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Remembering Gerald Bloncourt Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

12 November 2018

The Haitian photographer Gérald Bloncourt, whose work as an exile in Paris told the story of immigrants and factory workers, died late last month at the age of 91, a victim of melanoma.

In addition to his photography, he was a painter and poet.

He was born in Bainet on Nov. 4, 1926. "My father was a mulatto from Guadeloupe and my mom was French. Her parents were Italian immigrants from the south of France. We were three boys," he explained simply in an interview.

A hurricane forced the family to move to Jacmel when Bloncourt was just an infant. He had a happy childhood despite the "domination of the Catholic Church" and the American occupation "because my parents were very open and democratic." They taught him to respect others no matter what their station in life.

His mother ran a school, accepting many students whose parents could not afford the tuition, annoying the well-to-do parents who did not want their children rubbing elbows with the less fortunate. His father, famous for his athletic achievements, was arrested for resisting the occupation, spending two months in prison.

'I wanted to use my photos as a weapon in hopes to change the world.'

A violent storm and tidal wave in 1936 forced the family to relocate to the capitol.

In 1945 he started a newspaper to protest the government of President Élie Lescot and was expelled after leading demonstrations against the regime. He went first to Santo Domingo and then to Martinque before establishing himself in Paris.

His older brother Tony, a member of the resistance, had been shot by Nazis in France. His brother Claude became a surgeon there and helped many young Haitians come to France to study medicine.

In fact Bloncourt audited classes in Haiti's Medical School in 1945 but couldn't formally enroll because he had never completed secondary school.

But that didn't stop Bloncourt any more than hurricanes and tidal waves had.

He spent years following 350,000 Portuguese emigres who had sought asylum in France living in slums outside Paris and finding work in construction and factories. His photos show their faces determined despite their dismal surroundings.

And when the fascist regime was deposed in Portugal in the Carnation Revolution, restoring democracy to the country, he went to Lisbon to photograph the celebrations.

His images preserving the history of Portuguese immigrants earned him the Commander of the Order of Prince Henry in 2016.

"I wanted to use my photos as a weapon in hopes to change the world," he said.

His work can be seen in an archive of 200,000 imagesw which he cataloged himself, assembling a half century "of photographic memory," as he called it.

He is survived by his wife Isabelle and his daughters Ludmilla Bloncourt, Sandra Millé and Morgane Itshak-Levy Bloncourt, his son Gérald, five grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

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