Pierre Edouard Leopold Verger (1902-1996) was a French photographer, ethnologist, anthropologist and researcher who lived most of his life in the city of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, in Brazil. Verger developed a photographic work of great importance, based on everyday life and the popular culture of five continents. Verger also wrote several reference texts on the Afro-Bahian culture and the Diaspora, focusing his research work on the study of the religious aspects of Candomblé, an issue that becomes his main interest point.
Verger is born in Paris on November 4 th 1902. From a middle-class upbringing, until his thirties Pierre Verger leads a rather conventional lifestyle, corresponding to his social condition, even if he intimately disagrees with those class values. The year 1932 marks a turning point: he learns photography from his friend Pierre Boucher and discovers his passion for travel. Verger buys his first Rolleiflex camera, and after the death of his mother decides to realise his deepest desire: to become a lonesome traveller. Since the death of his father and two brothers, Verger's mother had been his sole remaining parent, who he did not want to hurt in choosing an anticonformism and roving lifestyle.
Between December 1932 and August 1946, Pierre Verger travels around the world, making a living exclusively from his photographic art. Negot iating his negatives with newspapers, photo agencies and research institutions, Verger takes pictures for various companies and even exchanges his services for travel tickets. Paris becomes his base, where he receives his friends - including Jacques Prévert's party and the ethnologists from the Ethnographic Museum in Trocadero square - while making contacts for new trips. He has his work published in the best magazines of the time, but as stardom is not his aim, Verger is always on the brink of a new departure: "The sensation that there was a wide world out there didn't leave me, and the longing to see it took me towards new horizons".
Things start to change in 1946, when Verger disembarks in Bahia. While Europe lives the turmoil of the post-war period, Salvador is a haven of tranquillity. Verger is immediately seduced by the hospitality and the cultural wealth of the city, and decides to settle there. As anywhere else in the world, he prefers the company of common people and the simplest places. Black people, omnipresent in Bahia, monopolize his attention. More than mere protagonists of his photographs, they become his friends, whose lives Verger seeks to know about in detail. When discovering candomblé, Verger identifies in it the source of the vitality of the people of Bahia. He then engages in meticulous research on the Orishas and their cult. His interest for religions of African origins allows him to receive a research grant to study their rituals in Africa, for where he departs in 1948.
It is in Africa that Pierre Verger is reborn, receiving in 1953 the name of Fatumbi, which means "one who was reborn for Ifá". His intimacy with the cult, initiated in Bahia, facilitates his contact with priests and local authorities. Verger ultimately becomes a Babalaô, diviner of Ifá prophecies, consequently accessing the heart of the Yoruba oral traditions. It is at the same time that he starts one more new career as a researcher. Not satisfied with the 2 000 negatives Verger already presented as results of his research, the French Institute of Black Africa (Institut Français d'Afrique Noire / IFAN), directed then by Théodore Monod, requests from Verger a detailed account of the observations he made during his African travels. Whether he likes it or not, Verger has no other choice than to accept and in 1957 he publishes <em>Notes sur le culte des orixás et voduns</em>. In doing so, he unintentionally enters the sphere of scientific research, a universe that will interest him passionately and to which he will remain attached for the rest of his life.
Though he has now a precise direction for his work - the history, customs and religions of Yoruba peoples in West Africa and of their descendants in Bahia - Verger remains a nomad. He becomes a messenger between those two worlds, conveying information, messages, ritual objects and presents. As collaborator and guest researcher for various universities, he discloses his research in lectures, books and articles. In 1960, Verger buys a small house in Salvador, in the Vila América neighbourhood. The late 1970s see him detaching from photography and accomplishing his last research trips in Africa.
In the 1980s, Corrupio publishes Verger's first books in Brazil. During the last years of his life, his main concern is to make his research available to a wide public and to protect his archives. This leads to the creation in 1988 of the Pierre Verger Foundation, of which he is donor and president, gradually transforming his house into a research centre. Pierre Verger dies on the 11 th of February 1996, leaving the Foundation with the task of carrying on with his work.