The Story Behind the Lighthouse Keeper, the Huge Wave and Photographer Jean Guichard’s Iconic Image




La Jument Lighthouse WaveEarlier today I posted this photo on our Facebook page. It’s a bit grainy and has no doubt suffered compression many times, but the drama of the situation is still clear.

A few friends shared the image on their feeds, and a friend of a friend asked:

“Omg, did he not get washed away?”

I said I had no idea as I knew nothing about the image’s back-story. The conversation continued and the words ‘photoshop’, ‘fake’ and ‘easy’ popped up. As they so often do these days.

Wanting to know more about the photo and what happened seconds before and minutes after it was taken, I turned to Google. I quickly discovered the photo is real, the guy at the door is real, and obviously, the huge freaking wave is real too.

The photographer’s name is Jean Guichard. He was born in Paris, France in 1952.

The lighthouse keeper is Théodore Malgorne, and the picture, ‘Phares dans la Tempete, la Jument‘, which means ‘Lighthouse in a Storm, at la Jument‘, forms part of a series taken in 1989.

The lighthouse is still standing, off the north-western coast of France, near Brittany.

In the picture, lighthouse keeper Théodore Malgorne looks like he’s taking a breath of fresh air. In reality, he’s frightened and waiting for rescuers to take himself and his colleagues away from the dangerous waves and life-threatening situation.

In fact, the keepers had been living in fear of death during the 1989 storm and at one point had taken refuge in the lantern room of the tower. Waves the night before had smashed through the lower windows of the tower, causing the structure to flood, washing away everything in its path including the television, table, chairs, coffee maker and even the refrigerator. The keepers in fact, were waiting to be rescued by helicopter.

Source: Yahoo! Answers

When he hears the sound of a helicopter, Théodore steps out of the lighthouse to greet what he thinks is the rescue party.

He realises it’s not who or what he thought; it’s photographer Jean Guichard, who is on-site to capture dramatic images of the waves smashing against the rocks and lighthouse.

Seeing what’s about to unfold before him, Jean presses the shutter-release and grabs several pictures before the moment passes.

Théodore Malgorne is initially oblivious to the wave, but quickly realises what’s about to happen and steps back inside, slamming the door shut before the wave engulfs him, and no doubt saving his life as he goes.

In 1990, Jean Guichard won second prize from World Press for his photograph and over the next few years the image became popular in art and print shops.

It’s a great story, and it’s a relief to know nobody was hurt during the creation of such an iconic image.

Video

Watch the video below to see the rest of the images, and to see photographer and lighthouse keeper meet and exchange a fabulous gift.