Short Stories and Scenes of the Traditional Folklore, Gypsies and the Circus
In order to bring life to his photographs, Jean Tournassoud often used a stratagem that he particularly liked: the staging of scenes or constructed narrative photographs. He would pose his subjects with the talent of a stage director: the settings, the gestures, the postures of the characters, their costumes allowed him to compose true tableaux. His family or close friends would very often willingly and cheerfully participate to these castings and seemed to enjoy it. The resulting photographs are sometimes less spontaneous, but are well composed, never are banal nor vulgar. On the contrary, they show the great sense of humor and the joy of living which characterize the work of Tournassoud.
Jean Tournassoud is interested in the traditions and the folklore of his region, even if he looked at them with a sense of curiosity and amusement: for example, he took many pictures of women in the traditional regional costumes; he also staged the famous regional characters known as Zet and Zette, the perennial shy and young lovers from the Bresse region. Or, as a true theater director, he staged short stories inspired from local legends and folk songs. Tournassoud took great pleasure in writing and then photographing scenes played usually by family members as actors and models, dressed up for the occasion. (The rural constable reading an order, the mock accident of an automobile and the repair of the breakdown). He would also put himself on stage and took many self-portraits where he is acting or modeling after a specific character.
The horse fair which was held in Montmerle at the beginning of September would provide Tournassoud with many opportunities to capture interesting and diversified subjects especially stands where the men would wrestle, or the animal exhibition stands. He would also photograph a complete series on gypsies and the performers and other individuals connected to the circus; the photographs are full of sensitivity and emotion and depict portraits of fighters, children, bear tamers, traveling acrobats, gypsy camp grounds and caravans on the shore of the Saône River. Over the years he would come to know many of the gypsies and would consider them as his friends.
Because of his deep understanding of the richness and the originality of the Bresse region's traditions and folklore, major Tournassoud would become, in 1938, the "official" photographer of the Folk Group of the Bresse Country. Tournassoud would complete several photographic albums, including the 1939 album "Au pays Bressan" ("The Bressan Country" with the assistance of Andre Chagny for the literary and historical part, depicts peasants in traditional costume, scenes of the everyday life in Bresse) and "Bressanes Dances" by Louis Buyret.
Wrestlers and Circus Animals