Friday, June 24, 2011

Along the French roads… (Part 2)

After a long introduction (along the Frenchroads… Part 1), I’d like to believe that like me you were looking forward to discovering French landscapes and see what France really has to offer. Everyone knows about the mystic glamour of the French Riviera and the envious image of Paris, presumably romantic capital of the world. But who knows about its tortuous roads, its deserted countryside, its historic villages and its colorful old local shops? So let’s immerse ourselves in the French territory by following French photographers who have explored its deepest and best kept secrets…
Raymond Depardon
The best way to start this series is by looking at Raymond Depardon’s photography. He was part of the DATAR group of photographers and since then has continued photographing his beloved country. During 5 years alone on the road in his van, with his large format camera, Raymond Depardon traveled through the French territory to draw the real portrait of a country outside of its touristic clichés. What he gives us to see is the backstage, the behind the scenes, the soul and heart of a country. If you’re French, it’s a France that you know, maybe the France you grew up in or where your grand parents live, where you went on holidays as a kid. It’s the France of our memories, a France everyone has seen, a France we love but never photograph. Grey and colorful, melancholic and joyful, attached to its tradition but also ready to reinvent itself, it’s a territory of contrast where mutations happen slowly. Depardon’s images bring us closer to a part of ourselves we almost forgot. They mirror the contradictions of the country: familiar and surprising, contemporary and timeless, banal and aesthetically beautiful. La France de Raymond Depardon was exhibited in Paris end of last year and a beautiful book recalls Depardon’s adventures along the French roads…
« La France de Raymond Depardon » © Raymond Depardon / Magnum photos / CNAP
Cachet-Commercy – Meuse
Realite – vers Issoire (Puy-de-Dome)
“La France de Raymond Depardon” © Raymond Depardon / Magnum photos / CNAP
“La France de Raymond Depardon Raymond Depardon / Magnum photos / CNAP” ©
“La France de Raymond Depardon Raymond Depardon / Magnum photos / CNAP” ©
“La France de Raymond Depardon Raymond Depardon / Magnum photos / CNAP” ©
Nievre – Neuvy-sur-Loire © Raymond Depardon
More images on Magnum site:
A great article with audio explanations by Depardon (in French):
An interview (in French):
And a few citations I particularly like and that I tried to translate in English:
‘Half of France is blue and half of France is yellow’

‘In Paris colour is vulgar, elsewhere it’s resistance’

‘A Paris la couleur c’est vulgaire, mais ailleurs c’est de la resistance.’

‘Les fruits et legumes c’est la France d’aujourdhui.’

‘Fruits and vegetables, that’s today’s France.’

Friday, June 17, 2011

Along the French roads… (Part 1)

Everyone even slightly interested in the History of Photography and especially here in the United States will come across what is called ‘New Topographics’. This movement in photographic art started here in the 70s and is named after an exhibition held in 1975 in the International Museum of Photography: New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. 
Stephen Shore, 2nd Street and South Main Street, Kalispell, Montana, August 22, 1974
Mostly featuring the work of American photographers it represents a new approach to landscape photography where the banal, the uniform, suburbs, industrial development, roads become the main photographic subject.  Far away from the imagery of grandiose American nature and far away from ‘decisive moment’ social documentary, this movement is about finding aesthetic and hidden beauty in the dull, the boring, the empty. It’s about depicting what we see everyday without even looking, what appears in our peripheral vision at a crossroad, on the side of a street without us even noticing. But the impact and the influence that this movement has on today’s photography also seems to express the fact that these (at the time surprising) landscape images also convey a political message questioning ‘man alterations’ on nature.  
Robert Adams, Tract House, Westminster, Colorado, 1973
Anyway my objective is not to retrace the history of the movement or of this specific exhibition, which is by the way currently traveling through Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Spain – unfortunately I missed it as it was in San Francisco just before I arrived…) But as I explore the images and approaches that define today’s contemporary photography I couldn’t avoid noticing the strong influence of such a movement on young photographers and I guess especially in America. In addition to the  undeniable aesthetic of these photographs I started to understand their main value through the interesting testimony they leave us. Depicting things as they are forces us to see things as they really are, to better look around us and question our relationship to our environment. 
And as I explored the American environment through ‘Topographics’ photographs I started to wonder what my own country looks like through the lens of ‘Topographics’ photographers? What do the French altered landscapes look like? So here are some answers from a girl freshly arrived in the United States looking back at the environment where she grew up. 
Mission photographique de la DATAR
The first and amazingly interesting example of the American New Topographics’ influence on French photography is certainly the project commissioned in 1984 by the DATAR (a French governmental delegation dedicated to town and country planning and regional activities). With the objective of representing the French landscape in the 80s, the DATAR first commissioned 12 photographers to travel through France and document its environment. The project grew and it was finally 28 photographers, French and foreign, unknown and famous who created an in depth photographic archive of French landscapes. 
Gabriele Basilico, France, 1984-1985
With images from photographers such as Joseph Koudelka, Lewis Baltz, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Doisneau or Raymond Depardon, this mission is probably the starting point of new European landscape photography. Each photographer expressed his personal engagement with the territory with his own photographic style and explored new aesthetic and emotional dimensions of French landscape photography.
Here is a picture of the initial team. If you’re interested in more portraits of the photographers in 1984, you can find some here:
The book published in 1989 is now a collectible.
Unfortunately I was unable to recall many images of the project and the ones I found usually have no title, no indication of the location and no author but they offer a good seen of this historical photographic project. 
Learn more: 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A journey through the Great North (part 2)

