Vivid Images

[Summer 1999]

by Jennifer Couëlle

It serves sometimes friendship, sometimes love. It is synonymous with both tenderness and desire. It conveys kindness and can lead to passion, but also subsists in simple pleasure. For affection, above all, means interest: in a person, a place, a climate, a phenomenon, and – why not? – an object.

Although affection is sometimes withheld, it tends to want to spread. Indifference is essentially foreign to it; it is a pledge of the felt, and thus, each of its manifestations reminds us that we are alive; I feel, therefore I am! “The qualities of the heart,” wrote the nonconformist and very lucid Marquise de Lambert, “are much more necessary than those of the mind: the mind pleases, but it is the heart that makes attachments.”1 This was so three centuries ago.2 It was so yesterday. It is so today.

Affection, regardless of its degree, its target, or its destiny, responds to a vital need. It fills the void of human beings thrown back upon their own resources – a void typical of these defensive times, according to sociologist Francesco Alberoni. “The modern world,” he writes, “is characterized by a change in functions. Once, they were personalized, distinctive, emotional; today, they are tending to become undifferentiated, merchandised, and neutral.”3 Does this mean that we are becoming destitute, increasingly lacking emotional relationships? In any case, it seems obvious that we must find another sphere in which to respond to this essential need.

Not only does our social system not supply affection, it screens it out. So then what? Then we get an uncanny urge to strip down the private. As the natural habitat of affection, this personal domain is taking on a symbolic value – especially as it is consciously revealed, as a shift occurs, increasingly present in contemporary photography, from the private to the public. Thus, having become a representation, the intimacy of some corresponds to the emotional icon of others. Which may not a bad idea.

This thematic issue of CVphoto offers one possible answer to our question: How is affection portrayed in current photographic practices? Wanting to respect the variable nature of our subject, we have to exhibit in these pages artists who have manifestly different careers and concerns – with one exception, of course: all share a desire to let show or strip bare the sensitive and psychic state called affection.

Montreal video artist Sylvie Laliberté fears neither words nor the shocks of tenderness. Her “Point of View” column is written as a short contemporary treatise on affection. For Canadian-born American Laura Letinsky, affection lies in the daily bed: familiarly, calmly. Marie-Josée Jean analyzes the modes of communications in intimate environments imbued with meaning. Carl Bouchard, a multidisciplinary artist from Chicoutimi, plunges us into the intensity – at times troubled – of the need for affection; for him, it is all at once love, sexuality, desertion, and responsibility. Critic Mona Hakim discusses it with careful insight. As for the work of Bernard Plossu from France, it reads like a poem in which just a few lines are enough to convey the lambency of what needs not be said – two waves, a landscape, his wife, his children. Serge Tisseron eloquently reflects on these affection-wrapped images with a certain audacity that envisages a “new family mythology.”

There you are. We hope that you will look, you will read, and you will feel.

1 Madame de Lambert, « Traité de l’amitié », De l’amitié, Paris, Éditions Payot & Rivages, 1999, p. 46.

2 “Traité de l’amitié” was probably written in the late 1600s.

3 Francesco Alberoni, L’Amitié, traduit de l’italien par Nelly Drusi, Paris, Pocket, 1995, p. 8.