Angels of History: Looking Back at Spatial Planning in the Mission photographique de la DATAR

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter explores the relationship between modernisation, space and photography in contemporary France, and the privileged role acquired by photography as a means of portraying a sense of national identity through spatial forms. It focuses in particular on Paysages Photographies (1989), the substantial photo-book which emerged out of the work of the Mission photographique de la DATAR between 1983 and 1988. The Mission photographique was commissioned in the early 1980s by the government’s spatial planning agency, the DATAR (Délégation à l’aménagement du territoire et à l’action régionale), which had been founded in 1963 to drive forward the modernisation of French territory. Its aim was to record the consequences of two decades of spatial transformation and production in France, and by implication marking the end of a triumphant phase of activity. The project mobilised a team of 28 photographers, including well-known figures such as Raymond Depardon, Robert Doisneau and Sophie Ristelhueber. Locating the project within a broader context of responses to modernisation and spatial change in 1980s France, the chapter considers how Paysages Photographies frames and presents the spatial transformations brought about by modernisation; how it captures the impact of spatial planning on the French landscape; and the visual forms taken by planned and modernised space. It explores how different photographers responded to the environments they encountered and, like Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, create an ambivalent sense of spatial transformation as both historical wreckage and half-realised dream.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrance in Flux
Subtitle of host publicationSpace, Territory and Contemporary Culture
EditorsEdward Welch, Ari Blatt
Place of PublicationLiverpool
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781786941787
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2019


  • France
  • Territory
  • Topography
  • Modernisation
  • Visual Culture
  • Literature


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