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Photos by Pierre Verger and Mario Cravo Neto


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Pierre Verger

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Biography

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1902

Pierre Edouard Léopold Verger is born on November 4 in Paris as the second of three sons in a Belgian-German family.

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1909-20

Attends the Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris. Technical studies at the École Bréguet, later expelled because of misconduct.

1920

Enters the family business, a printing works run by three of his uncles following his father’s death in 1915; after concluding his military service, leads the life of a young, affluent dandy and vacations in Deauville.

1932-33

His mother dies; he begins making photographs in Corsica, together with the photographer Pierre Boucher; tours the USSR on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution; travels to Tahiti and the small Easter Island.

1934

Returns to Paris; his photographs appear in the South Sea exhibition at the Museum of Ethnography (today Musée de l'Homme); meets academic personalities such as Georges-Henri Rivière, Marcel Griaule, Germaine Dieterlen, Michel Leiris, and Alfred Métraux, later his companion. Joins the "Prévert Group;" travels around the world, commissioned by the magazine "Paris Soir" : USA, Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Colombo, and Djibouti; publishes in London’s "Daily Mirror" ; founds the Paris-based agency for independent photographers, "Alliance Photo", together with Pierre Boucher, René Zuber, Émeric Féher, Denise Bellon, and later Robert Capa.

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1935

Tours Europe by bicycle; taken into custody at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, suspected of being a German spy; in Paris he begins what becomes a more than 30-year-long collaboration with the publisher Paul Hartmann; travels to Black Africa via Algeria; sets off into the Sahara with a camel expedition to visit the Tuareg people in Adrar of Ifora.

1936

Further trips: Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, San, Ségou, Bamako, Ouahigouya, Togo and Dahomey (today Benin) in the regions of the Sombas and Tanguiétas; Dosso (Niger); returns by bus to Algiers via Tamanrasset; in Paris he converts an attic space into his own private photography studio; travels by sea to the Caribbean; in Santo Domingo he experiences the restrictions on taking photographs under the regime of dictator Trujillo; from Havanna he travels to Mexico City; visits various places of worship in Teotihuacán, Xochimilco, Oaxaca, Tehuantepec and Yucatán; tours USA by bus.

1937

Photographs the Paris World’s Fair Exhibition; represented in the Museum of Modern Art (New York) exhibition "Photography 1839-1937;" commissioned by "Alliance Photo" to document the Chinese-Japanese War; travels to China with the Trans-Siberian Express; in Manila’s northern region, Baguio, he lives with headhunter tribes.

1938

Travels to Lai Chan in French Indochina along the "Black River," with a stopover in the imperial city of Hué, where he photographs the powerless emperor Bao-Dai; spends a month in Cambodia; discovers the temple of Angkor; in Paris he receives his draft notice from the French army; following the demobilization, the magazine "Paris Match" sends him to the Vatican.

1939

Stays 4 months in Mexico City; photographs Leo Trotzki thanks to the intervention of friends of the Prévert Circle and "Groupe Octobre;" robbed in the train bound for Guatemala; travels via Antigua to the Panama Canal; following the outbreak of war in Europe, embarks on an odyssey through South America; journeys from Rio to Senegal.

1940-41

Dakar is immediately militarized; he returns to South America via Casamance, Guinea-Bissau, and the Cape Verde islands; experiences financial difficulties in Buenos Aires; completes underpaid pieces for the newspapers "El Mundo Argentino" and "Argentina Libre"; lives with a group of gypsies

1942-43

Crosses Bolivia; in July: arrives in Peru; works as a photographer at the National Museum in Lima; following alternating periods of residency in Lima and Cuzco, travels the region of the Quechua and Aymara Indians in the high plateaus.

1944-45

Termination of his position as photographer at the National Museum in Lima; the Rubber Development Corporation commissions him to photograph the extraction of latex in Amazonian regions of Peru; suffers a severe case of malaria in Lima.

