Ingeborg de Beausacq
Childhood and adolescence
Ingeborg de Beausacq was born Ingeborg Holland on January 25, 1910, in Hattingen, Germany. Her parents were dentists. Her father, Ernst Holland, was one of nine children of a peasant family. He was the only one of the whole family, even of the whole village who had gone to school. His father had added a nailsmith shop to his farm and all the children worked in it. That's why he could buy books and also better clothes than the others in the village. There was only one street in all Steinbach Hallenberg and two family names for all its residents: Recknagel and Holland. They had been living there for centuries at the fringe of the Thuringer Wald, the deep endless forest of central Germany. They were small farmers and very poor.
Ingeborg's mother was Hella Mulsow, one of two girls of a dentist in a small town in Mecklenburg. She was also a dentist but gave up practising when she got married. After her second child, Günther, and before her divorce, she established herself again in Essen.
Ernst Holland, 18 years older than Hella, married her in 1908.They settled in Hattingen, a small town near Essen. Their first child was born in 1910, a dark haired black-eyed girl whom they named Ingeborg. In 1916 Ingeborg's mother enlisted her in a school in Essen.
The marriage ended in a divorce and the father sold their house for 1 M DM, an amount which was not enough to buy a stamp. The two children were taken to their father's home in Backnang, a small town near Stuttgart where he had established himself. Divorce procedures were still on, the fight was about the children. Ingeborg managed to contact her mother and went back to Essen in November 1918. Her father took jobs replacing colleagues on vacation. Her mother started working as a dentist again.
Hella Holland married again and the children got a brother, Gernot, from their half English stepfather. He was a civil engineer and had worked for the firm Holzmann at the Bagdad train project in Palestine. But due to some tropical illness from way back he began to get into fits of violence, of rage. He lost his job at the city administration and the whole burden of the household fell on his wife's shoulders. A divorce was the only solution. Ingeborg's mother had taken replacement jobs and after one year and a half she was on her feet again. She had enough capital to take over her father's dental cabinet in Recklinghausen, a small town in Westfalia.
Ingeborg made her "Abitur" in 1929 and was ready for University at the age of 19. She decided for literature, psychology and history of art with the aim of a career as a journalist. She spent her first semester at the University of Hamburg. Then her father objected to journalism and insisted on her studying medicine. For the winter semester she went to Berlin. She was good at anatomy and dissecting but half hearted about becoming a doctor. She also worried about the financial burden to her parents, the length of medical studies, the political situation.
Nazism and anti-semitism continued to grow in Germany. Ingeborg did not want to stay and in 1935 she took the night train to Paris and joined a group of immigrants who had managed to leave with a few personal things: lawyers, doctors, businessmen... She did not go back to Germany until 1958.
One of Ingeborg's Jewish friends in Paris was Dr Proscauer who made a living by importing tropical fish and exotic birds which he sold to the Galeries Lafayette. He and his wife kept their stock in a small studio at Boulevard Clichy. One day he told Ingeborg that he had to leave and offered her the business for 5000 francs. She accepted the deal, bought a second hand Renault Vivasport cabriolet and went to the Gare du Nord where fish and birds arrived by train from Hamburg. She also improted aquarium pumps and other accessories.
Ingeborg's mother liked the 14th of July in Paris and came to visit in 1938. The two danced with the French on Bastille Day and shouted "Vive la France". Her mother brought her a Rolleiflex camera with all lenses and other accessories. Why not learn photography, become a reporter? She went to Monsieur Koruna, a young Austrian photographer. He accepted her immediately. She could use his cameras, his material, his darkroom, would be put on retouching at once and only on her own work. She could work night and day, only had to leave the premises when he had sittings. All that for two months and 5000 francs. That was the best investment in her life, she said! A new life opened up: she photographed her friends, a Russian dancer with a beautiful Botticelle costume...she made enlargements, experimented.
She then met Jean de Beausacq who had participated in World War I. He did not want to experience another war and went to Brazil. Ingeborg left France on August 31, 1939 on one of the last freighters leaving for Brazil. At midnight the same day, France closed its borders and war was declared with Germany.
