Raquez and the Gervais-Courtellemont Mystery

In the Introduction to our scholarly translation of Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes (available here), we bring up a mystery regarding the illustrations. An image in Pages Laotiennes appears to have been taken moments apart from a similar image in another book.

The second image comes from Empire Colonial de la France: L’Indo-Chine: Cochinchine, Cambodge, Laos, Annam, Tonkin, published in Paris in 1901. The author of L’Indo-Chine was Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863–1931), a well-known explorer and photographer. He converted to Islam and in 1894 was one of the first Western men to openly visit and photograph Mecca. He would later pioneer the use of color photography using a technique known as Autochrome as early as 1908, an endeavor for which he is now mostly remembered. L’Indo-Chine unambiguously states that “Illustrations, direct from nature, were taken by Mr. Gervais Courtellemont.”

In our Introduction we speculate that the publisher of Pages Laotiennes, F. H. Schneider, got his hands on Gervais-Courtellemont’s pictures and printed them with or without the photographer’s permission. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that several other pictures appear in Pages Laotiennes that were later printed as postcards without attribution to Raquez. For instance, the image of the Lue women that appears in Pages Laotiennes that mirrors the image from L’Indo-Chine was later printed as a postcard by the Saigon-based Mottet et Cie but not credited to Raquez (his other postcards and photographs carry the imprint of either “Collection Raquez” or “Cliché Raquez”).

So far so good…but what we don’t discuss in our Introduction are the other parallel images in Pages Laotiennes and L’Indo-Chine. The situation may be more complex than it appears.

Here is the image from page 391 of Pages Laotiennes:

Raquez claims to have met this group in Xieng Khouang and he describes them in detail on the same page on which the image appears, including details that closely match the clothing. “A group of ladies includes a Phuan woman as full of spirit as a schoolgirl on leave, a Phu Thang in a wide turban falling back over one ear, Laotian ladies from Luang Prabang, even a Lue woman, her waist held tight in a smart jacket of apple green velvet and embroidered armbands around her biceps. Being the good little mothers that they are, they pamper big chubby babies, smothering them in caresses.” The caption reads “Young Lue, Phuan, Phu Thang Women and Girls.”

And here is the same group of women and children in a slightly different arrangement from page 101 of L’Indo-Chine:

The caption on the page reads “Femmes de Luang-Prabang,” but in the table of illustrations, the caption reads “Phou Tai and Lue Women – Luang-Prabang.”

Given Raquez’s description, either he was writing from the photograph or his photograph was used without credit in L’Indo-Chine. Without access to the records of the individual publishing houses, we are left only with conjecture, but there are other parallel images between the two books, and the sheer number of instances is provocative. Here are some more:

The market at Luang Prabang in Pages Laotiennes

Are these the same men in this image of the same market from L’Indo-Chine?

And here is the same Lue girl in both books. From Pages Laotiennes

 

And from L’Indo-Chine

Any and all comments on this conundrum are welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

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