artnet Asks: Photographer, Filmmaker, and Author Lucien Clergue

Lucien Clergue, Nude at Point Lobos (1980)  Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art

Lucien Clergue
  Dressed in light, Santa Barbara (2002)
  Gelatin silver print 15 1/4 x 11 in. 5/30 PF Signed, titled, and dated in ink on verso 
(Inv# 64809-C)
 Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art.

Lucien Clergue, the legendary photographer, author, and filmmaker, is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at Throckmorton Fine Art. Opening on May 1, "Homage" includes more than 30 images spanning Clergue's lengthy career, and celebrates his 80th birthday as well. Clergue's moody, sensual photographs celebrate the sea, the power of light and shadow, and the beauty of the female form. We spoke via mail with Clergue about his inspirations, his friend Pablo Picasso, and his breakfast.

Lucien Clergue Untitled (Nude silhouette) (1973) Courtesy of artnet

Lucien Clergue
Nude on beach, Genese (1973)
Gelatin silver print, vintage 20 x 24 in. 18/50 Signed in ink on recto and verso
(Inv# 55848-C)
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art.

Could you tell us about a moment that set you on your way to becoming an artist?
When I heard a J.S. Bach piece for violin, Ciaccona [the concluding movement of Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004], I was 14, and I entered into another world. I was studying violin but because I had no money I turned to photography.

You've spoken about “the mentality of the Mediterranean man." What does this mean to you and how has it influenced your work?
Mediterranean countries are the beginning of civilizations and Arles started 4600 years ago! So my roots are full of these civilizations of the South, the theater in particular, the tragedy, and also the sculptures of women naked. We have in Arles the Venus of Arles. She is my favorite.

Lucien Clergue Nu de la Mer (1996) Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art

Lucien Clergue
Nude of the sea, Camargue (1966)
Gelatin silver print 11 1/4 x 15 in. Signed in ink on recto
(Inv# 64776-C)
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art.

In your eyes, what makes a truly great photograph?
I would like to use the words of my friend Duane Michals, "I prefer photographs who are asking questions than the ones giving answers." This is the mystery, and the creation of new forms!

Are there any contemporary artists whose work you particularly admire? If so, who?
I am a fan of Picasso + Picasso and again Picasso.

Lucien Clergue Picasso a la plage (1965) Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art

Lucien Clergue
Picasso on the beach, Cannes (1965)
Gelatin silver print 17 3/4 in. x 11 in. Signed in pencil on verso
(Inv# 64771-C)
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art.

If you could live in any decade, which decade would it be and why?
Right now! I am ending my life starting to understand a little better!

What was the last artwork that made you laugh out loud, and what was so funny about it?
Art is not for fun if it is no good I am sad, if it is good I enjoy and smile.

Do you eat breakfast? If so, what do you like to eat?
Yes: orange, lemon, fruits, cookies, tea of thyme.

Lucien Clergue Les géantes (1978) Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art

Lucien Clergue
Four nudes, Tuscany, Italy (1993)
Gelatin silver print 15 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. 1/30 PF Signed in ink on recto and verso
(Inv# 64798-C)
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Throckmorton Fine Art.

"Homage" runs at Throckmorton Fine Art from May 1 to July 12, 2014.