Anonymous. Photo laboratory on board the liner Paris (CGT 1921)

Explore the history of the Merchant Navy and discover the French Lines photo collections!
This remarkable collection was acquired through shipping company archives, as well donations, submissions and purchases, and includes almost 80,000 photographs documenting a wide variety of exceptional subjects.

Company onshore operations

Although overshadowed by the principal activity of any shipping company, i.e. maritime transportation, flawless onshore organization is nevertheless essential. It relies on the melding of human and material resources within infrastructures scattered across the globe.

Headquarters and Agencies

The heart of these companies is domestically located at the head offices in Paris. However, there are agencies spread throughout different ports, both in France and abroad, which carry out the commercial operations and daily running of these pillars of the French economy. Discovering these many agencies dotted throughout the world provides an insight into the companies’ international presence. From New York to Panama, Hong Kong to Beverly Hills, by way of Kobe and Oran—so many destinations where travel beckons.

Onshore Staff

At the helm of the shipping companies, succeeding chairmen and emblematic personalities, facing the ebb and flow of history, rising to meet the challenges from foreign competition and managing staff with a wide variety of specialized professions. From the central administration departments at the head office in Paris to agencies in France and abroad, all of the different facets of maritime activity are managed to ensure that each journey runs as smoothly as possible.


Always aiming to grow their clientèle and strengthen customer loyalty, shipping companies cannot afford to neglect advertising. Apart from the famous posters and promotional prints, advertising for shipping lines and vessels also extends to urban areas (agency windows, newspaper stands, etc.) as well as various national and international events (exhibitions, fairs, shows, etc.). Taking promotional requirements to a whole new level, French Line even had its own printing house and advertising department staffed with creative professionals, such as the renowned Jean Auvigné, René Bouvard and Michel Lezla.


It was customary to call on the best photographers to commemorate ship launches, photograph every aspect of the liners and cargo ships, to promote the excellence of their staff and to entice people to embark on a sea voyage.

Byron Company

The Byron Company in New York, one of the most prestigious photographic agencies, was used by French Line from the beginning of the twentieth century until World War II. A photographer was sent on board each new vessel commissioned by French Line to capture a complete set of photographs—from the engine room to the navigation bridge via cabins and common areas—nothing escaped the expert eye of these professionals. These high-quality shots, featuring the vessel at the port as well as the service staff on board, served to attract an ever wider audience.

René Simon

A photographer from Marseille who was vital to industrial, maritime and air transportation companies, René Simon (1906-1994) completed a substantial body of work for the Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes. This shipping community aficionado was the preferred photographer for many years for major events at the Marseille company and for portraits of its vessels. Scenes of port life, ship launches, photographs of accommodation, etc. René Simon’s work was both broad and prolific.

Community-based Companies

Buildings linked to maritime operations in port towns with a large shipping presence are diverse and numerous. In Dunkirk, Le Havre, Marseille and Bordeaux, passengers are largely familiar with the ferry terminals where the train takes them to the ships, the agencies where they can buy their ticket and the countless hangars where goods in transit are stored. Onshore staff in the technical, armament and supplies departments are bustling about in offices, warehouses and various workshops to ensure that vessels are operating before departure and arrival. The buildings were also used at other times to house sailors during stopovers, social welfare services for families of seagoing personnel or for the transit of migrants.