Aurélien David reveals the vegetal « self » of his contemporaries by placing his animistic gaze on them. Thanks to the sun and chlorophyll, their faces are revealed in a natural way, directly on tree leaves, to become the masks of the photographic ritual BeLeaf. After having made a “plant mask”, Aurélien David orders a colour print of the entire portrait, framed from the hips to the head, from his photo laboratory. By placing the mask on th photographic paper, he plays the illusionist. He makes the facial features coincide with those of the body, to produce a hybrid effect. Photographic collage allows him to obtain the desired realism, avoiding an exclusively digital creation chain. He also pays attention to the balance of the forms. The plant must be neither too large nor too small. The combination of these choices leads the viewer to a certain type of reading and to make what he calls an “anthropomorphic effort”, to look for the Human in the Vegetal. An invitation to rethink our relationship with Nature.
The reason for portraits, whether painted, sculpted, drawn or photographed, has always been to pass on to posterity a given person’s facial features, emotions, status, singularities. All portraits, whether of loved ones, of power, of society’s outsiders, of ordinary people, of exoticism, of oneself, contribute to the immense gallery of women and men which surrounds us, watches us, inspires us. Aurelien David’s photographic portraits are part of this lineage, showing us simple people – fishermen, peasants, gardeners – encountered during his wanderings aboard his sailboat Heoliañ (‘sun-soaked’ in Breton). Portraits almost exclusively of men, photographed face-on, neutrally, much like anthropological portraits. But most of the faces appear over banana leaves – the image was obtained by taking advantage of the light-sensitive properties of chlorophyll (reminiscent of Herschel’s floral anthrotypes). And each chosen plant is an echo of the portrayed person, metamorphic and directly. The result is a double indexicality, the classic one wherein the photograph-image is an index of the subject and, much less common, wherein the photograph-material serves as an index of physical reality. In this era of selfies and the fragmenting of images, these rare vegetal alchemies bring us back to our roots in nature. And, most importantly, the somewhat ghostlike faces that we can see today will, because of natural chemical degradation and light exposure, gradually fade away and disappear, becoming real ghosts of themselves: the act of observing the image brings on its demise. Photographic chemistry, on the other hand, has, since its invention, sought to increase image stability and lifetime, thereby attempting to offer photographic portraits the gift of immortality. Aurélien David’s works are at complete odds with this objective, offering us a photography which is precarious, fleeting, and in any case, mortal. A contemplative, passing photography which, in its way, is a memento mori.