The couple soon ran out of money and to earn their living, Ingeborg turned to photography and became the foremost photographer of Rio's and Sao Paulo's society children and beauties, among them the Comtesse de Paris. Thanks to people she met on board the Siqueira Campos which took her to Brazil, she could buy equipment on credit from Kodak: enlarger, view camera, a Bausch and Lomb portrait lens, etc. With the money she earned she rented an apartment on Avenida Atlantica, on the sea front. Finally she specialized in elegant woman portraits. She held exhibitions, among other spots at the Ministry of Education which was inaugurated by Moses, the head of the Associaçao Brazileira da Imprensa. In 1940-41, Louis Jouvet came to Rio with his troupe. He needed a photographer and engaged Ingeborg de Beausacq. She made a portrait of him which was displayed in the hall of his theatre in Paris. Ingeborg learned about her brother's death in Russia. He was 18 years old. Her mother also died in Berlin. She was 59.
Three years later, the marriage with Jean de Beausacq ended in separation since divorce did not exist in Brazil.
In 1942 Brazil declared war on Germany and the press ran an intensive anti-German campaign. People were arrested in the streets for being German. Ingeborg, stateless but considered as a German, working as a photographer but having no licence for it and no permission to work, only could hope to let the tempest pass over her head. She moved to Sao Paulo, waiting for the war to end.
In 1945-46, Ingeborg had a passionate love affair with Flavio de Carvalho, a famous Brazilian painter and architect.
Ingeborg wanted to go back to France but the French refused a visa on her stateless passport. She found a new supporter and friend, the U.S. Attaché Culturel who invited her to his house in Sao Paulo. Through him and his wife she met the American consul who offered her an emigration visa to New York. In September 1948 she embarked on a Moore McCormack ship sailing to New York.
In New York, Ingeborg managed to find a large apartment on 470 Park Avenue which became her studio. Every morning she read the New York Times and once saw a section about cameras. She called the indicated phone number and asked for advice. She wanted to become a fashion photographer. The man at the end of the line gave her the idea to make test shots of new models who wanted to make a career at agencies such as Eileen Ford's. Her first editorial assignment was a double spread in Town and Country. An exhibition at the Camera Club got her to Mademoiselle and other magazines.
In 1954, Ingeborg bought a virgin lot at 418 East 71 Street and built a house with her studio, a garage, an apartment for herself and one on the third floor as a "taxpayer". The construction would take nine months and she decided to travel. She first went to French Guyana to write a story about the penitentiary and the remaining convicts. Her story was published in La Suisse Illustrée and Die Woche. She then traveled upstreams the Maroni River and visited the Boni tribe villages along the river. She spent a month in a village called Enfant Perdu (lost child), sharing the village life with the natives. Later she traveled in Brazil by bus, by air, and by walking.
Back in New York, Ingeborg showed a beautiful door she had bought from the Bonis to René d'Harnoncourt, the founder of the Museum of Primitive Art. He bought it for the museum. Other art objects that she brought back from the Bonis were sold by the museum shop of the Brooklyn Museum or given to other museums. This gave her the idea of a new activity: collect primitive art objects. The owner of a New York art gallery, Julius Carlebach, suggested that she should go to New Guinea and offered to help her financially.
In 1957, Ingeborg went to New Guinea. She experienced people and places, nature and living culture. She spent 1½ year in the villages along the Sepik River. She lived with the natives, sharing their life, photographed their initiation rites, wrote their history, and bought art objects.
Ingeborg first spent a month in Malekula. She explored the forest with three native guides. On the island of Touman she bought her first piece of art. It was the discarded head-hunter pole of the island's chief. Ingeborg met Kali, the chief of the Big Namb tribe of which Tom Harrison had written in his book "Savage Civilisation".
