Born in 1869 in Paris, Henri Roger took his first photograph at the age of 11. At 20, as a young engineer, he practiced photographic effects and produced multiple and facetious self-portraits, which he called bilocations and trilocations. He married Jeanne Viollet at the turn of the 20th century and from then on added her name to his own. His 6 children, 5 girls and 1 boy, are used as models for his fanciful stagings of bourgeois family life. After the First World War, his production became more sober and more documentary, until his death in 1947. The several thousand photographs of Henri Roger, as well as those of his brother Ernest, are part of the founding collections of the Roger-Viollet Agency.
It was Henri Roger who introduced his eldest daughter Hélène, born in 1901, to photography; she retained a lasting passion for it and made it her profession. With Jean-Victor Fischer, whom she met at journalism school and who would later become her husband, she began a series of photo reportages in the summer of 1936. Leaving to follow the departures on paid vacations of the Popular Front, Hélène Roger-Viollet and Jean Fischer brought back some of the first images of the Spanish Civil War and the influx of refugees at the border.
Having bought the store and the image collection of Laurent Ollivier, who sold reproductions of works of art and landscape photographs to students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Hélène Roger-Viollet and her mate added the family production and their own photographs. The agency closed barely a year after its opening, at the beginning of the Second World War, for a five-year interlude that its founders spent in the south of France, in the free zone. They returned to Paris at the Liberation, and the agency was one of the first to reopen in November 1944.
After the war, they continued a continuous effort of acquisitions: funds of agencies without successors, of bankrupt studios, of deceased photographers or postcard manufacturers, purchases of reportages or photos "by the piece", treasures of collectors or archives of bookshops, nothing escaped their bulimia of purchase. At the same time, they built up a collection of daguerreotypes and old cameras. The store grew, with the purchase of the adjacent antique store, the green boxes containing the prints filled up, the filing system expanded and the agency took on the status of a press agency in the 1960s, testifying to its place in the media industry.
The encyclopedic ambition - the agency's communication documents proudly proclaim that it offers "all the history of the world from prehistory to the present day" - is supported by the distribution of foreign collections and "in-house" production. At the same time, the Roger-Viollet couple travels six months a year. They completed the agency's collections with their own production, and in particular with their reportages around the world, very regular since the end of the 1950s, from Africa to Asia and the Americas, up to their world tour on the liner France, which gave rise to a travelogue: "Ah qu'il est beau ce tour du Monde".
When the creators of the Roger-Viollet agency passed away, and according to their wishes, the collections and the agency were bequeathed to the City of Paris, which, after 20 years of contestation of the inheritance, created the Parisienne de Photographie in 2004, to manage the Roger-Viollet archives and ensure the digital reproduction and distribution of other municipal collections. The digitization of the collections, which began at the end of the 1990s, accelerated in 2007: nearly one million items have now been digitized.
The photographic archives of the daily newspaper France-Soir, pre-acquired by the City of Paris in 2012, now enrich the fabulous collections distributed by the agency. They provide an unprecedented look at French society from the 1960s to the 1980s through the many reports produced by the newspaper's team of photographers covering all the sporting, political, cultural and social events of the time.
Since December 2020, and after more than three months of work, the agency offers a gallery open and accessible free to the public, of more than 100m ², including an exhibition space, a space for consultation and sale of prints, and a bookstore corner.
Designed and developed by architect David Apheceix, the gallery is modern and uncluttered, highlighting the photographs on display as well as the iconic archive boxes that punctuate the agency's walls. The "LN" stools, a tribute to the founder and to the Black & White images, were specially created by Wendy Andreu to complete the space.
In order to perpetuate history and because contemporary photos are the archives of tomorrow, the Roger-Viollet agency continues its policy of searching for unused image collections. In addition to its own collections, it distributes the work of numerous photographers, enabling them to perpetuate and enhance their photographic production.