A visual history of the Cannes Film Festival

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Next week, as hordes of celebrities, directors and entertainment industry types descend upon the town of Cannes for its 64th annual film festival, chances are that a member of the Traverso family will be there to photograph the festivities. It’s a safe bet to bestow on this family the title of official photographers of the Cannes Film Festival: They’ve been there since the beginning.

It was a sunny, warm September afternoon in 1939 when the mayor of Cannes greeted famed director and cinematographer Louis Lumière as the honorary president of the first international film festival. Photographer Auguste Traverso captured his arrival at the Cannes railway station. It was a fleeting moment, however, because the festival was canceled three days later as World War II broke out in Europe. The festival would not resume until 1946.


That photo can be seen in ‘Cannes Cinema,’ a collection of 550 photographs culled by photographer Gilles Traverso from the family archives dating from 1939 onward. An introduction and captions written by Serge Toubiana, director of the Cinematheque Francaise, provide a comprehensive visual history of the festival.

See a photo gallery of ‘Cannes Cinema’

Early on, the Traversos established working relationships with the celebrities and the venues and hotels where they stayed, including the Palm Beach, the Carlton and the Majestic, and received nearly exclusive access.

This was the early ‘50s, when actors wanted to get their picture taken, eagerly posing for the camera. The images in the book reveal celebrities with less-guarded composure and a genuine enjoyment of their surroundings in the French Riviera town.

This is evident in candid shots of a shirtless Tyrone Power in 1949 and a young Elizabeth Taylor in a bikini between two sailors on La Croisette in 1950. In addition to Taylor, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren were the crowd favorites, Gilles Traverso, said via email. After a press conference in 1964 for ‘La Donna Scimmia,’ Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi donned a chef’s hat and set up a makeshift stove on the beach to make pasta while beach-goers looked on.

How things have changed.

‘Having cameras in phones is a horrible idea,’ Traverso said during our email exchange, commenting on how the festival has evolved in terms of photography. ‘There are entire nights where we can’t have access to the red carpet because the actors have become so skittish about having their picture taken. They are terrified it will be up on the Internet immediately with some horrible comment attached to it.’

For the Traversos, it’s still all about capturing the spirit of the festival -- and a love of cinema.

What is Gilles looking forward to at this year’s festival?

‘Everyone is very excited about Robert De Niro being president of the jury,’ he said. ‘And Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ and, of course, its star, Brad Pitt.’

-- Liesl Bradner