, on December 14, 1936.

In 1939, Freund used newly available technology to blow up her pictures of Left Bank artists to larger-than-life size, and Monnier mounted the first exhibit of the photographs in her bookstore. The same year, London's Peggy Guggenheim gallery also hosted an exhibit of Freund's photographs of intellectuals and artists such as T.S. Eliot, André Gide, Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville-West.

Although some criticized her photographs for the use of color, Freund defended the innovation as being truer to life than the prevailing black-and-white studio portraits of the day. Her exhibitions drew positive attention largely because her images reflected her deep connection with her subjects. She intended that her photographs reveal her models' inner nature, thus she made an attempt to know her subjects and their work well before photographing them. Her image of Virginia Woolf is particularly noteworthy for its depth of insight into the writer's haunted psyche.

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A self portrait by Gisèle Freund.
  
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