Her goal was now the Sepik river in Australian New Guinea. An Australian captain, Les Ingle, took her on his vessel, the Sea Lark, to Angoram, three days from Madang. The night before leaving, an earthquake shook the house. Ingeborg learned that 100 miles north-east was an island, Manam, whose volcano was violently erupting. To meet the emergency, the Administration had prepared total evacuation of Manam. The natives did not want to leave yet, they believed they were the volcano's children and that he would not destroy them.
At the end of her first sailing trip the Sea Lark anchored in front of Manam. No traffic was permitted anymore, said Les Ingle, but he promised her to find a way to get her to the island. She won Ingle's sympathy and he became interested in her venture while little by little she confided in him. He offered to lend her his 15 ft boat which he had equipped with a single cylinder motor for fishing trips. They made arrangements to get the boat for her from Madang.
The second sailing day brought her to Kopar, the first native village at the Sepik river mouth. Ingle took her ashore. She met Kurit and Eram, the two Kopar men who would later be her companions for many months. Kurit would be the motorist for the boat to come, Eram would cook and clean. Kopar would later become her headquarters.
The third day they arrived in Angoram, where she met some "Europeans": a Danish woman, two Welsh men, several Australians, a Canadian. She also met Tas Hammersley, a young Australian who had built a school community for native children in Pagui, 300 miles from Angoram up the river. She promised to visit him later in Pagui.
Ingeborg went on excursions and visited far away villages: Mendam, Karam, Darapap, Murik. She talked with the natives and bought objects. Les Ingle brought her over to Yogari, a village on Manam island. While they had their last dinner on the Sea Lark, before Ingle returned to Madang, the sea got bad. Only after hours of cruising in front of the active volcano she could get rowed ashore at two o'clock in the morning, though the sea was still stormy. She landed on the wrong part of the island, found herself alone with six native men around a fire. She persuaded them to take her to Yogari.
English anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood had been in Manam 25 years earlier. The natives thought that Ingeborg was the reincarnation of "Miss Camilla", and the women in particular transferred their love to her.
The week Ingeborg spent in Manam was as close to a life in a tropical paradise as one can imagine. The natives killed a pig for her, took her heavy sail canoe to sea so that she could photograph, brought carvings and made new ones for her. She went with women to the bush, they told her about their love call devices, she bathed with them in one of their grass skirts. The men discussed politics with her, told her the story of their ancestor, the volcano.
The Sea Lark picked her up a week later. Ingle left her in the river with the pinnacle and Kurit and Eram. They explored four villages turning their back to the lakes and swamps: Mendam, Karam, Darapap and Murik, and also the Murik lake villages. In Wewak, at a costume ball, she met again Tas Hammersley and promised to visit him and his school in Pagui.
One day, a ship like the Sea Lark anchored in front of Kopar. It was the Thetis, a government patrol boat with its captain Goya Henry. He used to be an aviator, who lost one leg in an accident which cost his only passenger's life. Henry was a man of impeccable manners who liked to quote Shakespeare. Henry took Ingeborg's pinnacle, with a broken shaft, in tow, and her belongings, Kurit and Eram and herself onboard and picked up her carvings at Kurit's uncle's village. They sailed to Angoram, where she left the pinnacle at the care of Johnny Young. The Thetis then took her all the way to Pagui where Tas Hammersley waited for her. In Pagui she went on collecting trips to the villages in the bush and tributaries of the upper Sepik. She then felt so one with the natives and the river that she slept alone tied up at any river bank.
It was Christmas. Ingeborg stayed with nuns in a bush village and attended midnight mass. Hammersley was promoted to Samarai, a small island at New Guinea's extreme south. They said goodbye to each other and also to the Sepik. She waited for the Thetis to take her down to Angoram, took a mission boat to Wewak, from there a plane to Hollandia, the capital of Dutch New Guinea. Her goal: the Asmath region on the south west coast. She flew to Merake and went by boat to Agats, the patrol station for the Asmath region. She now wanted to go to Cook's Bay.She went there with an administration boat and instead of two hours it took several days. The captain was afraid to go by sea and serpentined through inland waters. He got stuck at the Kronkel river mouth for days. The ship was crowded with a team of Eurasian geologists and their heavy equipment. They had to sleep in turns, the ship being too small for everybody to lie down at the same time.
