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June 5 - July 26, 2003 at G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, West Hollywood

by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.

“Victim Civile de la Grand Guerre,
Geneve,” 1946, black & white
photograph, 11 3/4 x 13 1/16".

“Churchill, Devant le Batiment
Electoral--Geneve,” 1946,
black & white photograph.

“Dimanche Matin--Man, son riffle,”
1939, black & white photograph.

“Soldiers in Bus,” 1945, black
& white photograph, 12 x 15”.

One of the great joys of the passion for art are those serendipitous moments when we discover new art by artists that we are familiar with; yet more bracing is finding promising new and emerging artists. What stands out about this particular “discovery” is that this “new” photographer is 97 years old [We regret to report that Mr. Bolomet passed away shortly after this article was filed, and prior to the opening of this exhibition--Ed.]

Swiss artist Marcel Bolomet spent most of his artistic career during the 1930s and 1940s documenting the devastation that Europe experienced before, during, and following the second World War. What makes this poignant is the tragic fact that most of his life’s work was lost in a fire. Today only a small percentage of Bolomet’s work survives. His images of the remains of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and the charred destruction of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin are forever lost, but what remains sure whets your sense of curiosity. However, we are only able to examine the images that have survived the ravages of both war and domestic fire.

The destruction of the ages that we call history unfortunately denies us from inspecting all of man’s treasures. Wartime is the great annilhilator of art and architecture, as the people of Baghdad have discovered with the senseless looting of their museum, one of the great treasure troves of the art and artifacts of the ancient world.

Likewise with Bolomet we are left to ponder what we might view had his images survived. The recent prints, taken from restored negatives, give us an eyewitness view of how war leaves its mark. In light of recent events, this is a very timely exhibition, many of its images depicting the damage done to so many innocents over half a century ago.
One immediately recognizes the famous profile and cigar of the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as he parades before jubilant crowds in Geneva. Bolomet tried to capture the critical moment of action that can forever identify an event.

Bolomet’s images of men, women, and children dealing with the ravages of war recall the brutal honesty of the Depression era scenes of Walker Evans and the cold war atmosphere captured by Robert Frank. Dimanche Matin is a captivating image that is simultaneously chilling. We are presented with a father walking with his young child on the sidewalk. The child wears a coat and cap to keep out the cold and is listening intently to her father talk. Reassured by the gentle holding of a hand, we might think the child has no cares in the world. But what makes this image so unforgettable is fact that the elegantly dressed parent with a topcoat, scarf and hat is carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder as casually as an umbrella. We can only wonder about the danger that threatens the corner of the world that these figures inhabit.

Soldiers in Bus is another stunning image. We see a group of young men hanging out the windows of a tattered bus. The expressions on their faces range from joyful to anxious. These are the nameless faces of the youth of the world that we sacrifice to the Gods of War. On the left, an older man with a beret placed at a sharp angle on his head joins the group of warriors. On the far right, deep in the shadows, we see the concerned face of a young man framed in black peering out from the abyss. It is a haunting image of lost youth. You can’t help but wonder where they were bound and what might have subsequently happened to these young men.

Forever frozen in the lense of Bolomet’s camera are stimulating images of a past long forgotten by most. His wonderful and often penetrating photographs vividly preserve the suffering and triumphs of the European people, both famous and unknown, that played out during the catastrophic destruction surrounding the second World War.