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Gamma agency secures return of Gilles Caron archive

  • Gamma-Rapho is expected to raise funds to finance the digitalisation of Caron's entire archives. Image © Gamma-Rapho

    Gamma-Rapho is expected to raise funds to finance the digitalisation of Caron's entire archives. Image © Gamma-Rapho

  • Gilles Caron, also known as the French Robert Capa, disappeard in 1970 in Cambodia. His body was never recovered. Image © Jean-Pierre Bonnotte / Gamma.

    Gilles Caron, also known as the French Robert Capa, disappeard in 1970 in Cambodia. His body was never recovered. Image © Jean-Pierre Bonnotte / Gamma.

After 20 years at Contact Press Images, Gilles Caron's archives are set to return to the Gamma agency, where the late conflict photographer worked in the 1960s. Michel Puech reports

Gilles Caron, the renowned Gamma conflict photographer who died in 1970, is “coming back home”, François Lochon, director of Gamma-Rapho, has announced.

Up until last month, Contact Press Images represented Caron’s estate. But, on 13 January, Louis Bachelot, director of the Gilles Caron Foundation and husband to Marjolaine Caron-Bachelot, one of the photographer’s daughters, signed a deal with Gamma-Rapho that will see the French agency represent Caron’s entire life work.

“We signed a very simple deal without any limit in time,” says Lochon. “We’ll distribute the 30,000 high-resolution scans that the foundation possesses, and we’ll be looking for funds to finance the scanning of Caron’s entire catalogue, representing 60,000 other images. I’m very happy to see Gilles come back to Gamma.”

Lochon’s sentiments are shared by Jean Monteux, Gamma’s former director and one of Caron’s colleagues in the 1960s. “I’m delighted. I’ve always found it hard to swallow that Gilles’s work was distributed by another agency. I felt the same way when Raymond Depardon gave his Gamma work to Magnum, even though he had always sworn to me he’d never do it.”

Caron, often called the French Robert Capa, covered the Six-Day War, the Vietnam War and The Troubles in Northern Ireland. He disappeared in April 1970 in Cambodia, on a road controlled by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, on an assignment that was supposed to be his last in a conflict zone. His body was never recovered.

In recent months, the Gilles Caron Foundation had been looking for funds to continue its conservation and archiving work. BJP understands that Gamma-Rapho has signed a contract with guaranteed monthly revenues for the next two years, which is rare in today’s market.

Contact Press Images had been representing Caron’s work since 1991. “I’m sad,” comments its director Robert Pledge. “I’m sad for Gilles Caron. I have nothing else to add.”

The deal between Caron’s estate and Gamma-Rapho comes three years after Lochon saved the agency from bankruptcy. Since then, the photographer-turned-director has been negotiating with Gamma’s former star photographers to resume distributing their images (under French law, an agency’s new owner cannot exploit photographers’ archives without their permission).

Last year, Gamma-Rapho generated €129,368 of profits from €2,764,893 in revenues, compared to losses of €596,233 the year before. Getty Images distributes Gamma-Rapho’s archives outside France. However, Lochon is still struggling to convince some of Gamma’s former photographers to sign new contracts. “I won’t do it,” says Hugues Vassal, one of Gamma’s co-founding photographers. “I’ve sent Lochon a recorded letter forbidding him from distributing my work.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article, translated from the French, incorrectly reported Robert Pledge’s quote using the word “disappointed” instead of “sad”. This has now been corrected.