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Portrait of a nation: Depardon, France, photography

Edward Welch

Keywords: NATIONAL IDENTITY; REGIONAL IDENTITY; SPACE; TRAVEL; MISSION FRANCE; DATAR

Abstract

In 2003, Raymond Depardon was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture to tour the country and produce a photographic portrait of the nation. By the time of its completion in 2008, the project will have been funded to the tune of some 400,000. This article investigates Depardon's photographic 'Tour de France'. Its aim in the first instance is to explore the images of the country he has produced on his travels; but in doing so, it addresses the broader set of questions raised by the project about the place of photography in the contemporary French cultural order. Firstly, it considers the central role ascribed to photography by the country's cultural and political institutions as a way of tracking and representing national identity and regional difference. Secondly, it investigates what the project reveals about Depardon's own place in France's cultural and photographic star system, as he transforms himself into an itinerant, state-sponsored investigator of that identity.

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