The Bibliothèque nationale de France honors Denis Brihat, an essential figure in the history of photography in France. Photographer “alchemist” whose intense gaze shows the infinitely large in the infinitely small, Denis Brihat has developed, in a seventy years career, an extraordinarily sensitive work, marked by formal rigor and visual lyricism. Promoter of “creative” photography and tireless actor of the transmission of silver based know-how, he is also one of the founders of the Rencontres d’Arles. Since the 1970s, he has regularly given prints to the BnF, the artist has just donated a hundred emblematic pieces – exhibition and study prints, portfolios, research notebooks … – exceptionally presented this fall.
A photographer committed to the recognition of his art Denis Brihat was born in Paris in 1928. Winner of the Niépce prize in 1957, he paved the way for a generation of authors- photographers being one of the first, from the 1950s, to advocate for photography to be recognized as an artistic expression in its own right, thanks to careful prints, numbered in few copies and often large format.
In 1958, the photographer abandoned the capital to lead a frugal life , close to nature in the Luberon. He made remarkable encounters like Pablo Picasso or Fernand Léger with whom he participated in the Espace Group, bringing together artists and architects with the same ambition, that of the unity of art.
Regularly invited to the United States, he is one of the first French photographers exhibited by John Szarkowski in 1967 at MoMA in New York, with his friends Jean-Pierre Sudre and Pierre Cordier. Denis Brihat is also a fervent supporter of a democratic appreciation of photography: he had exhibitions in the Agathe Gaillard gallery, one of the first photography galleries in Paris, opened in 1975; he is one of the founders of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie festival in Arles with Lucien Clergue and is also involved in the adventure of the Château d’Eau in Toulouse with Jean and Michel Dieuzaide.
Between visual lyricism and formal rigor
Over the years, Denis Brihat has developed his line of visual research: the careful study of nature and more particularly of the plant world. He sees his garden, which he cultivates with passion, as a metaphor for the world. Nourished with philosophy and literature, the artist is fascinated by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose “counterpoint” system he transposes to create from the same motif – a vegetable, a flower, a tree, and so on. – a true polyphony, as evidenced for example with the portfolio “Un Citron”.
A great admirer of Edward Weston, close to American photographers Aaron Siskind, Paul Caponigro and Irving Penn, Denis Brihat takes a closer look at his subject – lichens, onions, poppies, etc. -, making abstraction and fragment his visual syntax. The passage from microcosm to macrocosm is as important to him as that of black and white to color: his astonishing photographs, all shot in black and white and then transferred with a multiplicity of metals and pigments to get closer to the natural color, testify to his experimental audacity. Denis Brihat affirms the materiality of the printing and seeks excellence.
A photographic guide and teacher of know-how, he quickly founded a school with his technical exigency: photographers from all over the world come to study in his house-workshop in Bonnieux the teaching of the master, like the photographer Jean-Marc Bustamante, impressed by the originality of Denis Brihat and the way in which, very early, he chooses to highlight the pictorial and ornamental quality of photography.
Denis Brihat exhibited at the BnF
The exhibition proposes a thematic route around the major motifs of the work of Denis Brihat: the delicacy of the line, often characterized by the choice of a sober and graphic black and white; the attention paid to the purity of forms taken from nature; color, brought by complex turns, which enhances the naturalistic approach; material sensuality and experimental photography that accompany the capture. Fascinating, the work of Denis Brihat is affirmed between committed reflection on the photographic medium and poetic meditation on the meaning of life.
Denis Brihat, photographies
De la nature des choses
8 October 8 – December 8, 2019
BnF I François-Mitterrand
Quai François Mauriac, Paris XIIIe
From Tuesday to Saturday 10h> 19h
Sunday 1 pm> 7 pm
Closed on Mondays and holidays
Opening Monday, October 7, 2019 at 18:30
Héloïse Conésa, conservatrice au département des Estampes et de la photographie, BnF
Les métamorphoses de l’argentique, Denis Brihat, Le bec en l’air editions (240 pages, 55 €)
Exhibition as part of Paris Photo
Denis Brihat is represented by the galleries Camera Obscura in Paris and Nailya Alexander in New York
The artist exhibits her work at the Camera Obscura gallery (268 boulevard Raspail, Paris 14th) from September 6th to October 19th, 2019, as well as at the Atelier L’OEil Vert (12, rue Léopold Bellan, Paris 14th) of the 5th October to November 16, 2019: India, 1955.