Born in Paris in 1928, Denis Brihat began taking photographs at the age of fifteen. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, he enjoyed a successful career as a professional photographer, securing public and private commissions in fields ranging from architectural and portrait photography to reportage. At the encouragement of his friend Robert Doisneau, he joined the renowned Rapho agency. He received his first exhibition at the Société Française de Photographie, and in 1957 was awarded the prestigious Prix Niépce for his photographs from a year in India.
In 1958, dissatisfied with urban life and commercial work, Brihat left Paris for the Luberon region of Provence. Undeterred by the isolation and the rustic conditions – he had neither electricity nor running water – he built a darkroom and studio on the Plateau des Claparèdes and began his groundbreaking experiments in photography, printmaking, and, above all, observation, turning his eye toward the quotidien but dazzling beauty of the natural world. “The subjects he favoured, in nature or his close surroundings, weren’t unusually beautiful, but simple, and of the sort that often passes unnoticed,” writes photographer Pierre-Jean Amar. “His eminently poetic style of photography glorified them and paid them due tribute, inviting people to open their eyes and recognize the proximity of grace.”
Influenced by the masterful prints of Edward Weston and the frescos of Fernand Léger, Brihat came to produce what he called “photographic paintings” – unique, archival, material prints, made for the wall, rather than images meant for mass reproduction in the pages of a magazine. This concern with process and technique finds its apotheosis in his remarkable experiments with color, which he began as early as 1968, in the wake of acclaimed exhibitions of his work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Brihat’s richly colored photographs of fruits and flowers begin as traditional black-and-white darkroom prints, which he then tones with the salts of gold, iron, selenium, vanadium, and uranium, among other metals. The reaction of these metals with the silver salts in the emulsion produces hues that are original, one-of-a-kind, and permanent. The resulting prints exude a vividness and a luminosity that are truly unequalled in color photography.
Denis Brihat’s work has been exhibited throughout Europe and the United States for over fifty years. His photographs can be found in the collections of public and private institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Center for Creative Photography, Tuscon; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée des Beaux Arts, Neuchâtel; the Musée Cantini, Marseille; and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Centre Pompidou, the European House of Photography, and the National Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris. In 1987, he was awarded the Grand Prix de la Photographie de la Ville de Paris.
Denis Brihat lives and works in Bonnieux, France.