Hervé Guibert, Zen Cat and Mouse
Hervé Guibert is still on my mind. Me and him cohabit in silence, to the pace of our mutual wistfulness and the stealthy days when we play cat and mouse together. I am the mouse, he is the cat. A Sôseki-like cat, heat-sensitive, blessed with an eye for detail and the ritual sense of space that is so vital to day-blind beings.
Another thing we have in common – photography, which turned Hervé Guibert into an analogue reporter with the help of Yvonne Baby (former head of the culture department at Le Monde), then into a photographer with a Rollei 35, a present from his father. Writing about photography gave him a pedigree ; he tackled Ilse Bing and André Kertész, Duane Michals and Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Gilles Ehrmann and Édouard Boubat… He was, at the time, almost the only one to take over picture places and books, which he recounted with extremely precise words, never getting carried away by the odd fashionable topic.
May 1980, a change of perspectives. He hung Suzanne and Louise, his long-haired great- aunts, up on the picture rails of the Agathe Gaillard gallery, then wrote Le Seul Visage (“The Only Face”) in the autumn 1984, a collection of inner adventures published by Les Éditions de Minuit.
Although he was a writer with an edge, he became a photographer without claws, at least in my own perception. To me, he was staying in the back, hardly leaving his mark – whereas he just described himself as cautious. There was no parade, his portraits were infused by simplicity, as if he were trying to conjure up – or get rid of – the mysterious link between him and his nearest and dearest. Christine, Thierry, Michel, Mathieu… Each picture is a testimony of inspired love, and of a certain youth, as Agathe Gaillard pointed out: “A free, dauntless youth which was not afraid to experience what it truly was”.
There was no narcissistic temptation, or hardly any, in his self-portraits, but a great deal of simplicity. His beauty was not a visa. Nor a hindrance. He was beyond photogenic, he was looking for life, he was absorbed – or consumed – by shade and light. And then there was the nourishing sun – cats will be cats. A chair serves as a ladder, a painting as a pretext to sneak into the frame. Here and there, other personal objects are waiting for their turn – marbles, books, paintings.
Black and white suited him perfectly, like his very own inkwell, maybe even his shield against bad luck. He wrote. He got into photography. He walked into the darkness and engraved his own legend on film.
Did he know that?
At a time when novelty was the rule and it was trendy to exhibit the inside of a fridge, scarlet-faced tourists, hairy chests and starving children, Hervé Guibert created an imagery driven by the unexpected.
What does the cat think?
“Being thus magnificently militant, why should I dither over a miserable rat or two? Long ago, when someone asked a well-known Zen priest of that ancient time how to attain enlightenment, the priest replied: “You should proceed like a cat stalking a rat.” (1)
(1) Quoted from I am a Cat by Natsume Sôseki, translated by Jean Cholley (Gallimard/Unesco, 1986)
Hervé Guibert : De l’Intime
From January 24 to March 14, 2020
Les Douches La Galerie
5, rue Legouvé 75010 Paris