When I first walked into this gallery, with its cool, white intersecting rooms flowing into one another, all devoted to photography, I felt almost beside myself, a kid in a sweetshop. I had to make myself calm down and take the time to look properly. Inhabitants of bigger towns and cities where art and culture is on tap may not easily understand this. I know photography and visuals are everywhere, and the internet is a rich and wonderful resource, but a large part of going to museums and galleries is the experience of being in that space, surrounded by the objects shown; I'm sure I could enjoy being in a museum dedicated to a subject I had no interest in whatever if it was a well-designed, beguiling environment.
The second exhibition here, for example, on the work of Thierry Le Saëc, which consisted of blocks of deep, subtle colour juxtaposed with very simple, minimal pictures of sky, or other abstract images and text etched onto reflective surfaces. It was luminous and serene, I found myself breathing deeply and calmly as I moved around it. Yet the accompanying book looked flat, pointless, rather pretentious.
The main exhibition was to mark the twentieth anniversary of Editions Filigranes , who I'd never heard of before, but who are, it appears, a local and well-renowned photographic publisher. The entire catalogue of books were displayed round the walls, along with a selection of the photographers' work, and you could browse many of the books in a small library corner, which I enjoyed. Something that struck me, completely not au courant as I am with any matters of contemporary art, was that while the photographers whose work I've become familiar with on the internet, mostly amateur but not exclusively, seem to seek to obtain higher and higher levels of finish, sharper definition, more contrasting contrast, bolder shapes and forms, while the trend in much of this art photography seemed to be the other way: indistinctness, seemingly haphazard focus, low contrast, a sense of obscurity and occlusion. Sometimes it worked (for me, subjectivity is obvious), the effect was subtle, nuanced, compelling in its uncertainty. Sometimes it just looked like not very good photography.
What did work for me though, was a new work being showcased, the first from Joséphine Michel, entitled, perhaps a little unfortunately for English speakers, Lude. In fact the title is a pun on postlude, which is also the title of a poem by E.E. Cummings, which is quoted in full at the end of the book. Joséphine seems amazingly and enviably young, born in 1981, the year I went to university. She graduated in philosophy from the Sorbonne, then went on to study photography at Arles. I should imagine she might be one to watch. The work consists of a book with a DVD, the exhibition contained a number of blow-ups from it and a projection of the DVD onto one of the gallery's walls. The film is a series of stills, abstracts and everyday objects, with strong emphasis on texture, which overlay and supercede one another gradually; some start as and some become double exposures, others disappear into darkness and obscurity or dissolve into light. A thicket of pampas grass is illuminated by a set of rectilinear ceiling lights; a lorry crossing a concrete bridge appears to go up in smoke, which is then shown to be a stain on a whitewashed brick wall; a gorgeous flash of translucent carmine pink lingers tantalisingly after the neutral tones of the forms around it have faded.
I often find it difficult to look with interest at too many photographs of people, find them tiring, troubling, repulsive even. Doubtless my problem. Here, though, the human forms were at once remote and very moving, numinous, blurred or partial, filled with mystery and beauty, often seen in reflection or through slatted blinds or frosted glass, like the one in the clear, lovely orange of a Buddhist monk's robe (though probably it was just a woman's orange t-shirt...), standing beneath a nimbus of blue, the image then slowly dispersing into pure white. A sleeping woman's profile is illuminated, transfigured, by a ray of sun through the window of the plane she is travelling in, she is sleeping in light.
The whole is accompanied by a soundtrack by Julien Civange which is just music, beginning with faint rustlings, clicks and crackles, moving into plangent drawn out notes before fading away again.
I promised myself a book from the visit, and was torn between this one and one of black and white coastal landscapes. I'm glad I chose this one. I find I'm wanting to watch the DVD again and again, sitting back on the sofa, with a dog and a cup of something; watching on the TV screen is a different way to take in sound and vision again from the more intense head to head with the computer screen. We are really so lucky, to have so many interesting possibilities open to us.
The photos in the book are a good selection,( you can look inside the book here and see some of the pictures). The text, by the photographer Julien Claass, in parallel French with an English translation, is quite difficult in either language, seeming to be rather turgid and precious as that kind of writing in French often does to Anglo-Saxon perceptions. But as well as the E.E.Cummings there is this pleasing quote from Emerson: ' We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.'
The visit has left me both inspired and enriched but slightly confused, as any opening up of possibilities does. It reminded me once more how photography is all about light, and the dizzying and sometimes frightening omnipresence of beauty, if we only know how to see it. I long for the kind of vision that blurs and transfigures thigs so that office workers behind a frosted glass screen appear as translated, near-angelic beings, and the talent to be able to communicate that vision to others. The paradox is as conveyed in the Cummings poem:
'Here less than nothing's more than everything.'
L'Imagerie is free entry, open most afternoons and all day in summer. Well worth a visit if you're in that neck of the woods.
Postscript: By an interesting coincidence, the link to the EE Cummings poem 'Life is more true than reason can deceive' is to a recent post at Loren's blog, In a Dark Time'. I'd been unable to find a good link directly to the poem before, then while passing the time this morning at via negativa, I noticed the first line in his favourite blogs feed reader, which led me to Loren's! Loren has been reading and commenting on Cummings in several recent posts, but while I knew of his blog, I had never visited before. I'm very glad I did, as it is clearly a very good one, so I'll be going back.