How do we photograph the couple’s relationship? A broad topic adopted by the European House of Photography with a new exhibition where Nan Goldin, Araki and Hervé Guibert rub shoulders.
This seems obvious, but kind of inexhaustible: photography is the closest medium par excellence. Managing the existence without technical calling in a heavy way, being able to invent himself in the absence of a team, just the photographer and his subject, and then, precisely something of silence of the love printed in the film. Let’s face it and theory: we’ve had no love since the advent of photography.
Before him, everything that was in the order of the love story was stored in a part of the shadows, not in the frame, extinguished. Love is passed on under the censorship of bourgeois morality, or under the challenge of obscene erotic drawing (but if she is his perverted older sister, no one has long confused the rage of pornography with love love, they are the same organs, the same flesh., the same actions sometimes, but they are very different).
Once we want, once we want
Before taking the photo, what do we need to solve the mystery of the love room? Poems, songs, novels. Sounds, words, ideas, values too (that’s in Romantics, German or French), but almost no images. What image, by its discretion, is invented (and what cinema tries to keep going) is a different image of ourselves, when we want it, or when we want it.
There is something almost tautological in watching the European House of Photography (MEP) spend its major spring exhibition on intimate photography, because, in a sense, all photography is intimate, in essence. Even the pictures of the war? Yes, it is enough to compare these days the photos taken in Ukraine with the reports broadcast on television: the goal is not the same. The photograph, though tragic, is closer to the feeling, it captures the phenomenon of less emotion in men and women in the face of fear. Having said this, we are still and always speaking only intimately, in its deepest dimension. No MEP war pictures, more gentleness. The intimate gathers under a beautiful title: Love Songs.
Nan Goldin doesn’t hide the hells where amorous possession expresses itself.
The exhibition itself is conceived to be less of a retrospective than a playlist. With its side A and its side B, just to remind us that when it comes to intimacy, photography is still a rival today: the love song. Someone left you, and your memory chose to take what, in your opinion, as a final amulet? One piece. Who will accompany the meeting and support in the end. And between the pages of a book, your hand will slip a photograph, an intimate piece where the idea is that we have another, ourselves, forever. Love Songs undoubtedly written in this way, in this closeness between image and feeling, from photographers photographing less Love (with its crushing capital letter) than its secret, to delay its collapse .
The photos are almost all camera photos: those of Alix Cléo Roubaud or Hervé Guibert, for example, they are both trying to keep track of a miracle in their brilliant accident. Those of Collier Schorr or Lin Zhipeng who give an ultra-contemporary look to it, are perfectly versed, to the point of coldness, but this gel is also the interpretation of a fear of abandonment. No one is under any illusions. They are direct, immediate, hooked, like lovers of The Ballot of Sexual Confidence, the series in which Nan Goldin, in the mid-1980s, changed almost all the parameters representing the couple. There is nothing like this famous book of passions in which the American artist has no hidden hells through which he expresses his own amorous possession.
In a way, this is best seen by walking around the exhibition: The Ballad of Sexual Confidence is the opposite of another book, published in the early 1950s, The eye of love, by Swiss René Groebli. She takes a picture of her fiancé, with a painful handwriting, in which it is a question of always being as close to him as possible in order to succeed, through the camera, of seeing him better. Goldin continues thirty years later the same elements (the lovers ’room, their skin and that’s it), but in one version Infernos with painful sincerity.
Not so much a wedding album than a mausoleum of lovers
Between these two moments, René Groebli’s gentleness and Nan Goldin’s brutality, are Sentimental journey by Nobuyoshi Araki. Consider a series in which the Japanese document his marriage to Yoko in 1971. A book that is somewhat of a photograph of what the first autofiction texts in literature were (to teach style, the Japanese use the term “I-photography”, to refer to the Japanese literary genre shishashin, or “I-novel”-autobiographical literature, first-person novel).
But what continues to be interesting in this series, is fifty years later, so no matter what he does, Araki is never able to reveal Yoko’s mystery. Photo after photo, he ran away from her. It imposes distance. He seemed to be somewhere else, far away, and the photo didn’t seem to stop him. This series is less of a wedding album than a mausoleum of lovers. Since its failure, we can read the overwhelming obsession that ran through this entire exhibition: that the photograph would not remain at night or in amorous silence.
Love Songs – Intimate Photos until August 21, European House of Photography (MEP), Paris.