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World and thoughts of Diane Moulenc


When we see a photograph, do we ask what path the artist has followed? Do we know their habits, their ways, their styles of working? Do we guess at their spontaneity or their slow process of germination. The Eye of Photography is beginning a new series today, titled “World and thoughts of…”. Intended to capture the creative processes of an artist, this series looks at the photographer’s workshop, thoughts and actions while aiming to be discreet. The French photographer Diane Moulenc starts the ball rolling.

It would almost be obvious, simple and true: the first actions of an artist, in front of a canvas or shooting with a camera, are guided by method. For Diane Moulenc, the street photographer’s path starts like the beginning of a dance: “I photograph in the street, quickly enough, I don’t linger, three four photographs of one subject is enough. I know, more or less, those that I’m going to keep, although the other photographs are also important. They are all part of the whole. It’s important to accept that”, she explains.

It’s a rhythm, step by step, shot after shot. And then, suddenly the perfect photo! An accident? Luck? Intuition? Experiment? The eye retains curious detail, the lens captures it in different ways. Four, five shots of the same subject are enough, seen sideways, upside down, from another angle, until it narrows down and the finger moves at the right moment.

Surprise is central to Diane Moulenc’s work. “I feel that I move around strange events. Photography is a way of prolonging my surprise and my astonishment. It’s not a rear-view mirror”, she said analytically. Pacing the streets requires distance. Cities are like traps set for an imagination bombarded with images From the streets of Arles and her École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (ENSP) to the eager arteries of New York, our remembering is inflated with memories, fabricated or lived. The most loved photographs – lasting and sometimes overbearing influences – float in the shadows of some prints. The places bring their representations and their mythologies. They have to be slowly unpacked, purified, abandoned. “When I was in New York for ten days, I was split, between deception and wonder”, the photographer said. “the deception came first, I had the impression of knowing, of having already seen everything.The street photographers of the sixties, seventies, notably Saul Leiter, influenced me very strongly.”

Apart from the work, the question is also asked about the evolution of the photographers in their environment. Some people can view the photographer with mistrust. What did she do here? Are they fairground animals? In spite of her tough nature and “her very small camera”, Diane Moulenc confesses her helplessness. In Mexico, which she has just left, better to play the ignorant and naïve tourist or even queue like the English. Sometimes she struggles to go unnoticed. The looks are insistent. The work is not dangerous but it attracts reproaches and grumbling… Is it less well accepted than it was before, at this time when we value the image of the self and its dissemination, while the act of being photographed is experienced as an intrusion or even a voyeuristic action. Strange paradox.

Besides, Diane Moulenc’s photography reveals lightly sudden appearances from the bizarre in the everyday, as the eye is amused by the play of shadows, by the relationship of objects. She herself knows the score and puts up with the moods. “In New York you play the role of tourist. The city is almost a supermarket, the pictures are easy to take, almost given, so much so that it’s easy to melt into the crowd, people don’t have time to linger, everyone moves very quickly. My little camera is ideal in this situation”. Ideally the photographer prefers to stay in the shadows and not be seen.

For Diane Moulenc, everything plays out by the second, not chasing the supposedly sacrosanct decisive moment, but rather the strangeness of the time; a sort of non-time, strange time, time going backwards, where we value curiosities. “I look for a moment where you can notice a delicate balance, something tiny where surprise happens, although my pictures can look very graphic. This impression lets me introduce a break”, she explained.

The street isn’t everything. Coming next “her favourite moment”, the selection, the cutting, the sorting, to use her technical word ‘the editing’, that everyone guesses or knows. These are long hours peering at the screen to detect the details, to sort out the impressions, make a first choice, narrow it down, make a second choice, briefly press the photograph through the sieve to remove the juice before extracting the work. It’s a long moment, “a rediscovery”, she assures herself, before going into it more deeply. “At the beginning of my studies, after my BTS Photo (Vocational Training certificate in Photography), I worked in advertising. I didn’t like it, you had to do hundreds of photographs every day. As a counterbalance, I worked in analogue, I’d get one photograph in an hour, sometimes longer. When I went to ENSP (Arles), it was a pleasure to discover digital by keeping the same selection process as in analogue.

Only this selection and hard work enables her to be more specific about the mood of the colours, the light and the action that she shot intuitively. The editing is also used to “disconnect the influences”, to eliminate a photograph with a good appearance but lacking as a picture. In this selection process the essence of the work is at stake. Diane Moulenc seems to put the same distance as in her strolls, trying to restore the street’s happy surprises and disappointments. In a thousand places of shot after shot and eagerness, the practice as reflection is done with restraint and economy.

Then comes another street, a different neighbourhood, a new surprise, unknown cities and their repeated and redistributed imaginations; New York and its human jungle, Mexico City and its floral jungle, then the exploration of part of Mexico, Oaxaca and Chiapas, before going down towards Guatemala, Costa Rica and finally Buenos Aires. “ It’s almost a day by day journey, open to impromptu changes”, she promises.

A little bit of everywhere, blurring the maps and territories, this is the heart of her work. Diane Moulenc is redesigning the poetic architecture, in the midst of urban jungles, imaginary invaders, unstoppable speeds. You can read in it a gentle laugh, harmonies of colour, time suspended. That is the essence.

Arthur Dayras

Arthur Dayras is an author specialising in photography who lives and works in New York, in the United States.

http://dianemoulenc .com/

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