Lettres à un photographe français: mes réactions aux images.

 

image

 

Presenting a new series: my own take on “Letters to a young poet”; but here I am writing my reactions to the photographic works of the talented French photographer Frédéric Bérard, who is in the process of creating his first photography webpage. While perhaps not considered by all to be “young in years”, his vision is indeed fresh, invigorating and quite youthful. These photos are from PICTORY, his new art photography webpage-in-progress.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway (author, artist, critic)

Letter one.

Congratulations, young man!

Now, THIS is what I am talking about! Today’s photo additions to your webpage are truly a combination of “outside looking in” and “inside looking out”; almost as if under the direction of a certain Camus — unemotionally stripping our sense of vision of all illusions of romanticism, and condemning us to a nameless solitude which is in itself the only satisfying raison d’être: the purposelessness of the sea, the uneventful sky, the tunnel to nowhere, ambassadors of nature disfigured and raped by the elements … and perhaps also by the wantonness of human indiscretion, the waste and the intellectual excrement giving birth to new fleeting passions and obsessions. You flash a continuous screen of images from the far corners of your retina, all focal points obscured and devoid of rational meaning beyond the repetitive blandness which is in itself so strikingly beautiful that in my own mind’s eye I give life, motion and smell to the collection of connected but yet non-connected images. I fall back into myself, barely breathing … and I gasp for air … for release … from the banal non-reality of reality. Yes! I am already frantically looking for the lonely and abandoned old men and women, who are pretending to take part in the daily circus but who have really given up … and are just waiting for their names to be called by the Angel of Death.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Prison”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter two.

Your photo entitled “Prison” haunts me. It is perhaps the fluorescent lighting that frames the emptiness that is unsettling. Had you only let the darkness be mystical, or filled it with superfluous objects or people. But no, you were committed to force the viewer to face his/her own loneliness in this concrete gallery of existential mirrors. My every attempt to escape into the shadows of the photograph and to hide from myself are thwarted by the echoes of the whirring and clicking sounds coming from your camera shutter as it opens and closes. They are gunshots, synchronized with the glaring overhead lights spaced out on one side of the corridor as though to taunt: “Run, run, run like the wind! Can you make it to the next darkened section of the hallway before the light catches you, and casts you backwards in time?”

I need not ask to where I might be cast … How old is this prison, anyway? Does the prison really even exist other than as a tourist attraction for the adventurer who has seen everything?

Ahh … I see. Yes, now I understand. It is “I” – the viewer – who is the perpetual tourist.

Yes, I know this corridor all too well. I have my own names for it: Existence, the personal Hell I carry around within myself at all times …

The darkness is my womblike coffin, the intermittent lights are my hopes and dreams … and the shadows are … Well, the shadows are my naked optical illusions: myopic truths, hazy and irrational fears, and my self-hatred – all appearing and disappearing, changing form and substance, and rendered meaningless if they attempt to survive the next click from your camera shutter.

For an instant I am indignant. I press myself up against the wall opposite to the side where the lights are shining down, lift my head up in defiance and I cry out: “So, what are you going to do – hit me?!!” There is no response other than the mocking clicking sound and the low hum from the fluorescent lights. That is answer enough. I am not alone here. I am being monitored, judged, and rendered inconsequent … as always.

I sink to the floor and crawl toward the next section of darkness – hoping to escape the lights, to free myself of hopes and dreams.

When I finally let go I become one with the Nothingness. I am as insignificant as the photograph.

I despise you for showing me Myself, but thanks to your intransigence I am born again.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Espichel”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter three.

“Espichel” … a falsification, a moment that never really happened — or did it? The image of sea and heaven — frozen by exposure to all too many self-serving dreams — is an empty icebox, defrosting here and there into sinkholes masquerading as islands. A testament to global warming so magnificent that oceans overtake skies, water becomes gas, and eternity is transmuted into strands of pharmacy store cotton … a futile attempt to bandage a sore so deep that its severity is still denied by religious zealots and atheists alike.

“Come on in,” you beckon. “The water is fine!”

I am tempted to walk into your photograph … to lose myself in your riddle of negations. I hesitate, extend my right index finger as if about to touch the image — and then pull back.

“I am fine, right here where I am. It is cold,” I say, almost stumbling over the lie lisping out of my mouth.

(The truth is that I have been swimming under the fog-swept surface for quite some time now. This is my secret place, and it is not to be shared with anyone else. Not even with you, my dear photographer. Your photograph has not seduced me. I have always been here.)