1946

Travels from Peru via Bolivia to São Paulo; befriends the ethnologist Roger Bastide, who encourages him to acquaint himself with African Brazil; In Rio, through the help of the weekly periodical "O Cruzeiro", he receives a residency permit for an extended period entitling him to work as a photographer; arrives in the port of Salvador da Bahia; befriends the writer Jorge Amado, the singer Dorival Caymmi, the humanities scholar Vivaldo Costa Lima, the sculptor Mário Cravo Júnior, the Argentinean painter Carybé, the collector Mirabeau Sampáio; his photojournalism focuses on traditional festivals, "candomblés," folk artists and poets

1947-48

The École Française d'Afrique in Dakar (Senegal) offers him a yearlong grant; accompanies Alfred Métraux to Dutch Guyana; they meet again in Haiti, where he lives in the Centre d'Art for the Support of Haitian Folk Artists; researches the origins of voodoo in Dahomey; departs for Dakar, where he studies the interplay of African cults on both sides of the Atlantic.

1949-50

Discovers in Tibúrcio dos Santos, in Ouidah (Dahomey), documents on the slave trade; establishes the starting point for 17 years of research on relationships between the Golf of Benin and Bahia de Todos os Santos, and on the Brazilian influence, particularly in West Africa; collaborates with Austrian artist Susanne Wenger, who lives in Nigeria.

1951-52

Commissioned by Paul Hartmann to complete a photo-reportage on the Belgian Congo; takes an upriver steamship cruise on the Congo River from Leopoldville to Stanleyville; forges a path into the Ituri forests; photographs in Rwanda the Watusi people; visits the Katanga mines.

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1953-56

The initiation of Pierre Verger in Ketou, where he receives the name "Fatumbi" and the title of "Babalaô" (The Father of Secrets), allowing him access to the orally passed-on wisdom of the Yorubá; on the island of Gorée he writes his M.A. study for the Institut Français d'Afrique Noire (IFAN) in Dakar, and for Paul Hartmann the book "Dieux d'Afrique"; returns to Bahia.

1957

Travels to Cuba to photograph Ernest Hemingway for "O Cruzeiro"; investigates the entire island; meets Lydia Cabrera, a Cuban Santería-cult expert; together with Cabrera and Alfred Métraux, participates in "Vodun" ceremonies; travels through Mexico and Brazil.

1962

Appointed member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, where he becomes director of research in January 1972.

1966

Obtains his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris with a doctoral thesis on the black slave trade between the Golf of Benin and Bahia from the 17th to 19th century.

1968

With the support of the French ambassador to Benin, the old Portuguese fort in Ouidah is made into a museum dedicated to the Brazilian Diaspora.

1973

The shooting of the TV-documentary "The Brazilians of Africa and the Africans of Brazil", with the assistance of his friend Balbino Daniel de Paula.

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1974

Honorary professorship at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, which in the future allows him a modest existence.

1977

After many previous stays in Nigeria, the University of Ifé offers him a visiting professorship, which he ends three years later.

1979

Returns permanently to Bahia; makes contact with the Editora Corrupio publishing house, which prints a series of his photography books.

1988

March 28: the founding of Fundação Pierre Verger, today situated in the house purchased in 1960 near Vila América in Salvador.

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1989

In France he gives lectures on medicinal plants of the Yorubá, together with French ethnobotanist Ming Anthony, with whom he gives a lecture on memory-inducing plants in 1993 in Heidelberg.

1993

February: travels to Benin for the "1st Festival of Vodoun Culture" and the reopening of the History Museum in Ouidah; The exhibition "Le Messager: photographies 1932-1962" at the Musée de l'Élysée in Lausanne, later shown in Paris at the Musée National des Arts Africains et Océaniens.

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1994-95

Last trip to Europe, with stopovers in Paris and London, where he participates in a weeklong festival honoring artists and intellectuals from Bahia; when overexertion from traveling causes his health to worsen, he flies back to Salvador in late July; in São Paulo his last work, "Ewé, o uso das plantas na Sociedade Iorubá", is publised by Editora Schwarcz

1996

Editions Revue Noire in Paris publishes a new edition of his favorite book, "Dieux d'Afrique"; gives his last interview with Gilberto Gil, a few days before his death on February 11.

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