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‘Meet Photographs’ by Thierry Maindrault

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Monthly chronicle by Thierry Maindrault

During my visits to the Arles 2021 RIPs, an observation, not only in line with this event, seemed obvious for me to share with you. The “Rencontres d’Arles” are not directly  the motive for this chronicle. Except that their prestige highlights a phenomenon that I observed many times in recent years in many international festivals, in local exhibitions, in a lot of museums and in a few fairly unprofessional galleries.

This fashion appeared, with the very desirable democratisation of access to Art and to contemporary creations; by subjecting the appreciation of an artwork to the “people” status of the creator and no longer to a perception of their work. We forgot to learn to confront works, to perceive their attractions, to feel their emotions, to share or reject messages or stories. We do not look a second time to analyse its contours, to understand its construction, to dissect its synthesis, to situate its context. If the work is part of a coherent overall work we should be interested in the approach, the words, the history and the creations of its author who will then gain importance through quality, quantity and the place of his work in our own evolution.

It was the World Before, a world ancient in the history of mankind. Today, no one has time enough to wait and understand, this is inside the creative field, under financial pressure, as in all of our individual and collective activities. Everything must be finished before it can even be started. An exhibition is scheduled when the first photograph is not yet in an embryo state. Three books are signed with a publisher while their content is still in limbo. No one has seen the artworks which on arrival is often far from the minimum result expected. But all this is no problem since the intended author is a well-known and recognised star (not always in the photographic field) who assumes his halo, in terms of media coverage and often it is not for creative feats. We all understood it, no matter what is presented (I do not generalise because it is sometimes very good!), the main thing is the person, with his personal stories, his escapades and his provocations (natural or theatrical) that attracts crowds who rush, agglutinate together and pretend to be amazed  to be able to say “I was there”, even going as far to say “I know him well”.

This is not always a lie because acknowledgement (often more than ephemeral) is carefully encouraged in the sectors of creation for artistic purposes by producers of exhibitions and other publishers; but often, for financial and / or mercantile reasons.

I insisted in a previous column on the essential place of the scenography and / or the layout for a real enhancement inside a precise context for the artworks offered. I deplored the poverty, sometimes the indigence of the totally  incompetent presentations. On the other hand, a new rule – almost generalised – determines that upon entering an exhibition it is essential to display the biography of the creator (as detailed as possible), a list as long as possible of the multiple and insipid rewards received, of his residencies (which became essential) and other “workshops” or better still “masterclasses”. Then, we have to get down to business with a detailed description – preferably in abstruse terms – concerning the intentions of the photographs exhibited and, if possible, of the impossible and absurd technical conditions of their realisation. Everyone will understand that this text is generally written by the exhibition curator (except when can be found a literary author in loss of notoriety). This long incensing begins at the edge of the ceiling and ends at ground level. When you are done with this endless reading of the exhibitor’s states and prowess, it is time to immerse yourself in his work to verify the truth  of the text. Well … but not for everyone, because I could mischievously observe that a not insignificant number of visitors limited themselves to holy reading and abandoned the part before tackling the second part: the presentation of the artworks. Some young people are a little smarter and take pictures of the literature with their smartphones. I imagine that they will enjoy it quietly and with a rested head (which is often necessary for understanding).

The introductory page, we shall call it that, is not the only technique to bring a cultural enhancement to everyone and to deify a few prominent characters known from the TV screens or in the networks of emotional substitution.

Now, the presence of the author is a “must” for the organiser, when it does not become a contract obligation so that his work can be shown and viewed by the public. In this domain I have seen, heard and savoured everything. As a preamble of the following, we should avoid any misinterpretation that would be stupid, regardless about authors gender, colour, religion, country of origin or any other consideration.

The unseen shy author who stays in a corner or, better than that, mixes with visitors and seems to be interested by his own photographs, turns tomato red if someone links him to a picture and he does not know where to put himself if a compliment follows. The picky guy in search of recognition will explain the ins and outs for long minutes that can easily last for hours if a new visitor does not interfere in the monologue. The majestic exposes that Art has fallen into his cradle bestowing him with a thousand gifts, with which he is submerged and with which he no longer knows what to do, it goes without saying that all his photographs are magnificent without costing him any sweat. The curious creator who often hides the worrier with knots in his stomach asking a series of questions to all the people who stopped in front of one of his works, often generous the assailed visitors would be rather benevolent towards the author . The professor who will explain to you by “a” plus “b” that his work is perfectly in accordance and will give you a learned a very sanitized demonstration  and the onlooker will never know either the result of the addition or what his work is in accordance to. The backpacker will very skilfully bring together several unknown visitors to form a group around him that he will take across the planet from East to West, from North to South and will end up regretting not being able to drive them into space. In summary, no matter what these colourful characters are and unfortunately no matter their work on display is, the essential thing for all people is their presence on site and, the supreme honor for the visitors, is being able to shake their hands (or give them a nudge by our pandemic times), the ultimate Grail remaining the dedication!

Finally, the icing on the cake, today our nice producers are assisted by a new profession: artistic mediators. Nothing to do with the graduate lecturers with encyclopaedic knowledge. This job is very often done by young people looking for work who are trained  to talk and tell some anecdotes about the exhibitor’s life and / or innocently bring out some mistakes or stupidities about the works hanging on the picture rails. This activity should quickly disappear in favour of our wonderful smartphones which will tell us everything as soon as we are posted in front of a photograph (don’t laugh, we are even starting to have the right to see the “making of” both the war images and a naked body posing).

An advice for your next exhibition visit, start your way from the exit …

Thierry Maindrault

August 13, 2021

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