Jacques Léonard: The Nomad Spirit

The Museum Réattu in Arles proudly presents a captivating exhibition in collaboration with the Fundación Photographic Social Vision, showcasing the lesser-known work of Jacques Léonard in France. Over 150 carefully selected photographs will be on display, portraying a captivating insight into the essence of human life in bustling cities.
Through his deeply humanistic lens, Léonard’s photographs encapsulate the vibrant tapestry of city life – from bustling streets and lively markets to joyous festivals, amusement parks, and sports events. The evolving landscape of ports and seafronts, influenced by the burgeoning tourism industry, also finds its place within his compelling portfolio.
Léonard’s life took a fascinating turn when he married Rosario Amaya, a spirited gypsy from the Montjuïc district. This union opened the doors to an intimate glimpse of her community, enabling Léonard to craft a remarkable collection that stands as a poignant reflection of gypsy culture.
Within the exhibition, two exceptional series will take center stage. “Évadés,” captured in 1943, documents the harrowing journey of French individuals escaping fascism, seeking refuge in Africa via Spain. “La División Azul,” from 1954, bears witness to the return of the División Azul survivors to Spain – 45,000 men sent by Franco to aid the Nazi army in the Russian invasion.
Jacques Léonard initially made his mark in the world of cinema, collaborating notably with Abel Gance. However, it was during a scouting expedition that he fell in love with Spain, ultimately settling there in 1952. Embracing his passion for photography, Léonard embarked on a professional journey, contributing to various media outlets and establishing his own advertising photography laboratory. His dedication to capturing compelling stories through his lenses led him to create numerous reports and masterpieces until 1975 when health reasons prompted a shift away from photography.
This mesmerizing exhibition is part of the esteemed “Arles Associé” series of the Rencontres d’Arles, immersing visitors in the captivating world of Jacques Léonard’s nomadic spirit and visionary artistry.

A portrait of Jacques Léonard by Juan Amaya

About the Author

Jacques Léonard’s life journey was marked by a diverse array of experiences that eventually led him to become a renowned photographer. Born in Paris in 1909 to a horse trader of gypsy heritage and a seamstress, he initially ventured into the world of cinema, collaborating with esteemed directors like Abel Gance. However, fate had other plans for him, and in 1940, he set foot in Spain in search of film locations, but circumstances led him to stay in Madrid and take on various assignments in cinematography.
In 1949, he made his way to Barcelona alongside theater entrepreneur Arthur Kaps, playing a crucial role as his right-hand man. Along the way, he embarked on fascinating journeys, accompanying comedian Robert Lamouret on a world tour. Despite traveling through England, Australia, Greece, and Italy, Léonard declined an enticing proposal to visit the United States.
Settling in Barcelona in 1952, he encountered Rosario Amaya, a gypsy with an artistic flair who became the love of his life. Their union inspired his path towards freelance photography, capturing the essence of the world through his lens.
Collaborating with Francesc Català-Roca, Léonard made valuable contacts and contributed to esteemed media outlets like La Vanguardia, La Gaceta Ilustrada, and Sant Jordi, among others. He even established his own advertising photography laboratory, showcasing his versatile talents.
However, in 1975, as gypsy neighborhoods in Barcelona were dismantled, and due to health challenges, he bid farewell to photography. Nonetheless, his passion for gypsy culture persisted, as he embarked on a project for a book titled “Les quatre fers en l’air.” Unfortunately, despite initial interest from the Paris-based Plon publishing house, specialized in ethnology, the book remained unpublished.
In 1991, with deteriorating health, Jacques Léonard settled in l’Escala, where he peacefully passed away in 1994, leaving behind a legacy of captivating images that still resonate with the world.

Jacques Léonard: The Nomad Spirit
3 JULY – 24 SEPTEMBER 2023
Musée Réattu – Arles – France


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