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BnF I François-Mitterrand : Épreuves de la matière


Crossed by multiple plastic explorations, the questioning around the material irrigates all fields of photography, from the creative process to the presentation of images. Drawing on the BnF‘s rich collection of contemporary photographs, the exhibition reveals the capacities for metamorphosis of photographic material but also its possible disappearance. Through the unique works of nearly two hundred French and foreign photographers, a sensitive and embodied history of photography is revealed.

The exhibition explores in four main parts the possible states of image matter in photography, both analog and digital.

The first part, « L’image tangible, la matière incarnée » (“The tangible image, the embodied material”), shows how photographers such as William Eggleston, Ann Mandelbaum, Denis Brihat among others transform the photographed material by using, for example, blur, close-up, variations of scales. Others like Andreas Müller-Pohle, Philippe Gronon or Isabelle Le Minh focus on analyzing all the textures of the components of photography: silver grain, gelatin, pixels, paper…

With “L’image labile, la matière expérimentée” (“The labile image, the experienced material”), the exhibition then evokes materiality in the light of the explorations set up in the “kitchen” of the laboratory up to the computer menu: also the analog experiments on the emulsions (chemigrams by Pierre Cordier, dichromated gums mixed with blood at Marina Bério) or on the photographic support (folded photogram by Ellen Carey, daguerreotype by Patrick Bailly Maître Grand or impressions on plants by Almudena Romero) are they presented in look at the digital works of Thomas Ruff (“Substrates” series obtained by the superposition of several images gleaned from the internet) or Lauren Moffatt (diversion of photogrammetry in the “Compost” series).

“L’image hybride, la matière métamorphosée “ (“The hybrid image, the metamorphosed material”) highlights practices where photography hybridizes with other artistic expressions (Anne-Lise Broyer, Paolo Gioli) or manages through its own resources to suggest effects of pictorial material , graphic or sculptural (Valérie Belin, Jean-Luc Tartarin, Laurent Millet).

Finally, the fourth and final part, “L’image précaire, la matière fragilisée », (“The precarious image, the fragile material”), presents works questioning photography subject to the passage of time and the elements which can lead to its progressive erasure (work on Eric’s photographic archive Rondepierre, Joan Fontcuberta, Hideyuki Ishibashi, Lisa Sartorio, Oscar Muñoz…) as well as fleeting materializations which give rise to evanescent images (hologram of Michael Snow) or to latent, spectral images (Rosella Bellusci, Smith, Vittoria Gerardi, Alain Fleischer).

If in the works presented the support proves to be highlighted more than the subject, a close link is nevertheless forged between the two, and despite the diversity of practices, many photographers favor representations evoking the landscape, the body, nature. Delivering a rich visual grammar where bridges are built between ancient photographic processes and contemporary technologies, these artists also reflect on the complex relationship between photography, society, nature and technology, revealing their commitment to an ecology of the image.


Héloïse Conésa, head of the photography department, responsible for contemporary photography in the department of Prints and Photography, BnF


Épreuves de la matière
Contemporary photography and its metamorphoses
October 10, 2023 – February 4, 2024
BnF I François-Mitterrand
Gallery 1
Quai François-Mauriac, Paris 13th

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