Edward Quinn, Photographer

The Edward Quinn Archive

My first photos of Picasso

In: Edward Quinn, Picasso. Photographs from 1951-1972.
New York 1980

My first opportunity to photograph Picasso came in 1951 at
the ceramics exhibition in Vallauris where Picasso had been
living and working since 1947. Naturally I was not the only
one who wanted to see Picasso on that day. Also waiting in
the crowd of spectators and potters was Prince Ali Khan,
another name that produced headlines. Picasso, whom I
later learned, was not always in a pleasant mood, came to
the exhibition smiling amicably, accompanied by his friend,
the poet Jacques Prévert. Like a bishop visiting one of his
parishes, he strode through the waiting crowd smiling with
his head slightly bowed. When he saw potters that he knew,
he stopped a few times and spoke with them.
Françoise Gilot, his constant companion at that time,
followed him inconspicuously, and she engaged in
conversation with Prévert. At the entrance to the exhibition
the reception committee was awaiting him. Nothing phased
him. In the exhibition at last, Picasso, the passionate
craftsman, only showed interest in the objects. He carefully
examined the ceramics on display and spoke with the
potters, discussing firing methods with them.
But Picasso’s own work was also on display – plates
with bullfight scenes and mythological subjects, the
themes with which he had begun his ceramic endeavors
under the direction of Suzanne and Georges Ramié. In
the mob of photographers I followed Picasso through the
exhibition. We pushed and shoved to get a good picture
and I had difficulty even trying to photograph. I didn’t want
to use a flash, and since the light in the exhibition hall was
poor, I had to try to stand still in the crush for a longer
exposure. When Picasso then began to converse with
Ali Khan, it was clear to everyone that the two quite different
celebrities wanted to pose for the photographers’ flashes
for a moment so they would finally be left in peace.
After pictures had been taken, all the photographers rushed
to their press agents. I was not under contract, so I stayed.
It paid off, for just as Picasso was about to leave, his
housekeeper came with his two small children, Claude and
Paloma. Spontaneously, I asked Picasso if he would pose
for me with his children. He was in a great mood and agreed.
Afterwards, we spoke with one another for a few minutes, at
which point I asked his permission to photograph him in
his house. He politely refused. “We’ll see.”
The first few pictures I had made of Picasso and his children
pleased him so much that after a few refusals, he did finally
agree to allow me to photograph him in his pottery studio in
My first appointment with Pablo Picasso in his pottery
workshop was nerve-racking and difficult. I was afraid that
my cautious and timid movements between the rows of
stacked-up ceramics might disturb him. To me the click of my
camera’s shutter seemed to resound like thunder in the atelier.
Picasso, though, who was sitting beneath the statue of
St. Claude, the patron saint of potters, worked with
concentration, deeply engrossed and not even taking
note of me.
I was very excited in this atmosphere. Picasso’s
all-commanding presence, his reputation as an artist, and
the fact that I was seeing him at work for the first time spurred
me on to preserve those intense, quickly passing moments.
I felt secure enough to experiment more than I usually did,
choosing different angles, and making use of unusual lighting
conditions. When the workday with Picasso came to an end,
I felt very relieved and encouraged upon hearing him say to a
friend, “Lui, il ne me dérange pas.” (He doesn't disturb me.)
Now I knew that I would be allowed to continue photographing
Picasso unhindered in the future. And truthfully, from that day
on, I remained one of the few photographers allowed to visit
and photograph him at work and one of the very few he ever
olerated in his private domain. This gave me the unique
opportunity to take Picasso’s portrait carefully over many years.

Title photo: Edward Quinn, Zurich 1983. © Eric Bachmann