The Parisian in camera gallery, in partnership with the Howard Greenberg Gallery, presents some twenty photographs by the American Louis Faurer (1916–2001), a close friend of Robert Frank, with whom he shared the fashion section of Harper’s Bazaar, both were attuned to the feverish rhythm of New York.
“In America, the photographer is not simply the person who records the past, but the one who invents it.” Susan Sontag’s very Fordian observation seems tailored to Louis Faurer (1916–2001) and his obscure destiny. What strikes one in the first place is his determination to put his native Philadelphia and his miserable childhood behind and go to New York to become a fashion photographer without, however, selling his soul. Like Robert Frank, for a time, or Saul Leiter, for a long spell, Louis Faurer spread his wings in the street, in the light of the setting sun. An anonymous spectator, he haunted Times Square, a paradise of capitalist neon lights, and Madison Square Garden, the oasis for carnival artists, including the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, their elephants dancing in pink leotards to the music of Stravinsky some time before the war.
Louis Faurer blended with Manhattan as if the city were a river that never reaches the sea; he sank into the crowds, snatching faces from oblivion here and there, but not just any faces. He looked for exceptional beings. He wrote on October 2, 1979: “My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future with hope.”
Louis Faurer’s photographs always emanate an energy that was deployed whenever he recorded two events simultaneously, as if unwittingly. These poetic accidents, whether deliberate or unintentional, are unsettling: they are like snippets of a Super8 film, and trigger other incidents, perhaps even more classic. Louis Faurer followed the meanders of love, confronted buildings at ground level, got a kick out of decontextualizing billboards, crossed paths with twins that would have caught the eye of Diane Arbus, and paid tribute to past masters, such as the old fox Muybridge (1830–1904), Kit Carson’s doppelganger.
This parade of characters who appear and disappear as if obeying the whim of an illusionist, is one of the most intoxicating of Faurer’s photographs. Dating to 1937, it was taken in Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, where the photographer learned calligraphy as a young man. Perhaps that’s also where he learned patience, but not if you believe those who have met him. A sensitive observer, Louis Faurer captured America somewhere between melancholy and enchantment, far from Walt Disney and the Beat Generation.
Brigitte Ollier worked for 30 years as a photography critic for Libération and is now an independent writer.
October 5 to December 2, 2017
Galerie in camera
21 Rue las Cases