Henri Dauman is the most famous photographer you may never have heard of, at least not by name. In his 40-year career capturing cinematic, intimate images of celebrities, artists, world leaders, ordinary citizens and significant historical events, his images were widely published in outlets like Life Magazine, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Paris Match, Newsweek, Smithsonian and Town & Country. A feature documentary on his career and equally compelling life story is wrapping up production now. Yet his current exhibition at KP Projects/Merry Karnowsky Gallery is somehow his first solo exhibition in the United States.
Though technically a self-taught photographer, Dauman's salient apprenticeships and personal love of American cinema combine to great effect in his portraiture — as well as in his empathetic documentation of sociopolitical events from civil rights protests to JFK’s funeral, and a few forays into his own more personal, avant-garde and even experimental fine-art inflected compositions.
The exhibition at KP Projects includes an eclectic sampling of his entire body of work, with both vintage black-and-white, silver gelatin prints and more modern color film pigment print work. In perusing the collection one gets a sense not only of the purview of Dauman’s career but also the sweep of historical aesthetics and image-making technology as well. (To see more Dauman photos, check out our slideshow here.)
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Born in 1933 in the iconically artistic Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, Dauman had to grow up fast when both his parents died in World War II. He found refuge, and eventually employment, in his camera. After fruitful attachments to entertainment/photo agencies in France, by 17 he had moved to New York City to pursue a new life and an old dream. He clearly had a gift, not only for capturing indelible, unique images of the most recognizable personalities in the world but also for making the freelance hustle work. In 1959 he got his first job for Life Magazine, and the rest is, literally, history.
KP Projects Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 933-4408, kpprojects.net. Tue.-Sat., noon-6 p.m., through Sat., May 12. Free.