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Galactic”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter four.

“Galactic”. A silent explosion within inner space gives birth to bubbles, benign cysts and necessary ablutions: perhaps a newly-found Schoenberg variations, on a theme of molecular disturbance.

I am not fooled by the graceful ballet pictured by your roguish lens. Something unsettling has taken place: an uncalculated movement and force. I remain transfixed; yes, fascinated and apprehensive.

“En garde!” I mutter under my breath.

To whom am I speaking? Well, to myself … of course.
(And to anyone else who might be lurking about in this private enclave within the public sphere.)

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Bretagne”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter five.

“Bretagne”. Electric blue waves flirt shamelessly with a complementary peach sunset. The ghost of Yves Klein is lunching — just a few meters away — on the matching blue-toned beach. He hardly touches the blueberries, grapes or the gorgonzola. He is intensely focused on the highly-saturated azure of the waves. “Nouveau réalisme”, he says, “is not to be confused with Neo-Dada. This is lovely, but it will never do. Take it away, and let us start again. Now, try a blue wash over that sunset. I want it monochromatic!”

I lean over and whisper into your ear: “What does he know?!! The peach-colored sunset is perfect, my dear Photographer …
Painters and critics! … (sigh)

You know, sometimes I get rather tired of Yves — and of singing the blues.”

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Escalator”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter six.

Dear Photographer,

Your photograph entitled “Escalator” reminds me of something I had written many years ago … a poem called “The Homecoming”, which was eventually published in my poetry book “Collected poems and stories”, 2005. Through your use of shadows, you have managed to relegate the experience of riding an escalator to that of a personal maneuver where both man and machine must collaborate in order to get from point A to point B. Much like artificial limbs, this bizarre prosthetic also easily becomes a living part of the organism being assisted:

THE HOMECOMING.
Two machines work in tandem to
transport the newcomer to his
destination: the Incoming Arrivals
terminal, some 60-feet away.
One is called Body: a
miraculous mechanism of impulses
and veiny cylinders which pumps
sparks of inertia into otherwise
lifeless organs and limbs.
Another has assumed the name Escalator:
a complex simple machine, whose
sleek metal and plastic components
derive their electricity from a
brain unaffected by emotion and the
undependable workings of the spleen.
Together, these two brains scheme
to smuggle Body from plane to
terminal without arousing its
potential security risk:
the emotional system.
Body’s eye-apparatus fixates
upon the fourth wall,
noting neither destination
nor landscape in-between.
Brain sends Body impressions
of Elevator and simultaneously
commands to “search and find.”
Spleen sleeps, sufficiently
blinded by Eyes (and too
sophisticated to implement the
long-since devolved functions
of Ears and Nose).
Vessels pump … gears spin;
and Eyes notes a multitude of
peer-bodies assuming similar
movements; a signal is sent to
Brain, with press releases to
Body: “Everyone is doing it.
Ergo, it must be right!”
Body moves toward Escalator
with gusto; and Spleen awakens
abruptly when Escalator
chuckles “gotcha!!!”
But the hopelessness is not
fully understood until Spleen
realizes that Body is alone
in the stream of fast-walking
zombies, guided by Eyes’ robotic
gaze … and overhears the one-way
laughter of Escalator, who
neither sputters nor flinches.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Papiers”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter seven.

“Papiers” is possibly one of your most successful works after the style (and in the Spirit) of contemporary Japanese masters. Much of this genre is characterised by high contrast, grainy, black and white photography. In this photograph you create a feeling of washed out whiteness approaching that accomplished by overexposure — in an eerie still life depicting a mess of discarded papers, molded together by the weather, the elements and time. Had you taken this photographic process even one step further the entire image would have exploded and disintegrated.

These communications (be they love letters, job termination letters, bills, court summonses, death and birth certificates, marriage licenses, parking tickets, food wrappings or old photographs) have once told stories. Now their only communicative value is as “trash art” or a “disposable sculpture”, captured and archived by you. Louise Nevelson goes Daido Moriyama, if you will.

And the thought that nags me as I come back to look at this photograph – again and again – is: “Did the photographer read any of those papers?” In a way, I hope that you did not. The mystery is probably more interesting than the banalities of the actual contents, and too much acquaintance with the individual papers might interfere with the “air of indifference” which helps to make this photograph exciting.

Through your photography, you have given these now “dead letters” new life.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Morzine”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.
“Sierra”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.
“Carnac”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter eight.