After a short trip on the American road with famous Magnum photographers, let’s go back to the initiatory journey we started through the Great North. While the beauty and mystery of Scandinavia evoke a dreamy poetic sensation, its feeling of isolation, solitude and sometimes absurdity probably appear even more on the faces of its inhabitants than on its frozen landscapes.
Ismo Holtto
Probably not very well known across the Atlantic, Ismo Holtto is also considered as one of the greatest Finnish photographers of all times. Highly respected in Finland, his work has hardly ever been exhibited outside of the country and definitely not outside Europe. He took most of his pictures between 1962 and 1971 while working as a goldsmith. He photographed in his spare time and managed to produce an impressive body of work that reminds of August Sander’s images of the Germans. His portraits offer an in depth documentary approach to the life and dreams of the people of Finland as if we could see through their mind. The faces of Holtto’s subjects reflect their melancholy and sadness but also their hope for a better future. His photographs are as strong, respectful and beautiful as his own story – you can read more about him:
“Holtto characterizes the fundamental elements of the human race as it is found in Finland: tough, rudely beautiful people, as the harsh Northern environment has molded them since time immemorial. They are the type of people who can survive in the Northern conditions, surrounded by the dark and frost of the winter. Holto’s photographs tell a tale of a bygone way of life which would only be known by the objects left behind without the wonderful power of photography”
by artist and art critic Erkki Pirtola
More on Ismo Holtto:
Pekka Turunen
The portraits of Pekka Turunen offer a completely different approach to depicting people of Finland. Between humor and seriousness, with respect and generosity they convey the absurdity and the self-derision you need when you live in the countryside of a land like Finland. “Finnish society became urbanized more rapidly than almost any other in Europe. Those who have remained in the countryside now have their backs to the wall which is precisely where the photographer has put them for the pictures in this book. Against the Wall, his book published in 1996 (which became a rare collectible) tells us about Lypö, Tilkkanen, Mörsky and others, who live on Finland's eastern borders.” The outfits, the situations and the decors seem to come from another age, but their faces and expressions are timeless and definitely priceless!
Pekka Turunen doesn’t have a website, for more of his work (along with other great photographers by the way) :

Joakim Eskildsen   
Joakim Eskildsen is not really from Finland and his photographs don't necessarily depict Finland but his powerful and beautiful images make us travel through Europe and take us to the isolated far North.  Joakim Eskilden was born in Denmark but he moved to Finland in 1994 to learn photography and the craft of photographic book with Pentti Sammallahti. Between his early work in Denmark and his last series where he returned to his own country and visited its northern point, Eskildsen has visited Europe from North to South. With a consistent sensibility and sincerity for his subjects, he explores classic black and white and strong dark color photography, portraits and landscapes. Between 2000 and 2006 he traveled in seven different countries to understand and depict the life of the Roma and the conditions they face in a hostile European environment.   
Osted 1986
Sabina I, Kirkkonummi (The Roma Journey, Finland)
Tino and Ritva, Kirkkonummi (The Roma Journey, Finland)
Vodstroy I (The Roma Journey, Russia)
Skagen ll (Skagen works, Denmark)
 More on Joakim Eskildsen: