Veyre, Gabriel (1871-1936)*

Gabriel Veyre – perhaps the most celebrated of Lumière operators. A special room is dedicated to him at the Lumière Museum in Lyon.

Apart from the entirely exceptional case of Alexandre Promio who is thought to have shot 348 “views”, Gabriel Veyre was the most prolific of the Lumière cameramen, shooting a total of 72 “views”.

In his first engagement, in 1896-1897, he travelled to the US, Mexico, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Venezuela and Colombia on the South American mainland in order to give demonstrations of the Lumière cinematographe and arrange screenings. While in Mexico in 1896, he also shot 17 ‘views’ : these mostly consisted of street scenes, political or military displays and cowboys with their cattle and horses, but also included the following ‘views’ on more cultural topics:

‘Combat de coqs’ (1896), Guadalajara – Gabriel Veyre
  • 26 – Combat de coqs [Cockfight]. Guadalajara.
  • 36 – Défilé de jeunes filles au lycée [Parade of High School Girls]. Gymnastic display to the sound of drums in the Colegio de la Paz, a Basque school in  Mexico City.
  • 351 – Repas d’Indiens [Indian Meal]. Popotla, Mexico.
  • 353 – Danse mexicaine [ Mexican Dance]. The ‘jarabe tapatío’, Guadalajara.
  • 355 – Marché indien sur le canal de la Viga [Indian Market on La Viga Canal]. A barge loaded with vegetables arrives at the market.
Mohawk reservation of Kahnawake, near Lachine Rapids on the opposite bank of the St. Lawrence river from Montreal  – ‘Danse indienne’ (1898) – dir. Gabriel Veyre. Possibly the first moving image of First Nations people outside  a studio

Veyre was then sent to Japan, travelling through Canada. Here, in September 1898, he shot a ‘view’ on a Mohawk reservation. This was Danse indienne, no. 1000 in the Lumière catalogue and may be the very first set of moving images taken of North American First Nations people on location, that is, excluding the short films of Sioux dancers shot in the Edison ‘Black Maria’ studio in 1894.

Japanese singer accompanies herself on a ‘shemsin’ ‘Chanteuse japonaise’ (1898-99) – dir. Gabriel Veyre

Veyre then continued on to Japan to take over from François-Constant Girel, whose work had been found wanting. Veyre remained in Japan between October 1898 and March 1899, shooting ten ‘views’:

  • 1021 – Danse japonaise : I. Kappore  [Japanese Dance : 1 Kappore]. Four  women dancers perform a traditional dance, reflected in water, Tokyo.
  • 1022 – Danse japonaise: II. Harusame [Japanese Dance : 2 Harusame]. Two women dancers perform a traditional dance, Tokyo.
  • 1023 – Danse japonaise: III. Geishas en jinrikisha [Japanese Dance : III. Geishas in a Rickshaw]. Two Geishas take a journey in a rickshaw, Tokyo.
  • 1024 – Danse japonaise: IV. Jinku [Japanese Dance: IV. Jinku]. A man attempts to encourage three women to dance, Tokyo.
  • 1025 – Danse japonaise: V. Gocho Garama [Japanese Dance: V. Gocho Garama]. Four women dancers perform a traditional dance, Tokyo, in seemingly the same location as in ‘view’ no. 1021.
  • 1026 – Chanteuse japonaise [Japanese Woman Singer]. A woman singer accompanies herself on the shamisen, a three-stringed traditional instrument, Tokyo (see above)
  • 1027 – Une japonaise faisant sa toilette. [A Japanese Woman Getting Dressed].  A Japanese woman does her hair as she finishes dressing up in traditional costume, Tokyo.
  • 1028 – Retour des courses [Return from Market]. Road on the outskirts of Yokohama, with pedestrians and rickshaws.
  • 1029 – Récolte du riz [Rice Harvest]. Peasants stack up sheaves of rice, Tokyo.
  • 1030 – Moulin à l’homme pour l’arrosage des rizières [Manual Irrigation of Rice Fields]. Tokyo.
The palanquin preceding the coffin of the deceased – ‘Annamite Burial’ (1898) – dir. Gabriel Veyre

Finally, Veyre moved to French Indochina where he shot a further 39 ‘views’, six of these being in Cambodia, and the remainder in the three colonies (Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina) that would later be amalgamated in to the state of Vietnam.

As with Veyre’s work in other parts of the world, most of these ‘views’ are dedicated to military parades, political events and economic activities directly related to French colonial life, but they also include the following ‘views’ of a more local cultural character:

  • 1268 – Repas annamite. [Annamite Meal] Shows two men eating sitting cross-legged on the floor. Shot in Annam, the French colony in what is now the central part of Vietnam.
  • 1270 – Fumerie d’opium [Opium Den]. Shows the same two men in the same location as in no. 1268, this time smoking opium lying full length on the ground, suggesting that this is a posed image.
  • 1271 – Enterrement annamite. [Annamite Burial].  Parade of palanquins followed by the coffin of the deceased.
  • 1280-84 – Promenade du Dragon à Cholon [Dragon Parade in Cholon (the Chinese quarter of what was then Saigon, now Ho-Chi Minh City, capital of the then French colony of Cochin China)] These are five consecutive ‘views’, starting and ending with the parade of a dragon, but in between there are ‘views’ of palanquins, litters, ritual objects and two elephants involved in the parade.
  • 1288-89 Courses d’ensemble des régates [Team Races at the Regatta]. Two ‘views’ of racing in long canoes, the first with the oarsmen sitting down, the second with them standing up, Saigon. Whether this was a traditional sport, or one introduced by the French is not clear.
  • 1291 – Mandarins venant saluer le roi [Mandarins Come to Salute the King]. Lined up in rows in the courtyard of the royal palace, local mandarins in Hué prostrate themselves before the King of Annam (a puppet of the French).
  • 1292 – Danse d’Annam [Annamite Dance]. A dozen men perform a dance in elaborate costumes, though it is not clear to what degree these costumes are traditional.
  • 1293-94 – Danseuses cambodgiennes du roi Norodom [Cambodian Dancers of  King Norodom]. These two ‘views’ were shot between October and December 1899 when Veyre was in Phnom Penh. Shot from very far away, they both show the young girls of the royal dance troupe performing in what appears to be the grounds of the palace of the King of Cambodia, Norodom (another French puppet). In the first ‘view’, they are being given instruction,  while in the second they perform a dance involving a sword fight.
  • 1296 – Le village de Namo : panorama prise d’une chaise à porteurs [Namo Village: Panorama taken from a Litter]. This ‘view’ was shot in Annam and is unusual in two respects : shots of rural locations were relatively rare at the time, while a travelling shot from a litter may be unique in the history of ethnographic film!

Veyre appears to have left the Lumière company at some point in 1900-01, and to have gone to work for the Sultan of Morocco instead, though as a demonstrator and projectionist rather than as a film-maker.

For further information about Veyre, see here as well as the Lumière catalogue edited by Aubert and Seguin 1996, pp.310-19, 356-57, 362-66.

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