Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bergevin, La Rochelle

Raymond Alphonse Bergevin is a name a few collectors of old French postcards may be familiar with. Born in 1878 in La Châtre, a small town in central France, he moved to Rue des merciers in La Rochelle, where he started working as a watchkmaker, jeweller, and art dealer alongside his father. An invoice dated from 1904 shows he continued in his father's steps after his death. However Bergevin's passion was photography. Some of his early pictures were printed as postcards by Charles Collas in Cognac but around the mid-1910s Bergevin decided to give up his original activities and become a full-time photographer and printer.
Bergevin's first postcards were printed on rather grainy paper in blue or green. By the early 1920s though, he had developed his photo and printing techniques and was specializing in luxury postcards and illustrated art books. His postcards showed not only the buildings and scenery in the départements of Charente-Maritime, Vendée and Vienne but also daily life in the villages of the region. These were often signed 'Ramuntcho.' Ramuntcho was the hero, and title, of one of Pierre Loti's most famous novels, published in 1897. Set in the French Basque country, it included detailed accounts of the Basque culture and traditions. The name may have been chosen because Bergevin also ambitioned to record the way of life and customs of his region. Additionally Bergevin was friend with Pierre Loti, who, when he wasn't travelling around the world (he was an officer in the French navy) spent some time at his house in Rochefort, just south of La Rochelle. Finally, and more pragmatically, the name Ramuntcho was well-known across France: the novel had been a best-seller, a theatrical version had been staged at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris in 1908 and in 1918 it had been turned into a movie.
Bergevin's work was rewarded with a Gold Medal at the 1937 World Exhibition held in Paris. He kept publishing postcards and art books until the end of the Second World War, when he retired. He died in October 1953. Most of his personal archives are now kept in the departmental archives of Charente-Maritime, while those of Vendée hold around 3,000 postcards depicting life in 79 villages and small towns of that département.


Location: Rue des merciers, La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime / Picture taken on: 18/08/2011

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