Complete texts

Corpus 5 — A Discovery: Clément Salmon, Municipal Engineer and Photographer

In a review of the photographs in the archives, a group of forty pictures stands out. They are very varied, but they are connected. A number of them have the initials C.S. inside the image, while others bear the complete signature, C. Salmon, in the same handwriting. Some had been pasted onto cardboard and have traces of rust from thumbtacks. The images are dispersed throughout the archives. One portion of the photographs comes from two sets of records expropriated in 1911. A handwritten description by Salmon of one of the houses is included in the folder, along with blueprints and photographs. The photographs are arranged in two series': A) for the Arents House, and B) for the House with the Seven Towers. These are numbered photographs that show an attractive progression of the street, the façade, the back of the house, the entryway, the stairwell and the various levels of the house. The pictures were taken in winter.

What do the initials or the signature in the photographs actually mean? Was Salmon using them to authorize or confirm the validity of the document in the folder, or was he in fact claiming authorship of the images themselves? A modest inquiry confirms the suspicion that when someone signed an image, it was usually the person who made it. Was Clément Salmon also a photographer?

Salmon (1864-?) was Bruges' first municipal engineer. He succeeded Charles Dewulf, the city's last official architect, in 1904. Salmon studied civil engineering in Leuven, worked on railroads in France and Greece for the Société Parisienne Entreprise des Chemins de Fer, as well as in Antwerp, and in 1900, he began working for the technical services department of the city of Bruges. His appointment was controversial, the dissention centring on the contradiction between architecture and engineering. The former represents an artistic sensibility, the latter functionalism. People felt the city's aesthetic plans were being threatened by a technician.

In the Directory of Photographers in Belgium, collated by Steven Joseph and Tristan Swilden, Clément Salmon, 'engineer-architect', is listed as the author of the 1899 publication, La Photographie des couleurs au point de vue pratique et industriel (Brussels). His residence is listed as 'Louvain'. Leonard Salmon (Limal, 1853-?) was also active in Leuven as an optics specialist and photographer, and as one of the founding members of the Photoclub de Louvain. Were the two men related? There are several indications that Clément Salmon may have taken photographs of his own.

Does the subject matter clarify anything about the photographer and the municipal engineer? The glued photographs once adorned a wall, thereby serving as an inspiring reference. According to Jaak Rau, [ref.?] the pictures came from the department of technical services. The house where James Weale lived is visible in one of the photographs. Was this an ode to an admired and enlightening example? In the provincial archives, there is a 'Salmon' photograph with an assignment for A. Duclos penned by hand on the back. Duclos had made his doubts about the appointment of a city engineer instead of a city architect publicly known.

By the time Salmon was appointed in 1904, the Ronse neogothic policy was the norm, the Stübben district had been designed, and Duclos, after a long posting in Pervijze, was back in Bruges. The Flemish Primitives exhibition had been held two years before. The campaign to restore the Gruuthuse house - begun in 1883 by Delacenserie - was now complete. Around 1910, the site became an important focus of Salmon's attention, following the city's acquisition of the Arents House. It is the subject of various photographs - besides those in the expropriations folders. Salmon was in charge of planning and construction of the garden and the connection between the Gruuthuse estate and the Arents House. One of the photographs shows the Groenerei waterway, photographed from the Arents House in the direction of the garden. The later Saint Boniface Bridge (1910-1911, Salmon & Vièrin) is pencilled in, and the handwriting of the codes and calculations is Salmon's. It is a fascinating document on the practical use to which photographs were put.

These pictures are more than a collection of working instruments. The use of some images (provided as gifts with the commission, pasted and hung on the wall), the choice of some subjects (the Weale residence), but especially the visual quality of the various exposures all indicate a serious investment in photography. It is not unthinkable that Salmon was also a member of the Brugse Cercle Photographique and that as such, he was a greater devotee of their poetic sensibility than of Watteyne's business-like strategy.

To date, the Salmon pictures include a number of city views, several architectural images and - remarkably - a large number of interior views with a conspicuous use of winter daylight shining in, providing a stunning tribute to the residential bourgeois interior, and which at the same time also has a noticeably intimate tenor. This engineer, to whom people so objected, had a very sensitive eye for light and for an intimate urban atmosphere. Objective fragmentation of the city into its architectural components was reversed into a subjective concentration on the spirit of the building.

Back to top