Martine Franck and the Théâtre du Soleil • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO
Performing Arts

Martine Franck and the Théâtre du Soleil

Martine Franck’s vivid photographs of the Shakespeare Cycle are the highlight of a fifty year project documenting the pioneering theater company

Martine Franck

Martine Franck Georges Bigot as Prince Henry in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

Martine Franck’s long and creative collaboration with the Parisian avant-garde stage ensemble Théâtre du Soleil developed out of her friendship with its founder, Ariane Mnouchkine. Franck photographed every groundbreaking production put on by the company over a fifty year period, producing a body of work that captures the development of her own practice as well as the evolving creative direction of Mnouchkine. Both women would go on to rise to the top of their professions: Mnouchkine as an eminent director and one of the first women in the industry to receive such critical acclaim, and Franck as a celebrated photojournalist and an early female member of Magnum.

Martine Franck Maurice Durozier as Douglas in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Julien Maurel as the fool in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. France. 1982. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Philippe Hottier as Sir John Falstaff in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. Paris, France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

Franck first began experimenting with photography in 1965 while accompanying Mnouchkine on a research trip through Japan, Cambodia, India and Afghanistan. She found solace in the medium’s ability to provide her with a way of involving herself in a situation; social occasions were something she openly admitted to struggling with due to her shy and introverted nature. On returning from the trip she decided to pursue a career as a photographer, becoming a trainee at Time-Life in Paris and working as an assistant to Goon Mili and Eliot Elisofon. When Mnouchkine founded the Théâtre du Soleil in 1964, its activities provided an obvious subject-matter for the young photographer.

Martine Franck Georges Bigot as Richard II and Odile Cointepas as the Queen in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Richard II. France. 1981. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Durozier as Douglas, C.Bosc as the guardian, J.Maurel as Henry Percy and G.Freixe as Worcester in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Douglas, played by Maurice Durozier, attacks King Henry, played by Georges Bigot, in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Henry IV. France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Richard II and his court at the end of the trial during Act I of the Théâtre du Soleil production of Richard II. Paris, France. 1981. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

Recognized as one of the company’s most important achievements the Shakespeare Cycle espoused a new theatrical approach to the famed playwright’s seminal works, by presenting the stories’ characters as psychologically one-dimensional and placing an emphasis on the formality and artificiality of the scripts. Franck regarded her images of this series as the best work she made during her time photographing the company. Making an exception to her usual rule, Mnouchkine allowed Franck to work onstage during preparations for the performances and the increased freedom and proximity to the subjects this gave her is reflected in the dynamism of the resulting stills, all taken during rehearsals.

Martine Franck Georges Bigot as Orsino in the Théâtre du Soleil production of Twelfth Night. France. 1982. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Ariane Mnouchkine during rehearsals for the Théâtre du Soleil production of Richard II. Leaning against the mirror is the mask of the Duchess of Gloucester, sculpted by Erhard Stiefel. Paris, Franc (...)

Franck wrote about how her ongoing project with the Théâtre du Soleil differed from her other long-term work in that she was “representing something that somebody has already put in place rather than discovering something for yourself”. She reconciled the problematic task of recording another artist’s creation through focusing on the aesthetics of the performance: producing stills with dynamic compositions, playful lighting and vivid colors.

Martine Franck Here, Hélène Cinque, playing Maria, doing her make-up before the Théâtre du Soleil’s rehearsal of Twelfth Night . Paris, France. 1982. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck The comedian Georges Bigot, playing Richard II, in his dressing room during a performance of Richard II. France. 1981. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck The Théâtre du Soleil before a rehearsal of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Paris, France. 1982. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

This approach was undoubtedly rooted in her background in art history. Studying the subject at Madrid University and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris equipped Franck with an understanding of the power of the formal elements of an individual frame, which translated into the aesthetics of her photographic oeuvre. This is particularly true of her photographs of the Shakespeare Cycle: the masterful compositions and affecting lighting of the stills render them as powerful as stand-alone images as they are in series.

Martine Franck The comedian John Arnold, playing Malvolio, during a rehearsal of Twelfth Night. Paris, France. 1982. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck King Richard II, played by Georges Bigot, is assassinated in prison by Exton, played by John Arnold, during Act V of a performance of Richard II. 1981. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Georges Bigot interpreting Richard II during a performance of Richard II. Paris, France. 1981. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos
Martine Franck Prince Henry, played by Bigot, saving his father Henry IV, played by J. Arnold, from Douglas, played by M. Durozier, during a performance of Henry IV. Paris, France. 1984. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

This story was also published in the book Magnum Stories, published by Phaidon. A very limited number of copies of Magnum Stories are available from the Magnum Shop, signed by Magnum photographers.