Gérald Bloncourt, the photographer who immortalized Portuguese emigration in France in the 60s and 70s, particularly in the slums, died today at the age of 92, the family source told.
The photojournalist portrayed the Portuguese ‘bidonville’, but also made images of the clandestine voyage – ‘the leap’ – for France, as well as images of Portugal under the dictatorship and in the period after April 25, 1974.
Gérald Bloncourt was awarded the Order of Commander of the Order of Prince Henry, by the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, during the commemorations of the Day of Portugal, Camões and Portuguese Communities, which took place between June 10 and 12 2016.
His photographs included several exhibitions in Portugal and France, namely at the Berardo Museum in Lisbon in 2008 at the exhibition titled ‘For a Better Life’ and are part of the archives of the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris , and the Museum of Migrations and Communities of Fafe.
Gérald Bloncourt was born in 1926 in Haiti, where he was expelled in the late 1940s for political reasons and moved to Paris, where he began a career as a photojournalist, which led him to meet the Portuguese in the 1960s in the suburbs of the French capital.
“It was a form of modern slavery, there was mud in the winter, it was cold, it was tents made of boards, bits of a sheet, it was a difficult life, very rude, men went to work, women kept children,” recalled the photographer, in April 2015.
The first ‘bidonville’ that the reporter photographed was that of Champigny-sur-Marne on the outskirts of Paris, but the approach was not easy: “Four Portuguese people came to me and caught me, they thought I was a policeman. and they put me in a building made of boards. There was mud on the outside, but inside it was clean and we had to take off our shoes. ”
While the photographer waited barefoot, the Portuguese “went to get the boss”: “When the boss arrived, he said to me,” What are you doing here? “I knew him. He was a union militant of Renault who was the boss of the neighbourhood We hugged ourselves, drank a bottle of Porto, and then I could go back, “he recalled.
The reports that he heard in the tin neighbourhoods led him to want to discover Portugal and to photograph the clandestine routes of those who tried to escape the dictatorship, in a journey that became known as ‘The Salto’.
“I was resistant to Salazar and – as I myself was resistant against the dictatorship of my country – I wanted to go. I went to Portugal in the time of Salazar, I made the whole emigration route, from Lisbon through Porto, Chaves and that region. “I had put rolls for them in the bag and they found them but I had stuck a pair of socks on the back with the rolls of important photographs that I have been able to save and that are now published and exposed,” he said.
Years later, the photographer returned to Portugal, where he landed on the eve of May 1, 1974, to “try to make some photos” before “more than a million people with blackheads and a people in jubilation”.
“As I was in contact with them [the Portuguese emigrants], they warned me of the Carnation Revolution. I went to Portugal by plane, found a place and was on the same plane as Cunhal.” His comrades sang and beat with their feet and hostess was asking them to stop. “I lived the revolution of the carnations.” It was an incredible thing, “he said.
With an archive of more than 200,000 images, Bloncourt was contacted only by a handful of people who recognized themselves in the photographs, such as Maria da Conceição Tina Melhorado, who came to see him 47 years after being photographed with a doll in the ‘bidonville ” (in neighborhood) of Saint-Denis, an image that was the face of the exhibition ‘For a Better Life’ at the Berardo Museum.
“When she arrived, I had a half-century of memories in front of me, I saw my little Maria who was there, I was very amazed because she had not changed, her look was the same as in the child’s photograph and her smile too. “We cried, it was very exciting,” recalled the photographer.
The generosity and humanism were one of its characteristics and it even offered a collection of about 100 images to the Emigration Museum of Fafe.
Gérald Bloncourt was also a painter and poet, having participated in the creation of the Haitian Art Center (1944) and published several books.
The funeral is scheduled for November 5, starting at 14:30 local time (less than one hour in Lisbon), at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.