Readings – Christian Liboiron

[Summer 1994]

Bill Brandt Photographs 1928-1983,
London, Thames & Hudson, 1993, 192 p., ill. b.,45$

Brandt a été photojournaliste, travaillant principalement, de 1934 à 1951, pour Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Picture Post et Harper’s Bazaar, avant d’orienter son travail sur les relations de l’espace et du corps. Son œuvre s’articule donc en projet photographique issu de commandes et de ses propres initiatives. En 1936, il publie English at Home, un essai photographique sur l’organisation sociale en classes opposées, faisant référence à une Angleterre archaïque. Il dépeint aussi les contrastes de générations entre le monde troublant des enfants et celui des adultes. A Night in London, son deuxième livre publié deux ans plus tard, traite d’une même thématique avec un clin d’œil à l’album Paris de Nuit de Brassai. « If Vienna confirmed the oneiric Brandt, Paris added irony and ethics. » Une influence importante dans l’esthétique symboliste et du film noir des épreuves à fort contraste de Brandt est sûrement sa rencontre avec le psychanalyste Wilhelm Stekel à Vienne ; Man Ray, quant à lui, exercera un rôle important dans le développement d’une esthétique moderne.

L’édition de cette monographie, catalogue de la rétrospective présentée à la Barbican Art Gallery de Londres, permet de situer chaque photographie dans le contexte de sa production et de sa publication. Comme la plupart des photos de Brandt sont rattachées à une série, l’éditeur en indique le titre du projet et le magazine éditeur. Mieux, des appendices nous donnent la liste complète des projets publiés, formant ainsi un catalogue raisonné.

Helaine Posner, Angela Grauerholz : Recent photographs
Cambridge, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1993, 32 p., b.& w. ill.. $11.50

In his Treatise on Colours, Goethe writes that “every look is transformed into an observation, every observation into a reflection, every reflection into an apprehension and, therefore, we could surmise that with each attentive look, we have already begun theorizing the world.” How then, do Angela Grauerholz’s photographs convey this representation of the visible, of visual knowledge? Although her very large scale photographs appear to generously reveal their content to the viewer, their symptomatic integration of movement and their screened surfaces conceal a portion of the information they contain. The viewer is thus able to perceive his own perception, its limitations. All she or he is left to see is what is absent, what is lacking. Grauerholz’s photographic reflection is about the mechanisms of sight as a means for knowledge, about photography put into perspective. The images’ sensuality along with their multiple references to books, paper and archives render this photographic aporia all the more effective.

Published on the occasion of an exhibition presented last fall in the United-States, the catalogue is illustrated with some fifteen photographs produced between 1987 and 1992. Conceived very simply, more as an accompanying document than as an independent monograph, Posner’s catalogue is nonetheless a delightful reference for Epicureans. The author-curator succinctly presents Grauerholz’s work and establishes a connection between the latter’s sensitivity and the esthetic of Chris Marker’s Jetty. In short, this catalogue is a fitting introduction for the exhibition of Grauerholz’s images which will be held at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in January of 1995.

Alain Buisine, Eugène Atget ou la mélancolie en photographie,
Paris, Éditions J. Chambon, 1994, 259 p., $45

Avoiding commonplace interpretations in his comprehensive elucidation of a body of work comprising more than 10 000 photographic plates, Alain Buisine develops a true aesthetic of the oeuvre of Eugène Atget (1857-1927). By discussing Atget’s work in terms of its more modern objectives, Buisine re-establishes the originality of the photographer’s contribution to the history of photography. Constructed as a counterbalance, the author’s brilliant argumentation examines each of Atget’s thematic series and shows how the photographer himself, by integrating contradictory elements, by omissions or aberrations, “disallowed his project to be understood as a systematic inventory.” Atget’s disallowal also embraced the documentary: his multiple depictions of a same subject imply that no single point of view benefits from a privileged relation with reality. Therefore, to truly appreciate this photographer’s work, one must go beyond an archival approach to discover that its entire structure is constructed upon a single recurrence: voidness, absence.

Although Atget was popular with the surrealists and had occasion to publish his photographs in their magazine Minautore, he did not think of photography as an art form and remained apart from the Moderns. During a period where the very idea of speed was exhilarating-film was flourishing and art was acquiring kinetic qualities-, “Atget began immobilizing himself more and more in photography’s immobility.” He put forth a collection of viewpoints depicting a dislocated world and a humanity disjoint. Places, although relative, appear unchanging, whereas people, photographed behind shop windows or extirpated from their surrounding by the photograph’s framing, become blurred traces, beings made absent by the negative. There is a certain morbid quality to Atget’s work, but more specifically, says Buisine, the work is melancholic. Atget’s melancholy is linked to the loss of communication and “relational space” in a Paris transformed by Hausmann. At once contradicting and confirming 40 years of work, the brothel series (1924-25) come close to being the keystone of Atget’s oeuvre: they present humanity reconciled with its environment in a an economy of sexuality. “How then, could we not perceive Atget’s final creative contribution as a wonderful act of derision.”
Translated by Jennifer Couëlle