Jocelyn Philibert, Arbres – Franck Michel, The Depths of the Landscape

[Spring-Summer 2017]

Jocelyn Philibert, Sans titre (pont de chemin de fer), 2010, 84 × 137 cm

Jocelyn Philibert, Sans titre (pont de chemin de fer), 2010, 84 × 137 cm

by Franck Michel

For more than ten years, Jocelyn Philibert has been photographing trees at night. This near-obsession was triggered during a summer spent in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. Having just acquired a small digital camera, he decided to go out and explore the vicinity of his cottage, photographing everything around him, after the sun went down. He was particularly fascinated by a picture of a willow – and by how simple it was to use a digital camera. Known mainly as a sculptor, he now began to develop a primarily photographic approach based on nocturnal landscapes dominated by figures of trees. The resulting works have been organized into a number of series: Des arbres dans la nuit (2006), Sites (2007), Capter tout (2008), Panoramas (2009), Transparence (2010), Illumination (2012), and Intrusion (2014).

The tree, the archetypal pillar in nature, is an omnipresent symbol – a metaphor for life, wisdom, vital power, and longevity, and, more recently, an emblem for ecological struggles. Whether romantic, mystical, political, or formal, the figure of the tree is found throughout art history. Many photographers, like painters and sculptors before them, have devoted entire bodies of work to it – Eugene Atget, Harry Callahan, Lee Frielander, Edward Weston, and Arnaud Class, to mention just a few. Having studied this long tradition and its masters, Philibert gradually developed an unusual patient, meticulous approach, involving a number of temporalities and steps of attentive manipulation.

By day, Philibert surveys the Quebec countryside, mainly the Côte-du-Sud (Chaudière-Appalaches) region, on foot, by bike, or by car, scouting locations to take pictures at night. He isn’t looking for the spectacular or the picturesque; he is interested in banal sites, common species of trees, undergrowth, places that the eye passes over. Country roads and highways, though rarely shown in his images, are always there, an indispensable condition for future image production: he uses them to discover the landscape by day and return to photograph it at night. The location-scouting phase, a key aspect of his approach, involves multiple trips of varying lengths through the countryside. This experienced spatiality combines the routes taken, the body of the walker or cyclist in action, the surrounding environment, and the emotional dimensions awoken during the journey.1 During Philibert’s nocturnal travels, this spatiality is modified by how the night transforms the senses…

1 I am referring here to the concept of odology. “It comes from the Greek hodos, which means road or journey. Odology is thus the science or study of roads.” John Brinckerhoff Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press), 21. The concept of odology “originally came from the philosopher Kurt Lewin, who used it, among other things, to describe the structure of the experienced space, associating it with concepts such as ‘goals,’ ‘favourite path,’ and ‘obstacle.’” Gilles A. Thiberghien, “Hodologique,” Les Carnets du paysage, no. 11 (October 2004): 8 (our translation). See also Les Carnets du paysage, no. 30 (September 2016), devoted entirely to Brinckerhoff Jackson. Les Carnets du Paysage is published by Actes Sud and École nationale supérieure du paysage.

[See the printed or digital version of the magazine for the complete article.]
Purchase this article