What were your main motivations when you created the Auguste François Association in 1990?
We wanted to prevent the disappearance of interesting and unknown documents (photos, films, writings, collections). The point was also to conduct an inventory, gather, and introduce these documents, which all belong to a coherent body of material. We also intend to make known Auguste François’ colourful personality and his role within history. The association constitutes a legal entity that represents all beneficiaries vis-à-vis third other parties.
Who are the members and what roles do they play?
At the beginning, we were members of a core family composed of over fifty nephews and grandnephews who all possessed individually or collectively some archival materials of François. These members authorized the association to publish the material that belonged to them and that remained in their hands. Throughout the years, other persons interested in the association’s actions joined forces. Board members have the most active role. Other members support their actions and contribute to the communication process. Some of the honorary members contributed significantly to the association.
How do you undertake the digitization process?
The association has digitized thousands of photographs that belonged to the members. We have digitized chiefly original prints taken by François who captioned them himself. We have also digitized glass plates. Some members of the association initiated this digitization work by using a UMAX scanner; then this task was given to a professional laboratory.
A fair number of events related to François’ archive have been planned in Kunming. Can you tell us more about your relationship with this Chinese city?
François was a French Consul in Kunming - the capital of the Yunnan province – between 1899 and 1904. At that time, the city was called Yunnanfu or Yunnansen because it was the headquarters of a viceroy who directed two provinces. François paid a particular attention to this city and its region, where he conducted a filmed and photographic survey. He also brought back a collection of ethnographic interest as well as detailed accounts. François negotiated a concession granted to France for a railway measuring 465 kilometers, which connected Kunming to Vietnam.
In 1997 on the initiative of the association, Chinese authorities set up the first exhibition of François’ photographs at Yunnan Provincial Museum. This event had a tremendous success and was widely diffused through medias. It also allowed Yunnan inhabitants to understand better how their ancestors lived a century ago.
Since then several exhibitions were organized in Kunming, for instance during the Floralies Internationales in 1999, and more recently in 2016 and 2017. Some of François’ photographs are displayed permanently in Yunnan, in Jianshui, in Dali, and in the city of Xichang in Sichuan province.
In 1998, some François’ photographs became part of the collection of Beijing History Museum, which made proud Yunnan inhabitants. Yunnan and Kunming have a long-term and privileged relationship with France. The railway built by France represents also a collective heritage.
Few people know about photographic practices in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries China. In your opinion, which audiences are interested in this topic?
Historical photographs and those that relate to China’s hinterland are scarce. They attract the attention of historians, anthropologists, collectors, as well as the general audience. All eyes are now on China. It is a country that interests and intrigue people.
François’ archive has been promoted through books, exhibitions, documentaries, and sales amongst others. Which method sounds the most efficient?
These different forms of diffusions complement one another and target different audience category. François writings and his captions enable to contextualize the photographs; the films enhanced their appeal.
What’s next for the Auguste François Association?
Promote François’ archive to the wide English-speaking audience, who still know little about his work. Publishing a nice catalogue would fit with the demands of those who are interested in China and photography. Chinese people know François as a photographer. We hope to unveil his atypical role played in the historical relationships between France and China. Finally we intend to help the National Centre of Cinematography and the moving image (CNC) and the Cinémathèque française to complete the inventory and restoration of François’ films.
More information: Auguste François Association website