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Photography as a Weapon of Class

Social and documentary photography in 1930s France. Capturing the Social World

Conducted between 2015 and 2018, the "Capturing the Social World" project is a research programme on an unprecedented scale, bringing together the Photography Department of the Mnam and Labex Arts H2H.


It aims to explain the context surrounding the production of the body of images preserved in the museum's photographic collections, and to enhance our understanding of the development of social, political and documentary photography in France in the inter-war period. This aspect still remains incomplete in the historiography despite the interest of several generations of researchers who drove various recent studies conducted mainly in the form of monographs. 

The acquisition by the Mnam in 2011 of the Christian Bouqueret collection, consisting of nearly 7,000 frames made by a hundred photographers representing photographic activity in inter-war France, was the starting point for investigations seeking to contextualise and study reportages and documentary series produced in the framework of activities linked to the left-leaning political commitment of their creators: publication in reviews like Regards or VU, cooperation with associations of worker photographers (APO) or exhibitions in the framework of the activities of the photo section of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (AEAR). A large number of the photographers in the Bouqueret collection and the Mnam collection of photographs in general are in fact linked to this organisation whose activity was the subject of investigations through other Mnam collections (Eli Lotar collection) and other public and private collections in Paris and abroad. 

Initially introduced by Clément Chéroux, ex-curator and head of the department, and Christian Joschke, lecturer at the Université de Nanterre, the project was coordinated in the Photography Department itself by Damarice Amao, both in terms of orienting the research and constituting the work tools destined to lead to the creation of the exhibition and the accompanying book (assistant for the exhibition and the catalogue, Lise Tournet Lambert). With the help of students on research master's courses at Nanterre on subjects related to the project (Mathilde Esnault, Eva Verkest), a focus was made on the most exhaustive possible scrutiny of period reviews like Regards, VU, Marianne, and other smaller-circulation magazines in order to identify publications of photographs preserved in our collection. At the same time, Gabrielle de la Selle, research engineer, conducted various investigations in previously identified archive collections in order to uncover information concerning the various photographic organisations and personalities linked to the subjects (AEAR, APO, Galerie de la Pléiade). Some of these explored archives are listed on the website accompanying the research programmeMax Bonhomme, a PhD student working with the research team, brought his expertise to bear on the subject of photomontage in France and assisted with the organisation of the two study days at the INHA, resulting in a historiographical inventory with contributions by foreign colleagues (25 March 2016 and 3 March 2017).


The "Photography as a Weapon of Class" exhibition and the accompanying exhibition catalogue (co-published by the Centre Pompidou and Textuel) turned the research to good account and made original documentation available to the specialist and amateur public, as well as a new reading of our collections and of this period, which is too often typified by the iconography of the Front Populaire and the Spanish Civil War. 

Two study days organised by the Labex with the collaboration of the Photography Department/Mnam:

  • 25 March 2016: "Photography as a Weapon of Class. Social and documentary photography in the 1930s", INHA.    
  • 3 March 2017: "The international dimension of social photography. Transnational networks in 1930s Paris", INHA. 



  • Exhibition "Photography as a Weapon of Class", Paris, Photograph Gallery, 7 November 2018 – 4 February 2019
    Curated by: Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner, Christian Joschke
  • Photography as a Weapon of Class, exhibition catalogue co-published by Centre Pompidou and Textuel 
    Under the direction of: Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner, Christian Joschke


Follow-up to the project 

The exhibition travelled outside France with two partner institutions and contributors to the catalogue:  

Musée de la photographie, Charleroi: 28 September 2019 – 19 January 2020 

Centre de la photographie, Geneva: 11 February – 11 March 2020 

Scientific team

Photography Department/MNAM and Labex Arts H2H Partnership.


  • Project manager: Clément Chéroux (ex-curator and head of department, Photography Department; left in 2016) and Damarice Amao (assistant curator, Photography Department) / Christian Joschke (lecturer, Université Paris X Nanterre)  
  • Research engineer: Gabrielle de la Selle  
  • Assistant researcher: Max Bonhomme (PhD student, Université Paris X Nanterre) 
  • Trainees: Lise Tournet Lambert, Eva Verkest, Mathilde Esnault (research master's, Université Paris X Nanterre)