“Morzine”, “Sierra” and “Carnac” are all excellently executed and thematically interesting black and white photographs. In my opinion, the most intriguing of the three is “Morzine”. Here you explore landscape romanticism from the wide angle, combining overview from a distance with a magical aspect achieved by accentuating the hide-n-seek of mist, fog or clouds. The intentional absence of detail in the darkened hills and valleys helps to create a sense of personal urgency and involvement, as the terrain is enveloped and consumed by the whiteness. The whiteness here is not soft and delicate but rather reminiscent of smoke threatening to raze the entire landscape. The geographic specific title for this transformative artwork somewhat confounds me, but I rarely give a damn about titles. Good art needs no title to be understood.

“Carnac” depicts a prairie landscape inhabited by rock formations – vaguely recalling Easter Island or ancient ruin sites in Europe. The rocks are interesting enough in themselves, as they seem to be placed in a pattern and randomly at the same time, but there are two elements that make this photograph an exceptionally good one: 1) the superb lighting which gives a quiet dramatic effect, and 2) the overall composition which hints at a battle between the stoic, hard rock formations reaching for the skies and the dramatic soft cloud formations threatening to overtake both rocks and grassland in an intense shroud which could cloak and make all disappear in a matter of minutes. It is truly the quiet before the storm.

“Sierra” reaches forever … and so does the long ribbon of clouds hovering above the terrain. This simple landscape photograph reminds us of how “little” we are, and also shows us life’s endless possibilities. It is surely those characteristics of all “new frontiers” that have precipitated greatness on this planet.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Feuille”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter nine.

Congratulations on “Feuille”!

Here you take botanical photography to a new level, indeed! This form of photography is a classic, and an important learning tool for all aspiring art photographers as well as an ongoing challenge for professional photographers who wish to re-interpret – or even “improve” upon classical nature photography, or even expand upon normative perceptions of nature itself.

Why do artists bother to mimic, and even attempt to denaturalize nature? Nature photography is like a waltz, an old stand-by, a sure bet that is so common that it has little artistic value anymore … Unless, new ideas are introduced. Specifically, radical ideas that force the viewer to identify with his/her sensory perceptions in more primitive, more “raw” and other non-classical ways. In this photo, as in “Papiers”, you push the photo-technical to the absolute outer limits — just to see what happens. As with all art forms, genius involves knowing when and where to stop in order to maintain maximum effect without the work falling apart totally. You did it, Sir!

Here, I can (as Maurice Ravel did on the manuscript to his “Valses nobles et sentimentales”) quote from Henri de Régnier’s novel entitled Les Rencontres de Monsieur de Bréot (1904): “…le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” (the delightful and always novel pleasure of a useless occupation). Like Ravel, you also have approached a known and beloved genre and given it your own “twist” (or perhaps “twisted interpretation”).

Again, through creating your own exaggerated imbalances of light, darkness and shadow you have succeeded in giving this leaf a supernatural quality – enticing, intriguing … and a bit frightening. Here you work very much with textures, and this photograph suggests many possibilities: organic matter – plastic – metallic, soft – hard, as well as questions regarding the actual size and dimensions of the leaf.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“sdf”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter ten.

“Tableau photography” has a long and inspired tradition and history, and is quite prevalent in contemporary art photography and design. There are many decisions to be made in art creations – all the time; and the one decision affects the next ones. Placement of objects – orderly, or not — as well as the surroundings and overall context are questions of balance. In that sense they are as important to an art photographer as weighted notes and interconnectedness of passages in a musical score are to a composer.

Sometimes the best photographic images are found, rather than created or staged. In your photo entitled “sdf” you have achieved something quite remarkable. I cannot know for certain whether the person sleeping on the floor is actually “homeless” or merely a traveller. Had the photo been given another title I might even be tempted to imagine that the protagonist is a concert-goer securing his/her place in the queue before tickets to the Arctic Monkeys concert go on sale. Likewise, you were so fortunate to have stumbled upon that photographic opportunity while carrying your camera that one could also wonder if the photo was actually staged.

Regardless of whether or not the photo was staged or a fortunate find, the active choices that you made in terms of composition are quite commendable. To create such intimacy in a wide photograph, and to successfully balance the camera settings so as to create a virtual stage attests to your excellent technical prowess. But when you, in addition, manage to create a photojournalistic / video quality which underscores the feeling in the viewer that he/she is spying on a private scene in the life of another, I must simply applaud.

Bravo Monsieur ! Bravissimo !

– Adam Donaldson Powell

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