The Decomposed Image
Notes on Albert Plécy’s Grammaire élémentaire de l’image (1968)

In 1968, Albert Plécy, editor-in-chief of Point de vue –Images du monde and founder of the Gens d’images association, published the second bilingual edition of his Grammaire élémentaire de l’image. The book, which was well received, attempted to develop a universal language from photographic images. In Plécy’s view, such a grammar was confined to the ‘disintegration’ of the image: the supposed objectivity of the medium, resulting in images constituting continuous and indivisible meaningful wholes, must be refuted in favour of the emergence of a grammar. Thus, according to Plécy, a photographic image is always composite; reading the image is therefore a matter of discovering its structure, particularly through the use of a ‘reading grid’ that he develops, in order to finally phrase it. However, Plécy’s research, conducted in the age of the atom and the crumbling of empires, is riddled with ideological biases that open the way to undesirable uses.

Albert Plécy, Grammaire élémentaire de l’image, Paris, Éditions Estienne, 1968, page de couverture, photocomposition par Gérard Blanchet d’après un photomontage d’Albert Plécy utilisant la photographie de l’oeil d’un hibou par François Merlet, 23 x 23 cm.

Guillaume Blanc holds a PhD in history of contemporary art from the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. His thesis proposes a genealogy of the idea of the ‘civilisation of the image’, which appeared in France in the mid-1950s. As a postdoctoral fellow at the German Center for Art History in Paris (DFKParis), he continues his research on photography as a universal language from the 1950s to the 1970s. He taught at several universities and is also Secretary General of the French Society of Photography and a freelance curator.

Citation: Guillaume Blanc, « L’image décomposée. Notes sur la Grammaire élémentaire de l’image d’Albert Plécy (1968) », Transbordeur. Photographie histoire société, no. 7, 2023, pp. 86-97.

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