A Venerable Agency Guarding Paris’s Photographic Heritage May Be Shut Down

Does culture have to be profitable?

The 35 employees of Roger-Viollet-Parisienne protest outside Paris City Hall Tuesday June 13. Photo: ©Jean-Christophe Clamagirand, courtesy of jan_krysztoff_pictures_maker via Instagram.

The 35 employees of the historic Roger-Viollet-Parisienne photographic agency are striking amid fears that the city will shut down the public institution due to lack of funding.

The Paris agency, set to celebrate its 84th birthday next year, is entrusted with the digitization, conservation, and dissemination of over 150 years of national and international history in images.

Founded by Hélène Roger-Viollet and her husband Jean Fischer in 1938, the Roger-Viollet collection of six million photographs was later bequeathed to the City of Paris, which absorbed the agency into La Parisienne de Photographie in 2005.

An audit carried out this year alerted the city to the difficulty of financially sustaining the public company. Since then, an atmosphere of disquiet has settled over the agency, whose revenue is generated by commercial distribution and from city funding.

On Tuesday June 13, scheduled to coincide with a board meeting, agency employees gathered outside Paris’s town hall, protesting the “sacrifice of culture” on the altar of “profitability.” The workers have also launched a petition to inform and mobilize the community about the potential fate of the institution.

For his part, Paris’s deputy for culture, Bruno Julliard, has renewed the delegation of the public service for a year, but this is not enough to reassure the 35 employees responsible for the archives.

“The digitization and conservation of six million photos is costly,” Dominique Lecourt, an editorial manager who has worked at the agency for 20 years, told Télérama.

“Income generated by sales are not sufficient to cover these expenses, even in part,” he went on. “But it is Paris’s heritage and it is up to the city to bear the cost.”

Sign outside the agency reading “NO TO THE CLOSURE OF ROGER-VIOLLET BY THE CITY OF PARIS.” Photo courtesy nicolasfenal via Instagram.

Télérama also reports that the issue has been tabled until mid-July, a concession that does not impress employees who are concerned for the future of the agency if its services are outsourced to the private sector.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.