Paul Almasy

Archiving the World

Paul Almasy (1906–2003) was a pioneer of photojournalism. For more than six decades he traveled the world with his camera and during this time took about 120,000 photographs. Almasy termed his oeuvre an “archive of the world”, cataloguing the photographs by country – and for each country he visited he then sorted the photographs by category: state, economy, culture, everyday life, animals and plants, being but a few of them. In this way, he established a detailed and comprehensive picture archive that today constitutes a unique document of 20th century history.

Paul Almasy’s oeuvre bears witness to his interest in the fabric of society and his preference for things foreign. His black-and-white work focuses almost always on people. Almasy is not concerned here with social class or milieu: he photographed the powerful men of his time, Bohemian artists in Paris, but also midwives in Africa, rice farmers in Indonesia and street children in Mexico. Even where Almasy addresses poverty and distress, he never does this as a voyeur but participates respectfully in what he sees while preserving his distance as an observer. It was an approach he internalized: “When I took photographs, I never crouched down like a cat about to pounce on its prey. I never attacked with my camera.” Paul Almasy always viewed himself as a photojournalist and never as a photographer. He wanted his pictures primarily to inform the viewer, meaning that the form was never to outweigh the content. Nevertheless, Almasy’s photographs are entrancing, attesting as they do to his unerring eye for subject matter, angle and cropping.

At the tender age of 17, Paul Almasy left his native Budapest and after various interludes, among others in Vienna and Munich, he ended up in Paris. It was the city that was to become the second home and main point of reference for the self-taught photojournalist – and it was likewise his gateway to the world. It was from here that he set out on his countless world trips on behalf of WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF. For a time, Paul Almasy was a visiting professor lecturing at the Sorbonne. He became French citizen in 1956. In September 2003, Paul Almasy died at the age of 97 in Paris.

Biographical information

1906

born in Budapest

1924–28

studies political science in Vienna, Munich and Heidelberg; trained for a diplomatic career

1929–31

correspondent for the German press agency Wehr in Rome

1932–34

produces reports about various European countries

1935

moves to Switzerland
starts photographing on a journey around South America
photographic reports for the Berliner Illustrirte
Zeitung on the Finnish team’s preparations for the Winter Olympic Games

1936–39

crosses the Sahara by car for the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung extended trips through Europe, Africa and the Near East

1938

accredited as Swiss correspondent by the French government.
moves to Monaco

1940–44

correspondent for the Swiss press covering France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with the permission of the German Army

1945

moves to Paris

1946

continues his work as a reporter, eventually travelling to all countries in the world except Mongolia

1952

starts working for the UN organizations UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, IAO and FAO

1955

artist portraits of Bernard Buffet, Cocteau and Calder, among others

1956

co-founder of the organization “Gens d’Images” with Albert Plécy obtains French citizenship

1972–89

teaches photojournalism at several colleges and universities in Paris, Lille and Rennes

1993

knight of the French “Ordre national du Mérite”

2003

dies on September 22 in France