Parlez-Vous Le Français? French Photography Glossary and Museum List

How to talk about photography in French.

Rue Lanneau by Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget, Rue Lanneau, 1925

The view of my life, from the series: The Autobiographies by Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle, The view of my life, from the series: The Autobiographies, 2010

Welcome to the third article in our French glossary series! This time, we are focusing on photography. First of all, let’s talk about etymology! The word photography was invented by John Herschel in the mid-19th-century and derives from the Greek phοtos, which means light, and graphé, which means drawing or writing. So, photography is a technique that literally “draws with light,” using it to create an image.

Since 1826, when the first photograph was taken, photography has evolved from daguerreotypes to C-prints to digital photographs.

We will introduce you to photography through specific terms related to this artistic medium, and a presentation of several French museums and art galleries devoted to photography that you should visit during your next trip to France!

Let’s discover photography through a French eye.


English French
Black and white Noir et Blanc
Candid photography Photographie candide
C-print Tirage chromogène
Cibachrome Cibachrome
Collotype Phototypie
Color photography Photographie couleur
Conceptual photography Photographie conceptuelle
Digital print Tirage numérique
Documentary photography Photographie documentaire
Fashion photography Photographie de mode
Gelatin silver print Tirage gélatino-argentique
Headshot Portrait
Holography Holographie
Landscape photography Photographie de paysages
Lomography Lomographie
Monochrome photography Photographie monochrome
Nude photography Photographie de nu
Photojournalism Photojournalisme
Photogravure Photogravure
Pictorialism Pictorialisme
Pigment print Tirage pigmentaire
Platinum print Tirage platine
Print Tirage
Snapshot Instantané
Street photography Photographie de rue
Vintage print Tirage vintage


Maison de la Photographie–Lille
About: There are five Maisons de la Photographie worldwide, with centers in Mali, Marrakech, Moscow, Lille, and Paris. Located in the north of France, Maison de la Photographie in Lille was inaugurated in 2003, and was created to support local art and artists through debates, exhibitions and events. The Maison also hosts the Transphotographiques Festival, whose Willy Ronis (French, 1910–2009) was the first godfather, and hosts selected exhibitions all around the city. For more than 10 years, the festival has featured works by many well-known photographers, including Peter Lindbergh (German, b.1944), William Klein (American, b.1928), and Bettina Rheims (French, b.1952), among others. Thanks to a partnership with the Maison Européenne de la Photographie à Paris, the Maison de la Photographie de Lille is now MEP-Lille.
Did you know? The Maison de la Photographie was created in Lille on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (French, 1802–1872), a significant photographer in Lille during the early 19th century.
Address: 18 rue Frémy – 59000 Lille
Hours:  Open: 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Tuesday through Wednesday, and 2 p.m.–6 p.m., Saturday; Closed: Sunday and Monday

Maison Européenne de la Photographie–Paris
About: Opened in 1996, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (or MEP) is located in the Hotel Henault de Cantobre in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. The building houses an exhibition center, a large library, an auditorium, and a video library, as well as a restoration and conservation workshop. With a permanent collection of nearly 20,000 photographs, the MEP has featured works by a number of well-known artists, including Helmut Newton (German, 1920–2004) and Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009). Between three and four exhibitions are held at the MEP every year, which focus mainly on artists and movements of the mid-20th and early 21st centuries. In addition, one of the MEP’s central missions is to preserve the photographic patrimony of the libraries, archives, and museums of Paris.
Did you know? Henry Chapier, famous French movie critic, journalist, and TV host, is the President of the MEP.
Address: 5/7 rue de Fourcy — 75004 Paris
Hours:  Open: 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday; Closed: Monday and Tuesday

