Beacons: in the horizontality
Photography – didn’t notice it? –
presents two antinomic effects. It is both prescriptive and neutralising.
The first action had long been specific to painting. The works of
Corot, for example, depict the light in Rome so eloquently (and
artfully) that a person strolling along the banks of the Tiber first
recognises the French painter in the view stretching before him.
The way we see is directed, “framed” by our culture.
The second effect is more recent: the neutralisation is due to the
very stream of images that inundate modern man. The more he sees,
the less he really looks at things. In a way, photography guides
us and loses us, as they said in the legends time. But, a little
critical virtue (on the part of the viewer) and a few effects of
art (from the performer) “are enough” for photography
to catch the eye which will not lose or restrain its interest.
Gérard Pétremand undoubtedly uses this
device in his series “Beacons”. Scrutinising his native
town, the photographer sees more (and differently) than the ordinary
stroller and relies on two techniques to depict it.
He squares his subject (in a fairly large format - 103 x 128 cm)
and uses a quality of film that brings the colours into effect (according
to the 18th century expression). The framing is concentrated and
the film slightly exaggereted. This differs greatly from the fleeting
attention of the passer-by who balances out the colours in his mind
and never organises focal distance, perspective and field into a
conscious picture. This dual artistic operation therefore forms
the scene of the town as a sign or signs, that is to say, a reality
that is reflected on the real without a direct translation, yet
which comments on it, interprets it in the guise of an “effect
of reality” (which is, of course, unknown).
And suddenly we see. A road, posts, a crossroad, arrows,
road-signs, cars (always at a stand-still), signals, tree-trunks,
posters, fences, inscriptions – in short, a plantation of
verticals, anchored to the ground, fragmented, like many scansion
marks and facets. A whole population rises in tiers in depth without
ever meeting the sky. This “animation” (as one says
when one speaks of macchiette, dabs of colour, to indicate the little
figures that express life in Venetian views from the Enlightenment),
remains human-sized but soulless in the horizon.
Vertical appearances, railings within reach. The innocent
“nurserymen” of urban development lay out the contradictory
but interdependent indications of signs that are actually horizontal,
but which are absurd in their increasing number and their equivalence.
And from this forest where bollards, trees and street lamps are
difficult to distinguish from each other, Gérard Pétremand,
his selection not being innocent, takes care not to make the cathedral
or the transcending identifying sign soar up.
Besides, (isn’t it cold comfort?), there are no shades of
grey in the thickets of this urban Babel where each person can choose
their messages without raising their head! We rather have an unusually
bright chromaticism, with colours that have become things, as if
delivered by the plastic industry, which is so adept at producing
Is it that very sameness that we think we recognise
in all these photographic views? These are themselves in accordance
with the hope that the tireless repetition of a (photographic) “om”
transforms a formal approach into spiritual exercises.
Rainer Michael Mason