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La Samaritaine : Lee Shulman – The Anonymous Project


They adorn the walls, dress the elevator doors, appear in monumental installations on the ground floor; on the occasion of the “Paris Venise en tête-à-tête” campaign, anonymous photographs are installed at the Samaritaine department store in Paris, before flying off to the Biennale.

These photographs are those of men and women who lived in the seventies. Neither place, nor date, nor name are specified… it is up to us visitors to observe and imagine more fully these moments of past lives.

To imagine. This is what drives Lee Shulman, to develop “the interpretive experience of the spectator”. A British national, film director, he is also the happy founder and director of this unique collection, called The Anonymous Project. As he explains himself: “It all started when my parents gave me a box of old family photo films that they hadn’t had processed. This sparked an interest in these forgotten images for me, and I began buying them randomly and frantically on eBay. » That was seven years ago, and since then, through his acquisitions and donations which have grown in step with the popularity of the project, he has managed to collect more than 70,000 color slides. A collection that saved “these fragments of history from the obscurity where they were kept and from the tyranny of slide projection” and allowed them to have a new destiny. And not just any one! Here they are today developed and exposed to the eyes of all in this mythical Parisian place, symbol of transmission, history, rehabilitation… so many aspects which echo the philosophy of The Anonymous Project.

“It is one of the constant miracles of photography that these images – capturing a fraction of a second – still collectively illuminate millions of lives. » From the windows, to the stairs to the elevator doors, there are many scenes from yesteryear that curious people and visitors can relive. On the fourth floor ; friends dance the conga, on the third, we observe a life-size couple sunbathing on deckchairs, on the second children on their birthday, on the first, we come across two women posing in superb summer evening outfits. There are also two major installations on the ground floor; a waterfall made with a collage of more than 400 photographs, and a few steps away, giant totems made up of 2000 slides each. We see landscapes, a young married couple, a picnic with friends at the edge of a lake, a young boy on his bike, children caressing a dog… We could spend hours looking at these moments of life, without artifices, which strangely resemble ours.

If we can observe and feel the complicity between the subjects and the one who decided to immortalize them; another proximity is at play, with us, the spectators. We are struck by the simplicity, authenticity and universality of these photographs. By selecting and exhibiting them, Lee Shulman combines his soul as a collector, editor and director to become, as he says himself, a “storyteller”. What he seeks above all is transmission and sharing. So, for him, dressing “the walls with unknown families is a mirror of our lives, it goes back to the essential. And the main thing in art is to make people feel emotions. »

By allowing this direct and true visual dialogue, Lee Shulman questions human relationships and the notion of intimacy, and in doing so, promotes the emergence of new narratives; the one that we project onto these photos, the one that we are experiencing while looking at them, and the one that we imagine in our own photos. Perhaps in fifty, a hundred years our memories will be viewed by our successors in a huge, virtual gallery? Who knows what form this will take when the time comes. In the meantime, the one proposed by The Anonymous Project for “Paris-Venise” remains to be discovered until April 24 at 9 rue de la Monnaie in Paris.

Marine Aubenas


La Samaritaine
9 R. de la Monnaie
75001 Paris
February 7 – April 24, 2024

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