Ingeborg left the ship and walked to Cook's Bay, in company of a native policeman. After six hours' walk along the beach with crab holes and rotten trees, she arrived in Primapam, the patrol station at Cook's Bay. She was then followed and surrounded and partly carried and guided by hundred naked natives. On her way she was once dragged over mud in a canoe like in a sled, the natives called her Mama and the women brought her their babies to touch.
At the station was a wounded chief, kept in a shed by the policemen. Ingeborg went to visit him, brought coffee and tobacco. Early afternoon he escaped and swam across the river. A canoe with natives was sent to catch up with him. She photographed the scene and waited for the man to come back. He went right up to her, coming out of the water, embraced her and licked her face. Only when he tore out some of her hair and started to eat it, the other natives came and freed her from him. They then explained that the whole day the chief had announced that he wanted to kill and eat her. Ingeborg was afraid to sleep in the house, assembled all available lights and slept on an open place, surrounded by lights.
Ingeborg followed the patrol officer on census taking trips, collected art and went bac to Agats. In order to reach Hollandia, she had to be paddled 15 night hours up the Eilanden river to an oil boring station from which once a week an aquaplane flied to Sorong at the extreme north point of New Guinea.
In Sorong she caught commercial flight to Biak-Hollandia-Wewak-Madang-Lae-Port Moresby-Samarai, then Sydney. The crates with all her acquisitions arrived in New York. A great part was bought by the Museum of Primitive Art, the rest went to Museums and collectors all over the world.
Later, Ingeborg wrote a book about her life in New Guinea which was to be published by Random House. She wanted to tell how these people lived, how intelligent, hospitable and honest they were. Her life with them had been the happiest time in her life, she said. But the editor did not like her approach and asked her to invent stories about rapes, lions, snakes, real danger. Ingeborg refused, the editor decided that the book would not sell and did not publish it.
Ingeborg left New Guinea in 1959 and spent several months visiting Thailand, India, Pakistan, Lebanon and Greece. In Nepal she hired a Sherpa guide in Katmandu, a cook and five carriers who took her way up close to the Everest. She climbed the Kala Patar, the Everest's close neighbour.
La Gaille in Provence
Ingeborg left New Guinea in 1959, spent much time in Thailand, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Greece. In 1965, she bought and renovated an old farmhouse in Provence, France, la Gaille. It took her six years to build up the house which had no electricity nor water. She sold her New York house and spent months in India, Morocco and Spain to find doors, wood carvings and embroideries, textiles, for her new property. At la Gaille she invited her friends and rented apartments to people from all over the world who wanted to live in a special place.
But in the long run, managing such a big property was too difficult for her, and in 1986 she donated it to the Foundation Arts & Métiers, with the condition that she could live there until her death.
Ingeborg then shared her life between La Gaille and New York where she had an apartment that she later sold and returned to Provence, from where she traveled all over the world. In 1996, she joined the Society of Woman Geographers.
Many objects Ingeborg de Beausacq brought back from her travels can be found in the museums of New York. Some of them were on display at the exhibition "Art from Oceania, Tradition and Change", of the Missouri Museum (2001–2003). An exhibition of about 20 of her photographs was organised by her friends at Goult in southern France, August 11–15, 2007.
- Correspondence and interviews with Mrs de Beausacq.
- Press interviews: Camera n° 8, August 1950; Photo Magazin April 1955; Charm Photography n°2,1955; The Eastsider (New York) Nov. 24,1956; Pacific Islands Monthly June, 1957; The New York Times Aug., 1959; Australasian Post Jan.1, 1961; The American Weekly Nov. 4, 1962; Le Méridional Sept. 13, 1968
- Society of Woman Geographers
- "La vie insolite de la comtesse Ingeborg de Beausacq, photographe et exploratrice" de Lena Augris