Le Jeu de Paume hors les murs –Paris
About: In 1861, the building was originally built for tennis, or Jeu de Paume (literally, “palm game”), under Napoléon III. In 1909, it became an art space in collaboration with the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Louvre. The Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume house foreign collections, but during World War II the building and the artworks were confiscated by the Nazis. From 1947 to 1986, the museum exhibited Impressionist paintings and soon became a national gallery, featuring Modern and Contemporary Art. In 2004, the museum became exclusively devoted to photography, video, and experimental cinema. And since 2007, Jeu de Paume expanded its reach, developing a virtual space on the Internet, which presents works created especially for the web. Jeu de Paume also has partnerships with several national and international institutions all around the world. In 2013, Jeu de Paume is presenting works from Lorna Simpson (American, b.1960), Erwin Blumenfeld (German, 1897–1969), and Willy Ronis.
Did you know? In 2010, Jeu de Paume partnered with Château de Tours to create exhibitions focusing on historic photographs, with the intention of reaching a larger audience. Today, Jeu de Paume is made up of the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, the Centre National de la Photographie, and Patrimoine Photographique.
Address: 1 place de la Concorde — 75008 Paris
Hours: Open: 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and 11 a.m.–9 p.m. on Tuesday; Closed: Monday

LE BAL – Paris
About: LE BAL was born out of a project by the Association des Amis de Magnum, whose president is photographer and documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon (French, b.1942). LE BAL’s mission is to create an independent location dedicated to the representation of the reel through photography, video, cinema, and new media. From Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975) to Jeff Wall (Canadian, b.1946), LE BAL presents an open space for Contemporary Art. In 2006, it became an exhibition venue, a bookstore, and a coffee shop. And since 2008, LE BAL has hosted an educational platform called La Fabrique du Regard dedicated to teaching high school students how to look at images. In early 2013, LE BAL organized a very successful exhibition dedicated to Antoine D’Agata, and is now displaying artworks from Bas Jan Ader (Dutch, 1942–1975), Taiyo Onorato, and Nico Krebs.
Did you know? During the Roaring Twenties, the building which hosts LE BAL was a cabaret, brothel, and a ballroom. Between World War II and 1992, LE BAL was the biggest betting shop in France.
Address: 6 impasse de la Défense – 75018 Paris
Hours: Open: 12 p.m.–8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday (until 10 p.m. on Thursday), 11 a.m.–8 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m.–7 p.m. on Sunday; Closed: Monday and Tuesday

Musée Nicephore Niepce–Chalon-sur-Saône
About: Located in Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy, the Musée Nicéphore Niepce displays temporary exhibitions of old and Contemporary photographers, and is dedicated to French inventor Joseph-Nicephore Niepce (French, 1765–1833). The building was inaugurated in 1972 and contains almost 3 million images from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as more than 1,500 cameras. Its mission is to provide a history of photography from its invention to today’s digital imagery. The museum displays professional prints alongside amateur works. In the past, the museum has held exhibitions about André Steiner (Austrian/Hungarian, 1901–1978), Malick Sidibé (Malian, b.1936), and Robert Doisneau (French, 1912–1994), and it is currently displaying artworks by Klavdij Sluban (French, b.1953) and Stanley Greene (American, b.1949).
Did you know? Point de vue du Gras is the name of the first photograph in history, which was taken by Niepce in 1826 from the window of his home.
Address: 28 Quai des Messageries – 71100 Chalon-sur-Saône
Hours: Open: 9:30 a.m.–11:45 p.m., and 2 p.m.–5:15 p.m., Wednesday through Monday; Closed: Tuesday

Centre d’art contemporain photographique (CACP) – Villa Pérochon – Niort
About: Pour l’Instant, an association of enthusiast amateurs, decided to provide support for young photographers, and launched the first European Summer Photographic Encounters, which became the Encounters of Young International Photography in 2007. After being recognized by the French Ministry of Culture, the project of Centre d’art contemporain photographique was born in 2011, and took place in four different locations in the city of Niort. In March 2013, Villa Pérochon was inaugurated. Its 1,400 sq. ft. garden and gallery is used as a space for exhibitions, and promotes both young and established artists. The Belvédère au Moulin du Roc is a 1,000 sq. ft. exhibition gallery in the heart of the city, nested close to the photography workshop called Le Coin Photo. The Fort Foucault, a residency for artists, is located in a 19th century villa built on the remains of a medieval fortress.
Did you know? The Villa Pérochon is a patrimonial site, and the former home of the writer Ernest Pérochon, Goncourt Prize winner of 1920.
Address: CACP — Villa Pérochon — 64 rue Paul François Proust – 79000 Niort
Hours: Open: 1:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; Closed: Sunday to Monday

Audrey Fair is a French content manager at artnet.

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