René Maltête: Humor from the genius of photography

René Maltête a famous French photographer, was born on May 8, 1930 in the town of Lamballe in the Côte d’Armor department located in Britannia, France. He started practicing photography as a young boy, at the age of 16.

At the age of 21, he moved to Paris and became an assistant director. A year later, in 1952, René began working with such famous masters of French cinema as Jacques Tati and Claude Barma. It was a difficult time, so Maltête had to work at different jobs at the same time to survive.

A few years later, in 1958, he became an employee of the famous Rapho photo agency. Two years later, Maltête published his first book of photographs, Paris des rues et des chansons (Paris of streets and songs), which, in addition to his photographs, included texts by such famous French writers and songwriters as Jacques Prvert, Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Charles Trenet and Pierre Mac Orlan. Other books followed.

Photographer, poet, humorist, one of the first environmentalists, René Maltete had a talent for capturing funny and curious situations from everyday life. An interesting fact is that the obsolete meaning of his surname in French is “feisty man”, which in a way corresponds to his unusual creative imagination. Maltête’s comic, poetic, subtly humorous photographs have been published in various publications around the world, among them: “Stern”, “Life”, “Epoca”, “Camera”, “Asahi Camera”, as well as participated in many exhibitions and were featured on postcards designed to popularize and communicate the author’s work to the general public.

René Maltête, the master of French photographic humor, died on November 8, 2000.
His work is based on incongruity and the unexpected. There is always humor in Maltête’s work, but it is not just an image, but often a philosophical message to the viewer.
In his creative black and white photography, René Maltête used tricks of the mind and various props to create a distinct visual experience. From a shot of a young man playing chess with his reflection to an image of a mermaid peering out of a window, the photographer’s work proves that creativity has no boundaries.

After the photographer’s death, his son Robin Maltet shared memories of his father in an interview:

“You have created an online gallery where you have posted some of your father René Maltete’s work. Can you tell us what he was like?

“A very atypical photographer! Anarchist, non-conformist, anti-violence, anti-militarist pacifist, etc. With no social security, no employer and no pension, he practiced a relaxed lifestyle in which it is difficult to pay enough attention to his family… He worked for the Rapho photo agency, like Robert Doisneau, as a photographer-illustrator and was completely independent in his work.”

“Your father was not only a photographer, but also a poet, according to his biography. How did he combine these two different kinds of creativity?”

“Simultaneously. At the end of his life, he was interested exclusively in literature. He was concerned about the problems of ecology and environmental protection, so he thought a lot about this issue.”

The “French humor” in Rene Maltête’s photographs has a kind and light character that gives laughter and a positive mood.

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