I first met Marcel Bolomet in 1995 when I worked as supervisor of the Photography Department at the Getty Research Institute. One afternoon, a distinguished looking older gentleman wearing a Basque Beret walked into my office. He told me that he was a docent at the Getty Museum in Malibu and asked if I would mind “talking photography” with him. Intrigued, I said “sure” and we met for lunch the following day.
Marcel had been a photographer as a young man and began to relate incredible stories about his past adventures. He had been the first official photographer of the United Nations, and also a photographer at the League of Nations and the World Zionist Congress. It turned out that he had photographed many of the pivotal events in Europe throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Born French Swiss, Marcel had all the charm of Maurice Chevalier and was the ultimate “bon vivant-raconteur”. He shamelessly peppered his stories with names of the rich, famous and infamous. When he visited Hitler’s bunker right after the war, he stole the stopper from the washbasin: “Hitler won’t be needing it!” he said. What I find amazing is that his stories proved to be true.
We became fast friends. Marcel told me that all but a handful of his original prints had been destroyed in a fire after WWII. Mercifully however, his negatives survived and were stored in France. He would bring them back on his next trip. Not sure if I would ever see them, I was surprised when Marcel returned several months later carrying two huge Haliburton cases full of negatives.
Marcel felt his work might be of some historical interest and we tried at first to give his archives to a suitable institution. However without vintage prints, negatives were of no interest. To make matters worse, most of them were nitrate based and in poor condition making storage, restoration, and maintenance costs prohibitive. In frustration, I began to pore through the negatives myself in the hope of mounting an exhibition. What first appeared to be just routine reportage, I quickly discovered was an important body of work from a forgotten master of the craft.
Marcel and I started producing prints but the negatives were in poor shape and silver printmaking required an enormous amount of time in print “spotting” and cleanup. Giclée (digital) printing proved to be the best solution. We chose to use proprietary carbon pigment and not dye based ink for its superior archival qualities. In 2003, Marcel’s first exhibition was held at the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Beverly Hills. The show was a resounding success and the plaudits poured in:
Bolomet has “the humor, warmth and sensuality of Kertész.” Marcel Bolomet is “far more formal and design oriented than Doisneau”. His is “reminiscent of the work of fellow European photographers Robert Doisneau, Jacques Henri Lartigue, André Kertész, and Henri Cartier-Bresson...The significance of Bolomet’s images resides not only in their historic value but in their sensitivity and humanity”.
Sadly, Marcel himself died shortly before the opening of the exhibition. Looking at the prints however, it seems that Marcel is very much still alive. As his friend and collaborator, the privilege he has bestowed upon me to share these forgotten iconic masterpieces is beyond expression.